Theme Park Ranger
9:03 AM EST, February 16, 2012
What a wild, wet trip these items from the Titanic have had during the past 100 years: Gloriously setting sail from Europe only to have a tragic encounter with an iceberg and rest in the icy waters of the North Atlantic for decades. They were brought up to the surface, eventually going around the world in exhibitions, only to land in an International Drive attraction, Titanic the Experience.
The Orlando exhibition has been floating around town for years, including a stint at the Orlando Science Center. In October, it was purchased by Premier Exhibitions, the company with exclusive rights to retrieve pieces of the doomed ship and exhibit them.
What this means: Genuine Titanic artifacts taken from the ocean floor are now on display at Titanic the Experience. Eventually, everyone comes to Orlando, right?
About 100 pieces of history — some never exhibited before — have been incorporated into the attraction, which previously featured many period pieces and memorabilia but nothing that went down with the ship.
I expected to be drawn to the waterlogged stuff on my visit last week, but it's easy to get wrapped up in the nostalgia, the reproductions or the pieces from the period, including objects from the Olympic, sister ship of Titanic, which debuted a year before Titanic launched.
It's easy to spot the relics. Their information is printed in white type on black squares, while the reproductions are explained with black type on white squares. You can scan each room for the real McCoys.
Among the relics I found intriguing were an electric heater, a "speaking tube" used to communicate between decks, pieces of chandeliers, a marble sink fragment with water faucet, bed-frame fragments, a crystal candy dish, paper goods such as playing cards and postcards, a spittoon, champagne and two lumps of coal that "were intended to propel the Titanic across the ocean."
That description seemed a bit overblown because the ship had 6,000 tons of coal.
At Titanic the Experience, tour guides — dressed in garb of the early 20th century — lead groups through the exhibit and its re-creations. They stay in character for the most part although sometimes they bend the rules a little to point out a modern-day reference. For example, they might say "If, in the future, you might see a motion picture about a large ship, you would know that steam should not be coming out of the fourth funnel."
You can travel solo, but the guides really enhance the experience. After going through all the rooms, guests can go back and inspect items more carefully. (Tours depart on the hour.)
The tours wander through several scenes, from first class to third class, where you can hear the engines rumbling. Eventually, the tone turns somber and the air conditioning is turned down to reflect the conditions the passengers faced as the ship went down. It's chilly in the exhibit, but it's still twice as "warm" as felt on the Titanic.
The climax is the newly installed piece of Titanic's hull. It's the second-largest relic ever recovered and is roped off to prevent folks from touching it. There are a lot of other no-nos at the attraction, including a ban on photography, leaning on display cases, strollers, food, backpacks and use of cellphones.
Atlanta-based Premier plans to auction off its Titanic items, appraised at $180 million, in April. The new owner, which must buy the entire collection and be responsible for exhibiting it, potentially could make changes in the I-Drive experience.
I'm hoping that won't affect the bits of coal from the Titanic for sale in the gift shop for $20. They're about the size of your little fingernail, but they struck me as an interesting stocking stuffer. A lump of coal is traditionally bad — but what about a historic sliver?
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Titanic the Experience
Where: 7324 International Drive, Orlando
When: Noon to 8 p.m. daily
Admission: $21.95 general, $12.95 ages 3-11.
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