Dubai: Bomb scares, war, recessions and a 29-metre wave, the Dubai-docked Queen Elizabeth II (QE2) has been through it all since her maiden voyage 50-years ago on May 2, 1969 from Southampton to New York.
Crossing the Atlantic in four days, 16 hours and 35 minutes during that first trip made her the fastest passenger ship in service for 39 years from her launch until 2008, when she started her new life in Port Rashid as a floating hotel, opening for that purpose in April of last year.
During that time the Cunard liner completed 1,400 voyages over six million nautical miles while carrying 2.5 million passengers over 25 world tours.
“Britain was in a dark place when she launched,” said Russel Hanson, General Manager of PCFC Hotels, which now manages the ship.
“It had just come through the back end of the Second World War, but she basically stood for everything that was still great about Britain, a marvel of engineering that was able to cut through the Atlantic like a razor at 34 knots when everything else was doing 6-12 knots.”
It wouldn’t be an easy start for her however as her existence was immediately under threat with the introduction of Concorde and supersonic flight also in 1969, which enabled transatlantic crossings in under three and a half hours.
“Jet engines were really taking off in the 1970s, excuse the pun, so the QE2 really had to reinvent itself,” said Peter Warwick, who served as crew onboard from 1995 to 2001, and now works as a tour guide on board. “They overcame those financial difficulties in the 1970s and they overhauled her to add a casino and penthouse to help her overcome that competition.
“British Airways and Cunard also formed a brilliant relationship to create packages allowing you to fly to New York, have lunch at the Waldorf Astoria and come back on the QE2.
“Concorde could have been a foe, but she ended up being a very good friend to us,” added Warwick.
That, along with a bomb scare in 1972, serving as a troop carrier in the Falklands in 1982 and weathering a freak 29-metre wave during a hurricane in 1995, made her a resilient mistress of reinvention, something that will stand her in good stead for the next 50 years as a floating hotel, says Warwick. “The belief Cunard had in her from the beginning was nothing short of outstanding,” he added. “Many would have given up, but despite going through very difficult financial times they reinvented and reinvested with at least 12 refits, the biggest being in 1972 and 1986.
“It’s this passion and belief that carried through from the company right through to the passengers and the crew that still exists today in her new form as the world’s few floating hotels.”
Reinvention remains her mantra explains Hanson, who says that besides being a hotel with fine-dining, she also serves as office space, a conference centre, with health, fitness leisure, theatre and live entertainment facilities, turning what used to sail to destinations into a destination in itself.
Terry Redding, who was in charge of fine fittings on the Burj Al Arab when it was built in 1999, and is now consulting for room refurbishment on the QE2, said the ship’s association with Dubai would only enhance and preserve her life and legacy, to turn the world’s most famous ship into a world famous Dubai hotel.
“Dubai demands a certain standard of quality and it is absolutely critical for us to deliver what we achieved on the Burj Al Arab here as well,” he said. “Everything Dubai does has to be the best, so people can rest assured the QE2’s future is in the safest hands here.”
You can visit the QE2 for a tour, meal or beverage, even without a hotel booking.
To find out how the QE2 is celebrating its 50th visit www.qe2.com —
Long-time passenger returns to QE2
Gulf News’ own Forrest Cassidy a Dubai veteran of 39-years, who has been on 15 trips on the QE2 from 1979 to 2004, returned to the ship-turned-floating hotel at Port Rashid on Wednesday for the first time in 15 years to see how much it had changed since he last embarked on the ship.
Check out the video of his reactions and recollections as he retraced his steps aboard the legendary transatlantic liner. Why, he even found his old room!