#stillmakinghistory One night on QE2 Dubai

Christened in September 1967 and serving as the flagship of Cunard line between 1969 and 2004, the famous Queen Elizabeth 2 – QE2 for the cruise lovers – spoiled with her luxury and beauty almost 40 years, generation after generation of glamour seekers, with unforgettable world cruises and transatlantic voyages. After 806 transatlantic crossings and unique memories created for almost 2.5 million passengers QE2 started her final voyage from Southampton in November 2008 to rest now in Dubai’s Port Rashid.

Couple years ago, starting a cruise from Dubai I saw docked and almost forgotten, the elegant cruise liner. So different from the “floating monsters” of the modern cruising world of today docked nearby, keeping under the layers of dust and rust the aura of the golden age of cruising in style. I knew that some plans to transform QE2 in a hotel were made and abandoned one after the other but when I read about the “soft opening” of the cruise liner as a hotel in 2018 I couldn’t wait for the first opportunity to spend one night on board. And finally, last December, preparing my New Year trip with MSC Bellissima sailing out of Dubai I managed to secure a booking for one night in the new QE2 Dubai Hotel.

QE2 was retired from active Cunard service on 27 November 2008. She had been acquired by the private equity arm of Dubai World, which planned to begin conversion of the vessel to a 500-room floating hotel moored at the Palm Jumeirah, Dubai. The 2008 financial crisis intervened, however, and the ship was laid up at Dubai Dry-docks and later Port Rashid. For another 5 years, subsequent conversion plans stalled. In November 2015, Cruise Arabia & Africa quoted DP World chairman Ahmed Sultan Bin Sulayem as saying that QE2 would not be scrapped and a restored QE2 opened to visitors on 18 April 2018. Over 2.7 million man-hours were committed to the work to upgrade and rebuild the ship to meet hotel standards

The entire experience blown away any expectations, pre-formed ideas or images I had before stepping on board. QE2 Dubai is a place where living heritage, re-shaped tradition and modern luxury merge and she is still making history since circumnavigating the world 25 times and entertaining almost 2.5 million passengers in a unforgettable experience.

The adventure started in the moment when I stepped out of the taxi in front of the “QE2 terminal” in fact the reception and concierge lobby. What a brilliant idea to build a faithful copy of a cruise terminal as a starting point for your experience as a hotel guest! All the staff are wearing nautical uniforms and the way how they interact with guests gave you a strong feeling that you are not in a hotel but on a cruise ship.

The arrival and check-in experience were at an incredible level. Booking a suite include a complimentary transfer from/to airport and at the arrival I was greeted by name with a genuine warm welcome. Elegant and efficient the check-in gave me only couple of second to discover the incredible lobby, a smart concept bringing past and present together. Next to the modern front desk and concierge is the QE2 Exhibition – an interactive museum that showcases the QE2 during the 60’s when she was a pioneer in design, technology and lifestyle – words often used to describe the city she resides in today. The museum exhibit includes a replica of the Queen Room as it was when the ship was first launched, along with an original ‘tourist class’ outside cabin, and the ship’s bridge. In the centre of the terminal stands a replica of the ship’s funnel, diving the two sections, with the library and coffee shop on the other. QE2’s library was one of the largest at sea, and here every book available has been put on display for guests’ reading pleasure.

Of course my eyes were trying to catch as much as possible from this incredible display but Anthea, Assistant Front Office Manager, told me that for the in-house guests a complimentary heritage tour is offered daily and I will have enough time to discover the history and the secret of the ship.

After check-in I still found time to check the library: Dominating the walls within this space are original artworks from the ship, mostly paintings of former Cunard liners, but also portraits of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Standing atop each bookshelf is also a model of former Cunard vessels, which were previously displayed in QE2’s public areas when she was a cruise ship. It was like a trip back in time to open the books and ready the names and the dates when those pages were making long voyages more pleasured for the hundreds of passengers pampered on board QE2.

