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The Ship's Ship

The Queen Elizabeth 2, commonly known as the flagship of the Cunard Line, is probably the most famous ship afloat.

Correspondent Melinda Murphy explored the magnificence of the QE2 for The Early Show.

Since the QE2 made her official maiden voyage from Southampton to New York on May 2, 1969, she has logged more than 5 million miles. Today, she is the last of the great transatlantic liners in the world.

Weighing 70,327 tons and stretching 963 feet long, the QE2 can reach a top speed of 32.5 knots. She is also one of the largest and fastest passenger vessels unanchored.

To those who board the ship, the QE2 seems like a small floating city, every detail of which has its own history.

"There's a lot of life in the old girl," says Captain Ian McNaught, who was appointed master of QE2 earlier this year.

For example, the ship's bridge comes complete with an old backup magnetic compass and a very unusual captain's chair.

"It's actually a bus driver's chair that was given to us by a passenger who used to travel on here regularly, and the top half is from a dentist's chair so that it goes up and down and swivels around," says McNaught.

The new master, a very debonair gentleman, first joined Cunard in 1987 and has been staff captain of the QE2 since 2001.

Steered by one captain after another, the ship has witnessed numerous world changes throughout the centuries while changing herself.

Today, the ship is equipped with an electric chart system, which is linked into the global positioning system known as the GPS.

You will be even more amazed by the control room — the real heart of the ship. Dave O'Hara is one of the people responsible for keeping the ship running smoothly.

"All systems are go," says O'Hara, standing by the big oil engines that burn up to $60,000 worth of fuel a day.

The QE2 offers world cruises on a regular basis to various destinations, including the Panama Canal and ports as diverse as Australia, the South Pacific, and the Caribbean. It has a capacity of 1,600 passengers, and also houses five restaurants, three swimming pools and a 481-seat cinema showing first-run films. Of course, there is also a casino.

It is hardly easy to load up enough provisions for a whole ship of passengers. Even the tea bags used in one day would supply a family of tea-drinkers for a year.

Being aboard a ship in the QE2 tradition also means that luxuries abound.
Passengers on the ship go through 370 bottles of wine per day, which have to be stored very carefully. Each bottle is securely enclosed with tape to prevent the liquid from spilling, and that's important because some of them are superb wines of rare vintage. The only detriment to a wine on board the ship is that it ages rapidly because of agitation.

On the QE2, you would not only find the right cheese to go with your wine, but also caviar of all kinds that is stored in a special room. Ship staff members note that four pounds of caviar (worth $1,000) is consumed every day.

Dining on the QE2 is a wonderful experience. There are three levels of dining, depending on the level of cabin you book. Surprisingly, just 14 chefs -- who cook three meals a day, seven days a week -- create all of the scrumptious dishes.

But the most memorable part of the QE2 is its foghorn, echoed by the ocean as a welcome to its elegance, from the past to the present.