Titanic, Part 1: Doomed Ship or Magical Journey?

The construction site

It’s always struck me as highly ironic that the mighty Titanic, which was launched with much fanfare and then sank in the Atlantic on its first voyage, is responsible for introducing cruise travel to a whole new generation of travelers. (Well, perhaps credit goes as much to the fictional love story played out in the flick “Titanic” by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.) But nowhere will you find a passion for Titanic as strong as in Belfast.

Titanic is already a huge tourist attraction in Belfast, where the ship was built, and is slated to grab an even higher profile in 2012, when the city will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its construction (and demise). Yesterday, on Westerdam’s day-long call in Belfast, I got a tour of the new Titanic Belfast project, currently under construction, and got to visit a few locations of historical import, including the dock in which the ship was built. Here’s part 1 of our visit in photos. Stay tuned for part 2, which will launch tomorrow.

Titanic in Southampton. Courtesy of Titanicinbelfast.com

The mighty Titanic was built for White Star Line in 1912 by Belfast shipbuilders Harlan & Wolff. (The company is still in existence — though with no ship orders at present, it’s involved in producing industrial strength windmills.) The ship, along with its sisters Olympic and Britannic (both of which enjoyed longer lifespans than Titanic), was meant to be the most luxurious ever constructed. Its keel was laid on March 31, 1909; the ship underwent sea trials on April 2, 1912, and it arrived in Southampton on April 3. Titanic was heralded then as a masterpiece of Edwardian engineering and design.

Titanic was the Oasis of the Seas of its time — the biggest steamship ever built when it set off on its maiden sailing on April 10, 1912. Four days later, it had a fatal encounter with an iceberg and sank; 1,517 of the 2,223 passengers onboard perished.

A rendering of the museum

The under-construction building will be the heart and soul of the new Titanic Belfast, the £97 million project that includes what sounds like an incredible interactive museum. (It’s essentially designed as four ship hulls that meet in the middle). When it opens in 2012, the museum will be comprised of different galleries that showcase the building of the ship and also the role it played in Belfast.

So what’s different about this project at a time when there are already 20 exhibitions floating around in North America? Says Bryan Gregory, the executive in charge of Titanic Belfast: “Titanic is Northern Ireland’s history. The big difference is that we own the boat. You can’t be any more authentic than that.”

Gregory says that the other exhibitions across the pond primarily focus on the artifacts uncovered at the bottom of the sea. Titantic Belfast willtake a different approach. “We’ll tell the story of what, in the end of the day, is an immigrant ship.”

Gregory showed us the design plan for the museum’s exhibitions and while visually there’s not much to share yet, the ideas for the museum are fantastic! This will be a place not only for Titanic romanticists but also for shipbuilding aficionados. Its interactive features on the design and conception of the vessel look fabulous. Exhibits will include, for instance, a re-creation of a section of ship and shipyard; visitors will be able to inspect, up close and personal, the hull via a gondola-like ride.

Another gallery will focus on the fitting out of Titanic, with life-size models of cabins (from first, second and third classes) and a piece of the dining room, as well as its engines and funnels. There will be a multi-dimensional show that will make visitors feel as if they’re walking through Titanic’s rooms, an immersive theater with shows yet to be decided, and other galleries that center on topics such as Titanic legends and myths, and the rescue effort.

Of course the museum will spotlight stories about people onboard — but just as interesting are the tales of those who didn’t take the voyage, such as the priest who had to get off at the ship’s last land call, Ireland’s Queenstown, because he was ordered to return by his superior. His photographs survived as a result. I also heard the story of Belfast craftsman hired to make a dining table for the captain’s quarters. He didn’t finish the work on time and the ship sailed without it – and as such the handmade table still exists!

That’s all for today. We’ll have more Titanic tidbits from our Belfast visit tomorrow.


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Filed under Cruise Lines, Round-Britain Cruise

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