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Review / Iconic Ocean Queen retains appeal as a unique Dubai hotel

Wealthy American author Beatrice Muller enjoyed cruises aboard the QE2 with her husband so much that she dramatically altered the course of her twilight years. On becoming a widow she sold their homes and belongings and took up permanent residence on the prestigious ship, sailing the world’s oceans until the pride of the Cunard Line was decommissioned nine years later.

These days the Queen Elizabeth 2 is neither circling the globe nor prompting guests to sell worldly possessions to enjoy time within her hallowed hull. The sleek vessel - 20m longer than the Titanic - is now permanently moored in Dubai’s Port Rashid after developer Nakheel invested millions in 2008 to spare her from the salvage yard for a new lease of life as a floating four-star hotel 10 years later.

Once considered ultimate luxury on the waves, the QE2 has been undergoing careful restoration to incorporate modern comforts and facilities without smothering the nautical stardust that made her the must-have cruise experience of wealthy travelers when launched by HM Queen Elizabeth II in September 1967.

At one time, the cheapest ticket from Southampton to New York - the QE2’s route 812 times before competitive trans-Atlantic flights forced Cunard to refit her as a global voyager - would cost a teacher the equivalent of three months wages.

Today, there are 447 rooms and suites available with entry level cabins starting at just AED223 per night (based on a two-guest, June 1 stay), rising to AED 2673 if you aspire the Royal Suite surrounds heyday famous guests Joan Collins or Rod Stewart most likely indulged.

Craig, our affable guide for one of the thrice-daily heritage tours, recites a who’s who of presidents and celebrities from Jimmy Carter to Nelson Mandela, David Bowie to Elton John as frequenters of the decadent Queen’s Grill or chic Chart Bar, where an elaborate wall map detailed progress of a ship designed to cross the Atlantic in the fastest, most luxurious manner possible.

The tour follows the footsteps of 25 captains, including a fascinating stop on the bridge with the helm and others instruments fixed in original operating state behind perspex. Several other areas remain in an enchanting, time-frozen state.

While British affiliation with the QE2 remains strong, the demographic of guests during our stay suggested the iconic ship’s worldwide appeal persists. During 39 years of service the liner clocked up 6m nautical miles - about 25 circuits of the planet - hosting 2.5m-plus passengers on 1,419 voyages, including a 1982 Falklands War troop-carrying mission. Certainly, Brits either visiting or resident in Dubai appear to have taken the QE2 to their hearts with many packing tables for last weekend’s coronation of King Charles III.

The ceremony was screened around the ship, including the Queen’s Room where a themed buffet lunch was given added authenticity by a piper and drummers.

That palpable royal connection was also present in more sombre fashion following the passing of the late monarch when a book of condolence brought Britons flocking to pay their respects on board.

Shows in the ship’s theatre have introduced many others to the QE2, but there’s something special about staying overnight and observing the waves through a porthole or from the generous balcony attached to accommodation options such as a Captain’s Room (from AED466).

Step in from the wood-decking and subtle modern art deco vibes curate the space; from cool leaning marble lamps to colour blocking carpet that blends well with dark wood furniture and contemporary coloured walls and soft furnishings. Marble extends to table tops and a walk-in shower, twin-sink bathroom.

Views are either toward Bur Dubai and Downtown Dubai or the sea, taking in Maritime City, the working port, adjacent super yachts and Gulf waters beyond.

Ferghal Purcell joined the current ‘crew’ as General Manager in December 2021, embracing the specific challenges of positioning the city’s only floating hotel in the global eye, at a time when tourism was emerging from a pandemic. “The hotel had recently reopened to guests after a prolonged period of closure and, as a result, had to adapt to a new operating environment,” he recalls. “My role was to help reposition the hotel in the marketplace…I arrived with a very specific agenda which was to share the uniqueness of this historic and iconic vessel.” Ferghal confirms his objectives have evolved as he has developed better understanding of the ship, recognising a “complex entity and the role of showcasing its history and heritage is as important as developing new F&B initiatives”.

Guests and visitors can indulge in elegant afternoon teas in The Queen’s Grill, international buffets in the modern Lido restaurant, dine on the deck of The Pavilion, or order English pub favourites in The Golden Lion, the oldest hostelry in Dubai. There’s also a gym and an indoor pool available on a lower deck in which to work it all off again.

The GM says during the last year the QE2 has undergone ‘significant changes”, since hotel group Accor took over, not least with the address now accessible through various booking platforms and channels to a wider range of travelers. That includes former crew and passengers seeking to “relive their memories of the ship”. “The QE2 has a rich history and strong emotional connection for many people who have sailed on her, so it’s not surprising they would want to return and experience the ship once again,” adds Ferghal. “It absolutely maintains the link with the royal family (and) now that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has passed there is an even greater desire to experience her association with the QE2. “It has become a moral responsibility to preserve the history and heritage of this iconic vessel for generations to come, and we are working hard and continuing to showcase her life’s journey.”

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