By December 1958, Cunard was making plans for a replacement for the veteran Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. The original plan was to, with the help of Government subsidies, build two new liners After the economic viability of this was examined, the project was altered. The new plan was to build a single 75,000 ton, three class vessel of similar dimensions to Queen Mary and Elizabeth. This became known as the 'Q3' project and designs were examined. This plan met great opposition as more and more passengers were traveling by aircraft across the Atlantic and the costs of operating large liners were increasing, in a way that could not be offset by fare increases.
Q3 was eventually abandoned and designs were started for a new style of vessel which became known as Q4. This design called for a ship small enough to traverse the Panama Canal which would allow it to have a dual purpose role suitable for global cruising. The plan was agreed to and the British Government provided the loan. The contract for the new ship went to John Brown & Co. Scotland and the keel laying ceremony took place on 5 July 1965. In grand Cunard tradition, the ship was known simply by her building number - No. 736 - until the day of her launch.
The original delivery date for 736 was anticipated for January 1969. Construction progressed steadily at the Scottish shipyard and on 20 September 1967 H.M Queen Elizabeth II launched the hull and named her Queen Elizabeth 2. Legend has it that the original name for the vessel was given to the Queen in a sealed envelope, but, without opening the envelope, the Queen named the vessel after both herself, and the original Cunard Queen Elizabeth. Cunard adopted the numeral "2" for their new vessel's name to help distinguish between the ship and the monarch.
On November 19, 1968 the new QE2 moved to dry-dock in Greenock before beginning trials. Due to continued technical problems with the liners high-pressure turbines, the maiden voyage of the QE2, from Southampton to New York, did not take place until May 2, 1969. The first summer of service was highly profitable and Cunard were able to repay £2.5 million of the Government loan almost immediately.
The first dramatic incident of the ship's career occurred in January 1971. Whilst cruising in the Caribbean QE2 received an SOS call from the French liner Antilles. It had run aground off the coast of Mustique and caught fire. By the time the QE2 arrived the French ship was unsalvageable. The passengers had already been taken ashore to Mustique in the Antilles' lifeboats. During the night the Antilles' passengers were transferred to the QE2, and two other French ships that had come to assist. The Antilles capsized and sank the next day. Her passengers were landed in Barbados however some were so delighted with the service offered aboard QE2 that they booked subsequent voyages on the Cunard liner.
During an ordinary trans-Atlantic crossing in May 1972, the Captain of QE2 received notification that there was a bomb aboard his vessel and that it was timed to go off during the voyage. A search by crew members proved fruitless, so a bomb disposal unit was flown out and parachuted into the sea close to the ship. The incident turned out to be a hoax but the FBI succeeded in arresting the culprit. The bomb disposal teams were awarded the Queen's Commendation for Brave Conduct.
On April 1st 1974, whilst on a cruise from New York to San Juan, a technical fault caused the propulsion machinery to shut down. It was not until April 3 that the Sea Venture, a Flagship Cruises vessel, arrived to assist. The passengers were transferred and tugs were hired to tow the QE2 back to Bermuda. Subsequent repairs meant that the 1974 Easter cruise had to be cancelled.
Over the next few years Cunard reduced the number of transatlantic crossings that QE2 took. The focus for the ship became primarily cruising. The outbreak of the Falklands War, on April 2nd 1982, led to a change of plans for the ship, when she was requisitioned by the British Government for service as a troop transport. Conversion work began immediately with the addition of helicopter flight decks and a modern communications system. This involved cutting away the aft of Upper Deck and Quarter Deck to provide space for two large heli-pads. The 5th infantry brigade, comprising of the Scots and Welsh Guards and the Gurkhas, then boarded the ship and she set off for South Georgia on May 12th 1982.
QE2 arrived in the Falklands on May 27th and disembarked her troops. It had become clear that the Argentinean's were using air reconnaissance to try and locate the ship, so after transferring her troops to the P&O Liner Canberra (and taking aboard the survivors of HMS Ardent, Antelope and Coventry), QE2 headed north towards safety.
The QE2 triumphantly returned to Southampton on June 11th 1982. She was met by the Royal Yacht Britannia with Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother aboard, who sent a telegram congratulating the ship's company for their brave service. Shortly after QE2's return to Southampton, work began on restoring her for commercial service. This refurbishment was undertaken at the expense of the British Government, an agreement that had been settled before QE2 went to war. Cunard took this opportunity to make some substantial changes to the ship, including the repainting of the funnel in traditional Cunard colours. QE2's hull was also repainted in a light gray scheme - however, this proved unpopular with passengers and it reverted back to the more familiar matte black a few months later.
Following her annual overhaul in November 1983, the ship developed boiler problems, which resulted in the cancellation of a cruise. In October 1984 an electrical fire caused a complete loss of power and delayed the QE2 for two days. On her return to Southampton it was decided that diesel engines would have to be fitted to the ship in order to increase efficiency. This, the largest maritime conversion at the time, was done by Lloyd Werft at Bremerhaven Germany and was expected to save Cunard £12 million a year in fuel costs.
Nine MAN B&W diesel electric engines, new propellers (and new equipment to capture heat expelled by the engines were fitted). The passenger accommodation was also modernised.
The work meant that the ship was out of service from November 1986 to April 1987. QE2 then underwent trials in the North Sea, where a top speed of 34 knots was recorded. The ship returned to commercial service in April 1987. With new machinery, new interiors and a new funnel (a fatter version of the original designed to house the nine new diesel exhaust pipes), QE2 looked better then ever and certainly was more fuel efficient.
