Wednesday, August 22, 2007


I heard on the radio this morning that one of the Orlando tourist attractions has closed. No, it's not Universal Studios, Sea World, or the Magic Kingdom. It's Titanic: Ship of Dreams, also known as the Titanic Experience.

I doubt any of you have even heard of this Titanic attraction. It was in a rented space in the quirkly little shopping plaza called Mercado Village on International Drive, near Ripley's Believe It or Not and the restaurant Cafe Tu Tu Tango. Apparently Mercado Village is being demolished to build a hotel or condos or something.

Titanic: Ship of Dreams opened in 1999, and Judi and I went to see it in, I think, 2003. We weren't sure what to expect. We bought our tickets from a replica of a steamship ticket window, from a clerk in period costume, and then waited to enter. We were in a group of six or eight. While we were waiting, we noticed that our tickets were each printed with a name -- a different name for each of us; a man's name for the male visitors, and a woman's name for the women.

We were admitted to a foyer and greeted by a woman in full period dress, including an elegant floor-length dress and wide-brimmed hat. She introduced herself as a famous designer and maker of ladies clothing, an American who owned high-end shops in both New York and Paris. She asked if any of us had ever been to one of her shops. Without missing a beat, Judi said, "I have!" and also without missing a beat, the woman smiled and gestured with her palm and said, "I thought I recognized you!"

The woman was, of course, an actress, playing the part of a real desginer and dressmaker who had sailed on the real Titanic, returning (as she explained to us) to her New York shop from her Paris base with trunks and trunks full of new designs. The actress stayed strictly "in role" the entire time, as she took us from room to room in the exhibit: We walked through a full sized replica -- everything was full-sized -- of a part of the shipyard where Titanic was built, and heard the story of her construction. We toured a replica of a first class cabin (fresh flowers were set out daily in each first class cabin -- the day-old flowers removed each day from first-class where transferred to the second-class cabins). We got to stand at the foot of the grand staircase (our guide explained that the purpose of the hours-long ritual of dressing for dinner and then dining was to give passengers something to do during the otherwise interminable evenings). Finally, we entered the wheelroom of the Titanic, and our couturier told us the story of the sinking -- from her point of view, as someone who had actually been there and seen it herself. Her lifeboat had pulled away from the ship only half full -- the ship's crew didn't believe the ship could really sink, and they would have to reboard all the passengers they put into the boats, so they made no effort to fill the boats to capacity. Our couturier's husband was left behind. Then she told us that one wall of the room we were in was kept permanently cooled to the temperature of the North Atlantic water that night, and we were invited to place our hands on it. It was bone-numbing.

Finally, we were told to look at the names printed on our tickets. Each of us had the name of someone who actually sailed on the Titanic. We were led to an enormous wall with two long lists of names: A list of those who survived, and a list of those who didn't. We were asked to search the wall to find our names, to learn our fates, and then our couturier left us.

Judi had the name of a cabin stewardess. She survived. I had the name of someone who worked in the engine room. I did not.

It was macabre. Tingles were running down my spine as we left.

Honestly, I'm not a Titanic enthusiast. I've never seen the movie. I can't get excited about it. The boat sank, get over it. But this exhibit, Titanic: Ship of Dreams, was really, really worth seeing. I'm sorry it's gone.


That sounds awesome. I got chills just reading about it.
Ohhh, I did something similar and loved it.

We didn't have a guide (it was self-guided) but we got the little card--T. survived, I didn't--there was a cooled wall, a real piece of the ship, artifacts (dishes, luggage etc.) that had been restored and then replicas of the cabins of each class (you could look in but not go in). It was an amazing experience. It was at the Metreon (I think) in SF. It was only a temporary exhibit so it's closed now...
That sounds so much like the same exhibit! If it wasn't the same one, it must have been a copycat. For a temporary exhibit, they probably didn't want to hire and train actors and actresses. That may be why it was self-guided.

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