She set sail in 1969 as a symbol of Britain’s global aspirations. After almost four decades of service, both illustrious and embarrassing, she was moored, forlorn, at a dock in Dubai. But finally the QE2 is to open as a floating hotel – with bargain rates over the next few months.
PCFC Hotels, owned by the Dubai government, has announced a “soft opening” of the next chapter of the cruise ship’s extraordinary tale. Cabins described as “small but beautifully designed” are available for under AED700 (£135), including breakfast, on the opening night: 18 April 2018.
Half a century ago, the vessel that would become the Queen Elizabeth 2 was taking shape at the John Brown Shipyard in Clydebank. She was the last great ocean liner to be built in Scotland. Her maiden transatlantic voyage began on 2 May 1969.
During a 39-year career for Cunard, she completed 1,400 more voyages, including 25 circumnavigations. She hosted 2.5 million passengers and sailed six million nautical miles.
In May 1982, the government requisitioned the QE2 as a troop carrier, transporting 3,000 members of the 5th Infantry Brigade to South Georgia.
But she was also in the headlines for the wrong reasons. In 1992 she ran aground off the coast of Massachusetts. Two years later, “Project Lifestyle” – a much-needed refurbishment programme in Hamburg – was botched, and the QE2 set sail from Southampton for New York with hundreds of workmen on board valiantly trying to fix the plumbing.
One passenger, John Clark, of Newcastle upon Tyne, said: “It was a bit like Beirut.”
But she remained the flagship of the British merchant navy until 2008, when she made a final voyage to Dubai.
The intention was that she would swiftly be converted to a floating hotel, but after several false starts she has spent most of the last decade languishing at Port Rashid, close to the city’s Gold Souk.
Last year engineers were appointed to begin a refit. While the official opening will not take place until October, the soft opening is taking place in several stages. In the first phase, five of the planned 13 restaurants and bars will be open. Non-residents will be able to eat and drink in The Golden Lion, The Yacht Club and the Queen’s Grill.
The chief executive of PCFC Hotels, Hamza Mustafa, said: “To finally open the QE2 is a dream come true for my team and I. It is one of Dubai’s most highly anticipated projects and we know that a lot of people are going to be very excited to see her for the first time, or to step back on board the vessel that created so many wonderful memories during her 40 years at sea.
“We have dedicated more than 2.7 million man-hours into transforming this legendary ocean liner into the multi-faceted tourist destination that she is today.”
Many of the original features will be preserved in the 13-deck hotel. Adjacent to the lobby is the QE2 Exhibition, which “showcases the QE2 during the 60s when she was a pioneer in design, technology and lifestyle”.
Her sister ship, Queen Mary, serves as a floating hotel and tourist attraction in Long Beach, California.