Ship Reviews

SHIP REVIEW: Cunard’s QE2 in her current state in Dubai

The ocean liner turned cruise ship Queen Elizabeth II was for forty years the epitome of everything that cruise passengers loved about ocean travel, a benchmark of good taste, glamour and adventure. Today, she is a shadow of the ocean liner she was, and her history is undoubtedly brighter than her uncertain future.

This is Cruise Arabia & Africa’s exclusive photo tour of QE2 in her current state in Dubai.

Editor’s note: The re-use of these images for whatever purpose is allowed provided credit is given to Cruise Arabia & Africa in the form of a web-link.

The former Cunard Line ocean liner Queen Elizabeth II (known to most of the world simply as QE2) is without doubt the most famous ship in the world after Titanic. The two ships are different from one another in many ways.


From the dock, QE2 looks as though she could set sail tomorrow

After many decades of celebrated success plying the waters between Southampton and New York, and all seven seas on her annual World Cruise itineraries, QE2’s venerable career was brought to a glorious close by Cunard with a series of celebrations and fireworks displays as part of her much-hyped decommissioning in 2008. She was then sold to Istithmar, Dubai World’s private-equity arm, who planned to turn the ship into a floating hotel, first on the Palm Jumeirah, then the Palm Jebel Ali, then as part of the Dubai Cruise Terminal.

Eventually, in the wake of the 2009 financial crisis as the severe knock this had on the UAE economy, Istithmar was forced to admit that in fact they had shelved all plans for QE2 and she sat like a white elephant in Dubai’s primary cruise port, Mina Rashid, for several years, a mere photo opportunity to the few arriving and departing cruise passengers unfamiliar with her, and a sad spectra of bygone days and faded memories for the many cruise passengers who continue to love the world’s last ever true ocean liner.

Even up close, QE2’s paintwork remains immaculate

Then, in 2013 it was announced that a Chinese company had purchased the ocean liner and planned to turn her into a floating hotel in Asia, with Hong Kong and Singapore touted by the media as the possible favourites. QE2 was moved from her berth opposite the Dubai Cruise Terminal and sent into dry dock at Dubai Dry-docks, part of the Dry-docks World group.

It was anticipated that she would receive an overhaul aimed at making her seaworthy again, so that she could sail under her own power to the Far East and begin the new life that eluded her in Dubai.

Instead, a source at Dry-docks World tells Cruise Arabia & Africa that the only work done to the ship was the re-painting of her hull, while no work whatsoever has been started on revamping her interiors for life as a modern floating hotel. She has received no engineering refit either and remains in a shamefully un-seaworthy state, a condition unbefitting in the extreme of any ship that once flew the Cunard colours from her mast.

In the engine room, the state of neglect becomes clear

Cruise Arabia & Africa knows this because we were recently given unprecedented access to the most famous ship in the world and allowed to photograph her from stem to stern in the early hours of a stifling summer morning in Dubai. Standing next to QE2 in her current state presents mixed emotions, from the outside she remains one of the most beautiful ships ever built, with her paintwork tended with meticulous care (she is regularly washed down by Drydocks World who now own her, we’re informed). As is so common to Dubai, however, scratching beneath the surface reveals that all is not as it seems.

The moment you step aboard QE2 the first thing you notice is the smell – it’s dank and musty and in parts of the lower deck accomodation the smell of mould and decay is almost unbearable. The ship is literally rotting from the inside out. She is connected to shore power and many of the interior lights in the public rooms we visited worked, but she has been in cold layup in this busy shipyard for several years. Without functioning air-conditioning and without any form of ventilation, the damage done is obvious – the smell may never leave her unless much of her precious original interiors are ripped out and replaced.

