It was before dawn when QE2 glided into the Big Apple, followed by younger sister ship Queen Mary 2 (debuted January 2004), a whistle salute signaling QE2's 710th and final arrival in the city. The vessel entered the harbor adorned with the traditional maritime Paying Off Pennant, a reminder of its 39 years of service -- including a stint as a military transport vessel for Great Britain during the Falklands War.
The two ships then separated, QM2 heading to its berth in Brooklyn, QE2 slotting into place for the last time at Manhattan's Westside Terminal.
At 5 p.m. today, both will push off. The old queen will glide under the Verrazano Bridge one last time, before rendezvousing at the Statue of Liberty with QM2. The two ships will be escorted by FDNY fireboats and pleasure craft, before the queens set off in tandem across the Atlantic to Southampton. FDNY Emerald Society Pipes and Drums will be on hand at the Battery Park City Promenade to provide a royal American sendoff.
Named by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1967, QE2 has logged nearly six million nautical miles, carried more than 2.5 million passengers and has sailed 25 world cruises. With the ability to reach 32 knots, QE2 claims the prestigious title as fastest passenger ship in the world.
But age -- along with the adoption of stringent new safety requirements for cruise ships (SOLAS); upgrades that would have cost millions to achieve -- soon caught up with the vessel. In June 2007, Cunard announced that it was selling QE2 for $100 million to Dubai World. The ship will be transformed into a luxury hotel, museum and entertainment venue located at Dubai's The Palm Jumeirah, a massive "more Vegas than Vegas" man-made island.
Following QE2's final trans-Atlantic journey, the ship will have just three voyages remaining. Interested in paying respect in person before the vessel retires from cruise service? Check out a schedule of QE2's remaining calls.
And take another look at our QE2 Memory Book, where Cruise Critic members reminisce about their fondest memories of the "Grand Dame."
--by Dan Askin, Assistant Editor