Middle East Cruise News

QE2 Dubai will be ‘living museum’, restored to original ’69 design says PCFC Hotels CEO

Expect QE2 Friday Brunches, 60s themed nights and suites too exclusive for public booking as QE2 Dubai finally opens.

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Grand Lounge aboard the newly opened QE2 Dubai.

After more than three years of intensive refurbishment work on the former Cunard ocean liner, QE2 Dubai has finally opened her doors to the public in Dubai.

Moored in Port Rashid, at the former Terminal 1 Cruise Terminal, the most famous cruise ship in the world is now a floating hotel, the third of its kind in the world and the first ever in the Middle East.

QE2 joins an elite club of ocean liner floating hotels that includes only SS Rotterdam and the original Queen Mary. According to Hamza Mustafa, CEO of PCFC Hotels, the addition of QE2 to Dubai’s hospitality offering will be a significant boost for tourism.

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Hamza Mustafa, CEO of PCFC Hotels.

“QE2 is the most famous ship in the world,” he told Cruise Arabia & Africa during an exclusive interview ahead of the ship’s opening as a hotel on Wednesday. “And we have been very careful to honour her legacy by retaining as many of her original furnishings and fittings as possible.”

QE2’s original carpets have either been restored or replicas have been produced.

PCFC Hotels even went so far as to have new carpets produced, which were designed to the exact same specifications as her original 1969 carpets when she was launched. All tables and chairs aboard the ship are either exact replicas, or originals from her initial design before the refits of the 70s, 80s, and 90s during her long and illustrious career.

It’s a project that has cost more than US $100-million and included the replacement of all pipes and every single piece of wiring, as well as the removal of tons of asbestos.

“We understand that this is a ship that matters to people,” he adds, speaking in the QE2’s cavernous and fully restored Grand Lounge. “She wasn’t only a marvel of modern engineering, but was also a symbol of national pride and evokes important memories for former guests and crew. So we have stayed as close as possible to her design and look and feel when launched in 1969.”

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The main entrance to the QE2 Dubai, the midships lobby.

But, he also emphasised that commercial considerations had to be taken into account.

“I’m a hotelier first and a maritime enthusiast second,” he says. “I want QE2 to succeed, to have a future here in Dubai, and as part of that some difficult decisions had to be made.” He is referring of course to the removal of the ship’s lifeboats.

“People were very upset, but I need the deck space,” Mustafa says. “This is Dubai and QE2 must offer the same level of amenities, outdoor space, service and facilities as any hotel on land.”

This points to part of the challenge that PCFC Hotels faces in making QE2 a commercial success. They need to pull in enough guests to make a profit, but can’t do that by only targeting the QE2 fans and wider maritime enthusiasts. She needs to appeal to the man or woman on the street as well.

QE2’s hugely popular Golden Lion Pub has been restored.

Part of this will be by making the ship an attraction for Dubai residents, with QE2 Brunches, a revival of live music and karaoke in the Golden Lion Pub, elegant themed evenings in the Queen’s Room, all of which will be leveraged against her famous name.

“We’ll do this by leveraging her legacy, her reputation for style, service and elegance,” says Mustafa. “We are already seeing huge demand for her Duplex Suites, for weddings and other important events. And when the new cruise season starts we’ll have a steady flow of more than 600,000 potential visitors to the ship.”

This will start Wednesday when QE2 welcomes 550 passengers from Queen Mary 2 on a special shore excursions that includes a tour of the ship and a gourmet lunch on-board. “Our connections to Cunard are very strong and will always remain so,” says Mustafa.

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Cunard’s lion remains on the elevator doors aboard the new QE2 Dubai.

Indeed throughout the ship there remains a litany of references to her Cunard past, from the Cunard lion on the elevator doors to the line’s logo on the original plates used during her time as an ocean liner and cruise ship.

PCFC Hotels have also deliberately taken a ‘refurb-lite’ approach to her refit, replacing as few structural elements and soft furnishings as possible.

In the Grand Lounge, for example, the dancefloor is the same one from when she was sold in 2008.

On some of the walls and corners, there are scuff marks from her 40-odd years in service, the footplate at the elevator doors on Deck 8, for example, shows signs of decades of passenger foot traffic. These are deliberate, says Mustafa.

PCFC Hotels have deliberately retained some well-worn elements of the ship to show her history and age.

“We don’t want the ship to feel brand new, we want it to feel well-maintained and restored, but we want it to also look and feel like an ocean liner that crossed the Atlantic more than 800 times.”

This is where PCFC Hotels have been careful to cater to the QE2 fans and maritime enthusiasts, who will come and stay aboard QE2 for the nostalgia and because it feels like home. “QE2 Dubai will be a living museum,” explains Mustafa.

Aboard the ship itself will be the 1960s-inspired, as close to the original QE2 design, floating hotel experience, along with engine room tours once health and safety measures have been put in place.

On land, within the QE2 Terminal (formerly the Terminal 1 Cruise Terminal), will be the museum exhibit on one side and a fantastic library and coffee shop on the other.

The museum exhibit includes a replica of the Queen Room as it was when the ship was first launched, along with an original ‘tourist class’ outside cabin, and the ship’s bridge.

The museum exhibit within the terminal area features a replica of a tourist class cabin from 1969 and a lifesize replica of the ship’s bridge.

In the centre of the terminal stands a replica of the ship’s funnel, diving the two sections, with the library and coffee shop on the other. QE2’s library was one of the largest at sea, and here every book available has been put on display for guests’ reading pleasure.

On the other side of the terminal is a wonderful library and coffee shop area.

Dominating the walls within this space are original artworks from the ship, mostly paintings of former Cunard liners, but also portraits of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Standing atop each bookshelf is also a model of former Cunard vessels, which were previously displayed in QE2’s public areas when she was a cruise ship.

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A giant replica of QE2’s funnel dominates the space as guests first enter the terminal.

Perhaps most intriguing of all is PCFC Hotels’ approach to the ship’s two ‘best rooms’, the Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mary Grand Suites. These two suites, which include a separate bedroom, sitting area, conservatory and balcony overlooking the bow, will not be on sale for the general public.

“This isn’t an attempt to be snobbish,” says Mustafa. “But rather we want to protect the history, the legacy of the ship and be respectful of the calibre of people that those suites were designed for.”

Queen Elizabeth II and Nelson Mandela are perhaps two of the most famous of a long list of celebrities and heads of state to have travelled aboard QE2. While Mandela did not stay in the Queen Elizabeth or Queen Mary suite, the Queen herself did.

“We can’t have just anybody booking these suites,” is how one PCFC spokesperson put it. “But we will encourage enquiries and we’ll make a decision based on that.”

It isn’t clear what criteria potential guests for the Grand Suites will be judged on, but what is clear is that QE2 Dubai the hotel will be every bit as elegant and exclusive as QE2 the ocean liner. It’s part of her allure and it’s nice to see it kept alive.

Available for anyone to book however are any one of her inside, outside, or superior staterooms, as well as several mini suites and a row of ‘duplex suites’ with balconies on both levels. These will be the best ‘cabins’ available on-board for the general public to book.

QE2 Dubai will have her soft opening on Wednesday, with seven of her 13 decks operational. According to Mustafa, she will eventually have a Spa and Health club, but only after her October grand launch.

That grand launch will also see all 13 of her bars and restaurants brought online. She’ll launch on Wednesday with five restaurants and two bars (The Yacht Club and the Golden Lion).

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