The final voyage of the Queen Elizabeth 2,
a 16-day trip from Southampton, England, to Dubai, United Arab
Emirates, leaving Nov. 11, 2008, sold out in about 35 minutes. The
news had broken earlier that Carnival Corp., Cunard's parent
company, had sold the vessel to Dubai World for $100 million, and
that it would retire as a floating hotel and museum in Dubai.
was met with everything from tears to anger to relief, but above
all, with a flood of memories of the longest-serving ship in
Cunard's 167-year history.
Since it began
service in 1969, the QE2 has carried 2.5 million passengers on more
than 800 transatlantic crossings and has made 25 trips aroundthe
globe. In interviews with Travel Weekly, a few veteran passengers,
crew members, travel agents and Cunard executives recalled their
experiences on the iconic liner.
John Maxtone-Graham, a
maritime historian who has sailed on the QE2 more than 40 times:
The Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mary were rather
similar ships, very majestic and traditional. Suddenly, here was
QE2, with a pencil-slim, single funnel smokestack that was almost
like a factory chimney, not the three, great towering funnels of
the Queen Mary.
There was a
terrible slogan they used when QE2 was coming into being, an ad
that said, "Ships have been boring long enough," talking about
their own ships.
Bill Miller, a
maritime historian who sailed on the QE2 35 times, beginning 37
years ago: She looked so radically different than the old Cunarders
that we used to know. She was so modern, with Formica and scoop
chairs and lime green leatherette. She had this kind of Star Wars
look. It's the late '60s, we still had these old ships around, and
she was the new jet-set ship. She was the Concorde of her
from London, who worked on the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth
before joining the QE2 as social hostess in 1968:
I was terribly shocked and found it very difficult
to get used to. Instead of all the dark wood of the art deco-style
ships in the '30s, suddenly you have this modern '60s ship done
with all these garish '60s colors. I thought, "What have I come
We weren't used
to carpets. The 1930s ships had rugs and flooring. ... It was all
carpets in very bright reds and oranges. It was a ship for the
'60s, very state of the art. And, of course, now she's the
Maxtone-Graham: It was
a time of swinging London. All the stewards wore turtlenecks, they
were trying very hard to make shipboard life more hip. Not sort of
fusty and old-fashioned. They tried to chuck out a lot of
tradition, and over the years they found out that people who board
the QE2 and want to cross the Atlantic on it are looking for
exactly that kind of tradition. They cherish it.
hotel manager on the QE2 since 1981, from Liverpool, England: When
I took the QE2 over in 1981 she was ... obviously the greatest ship
in the world. ... I was very, very proud to be chosen as hotel
In those days,
you were really at the top of the tree. There was not a better
ship. She was world class and world famous and there was nowhere
else to go, really. So I stayed there, and the ship to me is so
wonderful. I'm just very proud of it.
John Maxtone-Graham: Bil Warwick was the first master of the QE2, and his son
Ron also became master. This is an absolutely unique thing in the
merchant marine history of any line in any county. ... Ron went on
to be commodore as his father was. The Warwicks are really
indistinguishable from QE2. They both had whiskers; they were both
I remember one
early cruise on the QE2, a beautiful, calm, not-too-hot day, just
drifting along at slow speed, which is rare for the QE2, but Bil
Warwick didn't need to make any time. He was a great seabird
fancier. He loved watching through his binoculars, not the ships or
islands we were passing, but the birds that were flying
I remember seeing
him with his foot propped up on the deck house wall of the bridge,
his head back, leaning up and looking at the birds in the
Bill Miller: When I
first started sailing on it, the whole crew was British. ... You
don't have that anymore; you've just got the British officers. The
rest of the crew is multinational. That was the tail end of that
era. One of the things about the British crew is that they had
great pride. It was their ship, the British flag, and many of them
had worked for Cunard for years and years.
There was one
man, a barman, named George Coleman; he worked for Cunard for 50
years. He started back in the 1930s. There were so many crew
members with long stories and great histories. Their fathers worked
for Cunard, and sometimes their grandfathers. It was like a
a QE2 passenger for more than 25 years, from Garden City, N.Y.: The
captains were English, the officers were English, and when we first
started a lot of the crew was English. We had a gentleman named
Peter Wheeler who was on for 48 years as a cabin steward. And he
died in his cabin, on the ship. He had been on the first
When we'd be
approaching England and the sun would come out after crossing the
North Atlantic, I would always say, "I
saw the sun, we must be near England," and their faces would light
up -- even the crew that was not English.
