Titanic: The Experience
The first Titanic tourist attraction after the 1997 movie blockbuster, Orlando's Titanic" The Experience stresses the majestic, first class side of the maiden voyage, the gruesome aspects downplayed. This makes for a marketable attraction in this family-friendly mecca and puts visitors in a more agreeable mood when they get to the gift shop.
The attraction, built into a strip mall, ushers visitors through a series of rooms. The first two feature actors in period costume (chambermaids and shipbuilders) who give you background about the Titanic and lay on the irony thick with dismissive comments about the lack of lifeboats. "Don't worry about it; this ship is virtually unsinkable!"
You're left to wander through the rest of the attraction on your own: you "board" the ship in a room built to resemble a dockside ramp, then walk past a first class café, parlor, and the Grand Staircase. As sad music from the movie filters in -- reminding you why the Titanic is remembered -- you end up on the "bridge" (an empty room with a ship's wheel) where you watch an endlessly looped computer simulation of the sinking on television monitors. Visitors can place their hands against an iceberg made of real ice to understand the horrors of hypothermia.
Next you come to a wall-mounted list of all the people on board; your ticket has been assigned a randomly-selected name and you can check to see if you're dead. This, however, is as far as Titanic Ship Of Dreams will take it -- there is no actor dressed in black, carrying a scythe, separating the saved from the drowned, unfortunately. Both the living and dead are allowed to continue down a hallway adorned with Titanic movie posters and a set of clothes worn by Leonardo DiCaprio and into the gift shop.
If you're a history buff expecting to see Titanicabilia dredged from the icy depths, Titanic: Ship Of Dreams may not totally satisfy. Although this place has a lot of stuff from Titanic's sister ship, the Olympic, on display, and although the signage repeatedly explains that the chamber pot or stationery you're viewing is virtually identical to the one on the Titanic, virtual doesn't count for much. [Titanic Ship of Dreams has since added 37 more items salvaged from the seabed, so they may yet build up to the critical mass we prefer.]
Actual Titanic relics we saw included a button from an officer's coat, a life vest, a Turkish bath ticket, and a first class deck chair. The chair is prominently displayed. It isn't until you reach the gift shop that you understand why: a replica is for sale -- for $1,200. Its accompanying brochure (Titanic Ship Of Dreams is the only attraction we've seen that has a brochure for one of its souvenirs, but not for itself) explains that the replica has a suggested retail price of $1,500, so you save $300 if you buy it here.
The gift shop is where Titanic: Ship Of Dreams' attitude blossoms into commercial flower. High-class glamor is for sale, not tragedy: plush bathrobes, replicas of the jewelry worn by Kate Winslet in the movie, a lavish cookbook titled Last Dinner On The Titanic. Nothing from steerage here, and no bumper stickers or back scratchers. Even the tiny boat in the souvenir pen floats peacefully from side to side. It does not hit an iceberg.
Update - August 1999: Titanic: Ship of Dreams reported they have beefed up their exhibit to over 54 genuine Titanic items. They're sort of mad at us because we didn't look carefully enough on our visit. Somehow we missed, among other artifacts:a piece of cork from a Fosbery life jacket, a piece of ornate wood, a piece of 'Decoria' plaster from the First Class Smoking Room, and a rivet kept by a shipyardworker in Belfast. Hmmm.... perhaps that rivet would have kept the hull together a little longer.