The sorry state of QE2’s exterior decks

She is a dead ship, a shadow of the regaled ocean liner she was for four glorious decades. Her engines have long since ceased to function due to neglect, her teak decks are faded, buckled and cracked, her cabins have been stripped bare and beneath her paintwork, sources at the shipyard inform us her steel is in places badly corroded. It is estimated that it will take US $200-million to make her seaworthy once more for passenger ship classification, and while she will never sail as a passenger ship again, this figure reveals the scale of her neglect.

QE2’s cabins have been stripped of bedding, but all interior fittings remain intact

Once aboard what has become Cunard Line’s ghost ship however, there are startling surprises and revelations of her incredible potential if the various stakeholders in her future had the courage or empathy to care. Much of QE2’s interior remains in exactly the same state it was when she was handed over by Cunard Line seven years ago – from the famous Mauretania model that is a centrepiece of the entrance to the Britannia dining room, to a ‘Stars of the Month’ display board listing the Cunard employees of the month – the last was Tessa Meiring, who was a waitress aboard QE2 until October, 2008. She is one of 12 members of staff and the ship’s crew who remain frozen in time aboard the world’s most famous forgotten ship.


Mauretania remains in place outside the dining room


The Stars of the Month board remains frozen in time

Elsewhere, a sign imploring passengers not to dive into the aft deck pool, and another in the medical centre reminding passengers that charges will be added to their shipboard account reinforce the notion that this was a ship whose career was cut short. She had more to give, more experiences and adventures to make possible, before she was left here in a region to which she had little connection and with which there is little cultural resonance among the public. Indeed, Dubai does not care what happens to QE2, because she is old, and Dubai is all about everything that is new.

Passenger signs show how QE2’s career was abruptly cut short

Walking through QE2 then is as painful as it is fascinating. She is a museum of cruise history as well as a modern passenger liner, her interiors, which for the most part remain intact, are testament to this. The popular Golden Lion Pub aft of the ballroom looks as though it has only been closed for the day, while through rays of speckled dust in the starboard walkway of the ballroom, the pastel blues of the passenger chairs and carpet (a hated introduction of her US $18-million 1996 refit) look as though passengers might stroll up at any moment and sit down to order cocktails. Apart from the dust, which covers just about everything, and the stifling heat, she looks like she could go cruising tomorrow. The ballroom remains entirely intact in all its art deco glory and throughout the ship a real effort has been made to spare her many, many hundreds of yards of carpeting.

The Golden Lion Pub, starboard walkway of the ballroom and the ballroom itself remain untouched, like much of the rest of the ship’s interior

Plastic sheeting covers much of it, but that is the only indication that the ship has been prepared for interior works that never occurred. In one way this is a good thing, because she is remarkable in so many ways and being able to experience this up close, even under such circumstances, was a cruise journalists’ dream, but the more important reality is that the lack of activity, the lack of progress on anything at all regarding QE2’s future is also extremely worrying.


The Windjammer Cafe aft

She has no future beyond these dry-docks and unless those cruise enthusiasts who still love her continue to campaign for her future, she will ultimately end up like the SS United States, a rotting hulk, famous and celebrated, but rotten and beyond realistic expectations of a future nonetheless.

We can only hope that DP World’s assurances of her secure future in Dubai are indeed true. There’s no doubt that DP World are lying, they do truly intend to make use of QE2 in Dubai, as part of the new Mina Rashid Marinas development, and she has been extensively refurbished during 2017, but the global economy has a habit of derailing Dubai’s plans.

Plastic sheeting covers the passenger companionways below deck

Below are more images, including her beautiful lobby, once the social focal point of the ship, complete with its stunning murals depicting Cunard’s famous history. If only the future of this ship were equally distinguished.

The Lobby

The Theatre

The show lounge


The indoor pool in the spa


The gym

The Queen’s suite


Most of QE2’s famous artworks remain in place. Even Queen Elizabeth II herself continues to watch the main stairwell – no doubt with disapproval

More exterior shots of QE2 in her current state

QE2’s bridge remains exactly as it was when she was handed over by Cunard

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