Channel the spirit of the ‘unsinkable’ ship 100 years after its infamous plunge with these tips from Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2012.
Belfast was the birthplace of the Titanic. In 1909 her keel was laid at its Harland & Wolff shipyard; on 2 April 1912 she sailed from here for Southampton, proud crowds waving off the most luxurious liner the world had ever seen. But the world has changed, and the city looks different today: the ‘Titanic Quarter’ has been ambitiously redeveloped, and at its heart stands the new hull-shaped Titanic Belfast attraction, opened just this month (www.titanicbelfast.com). But for a more historical take, stroll the slipways from which the vessel was launched, nose into the original H&W offices and gawp at the dry dock - unchanged since Titanic’s time - to appreciate the ship’s awesome scale.
For details of two-hour guided walks of Belfast’s Titanic Quarter visit www.titanicwalk.com.
They called her ‘unsinkable’ - not the Titanic but Molly Brown. She rose to riches from lowly beginnings after her miner husband struck gold, and went on to survive the Titanic tragedy, helping other passengers in the process. But her Denver home almost didn’t make it. Threatened with demolition in the 1970s, it was only saved by a group of passionate locals, keen to restore the 19th-century home to its former, Brown-era beauty. Today the Queen Anne-style mansion has been lovingly preserved, and contains a grand staircase, well-stocked library, rich upholstery, elegant piano, chandeliers and silver service to create an opulent 1910s time warp. Molly lives on.
Guided tours of the museum run every 30 minutes from 10am Tuesday to Saturday (Sundays from noon). See www.mollybrown.org.
Cape Race, Newfoundland, Canada
They don’t call this ‘Iceberg Alley’ for nothing. Newfoundland’s rugged Atlantic coast is renowned for its glacial goliaths - every year chunks of ice from Greenland float south past the Canadian province. It makes a spectacular sight: big bergs can be spotted from shore, like frozen skyscrapers on the move. But it also makes for treacherous sailing…as the Titanic discovered. It was the wireless station at Cape Race - the closest landfall to the wreck site - that first received Titanic’s distress call, and relayed the message to the world. Today a wind-whipped lighthouse still warns ships navigating these wild waters.
The best time to spot icebergs is late May to early June; for viewing tips see www.icebergfinder.com.
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, USA
It’s all a little incongruous: a big, ship-shaped museum-monolith sitting an awfully long way from the sea, just down the road from Dollywood and the Dixie Stampede. Nonetheless, Pigeon Forge is home to the world’s biggest Titanic attraction. It’s hands-on stuff: you can shovel coal, patrol the bridge, sit in a life-sized lifeboat and touch an iceberg. Alternatively ransack the gift shop, where there’s no need to mount an expedition for priceless diamonds - a ‘Heart of the Ocean’ necklace (like the trinket from the 1997 Oscar-sweeping Titanic film) can be yours for just US$129.99. If only Bill Paxton had known…
Self-guided tours of Titanic Pigeon Forge (open daily) take around two hours. See www.titanicattraction.com.
Class discrimination circa 1912 is alive and well at Melbourne’s most doomed dining experience. Book a table in steerage at the shipshape Titanic Theatre Restaurant and you eat with the other cheapskates; upgrade to First Class and you chink china with a more elite crowd (well, those who paid the extra dollars for posher nosh). Either way, catastrophe is guaranteed by pudding, although after a bit of iceberg-acting action, the ending’s actually rewritten - the ‘passengers’ are saved and you all make it to New York to dance the night away! Well, it’s not polite to kill off paying customers.
For costs of a place at Titanic Theatre Restaurant, and details of how to hire costumes and accessories, visit www.titanic.com.au.
As the nearest port to the Titanic's sink site, the Nova Scotian city of Halifax was closely involved in the rescue operation. There are more than 100 victims of the disaster buried here, but one grave in Halifax’s Fairview Cemetery receives a disproportionate number of mourners. It’s the final resting place of body 227, recovered from the bitter Atlantic by a Canadian cable ship and marked by the simplest of headstones, that attracts most attention - because it says ‘J Dawson’. Titanic movie director James Cameron insists his Jack Dawson was unrelated, but that hasn’t stopped Leo DiCaprio lovers paying their movie-inspired respects.
Halifax’s Maritime Museum, which contains a Titanic section, is open from 9.30am daily (except Monday November to April). See www.museum.gov.ns.ca.
New York, USA
The Titanic never made it to New York, and neither did Ida Straus - she chose to go down with the ship and her beloved husband Isador. But they reside in their intended destination to this day, in spirit at least. Tiny, triangular Straus Park, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, is a poignant, peaceful tribute. Here, a reclining female bronze gazes into a pool of water, shrouded by crab apples, azaleas and lilies, and scampered upon by squirrels. It’s a far cry from Id’s other NYC legacy: the Straus-owned Macy’s. Head to the hefty department store for a more manic memorial experience.
To reach Straus Park, take Broadway train 1 to 103rd St and Broadway.
Long Beach, California, USA
Its balmy climes and palmy gardens don’t immediately conjure the chill of the mid-Atlantic. But it was in Long Beach - a Hollywood location fave - that the stars of James Cameron’s Titanic sank or swam, depending on their individual character’s fate. The capacious Belmont Olympic Pool provided a safer watery environment for filming, and it’s still open to the public for laps and lessons. To get a better feel for big-ship style, wander along the waterfront to the anchored Queen Mary. This enormous luxury liner, which crossed the Atlantic 1001 times between 1936 and 1964, is the true grand dame of the ocean.
Belmont Pool (4000 E Olympic Plaza) has 16 lanes, plus diving boards.
Southampton is dotted with statuary commemorating the Titanic’s victims: the Musician’s Memorial bears the opening bars of a hymn; the Engineer Officers Memorial is a glorious angel; and the memorial to the stewards and firemen sits inside the ruins of Holy Rood Church. The reason for these memorials is that Southampton not only farewelled the Titanic on her maiden voyage, but also suffered the greatest losses from her sinking. Of the 1517 people who perished, 549 were from Southampton, virtually all of them crew members. A walk links the memorials, as well as the docks, Maritime Museum and The Grapes pub. The latter was where four would-be Titanic sailors made the best mistake of their lives - tarrying too long and missing the boat. A new Sea City Museum is set to open in Southampton in April 2012, housing Titanic stories and exhibits.
It’s no real surprise that Orlando, the motherland of theme parks, has a homage to the world’s most famous ship. This isn’t quite Titanic-done-Disney (there’s no human-sized mouse at the helm, or new happy ending), but the cheese is still chunkily sliced at Florida’s Titanic Experience. Actors lead ‘passengers’ (that is, the guests, who are each given a ticket bearing a real Titanic traveller’s name) on to the ‘vessel’ to roam replica state rooms and the iconic staircase. It’s a bit of fun, but with a poignant finale: guests check their ‘name’ against the passenger list - to see if they lived or died.
Titanic the Experience is open daily 9am to 9pm. See www.titanictheexperience.com for more details.
For more excellent itineraries and travel tips, pick up a copy of Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2012.