Finally, Ireland has a world-class contemporary visitor attraction with the opening of the Titanic Centre in Belfast. A visit yesterday was a revelation in terms of the quality of the centre and the level of business it is attracting.
Even before we arrived at the centre the taxi ride from Belfast Central opened up a new vista of a modern, confident Belfast. The area around the Docks, which I remember as being semi-derelict a decade ago has been transformed into a modern urban precinct with offices, residential blocks, entertainment venues and now the iconic building that is 'Titanic'.
Rising from the flat waterside like the giant ship which it commemorates, the building creates an immediate impression of strength and beauty with its multi-angled cladding and spacious plaza. Inside is a large lobby area with a busy self-service bistro and coffee shop which was serving a constant queue of visitors. Food in the bistro is creative and appetising but service is slow because of the necessity to heat up items from the salad section.
The 'Titanic Experience' takes visitors on a jouurney through 'Boomtown Belfast' with exhibits on the many industries (tobacco, engineering, rope-making, whiskey) which made the city an economic powerhouse in the 19th. Century. There are also references to the poverty of sections of the community and the low pay and hard work experienced by employees. The predominance of Protestants in the workforce is also virtually ignored.This leads to a section on ship-buildiing and Harland and Wolf and then through some striking images of ships's hulls and descriptions of the ship-construction process.
'The Titanic Ride' takes visitors on a chair lift through the vastness of a shipyard, offering 'close up' views of steelwork, welding and fit-out and matches anything that Disney might have to offer. Next, we were taken on a tour of the 'Titanic' through a series of multi-media shows and reconstrucitons of first, second and third class cabins, surrounded by displayes of 'White Star Line' crockery, uniforms and branded items. The presentation of the maiden voyage and sinking are somewhat low-key, but the audio presentation of extracts from the subsequent Official Enquiry makes compelling listening.
A giant screen in a cinema-style hall shows a film of the 'Titanic' as it now rests on the floor of the Atlantic and there is a nice section featuring the various 'Titanic' movies.
Altogether it is an informative, entertaining and fascinating attraction that will hopefull attract visitors for many decades to come