Queen Mary 2 Cunard
Queen Mary 2 Cunard at Dubai Harbour in February 2023 Image Credit: Supplied

The last ocean liner in service and the largest one ever built – the Queen Mary 2 – docked at Dubai Harbour for the very first time this month, and Gulf News got a tour of the gigantic British transatlantic liner operated by Cunard.

Christened by the late British monarch Queen Elizabeth II, the liner made its maiden call to port at the new Dubai Harbour Terminal for just over a day as part of her 102-night world voyage celebrating the 100th anniversary of Cunard’s maiden exploration of the globe.

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Dubai Harbour Cruise Terminal is a joint venture between Shamal Holdings and Cunard Corporation. The terminal is the cruise company’s regional hub for the Middle East. Dubai Harbour expects over 300,000 passengers before June, during the 2022/23 cruise season.

Dona Cherian/Gulf News

Walking through the terminal’s walkway and covered passenger bridge leads us seamlessly on to the third deck of the ship. The walk through the terminal gives one an idea of how big the Queen Mary 2 is, but the Dubai Harbour was built to handle huge ships easily – the terminal can handle two mega-size cruise ships simultaneously.

Cruise liner vs. Ocean liner
Queen Mary 2 is the last ocean liner in service. An ocean liner is different from a cruise ship in construction and primary purpose. The ocean liner is built to transport passengers over vast expanses of water, between continents, with the ability to withstand harsh weather and sea conditions. Cruise ships are built with safety features but is more directed at pleasure voyages at lower speeds.

Queen Mary 2, like ocean liners before her, is faster than any cruise ship travelling at an average of 30 knots an hour (cruise ships travel at an average of 21-23 knots an hour). Ocean liners have been described as 'ships turned hotels' while cruise ships are 'hotels turned ships'.
Queen Mary 2
A view of Ain Dubai and the JBR area from inside the ship's Commodore Club on the ninth deck. Image Credit: Dona Cherian/Gulf News

Cunard flagship

Queen Mary 2 replaced the world-famous liner Queen Elizabeth 2 as Cunard’s flagship after QE2 retired from service in 2008. QE2 has since become Dubai’s only floating hotel offering stays, entertainment and dining. Queen Mary 2 was debuted in 2004 and later refurbished in 2016. The Queen Mary 2 is two times bigger than Queen Elizabeth 2.

Keeping in line with her predecessors in theme and design, the interior design of Queen Mary 2 is steeped in history and features décor of the 1930s, but the ship boasts modern amenities that make travel comfortable for its guests.

Our first stop is the Commodore Club on the ninth deck with windows that offer the perfect view of Ain Dubai against the marina’s blue waters. It was here that Captain Hashmi met with Dubai Harbour officials in an exclusive plaque exchange ceremony, which is a customary maritime tradition. The ship has an entire wall displaying all the plaques it has received on maiden all to ports across the world.

Queen Mary 1
The first Queen Mary was retired in 1967, after having transported more than 2 million passengers over 30 years. Now, she is permanently moored in Long beach, California as a floating hotel. A notable passenger who travelled on Queen Mary was Winston Churchill.

Nod to history

As we start the tour, our guide takes us through narrow hallways flanked by rooms on both sides. Our footsteps are inaudible with the lush carpets on the floor, which is the case throughout the ship. The hallways open to the elevator area – the ship has 22 passenger elevators and 15 crew and service elevators.

Queens Room Queen Mary 2
The Queens Room in Queen Mary 2 houses the largest dance floor at sea Image Credit: Supplied

The guide explains why their passengers always feel so well taken care of – there is a ratio of one crew member for every two passengers on the ship. The Queen Mary 2 can accommodate 2,691 passengers and 1,173 crew members.

The majestic liner has a wraparound promenade deck and offers a wide range of accommodation for various budgets. From ocean-view balconies and personal butlers to staterooms with windows looking at the Grand Lobby, there is something for every kind of travellers.

The Grand Lobby has fresh flower arrangements, pink as part the month’s theme of Valentine’s Day. The ship has two florists on board, our guide tells us, who ensure that the ship is decorated with fresh flowers throughout the journey.

The next hour is spent exploring the various facilities on board the mammoth ship. Tradition and legacy is clearly the theme throughout. The walls of the ship are decorated in history, with photographs of celebrities who have sailed with Cunard Liner company over its 180-year history, and several portraits of the late Queen Elizabeth II. There are small plaques that detail the history associated with the pictures and portraits.

