It's coming up on the 100th anniversary of the Titanic disaster, and the fascination lives on. Movies have been made about it, books have been written, and numerous websites, blogs, and chat rooms are dedicated to commemorating the ship, reliving the tragedy, and just plain obsessing over the Titanic. Everyone wants to know what happened on the night of April 15, 1912, when the "unsinkable" ship went down after hitting an iceberg in the North Atlantic, taking 1,522 passengers and crew with it.
As maritime writer, author, lecturer, historian and avid cruiser Ted Scull points out, there have been many other maritime calamities where as many -- or more -- passengers and crew lost their lives, but for various reasons, those stories never stuck in the world's collective consciousness.
"The Titanic story has got the right combination of ingredients -- largest ship at the time, maiden voyage, the reckless navigating, the famous passengers, unfair class system, insufficient lifeboats for all, unsinkable reputation and of course the icebergs. Some people just have a passion for this particular tragedy," says Scull.
That's what Miles Morgan, owner of UK-based travel agency Miles Morgan Travel (www.milesmorgantravel.co.uk), realized after noticing how much interest the Titanic still holds in countless Internet forums. Seeing an opportunity, several years ago Morgan started planning a pair of Titanic Memorial Cruises (www.titanicmemorialcruise.com) to coincide with the anniversary of the sinking. He chartered two ships, chosen for their classic lines and old-world charm to recreate the flavor of the original Titanic and similar liners of that day.
One of the sailings is already sold out (it went on sale last year), though you can still put your name on the wait list in case of cancellations. This 12-night cruise departs from Southampton on April 8, 2012, aboard the 1,309-passenger Balmoral, a Fred Olsen Cruise Lines ship. The route will follow the RMS Titanic's original itinerary, passing by Cherbourg on the French coast, calling in the Irish port of Cobh, and then heading west across the Atlantic.
The other memorial cruise, which went on sale in early April, will depart from New York City aboard Azamara Club Cruises' 694-passenger Azamara Journey on April 10, 2012, exactly 100 years from the day the Titanic departed Southampton bound for New York. This 8-night voyage calls first in Halifax, where passengers can visit the graves of many of the disaster's victims at the Fairview Lawn Cemetery, and then sails eastward into the Atlantic.
On April 15, both the Azamara Journey and the Balmoral will rendezvous in the vicinity of the site where the Titanic now rests, 41°43'57"N, 49°56'49"W, about 370 miles southeast of Newfoundland -- and some two and a half miles beneath the surface. A memorial service is planned at 2:20am, the exact time the ship's stern took its final plunge down into the sea.
Details are still being finalized, according to Tara Plumley of Miles Morgan and the general manager of the Titanic memorial cruises. But Plumley says there will be a chaplain who will deliver a memorial address to commemorate the anniversary and to pay tribute to the passengers and crew who lost their lives. Plumley also says there will be at least three or four maritime historians and other expert lecturers on board for the week to give talks about the Titanic.
Helping to create the spirit of the era in which the Titanic sailed, Plumley says there will meals on the restaurant menus that reflect was what actually offered on Titanic for first-, second- and third-class passengers. There will also be a costume party, when passengers are invited to dress in Titanic-era style: long bustle dresses, tails, and top hats.
While recognizing the disaster's historical significance, maritime writer Ted Scull has qualms about this kind of theatrical memorializing. "I have passed over the site several times simply because the ship I was on passed this way, and wreaths were tossed overboard on a couple of occasions," he says. "That's one thing, but to organize a whole cruise of a week or more around this anniversary is a form of exploitation."Some people couldn't disagree more. For them, it's an opportunity to go back in time and relive a bit of important history, while at the same time paying their respects to the victims. "While we understand there will be people who don't think it's right, we also know that for the people who are traveling on these cruises, it is the right thing to do," Plumley says. "It will be very moving to be there on the 100th anniversary; it's experiencing a piece of history that won't be repeated." Fares for Azamara cruise start at $4,725 per person for inside cabins and up to $14,850 per person for the Owner's Suite. Miles Morgan Travel is donating £25 per passenger booked on either cruise to The Mission to Seafarers, which offers welfare services for mariners around the world.
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