When finally, I decided to return to the present, another charming, enthusiastic staff member in marine-themed uniform escorted me them a red carpeted gangway to board the ship. On some of the walls and corners, there are scuff marks from her 40-odd years in service, the footplate at the elevator doors on Deck 8, for example, shows signs of decades of passenger foot traffic. These are deliberate, my escort informed me with his big smile. A short ride in a modern elevator which still keep the old Cunard lions on the doors, a walk along the Queens Lounge and here I am in, what use to be the most expensive and exclusive part of the cruise liner: the First Class section. In 1972, the first penthouse suites were added in an aluminium structure on Signal Deck and Sports Deck (now “Sun Deck”), behind the ship’s bridge, and in 1977 this structure was expanded to include more suites with balconies, making QE2 one of the first ships to offer private terraces to passengers since Normandie in the 1930s.

From small but beautifully designed ‘cabin’ style Standard Rooms starting at 17m², to the 76m² Royal Suites the QE2 will offer a selection of 13 room and suite categories for Passengers to experience. The gem in the crown of the QE2 are the two Royal Suites named after the Queen’s mother and grandmother. These suites offer a private veranda, conservatory and dining room – in addition to a luxurious bedroom. Highly personalised amenities are included for Passengers who can book the suite by invitation only.

At the time of my booking the two Royal Suites were still under refurbishment, so I choose CAPTAIN’S CABIN SUITE and actually at check-in I found that I was the first guest to book in this type of cabin. It was the unique chance to live life as the QE2’s former 25 captains did during their tenure. Ample space, vintage finishing and plush bedding make for a superb on-board stay. In this 70m², with a balcony with a beautiful sea views you can find all the benefits of a modern luxury hotel: complimentary WiFi access, flat-screen 49 inch IPTV, coffee and tea making facilities, Nespresso Coffee machine but mingled with the luxury heritage which made this place so special. How extraordinary is to sip a cocktail on the balcony relaxing on the old teak sun loungers, perfectly restored and controlling the light with a touch of a button from the futuristic solar powered lamp! Better than back to the future. As this is a former cruise ship, some rooms are on the smaller side – especially compared to Dubai’s palatial hotels but everywhere the style is designed to reflect the QE2’s glory days, with maritime accents, original porthole windows and wood panelling.

Perhaps most intriguing of all is PCFC Hotels’ approach to the ship’s two ‘best rooms’, the Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mary Grand Suites. These two suites, which include a separate bedroom, sitting area, conservatory and balcony overlooking the bow, will not be on sale for the general public. “This isn’t an attempt to be snobbish,” as on of the staff told me. “But rather we want to protect the history, the legacy of the ship and be respectful of the calibre of people that those suites were designed for.” You can send enquiries for the booking and the decision will be taken by the owners. It isn’t clear what criteria potential guests for the Grand Suites will be judged on, but what is clear is that QE2 Dubai the hotel is every bit as elegant and exclusive as QE2 the ocean liner. It’s part of her allure and it’s nice to see it kept alive. Available for anyone to book however are any one of her inside, outside, or superior staterooms, as well as several mini suites and a row of ‘duplex suites’ with balconies on both levels. These are be the best ‘cabins’ available on-board for the general public to book.

After unpacking some of my luggage I decided to explore the ship and believe me, each step was an amazing jump back in the golden era of cruising, far away from the mass tourism of today’s 5000+ passengers floating resorts.

The 13-deck hotel has been thoughtfully restored to her former glory – maintaining her most loved interior design features – including her period furniture, renowned paintings and famous memorabilia. The original porthole windows still add a maritime feel to the attractive modernised guest rooms and a number of her original restaurants have retained the same names and decor as her former years.  Whilst extensively preserving her authentic elements, she has been fully equipped with all the latest technology.

8 out of 10 restaurants and bars are now open, including the casual all-day dining restaurant Lido, which offers a varied breakfast spread from Arabic mezze to a full English as well as a popular Friday brunch. For light bites and drinks, take your pick from The Chart Room, which has the original glass route map behind; the Casino Coffee Lounge featuring now-decommissioned vintage slot machines; English pub The Golden Lion, with big screens for live sports; and the Yacht Club, with an al fresco deck overlooking the glittering city skyline. Unfortunately the fine-dining Queen’s Grill was not open during my stay but in the future will serves a nine-course tasting menu of modern interpretations based on the dishes offered on the ship’s maiden voyage in 1969, such as Dover sole and milk-fed lamb loin.

