If you have any interest whatsoever in seafaring vessels, then you will no doubt know all about the rich history of the QE2. Arguably one of the most famous ships afloat, the 295 metre long, ocean liner is once again open for business, with her cabins, restaurants and bars ready to be explored and experienced. There is an understandable excitement about her soft opening, as it’s fair to say, up until now, the QE2’s stay in Dubai hasn’t been without drama, intrigue or rumour.
The Early Years
The Queen Elizabeth 2 (named after the Queen Mother, not the current Queen) arrived at Dubai’s Port Rashid on November the 27th 2008, a mere two months after the collapse of the Lehman Brothers investment bank. Suddenly, the world financial crisis put the proposed three-year refit to turn her into a luxury hotel on hold, along with the plan to moor her at Palm Jumeirah East, at the end of the marina. Dubai didn’t need anymore hotel rooms and the once gracious lady, with a rich history that spanned 812 Atlantic crossings, was left under the Middle East sun with no certain future.
The global economic meltdown had put the QE2’s Dubai future on hold, but even so, interest in her was still extremely high. South Africa, China, Japan and the UK all battled to take the cruise liner to their respective shores, with London in particular, trying its best to rehome the QE2 at Greenwich.
The idea even got the backing of the then Mayor, Boris Johnson, however, the small matter of manoeuvering her through the Thames Barrier scuppered the plan and for six years, she remained in and around Dubai Dry Docks. Boat enthusiasts knew where she was, but as the endless months passed, she steadily became a part of the landscape, that was until the 2016 Dubai International Boat Show, when DP World displayed a concept of its proposed Port Marina Rashid project. Here, amongst the computer generated yachts was one rather large cruise liner with a single red funnel. Although there was no comment at the show, it was the first time that we had seen the QE2 included as part of an overall plan since her arrival back in 2008.
That spark of excitement was almost ruined in mid 2016, when the QE2’s lifeboats were removed and left in the port’s car park. It looked like the Chinese scrap merchants had finally got their way, but it turned out that the lifeboats were all part of the plan and they’ve now been strategically placed around Mina Rashid as attractions, as well as lining the road to the cruise terminal.
Finally, on the 18th of April, the QE2 became the floating hotel the world had been waiting for and she didn’t disappoint. Over 2.7 million man-hours went into the QE2’s hotel refit and it has been expertly managed as to keep her original feel. Entrance to the liner is via the purpose-built Heritage Exhibition, which features a large number of items removed from the QE2, from books to a set of Samurai armour, a gift from the Governor of Kagoshima Prefecture.
You embark via the main lobby – exactly the same way as how the QE2’s 2.5 million passengers have done over the last 49 years. It’s not often you get to view a yacht launched when The Beatles were topping the music charts and it’s great to see the refit copied her original look. In fact, a lot of detailing I thought was original was in fact new, with the carpets and seat fabrics mostly replaced, but you simply can’t tell. As we begin to explore her 13 decks with the QE2’s Senior Marketing Executive, Johanna Oleimeulen, you get a great sense of history. Everything is as it should be, from the 481-seat cinema and Golden Lion (now officially the oldest pub in Dubai) to the entertainment stage where Elton John, Rod Stewart and David Bowie have all sung their hearts out.
Despite our early afternoon visit, the restaurants were already busy, with what appeared to be a mix of in-house guests and locals, no doubt making the most of the new D75 flyover, which has drastically cut the time it takes to get to Port Rashid.
With the QE2 moored at the east end of the marina, it benefits from a completely unspoiled view of the Dubai skyline. This will make her outdoor terraces extremely popular once the temperatures drop – especially so for the evening.
The QE2’s grand launch will take place in October, and by then, she will be fully ship shape, with a plethora of new venues to choose from including the Chatroom Bar, The Pavilion and The Grand Lounge. There’s lots more to come from the QE2 and we fully expect her to become a major attraction for Dubai.