The historic QE2 ocean liner, the crowning glory of Scotland’s shipbuilding heyday, is to finally begin a new chapter as a floating hotel this week.
A decade after she was retired from service, and amid long-standing fears for her future, the former Cunard flagship will welcome her first guests on Wednesday.
The famous Clyde-built vessel is permanently berthed at Dubai’s Port Rashid, where authorities claim to have “artfully restored” her to her former splendour.
But maritime experts who have chronicled the QE2’s fortunes over the years cautioned it was not yet possible to determine the success of the conversion.
This week’s soft launch comes ahead of a grand opening planned for October, when the redevelopment is due to be completed. Bookings are already being taken for its 224 rooms and suites.
Although refurbishment work has been under way on the vessel for the best part of a year, confirmation of its impending relaunch as a floating hotel will surprise many.
Since the QE2 arrived in November 2008, the emirate’s numerous plans for her have fallen through, including proposals to turn her into a 500-room hotel at an undisclosed location in Asia. A working group – which included the Scottish Government – was rebuffed in its attempts to return her to the Clyde.
Port, Customs and Free Zone Corporation, the Dubai government-owned corporation which has overseen the redevelopment, said the new-look QE2 “perfectly blends history with contemporary chic”.
It said the ship’s rooms feature either original portholes, floor-to-ceiling windows, or balconies, with the lobby home to an interactive museum with “actual and replicated artifacts”.
PCFZC was not able to confirm what artefacts would be on display when asked by Scotland on Sunday, nor whether any Scottish dignitaries have been invited for the launch, but large areas of the ship will remain off limits until October.
Dr Bruce Peter, professor in design history at the Glasgow School of Art, who curated a recent exhibition about the liner, said it was “very difficult to tell” whether the refurbishment was a success. “The deck plan suggests that most things are where they were when the ship was taken out of service,” he said. “But it will have been necessary to have carried out a lot of renovation work for the hotel operation. The images I saw, taken a few years ago, showed everything to be in a very dilapidated state.”
When Dubai took delivery of the QE2, Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, the chairman of Dubai’s DP World conglomerate, promised it would be a “truly global tourism destination”.
But with a shortage of affordable hotels in Dubai, the five-star plans for the QE2 have been downgraded, with rooms available for as little as £114 a night.
Martin Docherty-Hughes, SNP MP for West Dunbartonshire, said: “It will be interesting to see how QE2’s heritage is represented in Dubai, because quite often Clydebank is airbrushed from its history, and I hope that is not the case.
“As long as she’s afloat, being looked after, and not left to become a rotten hulk, it’s positive.
“It’s just a pity none of these great ships ever seem to end up back in the Clyde where they were built.”