THE SHIP THAT ONLY SAW SUNSHINE
THE FEW DAYS IT SAILED
by Andrew Johnson
photos courtesy of Titanic Belfast
You are actually there where it all took place over 100
years ago. The world’s largest Titanic visitor attraction,
Titanic Belfast in Northern Ireland opened in March of 2012.
Coincidentally, it can hold over 3,547 visitors at one time,
the same number as the capacity of that well-remembered tragic
ship that went down in the frigid Atlantic on its maiden voyage
in March, 1912, after hitting an iceberg.
Construction of this wonderfully historic facility had the
same timeline as did the Titanic 100 years before. The building
is huge with, nearby, the Titanic Slipways, the Harland and
Wolff Drawing Offices, and the dock where one can go to be
where the ship was actually built and launched.
The story of Titanic is told from her conception, construction,
and launch. It then takes you through panoramic displays with
her sailing and tragic demise, with the aftermath of the sinking--the
investigations and subsequent safeguards that were put into
place—shown in detail.
The slipway where Titanic
Sight, sound, and tales concerning the city and its people
over a century ago give you the feeling of actually being
there, including shadows of individuals projected walking
by on the floor to ceiling huge photos, making them almost
come alive. The floors also seem to come alive beneath your
feet as projections quite pertinent to what you are experiencing
add to the overall experience. Even though the exhibits have
sound, I recommend the rented descriptive individual head
phones which also guide you from one place to the other in
the order you are to proceed. They also afford one so much
more background descriptive material and information as to
the experience at hand.I found the ride (part of the tour
and not an amusement endeavor) that has you experience and
explore the construction of these Olympic-class vessels a
real highlight. One actually gets the feeling being there
in the bowels of the ship with the sight and sound of construction.
Everyone involved in the construction, launching, and being
part of staff of White Star Lines took great pride in whatever
he or she did in this overall venture. Skill and craftsmanship
showed in the overall design and actual building of these
great sea behemoths. One can walk through the displays and
actually see reconstructions of the rooms which the three
classes had and the way they looked back then. There is also
a 180 degree surround piece of cinematography that pans you
up from boiler room to the captain’s bridge. As you
stand there, you get an actual feel of being on the ship.
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip
on the ride exploring Titanic's construction during their
visit to Titanic Belfast.
Another major highlight of the entire exhibit, in my mind,
was the huge window that went outside the facility and focused
on the actual building dock. Suddenly, a super-imposed image
of the ship appeared within the docking area, giving you the
feeling of viewing the ship as it may have appeared in 1912.
Then the image disappeared, bringing you back to the current
time with the dock standing alone. A separate entity apart
from this museum building gives you access to that very dock
as you stand at the actual site, close up, of Titanic’s
construction and launch. Also to be seen is the interior of
the actual Pump House, a large facility, with the over 100
year old huge mechanisms that actually made possible the pouring
of water into the construction area to raise the ships for
launch. They were able to reverse the process to make it bone
dry, draining out all the water for the next vessel’s
Back to the museum, I particularly liked the touch and feel
aspect of the exhibits including the different ropes used
with various consistencies depending upon where they were
used. You felt the strength of these binding pieces. Materials
used at the time were also on hand, and so much more. Children
will certainly like this hands-on experience, and I can vouch
for the adults as well.
The aftermath--inquiries on both sides
of the Atlantic.
The museum has no artifacts recovered from the ship, the way
other Titanic exhibits have. It is felt that nothing should
be disturbed or brought back from that final resting place.
There are also a number of books and motion pictures depicted
that speak of Titanic. I am a Titanic buff and admit that
I gained a great deal of further knowledge gleaned from this
trip “down memory lane.” The culmination of the
visitor’s journey explores the wreck of Titanic, where
the man who discovered the ship at ocean’s bottom, Dr.
Robert Ballard, tells about it in the theatre on a huge projection
screen. The spirit of Titanic lives on in the Ocean Exploration
Center with footage from Ballard’s ongoing sea and ocean
exploration. When you wish to stop to eat, the facility has
a restaurant with servers and waiters wearing what would have
been worn back then in such an eatery. Delicious food was
to be had at not a bad price at all. The gift shop is huge
and a must to visit. It has every kind of souvenir: books,
caps, jackets, stuffed animals -- something for everyone.
It was indeed difficult not to bring back various items as
reminders of the great trip there.
Titanic remains exteremly fascinating
in popular culture today.
If you have the least interest in the ship
and its tragic end, well depicted by the various exhibits
found in this very well-thought out creation of a museum,
a trip to Titanic Belfast is in order. The people of Belfast
I found to be most friendly, cordial, and helpful. Many cruise
ships now dock near the museum, making it a highlight of their
itinerary. There is also a ferry from Scotland plus numerous
flights stopping at the airport that’s about ten or
so minutes from Titanic Belfast. You won’t regret going.
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