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Halifax stop a moving one for some passengers on board Titanic memorial cruise

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HALIFAX - Dorothy Fitzsimons wiped away a tear Thursday as she gazed upon the gravestones of those who died from the Titanic sinking nearly 100 years ago, turning her thoughts to her great-grandfather who survived the disaster.

The Arizona woman, who bought a last-minute ticket on a cruise set to visit the site where the massive ship went down in the North Atlantic, said the visit to the Fairview Lawn Cemetery in Halifax was an unforgettable experience.

"It brings it all back in perspective of what it must have been like for that poor young man to be rowing a boat and looking at the people who weren't going to survive, that he knows were going to drown and die, and knowing that he got saved,'' she said.

Fitzsimons said Charles Eugene Williams was a 23-year-old British racquetball champion and travelling to face the reigning American champion.

After the Titanic struck the iceberg, the Titanic's crew decided Williams was young and fit enough to row a lifeboat — a decision that saved his life.

Fitzsimons said the experience wasn't something Williams spoke about with the family.

"When the kids were growing up, there was six of them in the family. They said their father very rarely would ever discuss what went on that night," she said.

"(He) said the memory of rowing the boat, hearing the screams, the bodies in the water, was something he never forgot."

She was one of more than 400 passengers who travelled from as far as Australia to join the cruise ship Journey, which arrived Thursday in Halifax. The city played a central role in the disaster as bodies that were recovered at sea were brought here, making it the final resting place for 150 victims.

Journey departed later in the day to resume its trip.

Karen Jones and her family travelled from Melbourne, Australia, to take part in the cruise.

The Jones family decided to make the trip as their daughter, Alysha, 13, aroused the family's interest in the mystery of the Titanic and its sinking.

After watching James Cameron's 1997 movie "Titanic," the family supported Alysha's interest.

"(We) bought all the books, got interested in reading them and how (the Titanic) sunk," Karen Jones said. "Watched different shows, she is just a bit obsessed about it."

Initially, tickets sold for nearly $5,000, but discounts made them more affordable at around $1,000.

Jones said the cheaper price allowed them to make the last-minute decision to buy tickets for the cruise.

"Coming up to a month ago they offered a significant discount on the trip and my husband said, 'Why don't we go?'"

While docked in the Halifax harbour, the cruise organized a tour for passengers to visit nearby Peggy's Cove, while others went to cemeteries, a restaurant that served as a funeral home at the time of the disaster, and Titanic exhibits at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.

Dressed in a period costume from 1912, Connie Jeffers from Upstate New York said she was enjoying the lectures onboard the cruise.

Jeffers, a retired teacher and principal, said the Titanic captivated her and her husband after they saw an exhibit in Las Vegas late last year.

"A lot of people we told that we were going on this cruise said, 'Oh, that's creepy and we wouldn't do that,'" recalled Jeffers. "Anything I can learn about it is fascinating."

During their time at sea, the cruise ship offers lectures and discussions for its 440 guests. The ship is set to rendezvous with another ship, which left from southern England on Sunday. The two vessels will meet Saturday at the site where the Titanic sunk and hold services for those lost at sea at the hour it went down.

The MS Balmoral memorial cruise from Southhampton, England, is carrying 1,309 passengers, including relatives of some Titanic passengers who died.

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