For breakfast I choose Lido with a carefully curated menu features everything beginning from fruit, cheese, yogurt to hot breakfast items as well as a full-fledged Arabic delicacies. A culinary experience that will stay with you a long way.

The QE2’s former Yacht Club is restored to its original decor this year. Complete with an open terrace and an exclusive bar, visitors can lounge with a drink while looking over Dubai’s impressive skyline. Can you imagine the intrigue experience to have a shisha on the old deck of QE2? Precious moment!

The Golden Lion is deemed as Dubai’s oldest pub, offering a truly authentic dining experience with its traditional range of draught beers, live sports screening, pool tables and game of darts.

Casino Coffee Lounge located adjacent to the Casino museum, offers a selection of hot as well as cold beverages and gave me the chance to lounge around on comfortable chairs and to enjoy panoramic views of the Dubai seascape.

Chartroom Bar was another mesmerising stop on board QE2. Whether you wish to sit back and catch-up over a bottle of wine or a selection of craft beers, the Chartroom Bar will stay true to its former name and live up to its yesteryears.

For dinner my choice was The Pavilion, a family-friendly al fresco dining experience, which boasts of splendid panoramic views of the Dubai skyline and serves an array of international dishes including pizza, live BBQ and a choice of great beverages.

For the health conscious, a fully-equipped gymnasium complete with free weights, mats and other training equipment is available on Deck 7 for those staying aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 Dubai. If the gym isn’t your style, then the sleek nine-metre indoor swimming pool, restored from the original, is perfect for a couple of laps.

Aboard the QE2 Dubai is the only licensed theatre in Dubai! This grand theatre can accommodate 515 people and offers the audience the chance to enjoy their drinks while watching the show. To catch a fascinating mix of local and international entertainment here you need to check QE2 website for the calendar of events.

No trip aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 Hotel Dubai is complete without the souvenir. The Dubai Duty Free – located on the Boat Deck – offers visitors ample opportunities to indulge their shopping cravings. Browse a selection of glittering jewellery and watches, quirky branded merchandise and the latest electronics. In fact, international visitors aboard the QE2 Dubai can shop to their heart’s content, and have their purchases delivered to the airport as well!

The Golden Lion Bar looks exactly as it did when the last person left, pool tables are ready to be played while the veranda of the Yacht Club is reached via original heavy duty doors. The decks and famous Queen’s Room are still off limits but one of the friendly staff told me to expect a similar nostalgia trip.

PCFC Hotels have also deliberately taken a ‘refurb-lite’ approach to her refit, replacing as few structural elements and soft furnishings as possible. In the Grand Lounge, for example, the dancefloor is the same one from when she was sold in 2008. CFC Hotels even went so far as to have new carpets produced, which were designed to the exact same specifications as her original 1969 carpets when she was launched. All tables and chairs aboard the ship are either exact replicas, or originals from her initial design before the refits of the 70s, 80s, and 90s during her long and illustrious career.

Complimenting almost to perfection the entire hard product, the human experience is at very high standards. “The navigators”, from managers to restaurant and hotel staff, and even the contractors still working on board brought a special personal touch to my experience at QE2. Is a wonderful mix of high quality hospitality standards with the friendly “home away from home” cruise staff approach. And as on a cruise ship was a feeling of sadness dominating my check-out moment.

And of course, the must do is the HERITAGE TOUR which is free for the in-house guests at very accessible timings during the day. The tour starts from the Heritage Exhibition near the ship, then tours the original rooms and interesting artefacts of the Queen Elizabeth 2 from the inside. Visitors will also be able to view the impressive restaurants, theatre and other leisure activities aboard the QE2 ship.

My guide was Peter Warwick, ex cruise director of the QE2 and to be honest I don’t know if I liked more the tour or his fascinating personality and stories. Or maybe both!

