For her final visit — her 710th — the venerable liner, which was sold last year for eventual use as a floating hotel in Dubai, was joined by the four-year-old Queen Mary 2, the latest flagship of the Cunard fleet and a throwback to a golden age of ocean travel before jets, when, as the company slogan had it, getting there was half the fun.
With shrill blasts from its three Tyfon whistles and a 39-foot-long red paying-off pennant streaming from the mast — a foot for each year at sea — that traditionally marks the end of a ship’s commission, the Queen Elizabeth 2 (only the actual monarchs warrant Roman numerals, not the ships named for royalty) split the predawn darkness to begin a day of festivities and souvenir photos by the Statue of Liberty and berthed at Pier 90 at West 50th Street on the Hudson River, where the ship tied up around 6 a.m.
As she entered the harbor, she was trailed by the grander Queen Mary 2. The two queens paraded to the Statue of Liberty before the Queen Mary 2 split off to return to its dockage at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal.
Menu from Cunard Line’s RMS LUSITANIA – 1914
By afternoon, the Queen Elizabeth 2 was due to depart for a final Atlantic crossing back to her home port — Southampton, England — and then two week-long European and Mediterranean cruises, before sailing in November to a final resting place in Dubai, the oil-rich Gulf sheikdom. National investors there bought the ship for $100 million and intend to install her as a permanently moored hotel and entertainment complex and museum at the Palm Jemeirah, billed as the world’s largest man-made island and beach resort.
“It’s very sad, but it was inevitable,” said Peter Knego, founder of a ship buff’s website, midshipcentury.com, and co-editor of another website, maritimematters.com, who sails the world preserving bits of nautical history.
“After nearly 40 years of service, she’s wearing out,” he said. “Her day has pretty much come and gone.”
But Mr. Knego, who writes out of Moorpark, Calif., said devotees had expected Cunard to keep the Queen Elizabeth 2 in service for several more years, and are distraught over Dubai’s makeover plans, including, he said, the loss of her 7-story-tall funnel. “If you’re not going to preserve her,” he said, “scrapping her would be a more dignified end.”
“The Q.E. 2,” he said. “will be nothing like the Q.E. 2.”
Cunard Line poster – 1930s
A spokeswoman for Cunard, Maria Andriano, said the company could not provide any statistics on trends in transoceanic travel. But an industry organization, the Cruise Lines International Association, said cruising — including ocean crossings — has grown steadily over the years, to nearly 13 million estimated for 2008, compared with 3.7 million worldwide guests in 1990. Since 1980, the group said, the number of passengers has increased by an average of more than 7 percent a year.
Thursday’s ceremony was a reprise of sorts, nine months after the first encounter of three queens — the Elizabeth and Mary ships plus the latest Cunard liner, the Queen Victoria, launched last year — in New York harbor last January. The Cunard fleet, the only line still providing regular transatlantic passenger service, is to be joined by a new Queen Elizabeth in 2010.
On the final six-day crossing of the Queen Elizabeth 2, Cunard said, the ship is sailing full, with 1,877 passengers paying fares ranging from $25,445 for a duplex grand suite with verandah, to $2,992 for a plain inside single room. They consume daily — or commonly did, according to company figures, before the financial crisis hit — more than 6 pounds of caviar, 116 pounds of lobster, 200 bottles of champagne and 41 boxes of cigars.
The farewell to New York, to be marked by fireworks salutes and toasts by dignitaries, comes two weeks shy of 40 years after the ship’s predecessor, the Royal Mail Ship Queen Elizabeth, departed New York for the last time, bound for what would turn out to be an ignominious fate: It was initially sold for use as a hotel and resort attraction in Port Everglades, Fla., along the lines of the decommissioned Queen Mary in Long Beach, Calif., but the project foundered financially and the ship was resold to a Hong Kong tycoon, C.Y. Tung, who planned to use it as a floating university.
Fire destroyed the first QUEEN ELIZABETH in 1972 – Seen burning in Hong Kong…
But during conversion work, the ship caught fire, perhaps from arson; it capsized in Hong Kong harbor and was scrapped in 1972.
Her successor, the Queen Elizabeth 2, displacing more than 70,000 tons and stretching 963 feet in length, was built in the late 1960’s in Clydebank, Scotland, at a cost of almost $70 million (about $460 million in today’s money), and over the years it underwent more than $675 million in retrofits and refurbishments.
She was named for Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the queen mother; she was the wife of George VI, who took the British throne in 1936 on the abdication of his brother, Edward VIII, in 1936, and ruled until his death in 1952; their daughter succeeded him as Queen Elizabeth II.
The QE2 collected superlatives. It is the longest serving ship in Cunard’s nearly 170-year history, now powered by a diesel propulsion system that turns out 130,000 horsepower, using 80 tons of fuel an hour, as much as would fill six swimming pools. (The ship itself has two pools, one indoor and one outdoor.) It has a tennis court, a golf driving range, a 13-car garage, a Harrods department store, a theater and a synagogue. Its crew of 1,016 includes 107 cooks, 4 fitness instructors, a disk jockey and 10 “gentlemen hosts” to escort unaccompanied women. (There are no female escorts for unaccompanied men.)
Sir Samuel Cunard (1787 – 1865) – the Founder of Cunard Line
The company grew from a packet ship line founded by the Englishman Samuel Cunard in 1839 to carry the Royal Mail to Canada and the United States. In 1912 Cunard’s liner Carpathia rescued survivors of the White Star Line’s Titanic in the North Atlantic. In 1915 the company suffered its own catastrophe when a German U-boat torpedoed the Lusitania off the Irish coast, with the loss of 1,198 lives.
In 1934, Cunard launched the Queen Mary, followed four years later by the Queen Elizabeth, and both ships were pressed into service ferrying troops in World War II. By the 1950s, Cunard had 12 ships in service, carrying one-third of all transatlantic travelers. But by 1959 with the advent of jet travel, more people for the first time crossed by air than by sea.
Four years after the line launched the Queen Elizabeth 2 in 1967, the company was sold to Trafalgar House, and then sold again in 1996 to a Norwegian conglomerate, which resold it two years later to Carnival Corporation, the world’s largest cruise holiday group, with some 80 ships.
In 1992, the Queen Elizabeth 2 ran aground 10 miles west of Martha’s Vineyard, forcing evacuation of 1,815 passengers and most of the 1,000 crew members.
The line was joined, in 2004, by the Queen Mary 2, the largest transatlantic liner ever built, costing close to $800 million. The new ship weighs nearly 151,000 tons, more than twice the weight of the Queen Elizabeth 2, and is capable of carrying almost 2,600 passengers. The $522 million Queen Victoria, at 90,000 tons, was added to the fleet in 2007.
An earlier version of this article misstated the location of Pier 90. It is at the foot of West 50th Street, not 53rd Street.