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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 October 2018

The surreal experience of dining on the historic Queen Elizabeth 2 in Dubai

The boat is more than a third of the height of the Burj Khalifa - in fact, it's so large it's easy to forget you're even on a boat

You can now have a floating brunch or high tea on the historic QE2. Courtesy QE2
You can now have a floating brunch or high tea on the historic QE2. Courtesy QE2

“Aunty Selina, when are we going on the boat?”

Thus begins my first visit to the Queen Elizabeth 2. But how to explain to a 3-year-old that we are

already on “the boat”? It’s just that said boat is so huge, it feels like an apartment building. And since my adult mind can barely compute its size and scale, what hope is there for a toddler?

Driving up to Dubai’s latest star attraction is a slightly surreal experience. The road into Port Rashid is utterly unremarkable. And then, all of sudden, there’s an impenetrable wall of blue and white against the horizon, with a stout red funnel reaching up to the sky.

The QE2 is, as its official website likes to point out, more than a third of the height of the Burj Khalifa, which stands at 828m, while that 21m funnel is the same height as the Sphinx of Giza. And she looks every bit as regal as her namesake. It is worth making the trip to the other side of town just to stand portside and look upwards.

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A standalone welcome area looks like a plush cruise terminal and is teeming with uber-enthusiastic staff just waiting to give you a hand.

We make our way on to the ship itself via a gangway that is, naturally, carpeted in red (we are meant to feel like VIPs as we clamber aboard). The transition from land to sea is so smooth that the aforementioned youngster doesn’t even register it. Trying to work out what level we are supposed to be on once we get in the lift proves slightly less straightforward, but we eventually find ourselves on the Quarter Deck. On the inside, the QE2 still feels like a ship – an extensive renovation to transform her into a 500-room hotel worthy of Dubai has not robbed her of that authentic feel.

We are here for brunch, although it takes a bit of time to get used to the idea of dining in what is essentially a historical monument.

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Since she was completed in 1969, at a cost of £29 million, the QE2 has logged more than eight million kilometres at sea. In 2004, she became the longest-serving express liner in the world, and has hosted the likes of Nelson Mandela, Buzz Aldrin, Elizabeth Taylor and David Bowie, who famously penned songs while on board that went on to be featured on his 1973 album, Aladdin Sane.

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On her travels, the QE2 has had countless adventures – in April 1974, passengers had to be airlifted from her decks after she lost power near the coast of Bermuda and, in 1995, she was struck by a 29m wave but thankfully managed to stay upright. In the early 1980s, she was used as a troopship during the Falklands War – her lounges transformed into dormitories for more than 3,000 British soldiers.

And now she is enjoying a quiet retirement in the calm waters of the UAE. Judging by the crowds that thronged her decks last Friday, there are plenty of people who are keen to experience a slice of that history – and long may that last. She deserves to be admired, and to be shown respect.

Of course, all of this is lost on my young companion.

“Aunty Selina, when are we going on the boat,” she asks again, before making a beeline for the bouncy castle.

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Read more of Selina's thoughts:

The eternal quest for the perfect work-life balance

The dress failed to win me over – but Meghan Markle herself most certainly has

Ramadan offers us all the chance to reassess and reset

Paying tribute to the extraordinary life of my dad, the ultimate expat

Why eating meat makes me feel like a hypocrite

Phone etiquette? I need some guidelines please

After a decade, Dubai feels like it has come of age

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