Friday 4 May 2012

Titanic Day Out!

Last weekend PastieBap took a field trip to the new Titanic Belfast building in the heart of the Titanic Quarter. After all the hype of this year we were really looking forward to seeing this mammoth building for ourselves - up close and personal. So in order to beat the queues we booked our tickets ahead of time (it’s pretty much vital to do this as most weekends are already sold out – tickets can be booked here) and turned up first thing in the morning.

It goes without saying that the outside of the £90 million building is extremely impressive. The building which was built to look like the famous ship is 14,000 sq.m and is twice the size of Belfast's City Hall. The first thing that you notice about the 'the world's largest Titanic visitor experience' from afar are the 3,000 individual silver anodised aluminium shards which make up its external fa├žade and seem to always catch the sunlight, and the second thing that you notice is that at least three of its four 90ft 'hulls' are in view at all times; this coupled with the  reflective pools of water which surround it give the impression that the building could sail away at any moment.

With such an impressive exterior, the Titanic Belfast really had a lot to live up to with its interior, and it didn't disappoint. As you enter the building it's hard to miss the rust effect panels which line the walls, and the compass rose on the floor - giving the modern structure an antique air which is fitting with the theme of the Titanic.

The exhibition portion of the building consists of ten galleries: Boomtown Belfast, The Shipyard, The Launch, The Fit-Out, The Maiden Voyage, The Sinking, The Aftermath, Myths & Legends, Exploring the Wreck and the Ocean Exploration Centre - each of which contain a series of interactive exhibitions.

As you enter the exhibition space, you learn a lot of interesting facts about Belfast's industrial past including the linen and rope works and the production of cigarettes. The center-piece of this section is the interactive map of Belfast which you hover over with your hand to learn more about the individual sections of Belfast's history. This is great for kids who love to get their hands on anything and for adults who want to learn a bit more about the past of this great city. You also learn how to send a distress telegram and can look at miniature models of areas of the shipyard itself.

You exit this part of the exhibition through the original gates of Harland and Wolff and you enter the drawing rooms and planning offices of the shipyard which have an interactive floor.

Visitors ascend a replica of one of the huge pillars of the Arrol Gantry and then they embark on the Shipyard Ride. When PastieBap was there, there weren't any queues for the ride and we got on straight away, but at busier periods there may be a slight wait. You climb aboard a futuristic car and are transported back in time to the Shipyard of the 1900s. The ride uses special effects, animations and full-scale reconstructions to really give you a feel of how the Shipyard would have been at the time of the Titanic's construction. The sights and sounds really do the trick and we really enjoyed the ride. There's also the option of skipping the ride and simple reading the information.

As you exit the Shipyard Ride, visitors are met with a huge window which looks down at the slipways themselves where the Titanic once resided. As you watch a short film of the Titanic being launched the state-of-the-art glass in the windows uses electrodes to switch from the real view to a superimposed image of the Titanic resting on the slipways. This is one of the most impressive parts of the entire building and is really a unique and novel way of recreating the buzz of 31st May 1911.

The fourth gallery is the fit-out of the ship and features a four minute video projected onto three walls which shows visitors a CGI recreation of the ship as you go on a journey through the engine rooms, dining areas and the famous staircase. You can also see replicas of first, second and third class cabins and examples of the types of carpet and linen used on board.

The fifth gallery introduces visitors to some of the passengers on board and we learn about the types and amounts of supplies brought for the Maiden Voyage as it stopped off at Southhampton, England; Cherbourd, France and Queenstown (Cobh), Ireland before setting sail across the Atlantic.
The sixth gallery confronts the horrors of the Titanic's final hours and atmospheric sounds and lighting is used to recreate the night of its sinking alongside transcripts of the communications and distress signals on that fateful night. You then descend the stairs to learn about the aftermath and the enquiry which took place and then you use an interactive touch screen display to find out more about the myths and legends associated with the ship.

Just when you think the exhibition is over, you enter through a set of doors and are confronted with a multi-level gallery with seating in the top half. If you sit for a while you can watch high-definition footage of the wreckage with commentary from the divers. This eerie imagery is coupled with water-effect lighting on the walls to give the impression that you're a part of their journey. Down a flight of stairs is a glass floor with a projection of the wreckage as a whole which is very impressive and below this is the final gallery, the Ocean Exploration Centre in which visitors can access the technologies which modern ships use.

Overall, the building is extremely impressive and a lot of fun and we'd recommend leaving yourself about 2 or 3 hours to really get a feel of the whole building. Finally, Belfast has something to attract visitors from across the globe and which we can really be proud of.

You can explore the building here.

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