“I name this ship Queen Elizabeth the Second. May God bless her and all who sail in her,” said the British monarch in 1976, unveiling the last great transatlantic vessel, before a crowd of 30,000 flag-waving spectators in Scotland. It is, perhaps, fitting that this Ramadan, more than 40 years later in Dubai, some of the first wave of hotel guests will be occupying its cabins. In 2008, when thousands of British spectators bade a final farewell to the true monarch of the seas, a million poppies cascaded from a plane overhead. For those who love the QE2, Wednesday’s opening is equally significant.
Behind its rebirth as a 224-room floating hotel in Dubai is a protracted struggle in the face of testing economic conditions. Purchased in 2007 by a Dubai firm for $100 million after new international safety regulations ended her decades-long career, plans to create a floating hotel were thwarted by the global financial crisis. As the vessel lay dormant in Dubai’s Port Rashid, rumours that she would end up in a Chinese scrapyard generated transatlantic chagrin. Yet the historic liner is no stranger to misfortune. In 1976 a blaze engulfed her engine room, one year after a reef collision in the Bahamas. In 1992, her hull was damaged when she hit dry ground near Massachusetts. Each time she recuperated, safely carrying 2.5 million passengers – among them Nelson Mandela and Elizabeth Taylor – over six million nautical miles. Shipping enthusiasts will rightly be delighted by her imminent next chapter.
Wednesday’s new beginning reflects the continued ability of Dubai’s hotels to surprise and enthral. Visitors to the city can now doze comfortably in the desert, inhabit a grand chalet next to an indoor ski slope or overlook an 11 million litre aquarium. The addition of the QE2 to its spectacular hotel offering will bring further prestige. It is yet another sign of how far this country – itself just five years older than the vessel – has travelled. Perfectly designed, the QE2 was the first British liner to offer outstanding luxury to its passengers. The evolution of Dubai serves as a remarkably good parallel.