The Escape | The QE2, Dubai

The QE2, The Escape, Cruise, The Queen Elizabeth II, Staycation, Dubai Staycation
Courtesy of The QE2
One of nautical history’s finest masterpieces, reborn

For forty years of service, the Queen Elizabeth 2 trans­atlantic cruise liner dazzled the world with its unparalleled service, luxury abodes and A-list celebrity clientele (including His Royal Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and Queen Elizabeth II herself no less).

The Escape | The QE2, Dubai

Courtesy of The QE2

Arriving on the seas in 1969 just as Concorde was making its first test flight and Apollo 11 was landing on the Moon, the Cunard liner, named after her predecessor, RMS Queen Elizabeth, served as the flagship of the line until succeeded by RMS Queen Mary 2 in 2004 and has survived war, bomb threats and hurricanes.

With the knots power to journey from the UK’s Southampton to New York in just four and a half days, the QE2 was the fastest ship in the merchant navy. Today however, she’s going nowhere fast. After being docked at Port Rashid for over 10 years, in April 2018 the QE2 awoke from her slumber thanks to major financial backing from QE2 Shipping and PCFC Hotels (subsidiaries of the Government of Dubai’s Ports, Customs & Free Zones).

The Escape | The QE2, Dubai

Courtesy of The QE2

Now, a year on since it’s reopening and having faced a new challenge in the UAE’s competitive hospitality market, permanently moored in the warm waters of Dubai’s old cruise terminal, I decided to step aboard  the 224 room floating hotel to get to the bottom of how this regal cruise liner is still making history 50 years on.

My journey begins in the vast exhibition space, a stone’s throw from the mighty ship itself.  After a thorough and highly gripping tour of the QE2’s illustrious history (including a fascinating set of relics, from one of the original first-class lounge chairs to a mockup of a typical 1969 cabin) given by none other than one of original crew members, it’s all aboard the main event!

The Escape | The QE2, Dubai

​Courtesy of The QE2

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what I expected, but an encounter with a modern and highly “Dubai-ed” sleek interior with any whisper of the QE2’s past gutted and wrenched from its foundations was certainly high up on the list of possibilities.

From the outside, the ship carries the same arresting presence it always did; streamlined and slender in profile with the oh-so iconic red funnels proudly protruding from its crest. Though its interior has been refined and remodelled over the years to keep up with fashion (the last major refit before today was Bremerhaven in 1987) it struck me that the designers of now might have struggled with the question that anyone attempting to restore a historic structure faces: what to leave intact, and what to take out.

The Escape | The QE2, Dubai

​Courtesy of The QE2

The result? A luxurious 1980s provincial German dream. The roomy and remarkably comfortable cabins boast an intriguing amalgamation of classical and Post Modernist elements complete with catafalque-esque TV cabinets and 80s Hollywood glamour bathrooms and hints of Art Deco scattered about the place. My suite even came with an ornate terrace looking out onto the clinquant Dubai skyline, complete with charming deck chairs to sit back in and enjoy the view beneath the soothing Middle Eastern breeze.

Walking through the narrow corridors and up and down the stairwells, I am transported to Britain in the 1960s via veneered-wood linings and archetypal flush handles, interior characteristics of the time. The walls are awash with a seriously impressive array of mid-20th-century British art by artists such as John Piper and Graham Sutherland as well as a few European treasures by Miró, Picasso and Léger to name a few. There is even a 12ft model of Mauretania, an ancestor of the QE2 and previously one of the fastest transatlantic liners.

The Escape | The QE2, Dubai

​Courtesy of The QE2

Meanwhile, the former first-class lounge, the Queen’s Room, is a kitsch scene of 1960s futuristic fair with liquid-like white columns and a light-up ceiling. Once host to a Kubrickian scene of languid white plastic chairs, low-slung sofas and Herman-esque coffee tables, which have sadly all now gone, the echo of sheer mid-century modernity is still very much present despite its contemporary update.

Sadly, the restaurants don’t quite cut it in terms of interior finesse. Though the Queens Grill’s food and service is impeccable to say the least, the experience is ever so slightly tarnished by the seemingly tired surrounds. The Golden Lion, now Dubai’s oldest pub, does have its own charm however, with all the makings of a quintessential British Pub complete with bucolic wooden furniture, brass beer taps, a jolly pub-quiz master and commemorative shields from the ship’s various ports of call hung high around the walls. True to Dubai-replica form however, it’s fake heritage is not quite convincing enough, though it’s difficult to pinpoint why.

The Escape | The QE2, Dubai

​Courtesy of The QE2

The quarterdeck restaurant, Lido makes for a fairly plane and placid dining experience but boasts fabulous views and a terrace looking out over the bow. It bursts into life every Friday from 1pm to 4pm, with one of the city’s most eclectic buffets, punctuated by entertaining live music. For a real treat, the classical English afternoon tea which is served at the Yacht Club is simply sublime, while the pool deck and dinky little onboard spa provide the perfect rest bite for that all important vacation feeling. There’s also a theatre (where you can catch performances of some of literature's finest coups such as Alice in Wonderland), a cinema and multiple meeting rooms and conference spaces.

In its entirety, it’s not quite the glamour I had expected, but I was pleasantly surprised with the realisation that, I didn’t seem to mind at all. It’s a curious concept, there’s no doubt about that. A boat that can’t move from where it is docked - and, one that is filled with memorial artefacts of it’s hay day and higgledy piggledy nods to interior design trends of times gone by, all the while reimagined as a contemporary staycation for tourists and Dubai residence alike.

The Escape | The QE2, Dubai

​Courtesy of The QE2

It’s thanks to this charming collision of contradictions perhaps, that the QE2 provides endless food for thought and is by far the most remarkable and unique place to stay in the Emirates today. What’s more, such an astounding monument steeped in eclectic history is almost certainly the glorious piece of heritage the Gulf has been crying out for.

qe2.com

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The QE2, The Escape, Cruise, The Queen Elizabeth II, Staycation, Dubai Staycation
Courtesy of The QE2