My last day in Orlando turned out to be less leisurely than anticipated. In the end, I had only two hours to spare for sightseeing. Going to any of the amusement parks seemed wasteful, and the last thing I wanted after a busy week was to rush from line to line on a hot afternoon. Luckily, my hotel had a wonderful concierge, who recommended I try Orlando’s Titanic: The Experience. I was skeptical, but this sounded like a curious alternative to just sitting in the lobby or the airport, so off I went. I am glad I did.
If you are staying in one of the hotels on the International Drive, this is stop 13 on Orlando’s comfortable and convenient I-RIDE Trolley (make sure you are on the trolley’s Red Line). I purchased my day pass for the trolley and for the attraction at the hotel–both came with a discount that way.
The “experience” begins as you pick up your ticket, your “boarding pass”–keep it, you will need to look at it later. You then wander through 17 galleries, led by an actor playing a part of someone on the Titanic. In my case, it was a third-class passenger, traveling to the US with his wife and nine children. I was impressed with the actor–he was knowledgeable and convincing, and his overview of each gallery was superb.
On each stop, the tone is set by displays with memorabilia from the time, but also actual artifacts brought up from the sunken ship–its remnants (the most impressive was the telegraph used to call for help) and belongings of passengers and crew.
The story begins with the planning of the Titanic (and its sister ocean liners, the Olympic and the Gigantic): from the fateful decisions to reduce the number of lifeboats to the outdated government requirement of 16 and cut down on other safety measures for the sake of first-class accommodations, to the excitement surrounding the beginning of the voyage. You are then introduced to the voyage itself, allowed to wander by and through replicas of various areas on the ship, including the (in-)famous oak staircase and a first-class suite parlor, referred to as the “millionaires’ room” because a voyage in one cost more than most houses at the time, an equivalent of $150,000 today.
As you look around, you hear or read accounts from survivors, look at period photographs, and see objects–playing cards, pots, books, notes, jewelry, and calling cards–that witnessed it all. At the end, you learn about the ship’s final moments, clinically and factually told as you peer through the dark windows by the [actual] telegraph to the boiler room: It was impossible to see the iceberg; the night was overcast, and the only pair of binoculars on the ship were locked away by accident.
This is where the story reaches its crescendo: The panicked miscalculations that made the situation worse, the frantic calls for help misinterpreted (there was another ship not far, but its crew thought the distress signals were fireworks celebrating the Titanic’s maiden voyage–this was before standardized communication protocols, and the other ship, the Californian, belonged to another company), the heartbreaking decisions and acts of thoughtlessness (two of the 16 life boats left carrying only a handful of people, instead of their capacity of 65 each), the horror those in the lifeboats described of hearing 1,500 people remaining on the ship all screaming out at once when the Titanic sank, and, finally, an even more horrifying quiet that came 40 minutes later as the last survivors in the water froze to death.
Before galleries devoted to the disaster’s aftermath (this tragedy did, in the end, bring about better safety requirements and standardized communications), you see walls with names of people traveling on the ship in the three classes, and you look for the one on your “boarding pass”. Did she (more likely) or he escape? Did they lose family? What was their story?
Apart from an endless “My heart will go on” at the edge of several galleries and a terribly sentimental video at the end of it all, these were two hours surprisingly well spent.
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