Our Titanic Experience in Belfast

How could we visit Belfast and not see where it all began for the infamous “unsinkable” RMS Titanic? It was a venture to separate some of the myth from the fact. For starters the myth that the shipbuilders had labelled the ship as unsinkable. This appears to have derived from either an unknown crew member saying to a passenger, “God himself could not sink this ship!” or an interpretation by the people and the press following several articles on the building, launch and maiden voyage. Whatever the reason, this description was far more widely used after tragedy.

Titanic Experience – Location, Location, Location

Since 2012 the Titanic Experience has been a feature of the skyline in the port of Belfast. Four shimmering hulls jut out from the central atrium of the building. These “hulls” are the gallery buildings and are the same height as the ship from keel to boat deck. This really helps visualise the sheer size of the vessel.

The building is only 100m from the dry dock and slipway where Titanic was built. In the neighbouring slipway, the sister ship Olympic was being constructed at the same time. What a sight that must have been for the people of Belfast! Two massive ships side by side, dwarfing absolutely everything else in sight.

We arrived early, as usual. In fact we arrived an hour before it opened. We did manage to collect our pre-booked tickets before being ushered out by a very young a nervous looking security guard who said we shouldn’t be in the building. Maybe they should have shut the doors then! Once we started exploring outside we decided we didn’t mind at all because there is so much to see which I think the regular Experience visitors miss.

The building itself looks different from every angle. We walked down one side past the Harland & Wolf drawing offices which were in pristine condition and obviously used for functions nowadays. The rear of the building faces the slipways where Titanic and Olympic were built. Original rail tracks criss-crossed the concrete floor and a blue fluorescent line embedded in the concrete outlined the actual footprint of the ship. This is where we had a shock. Although the ship was higher and longer than anything else built at that time, the width of the ship is surprisingly narrow.

H & W drawing office
View of the Titanic slipway
We think our illusion of the size, along with a lot of other illusions, have sadly come from the 1988 film.  To be honest I think a lot of the overseas visitors expect to see Rose and Jack doing there flying bird impression on the bow of a hollywood Titanic replica. In fact we did see one or two tourists re-enacting the moment on the wooden benches. Bless! With so much to read and see, time flew and it was time to head inside to the galleries.

9 Galleries and 101 Facts and Figures

This is where I will have to reign in my enthusiasm. It would be so easy to recount endless facts that we picked up but I will try just to give you an overview. Here goes! There were 9 galleries ranging from a history of Belfast and it’s shipyards, the launch, the sinking, the aftermath through to the discovery of the wreck. There are countless artefacts and even a ride… It was an open gondola type of carriage that lifted us and swung us through a mock up of the bowels of the ship during it’s construction. It was very well done.

I can’t go on any further without giving you a few snippets of info that may be news to you.

  • The look outs did not have binoculars in the crows nest. A few days before Titanic sailed a second officer was bumped off the ship but in his rush to leave he forgot to give the key for the cupboard where the binoculars were kept to his replacement.
  • There were only two baths (one for men and one for women) for the 700 third-class passengers.
  • Carruthers, Board of Trade Surveyor passed the Titanic fit to carry passengers on 2nd April after one day of sea trials off the coast of Northern Ireland. Only 7 days before her maiden voyage from Southampton
  • Titantic was within 2 feet of a collision with another passenger liner, the New York, as she left Southampton.
  • The Carpathia picked up 13 lifeboats and their survivors and brought them to New York. Once unloaded the lifeboats mysteriously disappeared.
  • A full size replica of the Titanic is being built in an amusement park in China

There were many amazing photos in the the galleries, but I think this one is my favourite.

SS Nomadic 

If you do ever get to Belfast and decided to shell out for entry £18 don’t miss seeing the Nomadic which is included in your ticket prices. It is in a dry dock near the Titanic Experience building. The little ship was one of two built to take passengers out to the Titanic from Cherbourg. Bruce Ismay, Chairman and Director of the White Star Line, Benjamin Guggenheim, the rich American mining magnate and Margaret (“Molly”) Brown, famous for insisting the lifeboats went back to pick up survivors, all boarded the Nomadic at Cherbourg to be ferried out to the Titanic.

The ship was built in the same shipyard at around the same time as the Titanic and the interior replicated a lot of the features of her bigger sisters she was built to serve, the Titanic and the Olympic, and has had a very varied past. It has been a nighclub, restaurant in Paris, served in both World Wars and is now back where it all started, Belfast. Evidently, parts of the ship that were stripped out over the years keep turning up on Ebay. These are purchased and refitted in their original places and the ornateness of the vessel is tangible.  Once again, I could bore you with a whole load of facts but will give you just one. Nomadic was involved in an accident in Cherbourg in the 1920’s – she only survived by closing her watertight doors and compartments!

Would we recommend a visit?

We are quite selective on what we visit and what we don’t. £18 each is, for us, a huge outlay for entry to something. We both thought this museum was worth every penny and that wasn’t just because I am totally fascinated with the whole era and sequence of events.

We must start saving though because we understand that there is a Titanic II. A full size, sea-going, replica of Titanic is being planned  by an eccentric millionaire in Australia although I don’t think the project is off the ground yet. It’s probably “unsinkable” too! Anyone fancy signing up for a maiden voyage cruise?

01/10/2017

6 comments

    • The museum was only a little part of what Northern Ireland has to offer. Such an under rated country. Shame it too us so long to get there.

      Like

    • It is such a tragic yet fascinating story. It is unbelievable that so many years on we are still putting the facts together. See…I am off again!

      Like

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