It’s all aboard for Titanic trip in the land of giants

The Giant's Causeway and, below, Belfast's new Titanic experience (Credit: Titanic Belfast) (S)
The Giant's Causeway and, below, Belfast's new Titanic experience (Credit: Titanic Belfast) (S)

It takes around four minutes to travel from the lowest deck of the Titanic to the highest, if you bypass the stairs and float directly through the ceilings and floors of the ship.

This is possible if, like me, you visit the newly opened Titanic Belfast visitor experience, built close to the docks where the ship was once constructed.

Exterior of Titanic Belfast

Exterior of Titanic Belfast

The “visitor experience” boasts every kind of interactive museum or visitor centre gadget I could have imagined, and hundreds more beside. The top to bottom view of the Titanic comes in a virtual 360 cave – a room bordered on three sides by projection screens showing life size views of the ship from the lowest engine decks, upwards to the third and second class decks, avish first class cabins and dining rooms,and finally the bridge with its panoramic views of the sea.

Viewers stand in the middle of the room, and with pictures on three sides it really does feel like you are floating up through the ship. In truth it’s a slightly disorienting experience, and the feeling of flying upwards and spinning round made me feel quite seasick.

But the 360 cave is just one of the lavish representations on offer alongside a ride around the shipyard that built the Titanic, games about the building the ship, a reconstruction of the “Arroll Gantry” which housed the Titanic while is was under construction, and film footage of the under water explorations of the wreck site.

The centre is purposefully called a visitor experience rather than a museum because it contains no artefacts, other than a few costumes and props donated by James Cameron, director of the 1997 film Titanic, who has endorsed the venue, and nothing lifted from the seabed.

Instead, the people behind Titanic Belfast have developed a relationship with Dr Richard Ballard, the ocean explorer responsible for much of the discovery at Titanic’s wreck site.

I visited Titanic Belfast at the invitation of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, who are keen to pull overseas and UK visitors to the new centre and to their other major tourist attractions - The Giant’s Causeway.

In contrast to the six-month-old Titanic Belfast, the Giant’s Causeway was constructed some hundreds of years ago by the Scottish giant Benandonner. He had picked a fight with Finn McCool, the Irish giant who lived at that spot on the Antrim coastline. The causeway was, at the time, a bridge linking the two giants’ home, but when Finn McCool’s wife tricked him into thinking her husband was a baby and the real Finn was much bigger, he ran back to Scotland in fright destroying the bridge behind him, and creating the causeway we see today.

Or, if you prefer a scientific explanation, the 40,000 basalt columns were created by cooling magma 60 million years ago.

The Causeway is a little more than 60 miles from Belfast, but we took the long way round and drove along the 70-mile-long coast road along the edge of County Antrim from Larne, just north of Belfast, to the Giant’s Causeway and further north and west to Londonderry. The journey is full of stories from the Irish,Scottish andPictish history of the county, part way along is Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, a popular stopping off point for the bus tours and coach party that make the trip. The bridge was originally built by fishermen to get to their catch salmon nets, but now gives tourists the chance to test their nerve on the 20m long bridge over a 23m deep drop between the cliffs.

Further along the coast, at the Giants Causeway, is a brand new visitor centre opened this year, with exhibits on the site’s history, geology and mythology, but it’s the natural wizardry of the stones everyone goes to see.

Back in Belfast, the most popular attraction for visitors is still the Black Cab tour around the Falls and Shankhill roads and the mural covered Peace Wall that divides them.

My weekend in Belfast was a weekend of journeys – back in time to boomtown Belfast, on a fateful maiden voyage, along a winding coast road, and through the myths and legends of the Causeway.

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