I was sceptical about the whole 'Titanic Belfast' thing. As a Northern Ireland resident (and tax payer), it seemed like this project would just be another big, expensive and pointless white elephant. I was also unconvinced that visitors to Belfast would actually come because of the Titanic link - tourists I speak to tend to be more interested in the conflict aspect of our history. Another issue is that the 'Titanic Quarter' project (aimed at creating a new district of Belfast with shops, high-end apartments and restaurants) has pretty much staggered to a halt. There are some (empty) high-end apartments, but not much else.
So it was with a healthy dose of said scepticism that I went down to Titanic Belfast to see what all the fuss is about. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised. For tourists in Northern Ireland, one thing that should become immediately apparent is that the tourist industry is very much in its infancy. Until now, Belfast itself has lacked a truly world-class visitor attraction. Titanic Belfast has changed all that. The first thing that a visitor will notice is the striking architecture of the building; it really is different and fits perfectly into the industrial landscape of the city's docks.
I ventured inside and bought my ticket - £13 is steep, but as it turned out, worth it. I visited early in the morning which allowed me to avoid the majority of the crowds. This really is a top-class museum, plenty of money has been spent and it shows. The story of the Titanic is told in great detail using the latest technology. The recreations of the cabins were a particular highlight, as was the 180-degree projection that allowed you to take a virtual tour of the ship.
I felt that the shipyard ride was something of a let down. The designers have quite obviously put a lot of thought into the ride system (which is certainly impressive) but the content of the ride itself is nothing special at all. You fly past a few video screens and listen to a commentary that just repeats things you have already read in the exhibits. This ride really could have been a highlight of the museum. A real missed opportunity. The section devoted to the Titanic wreckage was an unexpected and interesting experience; the multi-media exhibits were very informative and the large cinema screen was fascinating.
The staff seemed friendly and fairly knowledgable. The whole museum was spotlessly clean and well maintained, everything was working and walking around it was an easy and pleasant experience. I finished the tour with a visit to the gift shop, which stocks the usual array of over-priced tat and rubbish (Titanic marmalade anyone?) I didn't buy anything, but tourists seemed impressed with the selection.
All in all, Titanic Belfast was an experience I have no trouble in recommending. Hopefully more local residents will fork out the cash to experience the city's flagship attraction. I also hope that the success of the museum will spur on the Titanic Quarter project, which is starting to look a little depressing.
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