Queen Mary sailed on her maiden voyage on 27 May 1936 and captured the Blue Riband in August of that year; she lost the title to SS Normandie in 1937 and recaptured it in 1938. With the outbreak of World War II, she was converted into a troopship and ferried Allied soldiers for the duration of the war. Following the war, Queen Mary was refitted for passenger service and along with Queen Elizabeth commenced the two-ship transatlantic passenger service for which the two ships were initially built. The two ships dominated the transatlantic passenger transportation market until the dawn of the jet age in the late 1950s. By the mid-1960s Queen Mary was ageing and though still among the most popular transatlantic liners, was operating at a loss.
After several years of decreased profits for Cunard Line, Queen Mary was officially retired from service in 1967. She left Southampton for the last time on 31 October 1967 and sailed to the port of Long Beach, California, United States, where she remains permanently moored. Much of the machinery including two of the four engines, three of the four propellers, and all of the boilers were removed, and the ship now serves as a tourist attraction featuring restaurants, a museum, and hotel. The ship is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Among facilities available on board Queen Mary, the liner featured two indoor swimming pools, beauty salons, libraries, and children's nurseries for all three classes, a music studio and lecture hall, telephone connectivity to anywhere in the world, outdoor paddle tennis courts, and dog kennels. The largest room onboard was the first class main dining room (grand salon) spanning three stories in height and was anchored by wide columns. The cabin class swimming pool facility also spanned over two decks in height. She was also the first ocean liner to be equipped with its own Jewish prayer room – part of a policy to show that British shipping lines avoided the racism evident at that time in Nazi Germany.
The main dining room featured a large map of the transatlantic crossing, with twin tracks symbolising the winter/spring route (further south to avoid icebergs) and the summer/autumn route. During each crossing, a motorised model of Queen Mary would indicate the vessel's progress en route.
As an alternative to the main dining room, the Queen Mary featured a separate first-class Verandah Grill on the Sun Deck at the upper aft of the ship. The Verandah Grill was an exclusive à la carte restaurant with a capacity of approximately eighty passengers, and was converted to the Starlight Club at night. Irish writer and broadcaster Brian Cleeve spent several months as a commis waiter on the ship in 1938 after he ran away from school. Also on board was the Observation Bar, an Art Deco styled lounge, with wide ocean views.
Woods from different regions of the British Empire were used in her public rooms and staterooms. Accommodation ranged from fully equipped, luxurious first class staterooms to modest and cramped third class cabins. Artists commissioned by Cunard in 1933 for works of art in the interior include Edward Wadsworth and A. Duncan Carse.