Famed cruise ship refurbished at a cost of $100 million, down to replicating its 1960s carpet
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Britain's famed Queen Elizabeth 2 cruise ship will finally open as a floating luxury hotel moored off Dubai, nearly a decade after completing its last ocean voyage.
It's been another long trip for the ship known as the QE2 to even open to the public, as Dubai's financial meltdown and years of slow growth nearly sank the project and left the ship languishing at port. After initially planning to gut the vessel, Dubai's government ultimately decided to restore the ship at a cost of over $100 million, down to replicating its 1960s carpeting, with work still underway.
"It's like walking into a time capsule — this is the ship in 1969. It's a hotel and a museum," said Hamza Mustafa, the CEO of Dubai's Ports, Customs and Free Zone Corp.'s investment arm. "We've put in 2.7 million man hours working on her ... making sure that she can really shine."
"She's going to live on for many more years now in her final home in Dubai," he added.
The QE2, built by Cunard and put to sea in 1969, is the second ship the company named after the wife of King George VI, not the current British monarch — hence the number rather than the Roman numeral.
The luxury ship traveled some 6 million miles in decades of service even as airlines came to dominate trans-Atlantic travel. It carried 2.5 million passengers and crossed the Atlantic more than 800 times. Britain requisitioned the ship as a troop carrier for the Falklands War against Argentina in 1982.
In 2007, Cunard sold the QE2 to an arm of the state-run conglomerate Dubai World for 50 million pounds ($100 million). She arrived to Dubai's Port Rashid the following year as part of a glitzy armada led by a mega-yacht owned by Dubai's ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, at the height of the former British protectorate's real-estate bubble.
An economic crash left the QE2's owners in debt for billions of dollars. Rumors circulated for years after that the ship could be sold. All the while, she sat mothballed at Port Rashid near Dubai's historic downtown creek, a 149,000-ton reminder of the crash.
Three years ago, the Dubai government's Ports, Customs and Free Zone Corp. took over the project. It marks the first foray into hotels for the corporation, said Mustafa, who previously served as a managing director at the government-owned developer Nakheel and at the investment arm of Dubai World. He said the corporation planned to open other hotels in the future.
The ship has been hooked up to Dubai's power grid, but still floats in the Persian Gulf. An Associated Press team that visited the ship Tuesday could feel her tilt slightly while walking through portions of her completed passageways.
"She lists. She's supposed to do that, she's a ship," Mustafa said.
Today, around seven of the QE2's 13 decks are in operation, with 224 cabins available, Mustafa said. Prices will range from $150 a night in the simplest berthing to $15,000 a night for the Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary suites.
A green-hued British pub and other restaurants will serve alcohol, a common practice across Dubai's hotels. However, its nickel, quarter and dollar slot machines will remain turned off as gambling is illegal.
The ship also will feature shops run by Dubai Duty Free, the government-run conglomerate that had $1.93 billion of sales in 2017, with 9.7 million cans of beer and 7.4 million bottles of liquor and wine sold.
Workers hurried across the ship Tuesday to finish work ahead of the hotel's soft opening Wednesday. By October, Mustafa said the hotel hopes to have a grand opening with 600 to 800 rooms ready.
"If you want to come and have a sense of how it was during the ocean liner era but at the same time being a doorstep away from Dubai, this is the place you want to be," he said. "We're not a theme. We're not a concept. This is what this ship was."