In April, the Queen Elizabeth II (QE2), the world’s most famous ocean liner from the 1960s, opened its gangways to guests once more. But its cruising days are over — this time around the QE2 is staying put in its new home, the city port of Mina Rashid.
The ship’s age gives it an edge in Dubai’s hotel market, says Hamza Mustafa, CEO of PCFC Hotels, the government-owned company operating the ship.
In fact, the ocean liner, launched by the UK’s Queen Elizabeth II in 1967, is 4 years older than the formation of the UAE itself.
Preserving the ship’s history
224 rooms are currently open for business — rising to at least 600 by the hotel’s grand opening in October — and prices start at $150 per night. The rooms have dark wooden paneling as they did in the sixties, and some still boast the original portholes.
The retro touches don’t stop there. Of the 13 restaurant and nightlife venues, the Chartroom Bar will still serve chicken liver mousse and Eton Mess, the Golden Lion pub has beer on tap, and the casino is lined with original slot machines (albeit now purely decorative).
“(The QE2 is) a very famous lady to us, she’s one of the most famous ocean liners ever to exist,” says Mustafa. “We have glorified her, we have brought her back to her might, we have focused on things that make her famous… For her to be a museum first, and then a hotel.”
“When you walk on board you feel like you’ve stepped into a time capsule — the time is 1969, her maiden voyage,” he adds. “You get a sense of the history, of what the ship was.”
Traveling through time
When she was sold to Dubai, the 963-ft (293.5m) liner had carried 2.5 million passengers, completed 812 Atlantic crossings and 25 world cruises. She had traveled further than any other ship — almost six million miles, according to Cunard Lines.
Her fame surged following visits from pop icons like the Beatles’ Ringo Starr and George Harrison, and film stars such as Elizabeth Taylor and John Travolta.
She even had a spell as a troopship during the Falklands War in 1982, when her decks became dormitories for 3,000 British soldiers.
The QE2 became an ambassador for Britain says Eric Flounders, a former press officer for Cunard. This is why it may seem odd that she’s ended up in the Persian Gulf.
“The connections to Dubai are zero,” says Flounders. But he adds that few other places would have been willing to invest so much in the ship.
“There’s the cost of purchasing the ship in the first place, then there’s the cost of converting it to a hotel that people want to stay in,” he says. “I just don’t think the money in the UK would ever have been forthcoming.”
A boost for tourism
Dubai has spent a fortune on the ship already. She was originally bought for $100 million, and PCFC’s renovation has cost more than that again, requiring a total of 2.7 million man hours.
“Adding this attraction to Dubai creates another reason why you’d stay one day longer,” he says, “and for a city that is so dynamic and focusing on tourism, it’s all about attractions and why you’d come here.”
QE2 and the bright lights of Dubai
Courtesy of QE2
What matters most to Lightbody is that the ship still looks like it did when he first boarded in 1987, when he was just 14 years old.
“It’s still the ship that we recognize,” he says, noting with a sigh of relief that the previously mooted plans of a mirrored glass funnel full of penthouse suites didn’t come into fruition. “I think all the fans are over the moon.”
“To see QE2 coming back to life after a decade of layup is wonderful,” says Frame. “I hope the ship has a highly successful career as a hotel, she is a global icon and deserves to be preserved for future generations.”