Sometime in the 1980s the QE2 came to San Francisco and I remember thinking she was a marvel among marvels. After all, at 963 feet and 70,000 tons she was the world’s largest cruise ship and dwarfed the other vessels I’d seen over the years docking at the piers beneath my home on Telegraph Hill. Not long after, or maybe before, my memory is fuzzy, the ship was commandeered by Margaret Thatcher to serve as a troop ship during the 1982 Falklands War.
In January 2007 she returned to San Francisco, diminished in size by the behemoths that followed her. The current “world’s largest cruise liner” is Freedom of the Seas at a staggering 1,112 feet and 160,000 tons. That’s more than twice the weight of the QE2, which is almost beyond comprehension, literally holding a small town of 4,300 passengers and 1,300 crew on 15 passenger decks.
In her nearly 40 years of service the QE2 transported 2.5 million passengers across the sea, making 800 transatlantic trips and 25 round-the-world voyages. But today she is on her last voyage, sailing now from Southampton to Dubai where she will be retired and become a luxury hotel. This seems a sad fate for a vessel with such a storied past, but it’s better than the salvage yard, and means people like me can still go aboard if they find their way to Dubai.
But she didn’t go quietly to her retirement. She ran aground in the English Channel at the start of her voyage, perhaps one last protest against her fate of permanent anchorage, a stationary hotel with a museum to display her glory, but free to roam the seas no more.