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QE2 will secede her saltwater throne

By Mary K. Nolan
The Hamilton Spectator
More articles by this columnist
(Jun 30, 2007) 

By now you've likely heard that the QE2, perhaps the world's most celebrated ocean liner, has been sold.

She's been purchased for more than $100 million US by a state-owned investment holding company in Dubai known as Istithmar (which sounds uncomfortably similar to Ishtar, one of the most spectacular movie bombs of all time.)

The plan is to turn her into a floating hotel that will be berthed at a specially constructed quay at The Palm Jumeirah development in the Persian Gulf. Frankly, there'd be a classier future for the grand old lady in a scrapyard or at the bottom of the sea. This place makes Vegas look like Huntsville.

The Palm is an undertaking so ostentatious and overwrought, so extravagant and decadent that it is an affront to the rest of the planet.

With self-important flatulence, this manufactured mecca bills itself as the eighth wonder of the world, using a thesaurus of over-the-top adjectives such as deluxe, magnificent, exclusive, luxury, five-star, lush, sumptuous, world-class, unprecedented, premier, ad vulgarium.

They are not the sort of descriptives that have been applied to the Cunard flagship for nearly 40 years -- gracious, elegant, sleek, sophisticated, dignified, royal.

It was a royal who concocted the idea of The Palm. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice-president of the United Arab Emirates, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, considered it the answer to the growing hotspot's increasing shortage of beachfront.

Well then, we'll make some, His Royal Superlativeness must have mused. We'll make them in the shape of palm trees that will proliferate not with dates or coconuts but with villas, residences, palaces, hotels, water homes, marinas, dive sites, theatres and retail shops all jammed together as tightly as in some cookie-cutter subdivision in Mississauga. And we'll make it so that nobody but the super-rich can afford to even breathe the air there.

The "trunk" of The Palm Jumeirah stretches two kilometres across the water before sprouting into 17 "fronds" that are connected by subsea tunnels to an 11-kilometre crescent surrounding the palm.

The properties boast names such as Kingdom of Sheba, Taj Exotica, Palm Grandeur, Tiara Residence and Emerald Palace. There's nary a Day's Inn among them, but naturally, The Donald will weigh in sometime in 2009 with The Palm Trump International Hotel and Tower, obscenely priced at $600 million US.

And Palm Jumeirah is only the beginning. The project also includes two other islands -- The Palm Jebel Ali, half again as big, and The Palm Deira, which will have 41 flippin' fronds and 8,000 two-storey villas by the time it's done.

The storied QE2, launched by QE II herself in 1967, has rescued stranded passengers at sea, survived a mid-Atlantic bomb hoax and ransom demand, served as a troop ship in the Falklands crisis, sailed into uncharted offshore rocks and stood up to a 95-foot wave during Hurricane Luis.

The goodbyes will be long and sad. Cunard is planning six farewell voyages starting in September 2008, including two transatlantic crossings in tandem with the Queen Mary 2.

Cunard's longest-sailing liner, and still the fastest in the world, will embark on her final voyage on Nov. 11, 2008 -- Remembrance Day-- sailing from Southampton to Dubai.

And there, among the ersatz fronds, is where the majestic monarch of the seas, the blueblood who has crossed the Atlantic 800 times and ferried 2.5 million people between continents and around the world, will spend her well-deserved retirement.

God save the queen.

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