Liner QE2 to host visitors again as hotel in Dubai

Associated Press Modified: July 2, 2012 at 4:01 pm •  Published: July 2, 2012

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The Queen Elizabeth 2's Dubai owners outlined plans Monday to turn the storied cruise liner into a dockside hotel that will keep many existing furnishings intact, ending years of speculation about the fate of the $100 million throwback.

A rare tour given to The Associated Press showed that while there's still work to be done, the conversion may convince future guests they've been transported back in time.

From books stacked neatly on a quarter deck library shelf to the spiral staircase leading to the intimate champagne bar, little appears changed since the vessel's final voyage in 2008.

Glass doorways, wall clocks and even trash cans still carry the logo of the Cunard Line, which operated the QE2 for nearly four decades.

Boxy guest room televisions and ashtrays built snugly into corridor walls harken back to earlier eras. So do many of the color schemes in public areas like the Yacht Club lounge, with its wood-paneled walls and baby blue chairs.

Even the onboard slot machines remain in place — an incongruous site in a Muslim country where gambling is forbidden. Leili Gerami, the QE2 project director, said one idea is to turn the casino into a game center with machines that spit out prize tickets rather than cash.

Parts of the ship smelled musty, and there are occasional signs of minor water damage from leaking pipes that officials say they are working to repair.

Overall, though, the ship appeared to have been kept in good condition. Dozens of pieces of original artwork and ship models were packed neatly in cardboard boxes marked "fragile" in the Crystal Bar. That is the part of the ship where crew members say the air conditioning does the best job battling the Gulf's soaring summer temperatures and humidity.

The latest renovation effort is a comedown from a previous proposal to significantly overhaul the ship and convert it into a luxury hotel docked alongside one of the sheikdom's manmade palm-shaped islands. Developers shelved those more ambitious plans when Dubai's economy tumbled into crisis.

Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, the chairman of Istithmar World, the Dubai state investment company that owns the ship, said the aim now is to open about 300 existing cabins as guest rooms. The company realized visitors want to see the QE2 as it originally looked, he added.

"We are not making major changes. We will preserve its tradition and the way it was," he said at a news conference near the ship's mooring. "It's a great vessel and it will continue its journey to serve the tourist sector in Dubai."

Cruise lovers and history buffs still have plenty of time to plan their trips to Gulf emirate, though. Officials say the conversion will take about 18 months, meaning the hotel likely won't open before the end of 2013.