I still live the experience of that tour. As Peter strides the length of the historical Chart Room, he runs his hand along the leather armrest on the bar, touching the original wood and iron stools, pointing out the nailhead trim and original details. “This place was always much-loved, and it was so very nostalgic when it reopened. I mean, look at this; all of this is authentic from back in the day when I was in service. It’s just incredible, it looks exactly the same.” He nods towards a “North Atlantic Crossing” map encased in glass, which traverses the entire back wall of the bar, and he points out the metal strips embedded within the map. “This map, I absolutely love,” he says. “Those strips show the Atlantic routes we took – they’re metal – and every four hours, the man on duty had to move a miniature magnet of a QE2 ship along the strip, to show where we were as we crossed the Atlantic. I just love that.” He reaches the end of the Chart Room and stops in front of a wooden chest of drawers. “This is just a chest of drawers, but it was here back in 1995 when I was doing this tour all these years ago, and it looks exactly the same. Not a scratch, not warped, just incredible. It contains maps of different ports that we sailed into and anyone can come and have a look,” he says. Then, he leans against a table closest to the chest of drawers and steps back into the past. “In fact, a couple I loved would sit right here,” he reminisces. “They were regular world cruisers. Mr and Mrs Rosenberg. They would buy the crew a drink for their wedding anniversary every year, on the 5th of January. A drink for 1,000 of us! They were lovely, Michael and Jocelyn. So generous. They just loved the Chart Room.” Warwick, 52, joined the QE2 as crew staff in 1995, flying to Barbados from London to board the ship. Later, he became deputy social director and press liaison officer, before assuming the role of deputy cruise director and then cruise director, in charge of all entertainment on board. However, his mother’s death and the need to look after his father meant he had to leave the ship in 2001.Warwick’s history with the QE2 began years earlier, when his parents surprised him with a cruise on board the ship for his 21st birthday. In the years that followed, Warwick and his parents and friends became regular passengers. “I was a passenger for 10 cruises before I even thought about joining the staff,” he says.

Today, 17 years after leaving the ship as cruise director, Warwick is back as head of heritage on the cruise-liner-turned-hotel, supervising and training a group of tour guides who take guests through the ship and provide an introduction to its history, sharing stories, providing a glimpse into original rooms and artefacts and giving guests a taste of what it was like to be on such a historic vessel. And it’s Warwick’s past with it that provides such a personal flavour to the tour. “I was away 17 years, then saw the ship again just a few months ago when I landed in Dubai. I took all of a minute to decide when the job was offered to me. It’s like being home again; those 17 years just paled into insignificance,” he says.

Warwick says of all the famous people he met that day, no one made as big an impression as Millvina Dean, the youngest survivor of the Titanic tragedy. “She’s the one; that true touch of history that I got to meet,” he says. Dean was only two months old when the Titanic sank and she lost her parents. She was the youngest passenger aboard, and was the last surviving passenger from 2007 until her death in 2009. “I met and danced with her, we had coffee in the Queen’s Room. I’ve met Mandela, the Queen, President Bush. Who haven’t I met? But Millvina was the most special memory for me,” Warwick says.

Now for those starting a cruise in Dubai the hotel choice is impressive. But QE2 is the best option and here are only 5 of 1001 reasons:

  • Easy access from/to the airport avoiding the traffic in downtown Dubai
  • Magnificent service and facilities
  • Very close to Port Rashid the starting point of any cruises
  • For cruise lovers is the cruise before the cruise experience
  • Excellent value for money giving fantastic service without the overwhelming experience of the touristic opulence of other hotels in Dubai
  • Professional and efficient front desk and concierge service which can bring Dubai closer than you expect

And more than that you will be sleeping on QE2 being part of the once in the life time opportunity to #stillmakinghistory

I was reading some times ago about some plans for the ship over the years would have put her in competition with the top hotels in the region, which made me frown. But the proposal to restore QE2 to her former glory won out. And walking the historic decks as the ship gently lists, it’s hard not to be transported back to a time when Queen Elizabeth 2 ruled the waves.

My one night experience on board QE2 was magic – an original experience curated with distinct uniqueness at very high standards.And as consider Dubai an excellent starting point for my future cruises, for sure QE2 will be the only option I will consider for a night before and after my cruise

~ by Leonard69 on January 5, 2020.

2 Responses to “#stillmakinghistory One night on QE2 Dubai”

  1. Leonard, is it possible for me to find out if/when you might be cruise director for a Viking river cruise on the Rhine from Basel Germany to Amsterdam?

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