I’d heard plenty of things about this exhibition. The first being that it was very text heavy. Also, I had heard a lot of people had gone expecting to see movie props and had thus been disappointed to learn that there was a real Titanic and Belfast was where she had been built. Still, I like to see these places for myself and come to my own conclusions.
My tour group was booked in for two and we were met at the coach park by tickets and a staff member who led us into the Titanic Experience. The first thing he did was send the others off on a bathroom visit. Not needing those facilities just yet I stayed for a chat. I learned that this guy was an avid hiker and had recently been to New Zealand. In a further spooky coincidence he had stayed in Auckland and only a few streets down from my parents house. This made me laugh because most of the people I have run in to who have been to New Zealand have at some stage stayed right near me. We could have met already and simply not remembered!
Anyway, the Titanic Experience is an awesome looking building that was opened on March 31 this year in commemoration of 100 years since the maiden voyage that sent her to the bottom. Titanic as built in the shipyards of Belfast and the locals like to say: ‘Titanic – built by Irishmen, sunk by Englishmen.’ The experience takes you through the lives of workers, staff and passengers in early twentieth century Belfast. The first gallery is dedicated to the luxury ship’s design and staffing. There are a few token interactive activities, but as I said before it is very text heavy.
Taking the lift up to the next left you can choose to queue for the workers experience, or to by ass it. I would recommend by pass unless you want to be sat in a little motorized pod with people you may or may not know and be swung around slowly and stupidly while being informed on how to nail in rivets by a voice barely audible over the sound effects. It really is overblown and I felt bad when the young chap at the end asked me how ‘it was’ and I couldn’t even find the decency to mutter anything – positive or negative!
The gallery following this chronicles Titanic as she sets off from Southampton with passengers and crew. My favourite aspects were the virtual tour – you stand in a room with screens on three sides and a computer generated ship manifests around you. I also loved the model cabins. Cunningly projected passengers made you feel as though they were real!
Following this is a room covered in telegraphic messages made from the Titanic to ships in the surrounding area after hitting an iceberg in the north Atlantic. Over a speaker are voices, stories of survivors recounting what they were thinking at the time. I found this the most emotional. Even watching a virtual sinking I couldn’t stop thinking about all those people in the freezing water.
Then it is back down stairs to walk through notes and projections about the aftermath and inquiry into the sinking. By this point the gallery way very crowded so I plowed through into an area dedicated to film, music and novel interpretations of the sinking. Double doors lead you into the final gallery. It has all been very dark, but this is REALLY dark. Inside an auditorium a feature film sized screen is playing a documentary of sorts exploring the wreckage of the Titanic at the bottom of the ocean. I believe most people are in here due to the large abound of seating. I had noticed that all the benches of the previous galleries were laden with bored kids and overwhelmed tourists. The people, I suppose, can’t be helped. But the whole thing really was dark…
Time to leave I decided after an hour. I made my way through to the exit which forces you through an art gallery with some relevant and irrelevant pieces and on to a landing with a couple of loaned props left by James Cameron when he visited recently. Really I liked it best here because there were fewer people around. I think I will like it better if I go back in a few years and have the time and space to read some more. Still, I found it laughable in some places and tearily moving in others. It’s Belfast’s best and biggest attraction now. You can’t miss it. Literally.
When you do finally get outside there is still more to see. Out the back the dry docks make for a nice wander around. You can see across the water to the Sleeping Giant on the Hill, some wonderful artwork (like the TITANIC sized sign) and the H & W of Harland & Wolff’s giant yellow cranes (‘Hello and Welcome’ if you’re local). Also more space to breathe – and we all like oxygen!