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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

QE2 undergoes major facelift in Dubai as anticipation for her next chapter builds

Signs stating 'Queen Elizabeth 2, hotel main entrance' under a crown symbol are now on display

The QE2 has been moved to a dry dock at Port Rashid to begin expected conversion work into a hotel. Antonie Robertson / The National
The QE2 has been moved to a dry dock at Port Rashid to begin expected conversion work into a hotel. Antonie Robertson / The National

The Queen Elizabeth 2 or QE2 celebrates the 50th anniversary of its launch this week.

The vessel that some call the greatest ship the world has ever seen has sat in Dubai since 2008, with plans to turn her into a giant hotel seemingly shelved.

But at Port Rashid, the ocean liner has been quietly undergoing a major facelift ahead of what is believed to be her launch as a floating hotel.

There has been no official announcement yet but work appears to be at an advanced stage: cranes are working on the ship; construction crews have carried out external repairs, while an army of workers has cleaned the vessel.

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Signs stating 'Queen Elizabeth 2, hotel main entrance' under a crown symbol are on display, the old cruise terminal where it’s berthed has been rebranded with Queen Elizabeth 2 signs fixed to the building, while the vessel’s former lifeboats have been removed and placed strategically at a roundabout approaching the ship.

It is still unclear when it will open, how many of the former cabins will used or how much a room will cost.

Some of the work on the ship has been undertaken by the Shafa Construction group.

In a post on its website, the group stated that 110 people have been working on a 32,000 square metre portion of the ship on behalf of DP World.

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Pictured: take a tour of the QE2

QE2 will stay in Dubai and become floating 300-bedroom hotel

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That’s about half of the total floor space including the cabins. It is believed that the QE2 itself is now the responsibility of the Port, Customs and Free Zone Corporation (PCFC) – which is a Government of Dubai entity.

Port Rashid is operated by DP World and plans are in place for a transformation of the port complex into a destination including a new marina, shops, restaurants and the cruise terminals.

Work is under way and a billboard at the entrance to the port showing the redevelopment features the QE2 prominently.

Recent satellite photos of the vessel also show that the outdoor swimming pool at the vessel’s stern appears to have been decked over, which could point to the ship’s future use as a venue. Along with the lifeboats, their winches and motors have also gone.

The fresh developments have been welcomed by shipping enthusiasts.

“It is now looking like they'll manage to open her in some capacity, although we've been here before, so I'm cautious about that,” said Rob Lightbody, who runs The QE2 Story website.

“They’ve moved her back around to the old cruise terminal and she’s been washed down. There’s activity visible and they are obviously working on her. The outside swimming pool is gone. We think it’s been decked over. But it makes sense because it gives them an open piece of decking at the back of the ship to hold events.”

Of the lifeboat removal he says: “It was a big job. We‘re guessing it makes more deck space - if they are gone you can have a clear deck.”

The move follows years of uncertainty for the famous ocean liner.

After about forty years of service, the ship was bought by Istithmar, an arm of Dubai World in 2007 in a $100m deal.

QE2 arrived in Dubai on November 26, 2008. It was to become a 500-room floating hotel on Palm Jumeirah but the financial crisis intervened and the famous ship has remained moored in Dubai ever since.

DP World or PCFC did not respond to requests for comment but it’s thought the work involves a considerable financial investment.

The QE2 had been in the adjacent Dubai DryDocks for a number of years with the power switched off.

“There was no maintenance of her machinery or public rooms. Her exterior paintwork, which became cracked, faded and coated with sand was a good indication of the health of the interior,” said Shaun Ebelthite, editor of trade magazine, Cruise Arabia and Africa.

“Without air-conditioning the wood panelling in the public rooms and cabins would have rotted in the hot, humid conditions. Similarly, mould likely began to pervade most of the carpeting and other soft furnishings.

"It’s likely then that Al Shafa Construction’s renovation works include a total overhaul of all the original carpets, curtains, couches and other materials on-board.”

Mr Lightbody added: “I very much hope she's a success, while also retaining as much of her original character and history as is practical."

The QE2 was moved to its current location at the start of 2016. And now the famous vessel is about to set sail on a new chapter.