Our love affair with the Titanic goes on and on … or as the Irish say – it was fine when it left Belfast!
The Titanic Belfast is a visitors’ attraction and a monument to Belfast's maritime heritage on the site of the former Harland & Wolff ship yard in the city's Titanic Quarter. Our visit to Belfast included the Titanic Experience which was an amazing insight to the building, launch and final days in the life of this infamous cruise ship.
The Titanic Experience building is amazing, the shape replicates four ship hulls (that’s the front bit, for non sailor types like me!) and is clad in three thousand three dimensional aluminium plates, creating a shimmering structure which is enhanced by reflective pools of water surrounding the base. It has been built the same height as the Titanic hull and stands proud in its historic landscape.
The Titanic Quarter is walkable but I suggest a taxi from your hotel, then you are dropped right at the door. It is has good facilities for disabled customers and the cost for Seniors is Monday to Friday £10.50 or Saturday and Sunday £12.50.
A superb purpose-built visitors’ centre greets you with Titanic memorabilia that sets the mood. The nine galleries of interactive exhibition space awaits you, which include the dark ride, underwater exploration theatre, recreation of the ship’s decks and cabins. Hire the walkman, that takes you through the stages, it is worth listening to all the interesting details of the Titanic Experience. A glass escalator and a timber deck bridge provides access to the start of the experience, and strangely the feelings of anticipation rise as you travel – metaphorically – back through time to the Boom Time Belfast exhibition, a 20th Century look at the ship yards of Harland and Wolff, the engineering, ship building, and linen production of Belfast showing how the city was booming with all the work that was created by the ship building industry. A ship yard ride – yes in a cable car type structure – you tour the recreation of the shipbuilding in the early 1900s, a fascinating insight of what the men and boys had to do to get this enormous cruise ship built, the sounds, the sights and the smells have been recreated for you to experience. The pictures of the crew, passengers are all around, mock ups of cabins and state rooms are on show, an amazing amount of memorabilia has been collected to take you through the journey.
The Launch experience is bitter sweet, a sence of melancholy starts to evolve as you see the launch in one of the glass hulls, which changes to show you how the ship was launched and the launch area as it is today. On April 2nd 1912 the ship left Belfast to travel to England, France and Ireland to pick up passengers for the voyage and at 11.40 on the 14th April 1912 the ship hit the iceberg in the North Atlantic; it took 2 and a half hours to sink and over 1,517 people died. Now the Titanic experience takes on a sombre note, but the experience goes on, a theatre which shows the journey to the bottom of the ocean and shows you the discovered Titanic in 1985. It is rather eerie to see this magnificent ship covered in sea algae, a silent empty ship that had once been so full of hope.
The 705 survivors were taken by the Carpathia to New York, but the bodies of the people who died where taken to Halifax, Nova Scotia the nearest port to the disaster. We visited Halifax recently to see the graves and the museum, the harrowing stories on video, are related from the ship’s crew that picked the bodies out of the frozen sea, a never to be forgotten piece of history.
We have seen the movie and can sing the song and the captain, wherever he came from did his best. The tragedy of RMS Titanic will certainly live on thanks to the wonderful Titanic Experience, based in Belfast a city powered by history and moving slowly but confidently into the future.
• Read Glynis's travels by coach around Belfast and Northern Ireland
Glynis Sullivan was a guest of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and the Coach Tourism Council whose members include more than 140 UK coach operators, many of whom feature tours to Belfast and Northern Ireland. They can be found at www.findacoachholiday.com.