The luxury liner Queen Elizabeth 2 made her final call at Malta’s Grand Harbour yesterday on her way to Dubai where she will be converted into a hotel. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi.
MALTA – It was a “sad but special” day for the world’s most famous ship, its crew and those who have voyaged on it.
It was time to say goodbye after four decades of service and Cruising The Past (http://cruiselinehistory.com) salutes the great liner. Queen Elizabeth 2, the last of the great ocean liners, called at Valletta for the last time yesterday before it is transformed into a floating luxury hotel in Dubai.
In service since 1969, QE2 emptied its last batch of guests onto the Waterfront in the morning, to the welcoming beat of a brass band, before last night proceeding to Alexandria in Egypt and on to Dubai – the last leg of its 41-year voyage.
It was a nostalgic moment for Captain Ian McNaught, who has sailed the majestic ship into Grand Harbour four times and referred to it as his second home.
QE 2 seen earlier in the week at Gibraltar.
“It is a special ship but, sadly, the time has come for it to retire,” he said, as a sudden downpour punctually pelted the glass panes of the bridge, clouding the view of the surrounding bastions.
“I will be back to this special port on another ship but it won’t be as good-looking as this,” Capt. McNaught said.
This time, QE2’s arrival in Grand Harbour was marked by a gun salute, although the thousands of sightseers that have been turning up at each port she visits were not present yesterday.
On its seventh and final visit to Malta since its maiden call in October 29, 1998 – an important day for Cunard Line agents Mifsud Brothers Ltd, when four generations of the Mifsud family were on board to mark the event – mementoes were exchanged between them, Transport Minister Austin Gatt and the ship’s master.
A set of four stamps in the maritime series, entitled Cruise Liners, and issued on the occasion by MaltaPost Philatelic Bureau, were presented to Capt. McNaught. They include an aerial view of the QE2 sailing out of Grand Harbour after its maiden call.
Bureau director Ivan Mifsud also presented Capt. McNaught with the first of a limited-edition print of an oil painting that had been commissioned by the company to present to Capt. Roland Hassell on the maiden call.
Mifsud Bros. having been agents for Cunard since 1945, Mr Mifsud said he was looking forward to bringing over Queen Mary after studies had shown she could manoeuvre in Grand Harbour.
Cruise host Thomas Quinones, who has been on board the QE2 for 25 years, referred to it as an “institution”.
“It is the last and final call but the name will never die,” he said, pointing out that the new Queen Elizabeth is expected to be completed in 2010.
During a tour around the ship and down memory lane, nostalgia oozed out of Mr Quinones as well as thinly-veiled frustration that the many treasures aboard would be moving into Dubai hands on November 27.
He pointed out the priceless Asprey’s silver model of the QE2 and the original Samurai suit – a gift on one of its travels to the Orient, which was on the market for $40,000.
Despite all that, investors should be cutting, stretching and increasing the grandeur of the ship’s entrance to fit Dubai standards before it takes up its prime site on the trunk of the artificial island, Jumeirah Palm, between the new Atlantis Hotel and the renowned Burj Al Arab.
The QE2 has carried 2.5 million passengers, including a host of top international celebrities and heads of state, from Diana, Princess of Wales to former South African President Nelson Mandela and David Bowie.
On its last voyage, it is carrying 1,685 guests (not to mention 1,000 crew), many of them having been attracted by the fact that the trip was the last and would go down in history.
About 85 per cent were repeat guests and among these were Wendy and Ron Potter from Surrey in the UK. They thought it appropriate to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary last year on the ship. Their marriage had coincided with the official launch of the QE2 in 1967.
But there were other factors that linked them to it: “My aunt and uncle travelled on its maiden voyage in 1969. My uncle is now dead but my 93-year-old aunt was ecstatic that she had done the first and we were doing the last…”
• The QE2 is the longest-serving ship in Cunard’s 168-year history.
• Since she was launched by Queen Elizabeth II on September 20, 1967, and entered service in May 1969, she has travelled 5.6 million nautical miles – more than any ship ever.
• The QE2 has completed 25 world cruises and she has crossed the Atlantic 802 times.
• The QE2 had to abort its calls to Malta twice due to inclement weather.