Remnick, Reid Travel, Boca Raton, Fla., a frequent
passenger on the QE2: The tea time is a very big thing, like on all
the English ships. It's an elaborate process with lots of choices
of sandwiches and cakes and all kinds of different tea, and if you
want coffee they'll give you coffee. They usually have music
playing, a harpist or some string quartet playing. It's very
classy. Not like a lot of other ships.
Bill Miller: I remember
listening to so many wonderful speakers on the ship: Meryl Streep
talking about movies, Ben Kingsley on the making of "Gandhi." ...
Probably the best collection of lecturers I've ever
co-owner and president of Largay Travel in Waterbury, Conn., who
sailed on the QE2 in 2002: You couldn't help but
feel like you had stepped back in time when you were out on the
deck, on the steamer chairs reading "War and
It was really
like being an extra in a Humphrey Bogart movie. ... All of the
outside world seemed to be able to be put on hold, and the ship
became your viewfinder and all the quadrants of your compass. You
really found a connection, not just with each other but sort of
with humanity. All the white noise and distractions of everyday
life seemed to be able to be put in your outbox.
John Duffy: In 1981,
the world was a different place. You'd sail across the Atlantic and
you'd maybe get about two or three messages the whole of the voyage
across. Now, the world is different, and with e-mail there is a
constant communication between ship and shore. But I think honestly
the transatlantic to this day gives you that feeling. It started
back in 1840 with Cunard, and it continues to this day. When you
sail on a transatlantic, you really are out there.
The QE2 during wartime
Dorothy Remnick: My
husband and I were on the ship when she was commandeered to the
Falklands Islands (in 1982 as a troop carrier). They dismantled the
ship while we were onboard. We watched them put the helicopter pad
out on deck, and they dismantled the shop, the casino. Everything
just kind of disappeared. It was amazing. All the regular passenger facilities were shut down, and
everything disappeared overnight. We arrived the next morning in
Southampton and that was it -- the ship was taken to the Falkland
One of my nephews
was a soldier who was sent to the Falklands on the QE2. He sent me
a picture of where he sat in the dining room, and it was exactly
where my husband had sat just a few days before. ... It was a story
to dine out on forever, that he went to battle on the
Maureen Ryan: It came
back, and then had a lovely refurbishment. It had 3,000 military
personnel onboard, so it needed a bit of tidying up afterwards. And
she went back into service. It was business as usual.
Bill Miller: I was in a
terrible storm once coming back from South America on one of her
earliest cruises, and everybody was sick. Hardly anybody was there,
and I was sitting across from Elizabeth Taylor's mother in the
dining room. The seas were lashing against the windows, and the
ship was rolling, and people were ill. I'd been in other storms,
but that was the worst I remember.
The one thing I
felt was that ship was so strong, that everything would be fine.
She has that solid feel like a battleship, that even the ocean
can't beat her.
John Duffy: In the old
days, we had a lot of famous people. Elizabeth Taylor, Richard
Burton, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, Rod Stewart, there are so
many names. I've met the Queen Mother a couple times, and Princess
Diana, Prince Edward, Prince Andrew, they've all been onboard QE2
for one reason or another.
When Dean Martin
traveled, he had an entourage up in the penthouse, and they really
didn't go anywhere except the penthouse and the Queen's Grill
restaurant they dined in. He was a very
nice man, but one that didn't get around too much. George Harrison
[and] Ringo Starr used to get around the ship.
One year, we had
Nelson Mandela sail from Durban to Cape Town. That was wonderful to
have him onboard, to chat with him. He
wrote me a very nice personal letter saying how much he'd enjoyed
it. It's wonderful to keep that as memorabilia.
Bill Miller: Some passengers had their own maids. Before dinner time,
the maids would go down to the purser's office and line up, and one
by one they would go to the safe and collect the jewelry the guest
wanted to wear that night when they dressed up. This was before
safes were in the room. You put everything downstairs in the
John Maxtone-Graham: I
first crossed in 1970 when she was 1 year old. One of the things
that was different about QE2 was that she had a dining room on an
upper deck. QM and QE dining rooms were on sea deck. Now they were
up high with big windows. It just so happened that the entire
crossing, that five days, we were in fog all the time so we saw
nothing but opaque white sheets. It was as though they had put
white paper over the glass.
