Decked out in hardhats and yellow safety jackets, we’re sloshing through grey mud towards the distinctive ship’s bow-shaped, silver building that is Titanic Belfast, a £100m visitor centre due to open March 31, 2012.
Despite the legendary story of Titanic and her tragic sinking, few people know that she was just one of countless seagoing vessels built right here at the Harland & Wolff shipyard, and this attraction is bringing the legendary passenger liner – and it’s legacy – back home for the 100th Anniversary.
Still under construction, inside it’s a mass of concrete and hanging wires, the sound of hammers and drills a constant background noise as we wind our way around equipment and temporary “no entry” signs to explore what will be nine interactive galleries.
Assigned a real passenger’s pass, next year’s visitors will see, hear and feel what it was like to work in the docks, entering through the old factory gates, examining the ship blueprints and then taking a theme park-style ride through the ship as she’s brought to life rivet-by-3,000,000 rivets.
Arriving at one of the windows that offer a breathtaking view over Belfast Lough, Titanic Belfast’s Claire Bradshaw explains that visitors will see archive footage of the Titanic’s launch on 31st May 1911, and then the footage will fade away, leaving a view of the slipway that’s still right outside.
Immersive 3D “cave technology” will take you right back onboard amongst the passengers and crew in the restaurant, promenade, engine room or the bridge, but soon after the maiden voyage has begun you’ll feel the temperature cool, the lights dim and the walls close in – then a projection of the sinking begins. Those jagged, bulky walls are already installed, and they do make you feel that disaster isn’t far away.
Two galleries will focus on the worldwide aftermath of the sinking, and then we walk round the shell of the Ocean Exploration Centre, a tech heaven of live web feeds and movies that that will feature massive television floor screens showing the Titanic wreck located by oceanographer Robert Ballard in 1985.
Coughing out concrete dust we step across a duckboard and emerge back into the sunlight – and we’re right in front of that slipway where Titanic began her journey.
Titanic Belfast opens March 31st, 2011.