Covering nine galleries, Titanic Belfast®, owned by the Titanic Foundation, offers visitors a unique insight into not just the great ship itself, its passengers and their tragic fate, but also into the world behind the Titanic and the shipping construction yard of Harland & Wolff.
When I travelled to Belfast for the exhibition I was unsure what to expect, there had been plenty of hype but I wasn’t sure what could be done to offer a new perspective on a story which has been told and retold so many times, but Titanic Belfast® did not disappoint.
Meticulously recreating everything from the gantry experiences of the workers at Harland & Wolff to the bedrooms of the passengers on board Titanic and everything in between, this exhibition is an astonishing blend of the latest technology and memorabilia.
Due to demand all tickets for the exhibition must be either bought on-line before hand or in a registered sales office in Belfast itself. When you purchase a ticket you have to select a visiting time and must be there at least 10 minutes before the specified time in order to collect your entry ticket from the ticket office on site.
From a distance Titanic Belfast® is a striking building, its strange prow shaped form a mixture of glass and metal - up close the space is amazing.
The first gallery covers the history of Belfast from the growth of the city to its problems and its industry before moving on to the history of the iconic Harland & Wolff shipping yard. This part of the exhibition offers plenty of historic documentation from interactive plans detailing the Titanic and sister ships to pay books for workers and even a gantry crane game which allows you to test how steady a hand you have for moving miniature pieces of ‘steel’ around the boat yard.
From here it’s through to the gantry yard. Dark and wrapped in steel girders, here two glass sided elevators take you to the upper levels for the gantry ride. Up to six people sit into a capsule for the ride, suspended from a rail which allows it to drop down into ‘boat yard, rising up to show the beginning of the framework and finally passing the riveters fixing the massive steel plates to the ship’s hull.
The major part of the exhibition is, as expected, made up of the fateful maiden voyage with details of passengers who travelled in the various classes as well as background on the staff required to run to the Titanic. You also get a glimpse of the huge scale of the ship played out by a screen which literally, travels through the ship. Reconstructions of the first, second and third class cabins have also been created as well.
Wandering back into a darkened gallery recording the night-time collision with the iceberg is a haunting experience. As you make your way through, a selection of signs detail the final communications from Titanic including the fateful decision not to slow despite the fields of ice.
The dramatic story of the sinking - from the replica lifeboat, to the personal experiences of the passengers - certainly brings home the scale of the tragedy and the final gallery takes you full circle with a film showing the wreck on the ocean floor, also highlighting the many human touches on the ocean floor such as the shoes of the passengers, a frying pan from the kitchen, even a chamber pot glows out starkly from the ocean floor. The film offers a unique perspective in that it is filmed an narrated as if you are a passenger in one of the submersible travelling the length of the wreck. There sits all the reminders of the 1500 souls lost in the sinking. Go downstairs and can walk out onto a glass floor and, if you’re brave enough, even look down an image of the wreck.
There are also a number of interactive exhibit spaces aimed especially at children here where you get to find out more about the artefacts found at the site and the wreck itself.
Unfortunately because the exhibit had just opened and we had a ticket for later in the day we found the space extremely crowded so we didn’t get to see everything on offer. The large crowds also caused a delays at the gantry gallery with a 20 minute wait for the lifts and then a further 30 minute wait in line for the gantry ride. There were also queues to get into the restaurant and gift shop, such was the demand. That is not to say that I would let any of this put anyone off visiting this exhibition. Titanic Belfast® is simply outstanding and I’m sure that the crowd issues will be resolved once the exhibition space is open for a few months.
I would, however, recommend that anyone visiting try and get an early slot and try for a weekday rather than the much busier weekend period. Also be aware there are height restrictions on the gantry ride - small infants cannot sit on their parents laps during the ride and there also restrictions on pregnant women using the ride because of a safety lap bar.
For further details on the exhibition visit www.titanicbelfast.com where you can also purchase tickets.