The RMS Titanic has fascinated people for over a century, and now you can be a passenger on this legendary ship at the unique "Titanic The Exhibition" at the Entertainment Quarter in Sydney (on until 15 December). When I took part in this immersive experience, it wasn’t hard to see why it’s been called the most comprehensive exhibition ever. You’ll see amazing artifacts, discover touching true stories and gain real insight into the lives of both the passengers and the crew.
You begin the experience by receiving a boarding pass, which gives you the name and class of a real Titanic passenger, and a couple of facts about their life. This isn’t just for show; it’s important to hold onto your boarding pass, as you’ll need it later.
The exhibit’s antechamber sets the scene. It’s filled with diagrams and blueprints of the Titanic, real shipbuilder’s tools and an interactive iPad video which allows you to see the ship coming together piece by piece. In the centre of the room stands a scale model of the majestic vessel itself although only 1/78 of the ship’s actual size, it dominates the room, and is the largest 3D-printed model ever made, taking over two years to complete. Seeing this overwhelmed me as I realised just how colossal the Titanic had been.
Around the corner, festive Irish jigs pipe through the room, creating a celebratory atmosphere as you prepare to board. In April 1912, over 900 passengers excitedly climbed aboard for Titanic’s maiden—and only—voyage, and now you are one of them. Artefacts from both Titanic and its surviving sister Olympic surround you, from boarding passes to anchors to heavy wooden carts for loading champagne onto the ship. Experiencing the Titanic through a future lens is, of course, tinged with a bittersweet note, as you remember the fate of the ship and many of its brave passengers and crew. A postcard from 27-year-old survivor Marian Wright, who had boarded Titanic in the hope of reuniting with her fiancé in Oregon, and escaped by a hair’s breadth into a lifeboat, brings the reality of the experience into focus. It is just one of many touching personal stories you’ll learn as you go around the exhibit.
A magnificent and inviting white set of double doors lies beyond the boarding area, and from there, the adventure really begins. The music morphs into a classical waltz, and all of a sudden you find yourself in a plush, carpeted hallway, much like the first class passengers would have seen as they made their way to their cabins. It’s like being inside a fine hotel, and the beauty and luxury of it amazes me. Further along, a fascinating collection of first-class items builds a picture of a grand and comfortable stay. First class passengers certainly had the best of everything! Among the shining silver coffee pots, delicate crockery and crystal wine glasses are some odd and interesting pieces, including grape scissors and even asparagus tongs.
In addition to a replica parlour suite, complete with trunk wardrobe, top hat on the bed and an ornate fireplace and dresser, you’ll find more life stories, including that of the famous “unsinkable” Molly Brown, and the love story of Karl Behr and Helen Newell, which is said to have inspired the iconic romance we all know from James Cameron’s movie.
You then come to one of the most amazing sets in the exhibit—and a tour highlight for me—the grand first class staircase. From the detailed carvings adorning the walls, the magnificent angel statue at the foot of the stairs and the marbled floor to the enormous domed ceiling above, this set has been replicated to perfection. It’s amazing how much work has gone into making this look authentic, and into making you feel you’re really stepping into the luxurious world of first class. We couldn’t resist stopping for a photo.
Of course, life on the Titanic wasn’t all grand ballrooms and luxury, and as you carry on, you will be astounded by the contrasting third class cabins, where bunk beds are crammed into a tiny room with bare bulbs and dim lights and pipes running overhead. Once again, it feels as if you’re really there, the faint hum of the ships engines in the background adding to the lifelike feel.
Travelling deeper into Titanic’s underbelly, a deep red glow greets you as you approach a replica of one of the ship’s enormous boilers. Taking up nearly a whole wall, and with several gaping openings for coal, it is a tremendous sight, and a clever trick with mirrors transforms the room into a whole hallway of boilers. With the sheer size of the furnace, and the fact that there were over 20 more just like it, I can only imagine how hot the real boiler room must have been, and how sweaty and tiring life would have been for the ship’s “firemen,” who stoked and refilled the furnaces day and night.
After the boiler room, it’s time for a breath of fresh air as you step out onto the Promenade deck to enjoy a perfect evening at sea. Stars twinkle in a beautiful simulated night sky, and lights ripple across the deck, giving the effect of being surrounded by water. Leaning over the edge, you’ll be met with a gentle sea breeze, and if you look around, it appears the deck goes on forever—the result of another set of carefully-placed mirrors. It’s a great place to stop and sit awhile, and I enjoyed the atmosphere and feel of being on a relaxing cruise. It’s a lovely, calm-before-the-storm moment; you know what’s going to happen soon, but it’s still nice to enjoy life on board ship before it actually occurs.
Turn a corner and “Iceberg, right ahead!” looms on the wall in large letters, and a warning red light, huge overhanging alarm bell and a timeline of the iceberg disaster herald the arrival of Titanic’s disastrous fate. You’ll see the set of binoculars officer David Blair inadvertently removed from the crow’s nest when he backed out of the voyage, and ponder the question—did this seal the Titanic’s doom? The room darkens as catastrophe strikes. And, before you know it, an iceberg looms into your vision—a humongous creation made of real ice. A steering wheel stands between you and the iceberg, placing you in the position of the ship’s driver, frantically trying to steer away.
The aftermath of the disaster is confronting but fascinating at the same time. With a funereal atmosphere, the memorial chamber is covered in enormous news headlines from the day the world woke to discover the shocking news. It’s a sobering point in the tour, enhanced by the sombre rendition of "Nearer My God to Thee," filtering through the room—the song played by the ship’s band as it sank—but at the same time it reminds you of the courage of the passengers and crew who sacrificed themselves to save others. There are powerful stories to discover, such as that of Haitian Joseph Laroche, whose bilingual skills meant he could get his wife and children to a lifeboat in time, and the Carpathia, the ship who rescued Titanic’s survivors and received medals of bravery. There’s still some entertainment to be had amongst the seriousness of the moment—your boarding pass comes in handy here, as you can check your real life passenger's name against a huge list of survivors and victims covering one wall. Did you survive? I did.
Moving on, the walls turn a deep blue, and you find yourself travelling to the depths of the sea to view Titanic’s wreckage. Be sure to look down—beneath your feet, remnants of plates and suitcases poke out of the sand from below a glass floor, as if you were floating above the ocean floor itself. Turn a corner and you’re suddenly in an undersea grotto, with real footage of the Titanic’s wreckage, 3.81 kilometres below the ocean’s surface, playing in front of a seabed of debris. Here you can relive the astounding discovery of Titanic’s remains, learn how small submersibles braved the ocean’s depths and pressure in search of the lost ship, and find out about the unusual “rusticles” sprouting all over the ship’s hull. It’s an interesting end to an amazing journey, wrapping up the experience with a touch of science, history and mystery.
As you head out, movie fans will be delighted to find Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio’s original costumes on display—I was surprised to see how short the actors were in real life! Don’t forget to check out the gift shop on the way out; it offers some great memorabilia of the experience, including an elaborate Lego Titanic model. "Titanic The Exhibition" is a perfect mix of history and adventure, both enjoyable and educational.