By the early 1990's QE2 was suffering from an interior of mismatched rooms (due mainly to partial refurbishments during the past decade). Cunard, under the direction of their then owner the Trafalgar House Company, decided that the ship was due for a new look. QE2 was put in dry-dock for one month for a $45 million internal and external refurbishment. The scope of work (known as "Project Lifestyle") was enormous and included the redesign of nearly every room aboard as well as the replacement of every passenger bathroom aboard - a mammoth task.
Other enhancements included a new livery of Royal Blue hull and "speed stripe" decals, as well as the addition of two new 45 foot catamaran lifeboats. The design team was led by the British MET Studio who were entrusted with the task of revitalising QE2 to sail on into the 21st century.
The work took longer then expected and the ship sailed with workers still aboard. Upon arrival in Southampton the extent of the unfinished interior became known to the press, and it made headlines around the world. However out of the chaos, a new QE2 emerged - with a revitalised interior reflecting the great Ocean Liners of yesteryear, and following a rocky reintroduction into service, Queen Elizabeth 2 soon regained her reputation as the Queen of the Seas.
In mid-1995, QE2 made a historic voyage - her 1000th, and she was greeted by tens of thousands of people when she arrived home in Southampton.. Later that year, QE2 undertook a circumnavigation of the British Isles, where she made a historic call to Greenock. There, she was greeted by thousands of people who lined the shores. This cruise also included a historic call at Liverpool, where every vantage point was occupied by an estimates 1-million onlookers!
In late 1996, QE2 was treated to a further $18 million refit which was undertaken in Southampton. This was a coup for the British port, as they had not been involved with QE2's refurbishments for over ten years. This overhaul was mainly interior touch-ups as well as the completion of some work outstanding from the 1994 refurbishment. The only exterior change was the removal of the Trafalgar house logo from the aft of Upper Deck. Cunard had been sold by Trafalgar to Kvaerner, a Norwegian engineering firm.
For the next two years, due largely to the lack of direction from the parent company, persistent rumours relating to the life-expectancy of QE2 plagued the tabloids. Fortunately Cunard changed hands again in 1998, when Carnival Corporation finalised its purchase of the historic shipping company. This was met with mixed reactions. Traditionalists couldn't comprehend the once mighty Cunard Line becoming a 'brand' of Carnival. Others welcomed the purchase, identifying Carnival's ability to maintain QE2 and her sisters in a manner befitting the Queen.
After careful analysis of the current Cunard brand, Carnival Corporation announced the merge of Cunard with Seabourn and the reallocation of the tonnage amongst those two brands. QE2 would remain the flagship of the Cunard Line with a further $30 million being spent on her, while the Vistafjord was to be re-named Caronia after having her own major refurbishment.
The remainder of the fleet, including the Sea Goddess sisters, as well as Royal Viking Sun were to be placed under Seabourn management. Each of these vessels were given their own refurbishments and emerged having been renamed Seabourn Goddess 1, Seabourn Goddess 2 and Seabourn Sun.
QE2's own $30 million refit was undertaken at Lloyd Werft at Bremerhaven, Germany. The refit involved internal modifications including new carpets, wall coverings, additional suites, and the re-design of the Caronia Restaurant. It also included the mammoth task of a complete hull strip and re-paint. Queen Elizabeth 2 was once again painted in the traditional Cunard colours of a matte black hull and white superstructure, with the speed stripe (thankfully) removed.
It was at this time that Carnival Corporation announced "Project Queen Mary" - an impressive feat of maritime engineering which eventually resulted in the Queen Mary 2, QE2's first true sister and long awaited successor on the North Atlantic.
The 2001 edition of Berlitz Guide rated QE2's Grill Class 5+ stars off the back of a small interior refresh undertaken at the now familiar Lloyd Werft yard. QE2 continued her North Atlantic schedule until 2004 when, after undertaking a tandem Atlantic crossing with the new QM2, the Boston Cup was symbolically transferred from QE2 by Captain Ian McNaught to QM2 and presented to Commodore Ronald Warwick. Thus ended the QE2's reign as flagship. Although she would return to the Atlantic each year as part of her World Cruise, the primary role of express liner would be assumed by QM2.
After an internal refurbishment in Germany, QE2 returned to service, concentrating on the British cruise market. She was well received on Southampton-Southampton cruises which took her to the North Sea, the Mediterranean and North Africa.
In 2007 QE2 and QM2 made a historic rendezvous in Sydney, Australia. This occasion took event coordinators by surprise with hundreds of thousands of Sydneysiders turning out to witness the two ships pass. The city came to a complete stand-still with some workers taking hours to get home.
2007 also marked the 40th anniversary of QE2's launch. A round-Britain celebratory cruise was organised to commemorate the ship's historic life. Sadly, this celebratory year was marred by the news that QE2 was to be retired. For US$100 million, the most famous Ocean Liner of all time, had been sold. Her final destination was planned to be The Palm Jumeirah Islands, in Dubai. Here it was expected she would form the 'jewel in the crown' of the islands, to be docked at a Marina and used as a international hotel and retail destination.
This sad news not withstanding, QE2 sailed on, enjoying a celebratory final season. Her 2008 world cruise begun in January 2008 where she was joined by Queen Victoria on a tandem Atlantic crossing. The two liners met again in Fort Lauderdale and Sydney before all three Cunard Queens met for the final time in Southampton in April, 2008.