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Orlando exhibit puts you onboard Titanic

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Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 02:32 AM

On April 10, 1912, the RMS Titanic set out on its maiden – and final – voyage.

Four days later, when the luxurious ocean liner hit an iceberg, more than 1,500 passengers perished in the icy Atlantic Ocean, but public fascination with the ship and its passengers continues to this day.

The fateful voyage was the backdrop of the 1997 movie "Titanic" starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.

With the rerelease of James Cameron's blockbuster movie Wednesday in 3-D, commemorating the centennial of the ship's doomed voyage, fans will once again be able to relive the tragedy – Hollywood style.

But closer to home, in Orlando, visitors can step back in time and board the luxury liner daily at "Titanic: The Experience."

The interactive exhibit allows visitors to feel as if they were a passenger on the ship.

"Here we are 100 years later and people are still fascinated by the story (of the Titanic)," said Theresa Nelson, spokeswoman for "Titanic: The Experience." "It's a testament that it's a timeless story, a Greek tragedy. Man thinking they could build an unsinkable ship, the richest and the poorest on board, and they all met with the same fate on that night after the ship struck an iceberg. You couldn't have written it if you tried."

"Titanic: The Experience" focuses on the factual history of the Titanic and includes reproductions and real artifacts, recovered from the wreckage, that offer a poignant look at the iconic ship and its passengers.

To commemorate the centennial of the shipwreck, the exhibit was relaunched in January with 100 new artifacts added from the Titanic's wreck site, Nelson said. The attraction originally launched in 1999.

"We are the only entity in the world able to go down to the wreck site to recover any artifacts," she added. "The artifacts, we feel, help complete the story of the exhibition."

RMS Titanic Inc., sponsor of the "The Experience," is the only company permitted by law to recover items from the ship's wreckage. The company was granted rights to the wreck site in 1994 and has conducted eight research and recovery expeditions to the Titanic, rescuing more than 5,500 artifacts, Nelson said.

At the beginning of the Orlando tour, visitors are given a mock boarding pass of an actual Titanic passenger. It has the person's age, background and travel itinerary.

An actor portraying J. Bruce Ismay, managing director of Harland and Wolff Shipyard and White Star Line, the company that owned the famous ship, welcomes guests aboard.

Then, it's bon voyage with your personal tour guide as you begin a chronological journey through 17 galleries, moving through the ship's construction, to life on board, to the ill-fated sinking and to artifact rescue efforts.

As you walk through the attraction, you will hear stories of the passengers and crew, and see the disparity between the rich and the poor. A re-creation of a luxurious first-class stateroom with its elegant décor, mahogany accents and a private balcony contrasts with the simple cramped quarters of a third-class cabin, with its four bunks. Gates were in place to prevent third-class travelers from transmitting diseases and other infections to other classes. Only third-class passengers underwent health inspections, our tour guide said.

A first-class ticket aboard the Titanic cost about $4,300, roughly $45,000 today, compared with a $45 third-class seat, which offered no private bathrooms for the more than 700 passengers, our tour guide said.

There are reproductions of deck chairs (used by first-class passengers) along with the Verandah Café and the Promenade.

And you can view a reproduction of the upper-class cargo hold with an old Renault vehicle – yes, the one where Jack and Rose consummate their love in the movie – wooden crates, barrels and passenger storage areas.

Among the artifacts are jewelry, including a diamond and sapphire ring, a platinum pendant with diamonds and a studded hair clip. There is an array of china and silverware, including cups, plates, a pitcher and bowl, as well as pots and pans used by chefs. Ship tools, postcards, currency, a pipe, a spittoon, playing cards, a mirror and champagne bottles also are on display.

Our tour guide said many of the artifacts in the exhibition were sealed in leather suitcases and weathered the elements.

One of the highlights of the exhibit is the re-creation of the ship's 27-foot high grand staircase with its glass dome, polished-oak wall paneling and elaborate balustrades swirling along the massive entranceway. It's where first-class passengers mingled, our tour guide noted.

"This is so awesome," said Melissa Bergmont as she stood in front of the elaborate staircase. She was visiting with her family from Tallahassee. "It looks just like it did in the movie."

Visitors can have their picture taken with the staircase superimposed for purchase at the end of the tour.

On the ship's bridge, as you stand in the cool air under starry skies, you can hear the sounds of waves crashing around you. And you learn about the ship's last evening and its fateful encounter with an iceberg and how the vessel sank in less than two hours.

There's also an iceberg you can touch to feel how cold the water was the night the Titanic sank, a favorite for many of the children. Our tour guide noted that the iceberg is warmer than the 28-degree saltwater Titanic passengers fell into that dark night, and most of them died of hypothermia from the water temperature.

Perhaps the most poignant part of the tour is the "Memorial Wall," with the names of all the passengers on the Titanic. Visitors can check the name of the passenger on their boarding pass to see whether they survived or perished at sea.

Lydia Mayor was relived to discover her passenger and child, both traveling in third class, made it onto a lifeboat. But when she went looking for her husband, she learned he went down with the ship. Only 25 percent of third-lass passengers survived the sinking.

"This is so sad," said Mayor, of Orlando, touching the name on the wall. "These are all real people that were on this ship, and they had no idea what was going to happen to them; so many lost their lives. This really makes it real."

At the end of the hourlong journey, there is a 2-ton chunk from the actual ship's hull called the "Big Piece." With its nearly foot-thick steel, you can't help but wonder how an iceberg was able to sink the "unskinkable" vessel.

'TITANIC: THE EXPERIENCE'

What: A guided

interactive tour featuring

reproductions and artifacts from the RMS Titanic

shipwreck

When: Open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily; tour begins at the top of every hour

beginning at noon

Where: 7324 International Drive, Orlando

Tickets: $21.95 adults; $12.95 children ages 3 to 11; free for children 2 and younger; tickets can be purchased at the box office, by calling (407) 248-1166 or visiting TitanicOrlandotickets.com


ccabrera@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7656

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