QE2 is still the only way to cross

On October 16, 2008, the Cunard liner Queen Elizabeth 2 departed New York City, eastbound for Southampton, England for the last time. In June, 2007, the Cunard Line announced that after 41 years, the Queen Elizabeth 2 was being officially withdrawn from service.

On November 11, the QE2 will sail from Southampton, England for the last time. The ship’s final destination is Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. Once there, theQE2 will be converted into a hotel and a venue for live theatre.

Christened as the Queen Elizabeth 2, launched by Queen Elizabeth II on the banks of the River Clyde in Scotland in 1967, and more commonly referred to as simply QE2, the ship has acquired a reputation of being the last word in luxury at sea. Until the construction of a sister ship, Queen Mary 2, in 2003, the QE2 was regarded by ship enthusiasts as the last witness to a by-gone era when such ships were a common sight on the North Atlantic.

In the 1950s that changed, however, with the introduction of long-range aircraft and by the late 1960s, it seemed that the age of the transatlantic liner was over. When the Cunard liners, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, the direct forbearers of QE2 and Queen Mary 2, were retired in 1967, many said that no such ships would ever be seen on the Atlantic Ocean again. That claim was dramatically refuted on the last day of the crossing when the QE2 and the Queen Mary 2 closed to within 300 feet of each other and traded blasts of their horns one last time.

Dr. Stephen Payne, the head of ship building for the Carnival Corporation, the Cunard Line’s parent company and the chief architect of the Queen Mary 2 spoke of the reasoning behind the decision to sell the QE2.

He said the ship would require “vast amounts of money” to meet current safety standards. On top of that, those safety regulations are set to change in 2010 and will make it even harder for the Cunard Line to acquire a safety certificate for the QE2. Due to these reasons, the decision to sell the ship was made.

“It is time to say good bye,” said Payne.

Ian McNaught, the QE2 last captian agreed.”This week is a historic week in British maritime history,” he said

The ship’s white superstructure gleamed in the morning sun. That combined with sleek lines and a thin, elegant funnel, or smokestack, painted black and red gave an impression of modernity, even though the ship is 41 years old.

The care and attention paid to the design of the ship’s interior was equally evident. Rich carpets covered the deck. The walls were covered with wood veneers with polished chrome and aluminium accents.

We came aboard into the circular Midships’ Lobby. Waiting to greet us as we boarded the ship were a dozen white-gloved stewards, all dressed in red and black waistcoats. In the sunken area that dominated the room, a harpist played classical music.

The ship seemed to posses an air of subtle elegance and quite refinement.

At 5:30 pm, under a cloudy sky and with the New York City skyline in the background, we began to pull away from the pier and into the turgid waters of the Hudson River surrounded by tug boats, pleasure craft and tour boats. Aboard the ship, the decks were thronged with flag-waving passengers and champaign that flowed like water while Rule Brittania and God Save the Queen played over the ship’s loud speakers.

As we steamed slowly down the Hudson River toward the open ocean, the Queen Mary 2 took up a position a thousand yards astern of us, horn wailing in response to the QE2’s deep, undulating moan.

Dinner on board the QE2 was an affair to remember. Our waiters were extremely attentive and polite. It was in the dining room where I was able to see just where the Cunard Line’s reputation for impeccable service has come from over the course of the company’s history.

After dinner, which included such dishes as osso bucco and iced blueberry soup, the onboard entertainment was diverse, ranging from popular movies to opera, ball room dancing and jazz in the ship’s pub.

During the day, there were as many diversions and activities on offer as there were at night. In addition to Dr. Payne, other speakers of note included Jenny Bond, a former BBC Royal Correspondent and Robert Hoey, an author who is well known for his many books on the British Royal Family

A major event for the more social passengers was the captain’s reception. This took the form of a cocktail party in the Queen’s Room, one of the ship’s main public spaces. This was also the first formal night and many of the passengers were dressed in tuxedos, evening gowns and fine jewellery.

Another of the many daytime programs offered aboard the QE2 was the Cunard Heritage Trail, which took the form of an hour long tour of the ship.

The Cunard Heritage Trail told the story of the Cunard Line and highlighted some of the many pieces of ocean liner memorabilia and antiques on display all over the ship. Among the items on display were a piano from the original Queen Mary, the builder’s model of the Mauritania, as well the bell from the Queen Elizabeth and models of other famous Cunard ships.

Thomas Quinones, a senior member of the ship’s cruise staff, didn’t hesitate to say what he thought about the decision to sell the ship.

“She will be a tourist attraction,” he said.

At the same time, however, he was also hopeful and believed that the QE2 will be remembered fondly by everyone who has sailed aboard the ship.

“She will be an icon forever,” he said.

Payne said that even though the QE2 will be radically altered by the new owners in Dubai, who are planning to convert the ship into a hotel, museum and a venue for live theatre, “her spirit will live on.”

“Sic transit gloria mundi,” he said. “So Earthly glory passes away.”

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