The guardian.co.uk ran this story about how great the QE2 looks...
"The QE2 is to retire next year and become a big shop in Dubai. For a year or two I watched her grow on the stocks beside the Clyde, but when at last she was launched in September 1967, I was sitting in the chair of a Glasgow dentist having a tooth pulled out. The fact that I could have made a dental appointment on such a day still saddens me. I intended to be among the crowd in the fields opposite John Brown's shipyard in Clydebank, the favourite location of launch spectators, watching the ship slide stern-first into the river and settle there as the launch-chains tightened and the tugs took control. That evening I turned up for my night shift in a Glasgow newspaper office and found many special pages in preparation: pieces by writers who had a feeling for nautical history and poetry, especially Masefield; pictures of the Queen on the launch platform and also of the then-famous John Rannie, who as John Brown's foreman wore a bowler hat. Perhaps we were aware then that we were celebrating the last of something, but nobody was to know it was the birth of the world's last beautiful ship.
Amid this week's nostalgia, it is worth remembering the British era that produced her and its strange mixture of ailing tradition and social change. The Boeing 707 was killing the North Atlantic liner trade; 1958 was the last year in which more passengers crossed by sea than by air. Both Cunard Line and John Brown's (led respectively by Sir Basil Smallpiece and Lord Aberconway) were struggling. State subsidy was essential. Labour relations were terrible - the QE2's launch was the first at Brown's where a delegation from the men who had actually built the ship was invited to form part of the official party and attend the launch lunch (the workers took up the offer suspiciously and only after long discussion at the shop stewards' committee). From these unpromising foundations rose a ship that its owners hoped would capture the new face of Britain in the 1960s. Lord Snowdon, then the bright aesthetic guru, visited the designers in their studios. His wife, Princess Margaret, said that the new ship would show that British design was "not only exciting and full of vigorous common sense but ... out in front, leading the field". The QE2 would be a flagship for the new nation and not "a grandmotherly, chintzy hotel".
Now seen as the last in a long tradition (the Mauretania, the Queen Mary), the QE2 was meant to abolish it. The name itself was radical (not even a Roman II), the funnel looked like no other (and abandoned Cunard's red livery for black and white), many of the furnishings were moulded plastic. The ship being a British industrial product of the late 1960s, the high-pressure steam turbine broke down during sea trials, and the maiden voyage to New York was delayed by several months. Early travellers were not overwhelmed. As John Malcolm Brinnin writes in what is probably the best social history of the transatlantic sea trade, The Sway of the Grand Saloon: "American passengers sighed to heaven and ascribed it all to socialism, Carnaby Street and the decline of the British working orders." It could be argued that the QE2 only began to be loved when, after her duties in the Falklands war, the funnel was made bigger and repainted in the old Cunard livery, her British turbines were replaced by diesels during a German refit, and interior designers threw away the new in favour of the retro. A "grandmotherly, chintzy hotel" turned out to be, after all, what people were after.
She is very beautiful - and now almost alone in her beauty among sea-going ships - but this quality comes from the old conventions of naval architecture rather than the fashions of the 1960s. The QE2 was built to cross the rough winter seas of the North Atlantic at speeds approaching 30 knots, at a shipyard with a long history of the art. She has a curved bow and a round stern, a long empty foredeck between the bow and the navigating bridge, a sheer (or curvature) on the hull that has been enhanced by clever paintwork. The funnel is centred, more or less, and her hull is grey verging on black with upperworks plain white. Why this should constitute "beauty" is as tricky as all aesthetic questions but it conforms to the popular idea of "a proper ship". Why can more ships not be built like this? Or to put it another way, why are ships now so tall, so square, so ugly? The answer is simple enough - that if form follows function, then function follows economics - but in the cruise ship business where decks are sometimes stacked 12 high it can have brutal results: suddenly in Venice, for example, a large block of flats is towering over the Piazza San Marco, moving slowly upstream to discharge its 3,500 inhabitants and have its sewage pumped.
The move began with container ships 40 years ago. The container changed everything, cutting crew numbers and time spent unprofitably in ports, and demanding simpler ships with engine room and bridge perched at the stern to make as much room as possible for the cargo. A square hull can carry more than a rounded one; furthermore, curved steel plates cost more to make and to fit than flat ones. According to the maritime historian Peter Quartermaine, "It may be true that a hull with a curved stern is much more kindly in a following sea, but square means you can get more in. The people who build ships aren't the ones who sail in them."
The first generation of ships dedicated to cruising mainly comprised ocean liners made redundant by air travel, built to transport passengers from A to B. From the late 1970s purpose-built cruise ships were designed to fulfil the idea that the ships were destinations in themselves and could rival land resorts in their proliferation of theatres, gyms, spas, casinos, rock-climbing walls and shops. Cabins became rooms and rooms needed balconies rather than portholes. To get more balconies you needed more decks. Open deck space, once the scene of breezy outdoor pastimes such as quoits and shuffleboard, began to disappear as the superstructure was stretched from bow to stern. Quartermaine says, "When you're outside you're not spending any money. The reasoning is that simple."
In 2005, 16 million people took a cruise on about 280 ships. More are being built, nine to be launched next year and seven in 2009. Carnival, the world's largest cruise company, has ordered 10 at a cost of $500m (£250.2m) each from the Fincantieri yards in Italy. Typically, each will carry 3,500 passengers and 1,300 crew. Where are they all to be taken? The Bahamas and the Caribbean are saturated and the Mediterranean is quickly filling up. Several lines own small islands that have been outfitted to cater purely for cruise customers (the Disney line spent $25m developing Castaway Cay in the Bahamas) and there is speculation that they might build their own destinations, whole ports equipped with shops selling duty-free Prada handbags and scotch, like a sunny version of Heathrow.
Might there be a gap in this burgeoning market for the Quinlan Terry of naval architecture and ships that look like the old Queen Mary? So far, only the Disney line has tried. Their two ships have raked twin funnels and dark rounded hulls - at a distance they could pass for the swift prewar Italian liners that made Mussolini so proud. Closer to, there are flaws. The funnels have the emblem of Mickey's ears. Hanging upside down and painting from a bosun's chair over the stern is a 15ft-high model of Goofy. The marine Quinlan Terry has yet to be found.