Celebrating an icon – QE2’s fiftieth anniversary voyage…

QE2 in port

THIS year marked the 50th anniversary of the launch of the most famous ocean liner the Queen Elizabeth 2 (commonly known as QE2) which was named by HM Queen Elizabeth II at Clydebank, Scotland in September 1967 before of a crowd of more than 50,000 people.

Even before QE2 was launched she was unique in the long line of transatlantic liners; for the QE2 was the last major ocean liner ordered and the last passenger ship built at the famed John Brown Shipyard in Clydebank, Scotland.

This earned her the title of ‘last of the great ocean liners’, a title she held until 2004 when her ultimate successor, Queen Mary 2, entered service.

QE2 entered service in a time when most large passenger ships were being retired.

Since 1958, the jet airliner had rapidly eroded the customer base of ocean liners, leading to the collapse or amalgamation of many well known shipping companies.

Cunard Line had been operating transatlantic liners since 1840, and had for the most part been one of the leading international travel brands.

But Cunard were unable to escape the wrath of the jet, and by the mid-1960s were losing millions of pounds per year.

Their ageing fleet comprised primarily pre-World War II liners, led by the iconic and much revered RMS Queen Mary and RMS Queen Elizabeth.

QE2 in port

However, mounting losses led to the retirement of even these iconic ships and Cunard were left with a much smaller fleet.

With this in mind, it may seem strange that the line was building a new ocean liner in 1967.

But where their old fleet failed against the jet, QE2 would succeed – thanks to her unique dual purpose design.

This allowed QE2 to operate as a transatlantic liner in the summer months, offering passengers a nostalgic ocean crossing by sea when the weather was at its best.

However, intermixed with crossings, QE2 would spend much of the year cruising, allowing her to turn a profit year round.

This was the genius that was QE2.

Despite the critic’s claims that the ship was facing an uncertain future, and rumours that she would be scrapped before she entered service, QE2 went on to sail for nearly 40 years.

She carried 2.5 million passengers over 5.6 million nautical miles – making her the furthest travelled ship ever.

When QE2 retired in 2008, she was sold to Dubai for use as a floating hotel.

Her final voyage departed Southampton on 11 November 2008 and when it went on sale, sold out within minutes.

Her final day as a Cunard ship was 27 November when she was handed over to her new owners in a quiet ceremony on the bridge.

Her final master, Captain Ian McNaught made the last ever log entry before the ship’s title was officially transferred.

Her removal from service left a noticeable gap on the international travel stage, and despite the passage of time, many of her regular guests still miss the QE2.

A bronze cast of Queen Elizabeth

So it was met with much delight when Cunard announced the hosting of a special QE2 themed voyage aboard their new ship, Queen Elizabeth, to mark the 50th anniversary of QE2’s launch.

The voyage departed Southampton on 8 November 2017 and took in a variety of Mediterranean ports.

Notable calls included Dubrovnik where guests marvelled at the old city, Corfu where pristine beaches stretch as far as the eye can see, and Venice with its UNESCO-heritage canals.

Despite the exciting and varied itinerary, the main focus of the voyage was honouring QE2.

To that end, the majority of passengers aboard were former QE2 guests, specifically choosing this voyage to reunite with their fellow passengers.

A number of special events were arranged for the voyage.

These included QE2-themed lectures not only by myself, but also from Commodore Ron Warwick and Captain Ian McNaught, both former QE2 captains.

There were QE2 quizzes, speeches by former-QE2 social hostess Maureen Ryan, a QE2 cooking demonstration, QE2 themed dances and special dinners.

Dancing the night away

On each of the five formal nights, a QE2 theme was introduced and paired with an historical menu that included a written account of the ship’s life.

Themes covered the royal connection, QE2’s triumph as an ocean liner, her role as a troopship during the Falklands War, and the ship’s remarkable career cruising the world.

On 20 September the celebrations culminated when, while at sea en-route to Gibraltar, ‘QE2 Day’ paid tribute to the ship’s launch.

Timed to coincide with the day of the 50th anniversary, festivities included a QE2 themed ball and a special series of lectures as well as a Q&A panel with former QE2 crew.

The 17-night voyage came to an end all too quickly and by 25 September the Queen Elizabeth was alongside in Southampton.

View from the deck

As passengers disembarked there was an overwhelming feeling that a meaningful tribute had been witnessed to a very special ship.

Chris Frame travelled aboard Queen Elizabeth as a guest speaker courtesy of Cunard Line.