The writing was on the wall more than three years ago. In January 2004, when Cunard introduced the 151,400-ton Queen Mary 2, the clock started ticking for the Queen Elizabeth 2.
It was only a matter of time before the dowager - and, by then, dowdier - 70,327-ton QE2 would be retired. Even after a few face-lifts - at a price more than 10 times the venerable vessel's construction cost - the QE2 no longer could gloss over her wrinkles.
The QE2 will make its final voyage a year from now. After a renovation and some cosmetic surgery, the 40-year-old oceangoing queen will end its days as a luxury hotel and mall. The QE2 will be permanently docked in Dubai at the Palm Jumeirah, the world's largest man-made island, Cunard has announced.
Cunard officials said the QE2 would be sold to Dubai World, an investment arm of the Dubai government, for $100 million. Beginning in 2009, the vessel will be berthed at a specially constructed pier in the Arab emirate.
As namesake of England's still-reigning monarch, the QE2 was launched in 1967. Once the fleetest in Cunard's fleet, the ship became the world's swiftest ocean liner when, shortly following its maiden voyage in September 1969, the famed SS United States retired. (The United States, currently docked in Philadelphia awaiting refurbishment, still holds the record for fastest passenger-carrying ship.)
The QE2 is the longest-serving ship in Cunard's 168-year history and the line's longest-serving flagship. It has undertaken 25 world cruises, crossed the Atlantic more than 800 times, and carried more than 2.5 million passengers.
As befits an outgoing queen, several farewell voyages are planned before the ship makes its final port call in Dubai:
A 10-night farewell cruise, with a British Isles itinerary, will depart Southampton on Sept. 30. The sailing will include maiden calls to Dublin and Belfast. It will stop at the Clyde (Greenock), where the QE2 was built, before journeying to Cork (Cobh), Liverpool (Cunard's ancestral home), Edinburgh (South Queensferry), and Newcastle. Fares start at $2,455.
On Oct. 10, QE2 will leave Southampton with Cunard's flagship, QM2, on a final tandem crossing to New York. Fares for the six-night crossing start at $1,175.
On Oct. 15, both liners will sail from New York's harbor as QE2 begins its Farewell to America crossing. It will be the QE2's 806th and final Atlantic crossing, and both ships will arrive in Southampton on Oct. 22. Fares start at $1,065.
The ship's final "final voyage" will depart Southampton Nov. 11, headed for Dubai. It will call at Lisbon, Gibraltar, Civitavecchia, Naples, Malta and Alexandria and transit the Suez Canal before journeying to its new destiny on Nov. 27. Fares start at $4,615.
The QE2's departure will not leave Cunard's royal fleet bereft. Next month, a new queen - the 1,980-passenger Queen Victoria - will join the QM2.
The QE2 - Fast and Regal
Queen Elizabeth II herself christened the QE2 on Sept. 20, 1967. Did you know that the QE2:
Has sailed more than five million nautical miles and has carried more than 2.5 million passengers on more than 1,280 voyages.
Is the fastest passenger ship in the world, with a top speed of 32.5 knots.
Can travel in reverse at 19 knots - faster than many cruise ships go forward.
Is the only luxury liner in the world to accommodate cars and motorcycles.
Is 963 feet long - eight times longer than the Statue of Liberty is high (111 feet), three times as long as Big Ben (310 feet), and only 21 feet shorter than the Eiffel Tower (984 feet).
Was put into military service during the Falkland Islands conflict.
Has a synagogue.
To book a berth
For information about the Queen Elizabeth 2's final sailings, call Cunard at 1-800-528-6273 or go to www.cunard.com.