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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

QE2 bids farewell to America this week

After leaving New York for the last time, the Queen Elizabeth 2, the world's best-known passenger ship, will eventually head to Dubai to become a floating hotel and museum.

By Jane Engle, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

What is arguably the world's best known passenger ship, the 41-year-old Queen Elizabeth 2, is leaving America for good this week and will sail into history books next month.

A pipe and drum corps, flotilla of pleasure craft and other fanfare in New York will give Cunard Line's QE2 a nostalgic send-off for her 806th and final transatlantic crossing on Thursday (Oct. 16). Accompanying the ship on her six-night voyage to Southampton, England, will be her glamorous younger sister, 4-year-old Queen Mary 2.

By the end of November, after making three more voyages, the QE2 will arrive in the Arab emirate of Dubai, where she will retire from cruising, be refurbished and reopen as a hotel, maritime museum and attraction, much like the Queen Mary in Long Beach.

Since entering service in May 1969, two years after being launched by Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, the 1,778-passenger vessel has ferried an unrivaled list of presidents, movie stars and other celebrities between Britain and America and points beyond, including 25 around-the-world cruises.

Even now, the sleek, sturdy ocean liner, built to withstand the rigors of the North Atlantic, claims to be the world's fastest passenger ship, able to reach 32.5 knots, according to Carnival Corp., which owns her.

On board, the QE2's traditional ambience, afternoon tea, nightly ballroom dancing, intimate Grill Class dining and top-flight lectures draw devoted fans. Its 118 single-occupancy cabins, an option that has all but disappeared from newer ships, are coveted.

But the liner's old-fashioned design, mostly bereft of balcony cabins and elaborate recreation facilities, has fallen out of favor with many modern cruisers. Her convoluted network of elevators and stairways, worthy of an M.C. Escher drawing, makes navigating between decks a challenge for newcomers.

The ship has been renovated many times. Safety regulations to be implemented in 2010 would have required another expensive redo.

So last year, Carnival sold the QE2 for $100 million to a government-backed development company in Dubai, which plans to eventually anchor her off an artificial island to begin her new life as a tourist attraction.

For details on the QE2's New York farewell, visit the "Royal Rendezvous" page of Cunard's website.