Maureen Ryan: It was an
old, traditional voyage. Cunard always had ships on the North
Atlantic taking people between the old and the new worlds. You
don't see any other ships. You virtually see nothing. ... So you
have this group of about 1,700 people traveling together for five
days and there's wonderful food, wine, music and dancing and
socializing, and then suddenly there's the horizon and it's over.
The real world is at hand. It had a sort of charm about it.
John Maxtone-Graham: One master was a man called Robin Woodall. He had a funny
thing he used to do when he sailed from the Westside Piers [in New
York]. We were backing into the Hudson and I was on the bridge, and
he pounded the whistle as though it were a car horn. And that's a
very loud noise. I said "Robin, what are you doing?" And he said,
"I do this and set off all the car alarms of the cars parked on top
of the pier." And it did. This was his little joke.
Buying a legend
Conover, president of Seabourn Cruises, who was involved
in the acquisition of Cunard Line. She was Cunard COO from 1998 to
2001 and Cunard president from 2001 to 2004: When we acquired
Cunard it was very clear that ... what we were really buying, the
brand equity, was all in the QE2. The reason we really acquired the
company was for the transatlantic trade, which was basically
embodied in the QE2. The fascinating thing about the QE2 at that
time was that it was a more recognized brand name than Cunard
itself in many ways.
Maureen Ryan: [The
mid-'90s] were not easy ... there was a question mark over the
future for some time. It was all very uncertain. I don't know what
would have happened if Carnival [Corp.] hadn't taken it over.
Suddenly there was talk about building a new, huge ship, the QM2,
and they invested money into QE2 and refurbished it. It was a
godsend, really. I don't know what would have happened if Carnival
hadn't done that. It was a very tricky time. We knew something
would have to happen, but what?
Paul Largay: With
people like myself you can't help but extrapolate on the concept of
my ancestors coming from Europe and landing at Ellis Island and
[me] being able to do ostensibly what they did -- obviously in
greater comfort. But there was a certain magical essence that
surrounded the trip.
Pamela Conover: People
loved it. It embodied the romance of the sort of heyday of
transatlantic liner travel. They enjoyed the formality of it and
the experience of crossing for six days and being out in mid-ocean.
The movie ["Titanic"] helped boost people's interest in it and made
it appealing, the whole romance of it. Everybody wanted to be out
there on the front of the bow doing that scene -- which, of course,
you don't have access to.
Ronnie Renken: We
sailed back and forth to England every summer. It was really like
coming home. We always had the same table in the Queen's Grill. We
always had the same cabin, the same stewards.
millennium came along, my husband and I had booked the cruise and unfortunately he passed away. ... I
decided, because I figured that's where he wanted us to be, that I
would go. But the big thing that helped me make my decision was I
knew who was going to be there to take care of me. And although it
was a little hard for me to do, they made it easy.
I saw a steward
named Oscar last year on [the Queen Mary 2]. We had a talk, and he
said, "Wouldn't it be nice if we could turn back the clock and have
Mr. Renken with us?" It was such a sweet gesture. ... But that's
what [the crew] is all about.
Maureen Ryan: She built
up a clientele of people who were simply devoted to her. An
enormous following. Enormous. People just loved that ship. Repeat
business was huge. People would know me, and I would know them. You
had a lot of people to catch up with. And the crossing goes very,
very quickly. It speeds by.
who, with her husband, Larry, has been sailing on the QE2 since
2002: They were always there to welcome you back to the ship with a
sign that said, "Welcome home." And all you'd gone off for was a
day. It becomes like your home. We always had the same waitress,
and one time when we didn't show up for breakfast and lunch she was
very worried and asked our table mates if we were OK. That was very
Ronnie Renken: When I
heard on the news that she was being retired, which I was quite
sure was going to happen, I just closed my eyes. And I knew every
nook and cranny on that ship. Everything has to come to an end, and
the last couple times I was on, you could see some signs that they
wouldn't be able to continue keeping it. It just wasn't feasible
with the mechanical parts, the engineering parts. It was a ship
that had a lot of age on it.
To contact reporter Johanna Jainchill, send e-mail to [email protected].