Queen Mary 2
The Queen Mary 2 had the first planetarium on a ship, which to this day remains one of the largest at sea. The planetarium converts into a movie theatre, as pictured here, when the dome retracts. Image Credit: Dona Cherian/Gulf News

Entertaining all day, every day

Our guide tells us that there are guests who would opt for the entire cruise from origin to final destination – as long as 6 months on some routes. To keep these guests entertained, the ship has activities and options catering to all ages and interests.

From watching movies or observing the stars in their planetarium/theatre or playing bridge, to enjoying full-fledged theatrical, dance or cabaret performances and gala evenings, the ship offers a wide variety when it comes to entertainment.

For guests on the cruises, dining, dance classes, deck games, art classes, guest lectures, classical concerts, church services, and indoor games are included.

Royal Court theatre Queen May 2
More than 60 performers travel on board the Queen Mary 2, including dancers, cabaret performers, theatrical artists and more. They showcase their dazzling performances in the Royal Court Theatre (pictured) Image Credit: Supplied

The Royal Court Theatre for performances can seat nearly 1,000 guests and spans two decks. The ship, our guide tell us, There are nearly 60 live performers on the ship for most voyages, which includes the dancers, performers and musicians.

The planetarium on Queen Mary 2 was the first of its kind when it opened and is the largest one at sea today. The planetarium converts into a 3D movie hall or a concert hall when the dome above the seats retracts, depending on the entertainment rota on board.

The Queens Room houses one of the largest dance floors at sea. The entrance into the huge space has a bust of Mary of Teck (consort of King George V) after whom the ship is named. There are ballroom lessons conducted here that passengers can sign up for. This is where guests enjoy a daily British afternoon tea experience. With a DJ and a much smaller dance floor, the ship has a nightclub on board called G32 – this was the ship’s hull number when being built.

Queen Mary 2
A bust of Mary of Teck (consort of King George V) after whom the ship is named. Image Credit: Dona Cherian/Gulf News

Breakfast, lunch and dinner

While the Queen Mary 2 has many dining venues – more than 11 – Britannia Restaurant is their main restaurant and a Cunard signature on all their Queens. This restaurant can seat 1,351 guests at a time, and is grand in its own right with a sweeping staircase, majestic entrance and decor, vast upper and lower deck seating and a fine-dining menu. Dining here is included in the full-board package for the majority of the guests on the cruise.

While a 1300-capacity restaurant may seem almost like a food court or an auditorium, the Britannia gives diners a feeling of opulence and even intimacy. The guide explains that the design of the restaurant intentionally tries to do that, with dividers set up at various sections.

There are also lounges, coffee bars and pubs on board including the Chart Room, Golden Lion, Terrace Bar, and Carinthia Lounge.

We also walked through an impressive art gallery with pieces available for purchase, ranging all the way from $60 to $100,000. The casino and shops have to remain shut for the time that the ship remains docked – our guide tells us the ship has to be 20km out at sea to be allowed to operate these.

Britannia Restaurant Queen Mary 2
Britannia Restaurant is the main restaurant on board and can seat over 1,300 passengers at a time Image Credit: Supplied

At the end of our tour, we are aware that we haven’t seen nearly half of what the ship has to offer. Queen Mary 2 is one of the most spacious ships at sea, with 14 decks of lounges and bars, shops, and sports courts. The ship boasts three pools and a spa, Mareel Wellness and Beauty.

There are currently three Cunard ships, Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria and a fourth ship, Queen Anne, will be entering service in early 2024.

Want to cruise?

Depending on the destination and duration, Cunard’s ships offers packages that start at around 800 pounds (Dh3,552) which includes dining and some activities. These are UK or Europe-based trips, departing from the UK.

Middle East cruises are also getting popular now, with Costa Cruises and MSC Cruises offering various options for residents and visitors. These packages range from 3-7 days at sea exploring various Gulf countries, and start at Dh995 per person, which includes, stay, meals, and taxes or fees.

Stock- Dubai Harbour
Dubbed the region’s leading cruise hub, Dubai Harbour is designed to process over 3,250 passengers per hour through its highly efficient and modern terminals

Why visit Dubai Harbour

Dubai Harbour is one of Dubai’s most picturesque locations, and sits just over 30kms from both Dubai International Airport (DXB) and Dubai World Central Airport (DWC) and is within easy reach from the city’s iconic attractions such as Palm Jumeirah, Burj Al Arab, and Expo 2020 Dubai. Skydive Dubai is also located in the heart of the district.

As a one-of-a-kind destination, Dubai Harbour expects to attract a wide range of locally and internationally renowned events all year round, including the Dubai International Boat Show.