Nelson Mandela, Queen Elizabeth II, David Bowie, Twiggy, Neil Armstrong, Aretha Franklin, The Rosenbergs, Shirley Bassey, Elton John, President Bush. These are just some of the rockstars and royalty that Peter Warwick met during his 16 years on The QE2.
After starting his career as crew staff in 1995, Warwick returned to the mighty cruise liner, which has been open as a Dubai hotel since 2018, ten months ago as Heritage Tour Supervisor. It’s a move he describes as “coming home”.
Tours are offered daily aboard the ship, and come included if you book a staycation. When we embark on a guided tour of the iconic ship, the 52-year-old is practically bouncing around the decks. It’s obvious how much he loves the vessel, and this – combined with his vivacious personality and whimsical anecdotes, is reason enough to take this fascinating tour, whether you care about cruise liners or not.
When he’s not pointing out where he had drinks with rock star David Bowie, or glistening with tears as he points out where he saw his late parents glide around the dancefloor, he’s singing jovially in a way we’re not even sure he notices. It’s uplifting, and as a former X Factor constestant (“I made it to boot camp”), it’s rather easy on the ear, too.
Warwick first stepped foot on the QE2 with his parents for his 21st birthday, sparking a life-long love affair that would transcend 30 years.
He spent ten years taking trips aboard the ship, before writing twice within one month in 1994 to beg for a job. He was then flown out to Barbados to commence his duties.
“I couldn’t believe it,” says Warwick.
“At first I thought it was a prank and I hung up the phone but they called back later and arranged to fly me out. I was in disbelief.
“Part of my job back then was to dance with the solo female travellers for two hours every evening. It was a tough job but somebody had to do it.”
But it wasn’t all glamour in the early days.
“There were live cows on board to provide the passengers with fresh milk – there were also cats to catch all of the rats, so it was quite austere,” Warwick laughs.
He’s also heard some corkers from passengers over the years.
“One time a passenger asked me if the crew sleep on board,” laughs Warwick.
“I said ‘No madam, we just stay awake for three and a half months at a time’, and she seemed quite satisfied by that.”
As with any job, and especially with one that depends on the elements, there’s been some scares along the road, and Warwick looks genuinely fearful as he recalls the memory of a “90-foot wave” that almost wiped out the ship.
“It was September 7, 1995, when the QE2 was sailing to New York that this ginormous wave just hit the ship straight on,” he recalls. “We couldn’t avoid it and I have never been so frightened in my life. The steel hull was completely battered and the mast was all bent. The fog horn was ripped off and we found it the next day right at the back. The captain said it was like crashing into the White Cliffs of Dover. But we survived it, and our priority was calming the passengers.”
The passengers are obviously very dear to Warwick, and for all of the celebrities and famous faces he’s met, he feels most honoured by Eliza Gladys “Millvina” Dean, who at two months old was the youngest surviving passenger on the Titanic, which sank on April 15, 1912.
“We danced together and we had coffee in the Queen’s Room,” he recollects. “It was an absolute honour and I remember her fondly”.
He also speaks dearly about Beatrice Muller, who sold all of her possessions and lived on board after the death of her husband in January 2000 until the ship’s retirement from service in 2008.
“She was a remarkable lady,” he smiles. “I’ve been lucky to meet so many wonderful characters on board over the years.
“I’ve shaken hands with Nelson Mandela and I met the Queen when I was a passenger. I have so many memories it’s unbelievable.”
By the time he left the ship in 2001, Warwick had risen through the ranks to Cruise Director, and he jumped at the change to resume a position on board when the ship docked permanently in Dubai.
“It took me about two seconds to make that decision,” he says.
Warwick registered his interest, and 17 years after departing “his” beloved ship, he is back living and working on board and he’s certainly bringing the ocean liner back to life.
“When I arrived ten months ago, I make no apology in saying that I had tears in my eyes because I went to the Grand Lounge and it was the same as it was 25 years ago,” he says.
“It smelled the same. If I’d have come on here and it had been neon and glitz I’d have got the first plane home, because it wouldn’t have been the QE2 that I know and love so much. That’s special.”
The tour is a humbling one, especially if you love history and stepping back in time, and as far as tour guides go, Warwick most certainly has the X Factor.
Dhs170 (with Dhs100 redeemavl on food). Daily 11am, 1pm, 3pm, 5pm & 7pm (subject to change). QE2, Mina Rashind, firstname.lastname@example.org (04 526 8888).
All hands on deck
We fish around for other happenings on-board the QE2
1 Grab a bargain
Old-school British pub The Golden Lion has everything you’d expect from a typical watering hole aboard a retro cruise ship. Head here every night from 4pm until 8pm and you’ll get two for one on house grape and hops. Challenge your mates to a game of darts while you’re at it.
2 Ease out those knots
The ship may longer be going at a rate of knots, but you can ease out the ones in your shoulders at the new spa. If you’re yet to visit the world-famous vessel, then you must pay a visit, if not at least for the bucket list box-ticking factor. Enjoy a 60-minute treatment and an international buffet lunch in The Lido for just Dhs260.
Dhs260, Sun-Thu. Until Sep 30.
3 Sip on a cuppa
The Queen Elizabeth 2 is your top spot to get that royal British afternoon tea experience. Taking place every Thursday to Saturday from 3pm until 5pm in the The Chart Room on The Quarter Deck, the tea features a selection of sweet and savoury treats to nibble on. If you fancy feeling like the Queen, book in here for a high tea on the high seas.
Dhs195 (adults), Dhs95 (kids aged seven-12). Thu-Sat, 3pm-5pm. The Chart Room.
4 See a show
The QE2 has its own floating theatre bringing us a load of live music and comedy. Next on the agenda is the third Laughathon series, which promises side-splitting comedy Abhishek Upmanyu (August 23), before The Ultimate Boyband Reunion (August 28-30) and world-famous group The Supremes (September 11-13).
Prices vary. www.theatrebyqe2.com.
5 Brunch o’clock
Can you even call yourself a Dubai establishment if you don’t have a brunch? The Lido all-day dining spot on the QE2 hosts a family-friendly Friday bash with a buffet spread featuring loads of international dishes. All aboard!
Dhs295 (soft drinks), Dhs395 (house beverages), Dhs95 (kids aged four-12), free (kids under four). QE2, Port Rashid (04 526 8888).