Salute the Queen

Sudha Pillai
Saturday, 11 May 2019

The Dubai-docked Queen Elizabeth II (QE2) just celebrated the golden anniversary of its maiden voyage which took place on May 2, 1969 from Southampton to New York

Standing next to Queen Elizabeth 2, fondly called the QE2, you’re sure to feel like Lilliput in front of Gulliver. After all, she is as tall as the Great Sphinx of Giza. Looking at her, one could easily fathom what prompted pop icon David Bowie to pen songs aboard her that went on to be part of his 1973 album Aladdin Sane or why Milvinia Dean (the last survivor of the Titanic) loved her much, or Beatrice Muller sold her house on land and decided to make QE2 her home till the end. 

QE2 was launched on September 20, 1967 by Queen Elizabeth II and was known as the Concorde of the Seas when she made her maiden voyage in 1969. It was built by John Brown in Upper Clyde, Scotland and was designed as a dual-purpose ocean liner and cruise ship. 

Weighing 70.327 tons, measuring 963 ft in length and 105.2 feet in width and with 13 decks, QE2 was, and is, a mammoth ship. She is considered an engineering marvel and a template for all liners. In 1969, it cost 29 million pounds to build her. 

During four decades at sea, she carried 2.5 million passengers over 6 million miles — farther than any other ship in history! She crossed the Atlantic 812 times, the trip taking just five days. After circumnavigating the world more than 25 times, QE2 was retired and was all set to be sent to the scrap yard when Dubai government’s investment company Istithmar World stepped in and bought the QE2. 

The majestic liner made its final voyage to Dubai in 2008. Today, she is permanently docked at the Mina Rashid port in Dubai where she’s been turned into a living history —  a monumental lifestyle destination with culinary discoveries, historical exhibits and heritage tours. A stationary floating hotel! 

It took the new owners 2.7 million man-hours to restore her to her original glory.

As one treads her carpeted decks, interesting facts tumble out. QE2’s anchors weigh the size of two elephants (12.5 tons each) and her engines are the size of a double-decker bus, and they can generate enough power to light up the entire Emirate of Fujairah. And in spite of all this heftiness on board, QE2 was the fastest passenger ship on the seas until she retired. She could travel backwards faster than most ships could travel forwards at a top speed of 34 knots (63 kph). She was a guzzler — she consumed 18.05 tons of fuel per hour. 

There are other brass tacks that made QE2 legendary during her time. It seems more than 70,000 bottles of champagne were consumed per year on average onboard the QE2 and the amount of juice consumed per year by her passengers could fill the ship’s swimming pool nearly eight times over. She boasted the largest cinema at sea with a 400-plus seating capacity. 

QE2 was a favourite with many celebrities including US Presidents George W Bush and Jimmy Carter, as also Nelson Mandela, Margaret Thatcher, Elton John, the Beatles and the British royal family. 

During her time on the seas, she’s had many adventures — from rescuing passengers from a sinking French cruise ship in 1971 to surviving 29-metre rogue waves and hurricane in 1995. However, she shone bright when in 1982 she became a troop ship during the Falkland war; she was stripped of all her glamour, and three helipads were installed, and her lounges were used as dormitories for soldiers.

Today, QE2 is transformed as a lifestyle destination — a luxurious floating hotel with eclectic fine dining restaurants and duty-free shopping, albeit with a touch of history. In the lobby is a fascinating interactive museum portraying her origins, showcasing her pioneering design and also giving a peek into the microcosm of the radically changing society that created her — all replete with actual artefacts of a bygone era. Walking down the corridors of QE2 is like waltzing through the pages of maritime history. Well worth one’s time!

(The author is a travel writer, photographer and artist. She blogs at

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