Cruising’s Most Haunted Hotels
It’s late October, when the wind rattles through the cane fields, Las Calaveras Catrinas decorate the streets of Cozumel, the duppies and jumbies cast long shadows along the lonely island beaches, and people everywhere gather close to trade scary stories over hot toddies — but none more than those who live near the sea.
Sailors have always had the best ghost stories, because port cities seem to have more than their fair share of hauntings, and they’ve been to enough ports to have heard them all. Today’s cruisers, too, are likely to have come close enough to some of the world’s best-known spooks. Here are five of our favorites — paranormal places to stay in five of cruising’s most-haunted ports of call.
Long Beach, California — The Queen Mary Hotel
From the 1930s to the 1960s, she was a world-class ocean liner. Today, Queen Mary remains anchored off the California coast where she serves as a luxury hotel, Art Deco museum, and home to as many as 150 recorded spirits.
One of the most haunted spots is said to be the engine room, where Door 13 crushed an 18-year-old crewman to death during a watertight door drill in 1966. His bearded ghost is still seen wandering down Shaft Alley only to vanish before reaching Door 13.
Ghosts in old-fashioned bathing costumes are still seen near the first-class swimming pool, despite it being closed for 30 years — and some guests report hearing children splashing and finding wet footprints leading to the changing rooms.
There’s also a classic “lady in white” apparition, a woman in elegant evening wear who dances quietly with herself in the Queen’s Salon, a room that once served as the first-class lounge.
Old San Juan, Puerto Rico — Hotel El Convento
San Juan’s “Convent Hotel” was originally a monastery – Monasterio del Señor San José de la Orden de nuestra Señora del Carmen, founded all the way back in 1651 by the widow Doña Ana Lanzós y Menendez de Valdez, who, after losing her husband in a war, donated her money and home to the Church. She ultimately became the mother superior to the Carmelite nuns who lived here centuries before stars like Rita Hayworth and Jennifer Lopez walked the same halls.
Doña Ana’s is only one of many ghosts said to reside on the premises today. Guests in the 58-room grand hotel have reported hearing the swish of nuns’ robes moving down the arched walkways, as if the spectral sisters were rushing by on their way to prayers. Despite the luxurious comfort of the rooms today, it can also be difficult for some to sleep in: Doña Ana is reported to wake up some unsuspecting guests if they slumber too late.
New Orleans, Louisiana — Bourbon Orleans Hotel
In the 1800s, this historic building on Orleans Street between Bourbon and Royal served as a convent for the Sisters of the Holy Family, who operated a girls’ school, orphanage, and medical ward. They weathered a terrible yellow fever epidemic, and the ghosts of many children and nuns are seen and heard throughout the hotel – especially a young girl rolling a ball down the sixth-floor hallway.
On the sixth and third floors, one might also catch a glimpse of a Confederate soldier, while the sumptuous Orleans Ballroom is also noted for a ghost dancer sometimes seen spinning happily under the chandelier … or rustling behind the draperies. The hotel is a frequent stop on New Orleans ghost tours.
San Diego, California — Hotel Del Coronado
This National Historic Landmark was built in 1888 using a million feet of board lumber — Douglas fir, California redwood, Illinois oak, Oregon sugar pine, hemlock, and cedar — as well as high-tech features such as steam-powered elevators and crown chandeliers designed by Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum. But in November 1892, the marvelous Hotel Del Coronado was struck by tragedy: A young guest, Kate Morgan, was found dead on a staircase leading to the beach, an apparent suicide.
Her ghost still seems to reside in her former guestroom. “She generally limits her activity to fleeting appearances and inexplicable antics,” says a book published by the hotel, Beautiful Stranger: The Ghost of Kate Morgan and the Hotel del Coronado. “Guests in Kate’s room report everything from breezes that come from nowhere to having to deal with a television set that turns on and off by itself.” Employees and visitors have also seen souvenirs in the gift shop mysteriously tumbling from the shelves, but always landing upright and unbroken.
Montego Bay, Jamaica — Rose Hall Great House
In 1770, the beautiful Georgian mansion of Rose Hall was built for Annie Palmer, a recent arrival on the island. Legend has it that she’d been born on Haiti to an English mother and Irish father who’d died of yellow fever, leaving her in the care of a nanny who taught her secrets of conjure-work and Vodou. Once on Jamaica, Annie gained a reputation as a harsh mistress and demanding spouse. She poisoned her husband, John Palmer, two subsequent husbands, and numerous male slaves, before falling victim herself to a slave named “Takoo,” a rival master of the dark arts.
Historians haven’t been able to verify Annie’s story, but her ghost, clad in green velvet, is still spotted on the grounds of Rose Hall, which now serves as home to several resorts. For added atmosphere, she’s also had a song written about her by none other than Johnny Cash. “Where’s your husband, Annie?” he asks. “Where’s number two and three?”
Hon-horror-able Mention: Christ Church, Barbados — Chase Vault
It’s not a hotel (for the living, that is), but when talking of haunted sites, it’s impossible to skip over the lovely island of Barbados and its creepiest crypt.
Starting in 1807, residents of the Christ Church Parish near Oistins, Barbados, witnessed something strange in their cemetery. Every time the Chase family vault was opened to admit a new family member, the coffins within were found to have moved. Instead of sitting on the floor in a neat row, they were found leaning against walls or standing upright in corners. (The story goes that two of the tomb’s first residents — daughters Ann Maria and Dorcas Chase — don’t wish to be buried near their overbearing father, Colonel Thomas Chase, who had a reputation for cruelty and severity.)
But these were heavy, lead coffins inside a vault with 2-foot-thick walls of stone and coral and a marble door that required six men to lift open. There were no valuables inside the tomb for robbers to steal, no signs of earthquakes or floods. Only coffins that refuse to stay put. Once, the governor of Barbados even had sand scattered on the floor to show the footprints of any possible intruders. But, when next the vault was opened, there were none — only scattered coffins.
Eventually, the Chase family gave up and had their ancestors buried — separately and peacefully — in plots elsewhere in Christ Church cemetery. The vault is still present in the old colonial graveyard, but today, it’s empty. And the mystery remains unsolved.
— Grant Balfour
Photos: Queen Mary, Bourbon Orleans Hotel, D Ramey Logan