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Titanic exhibit a major attraction

Tours of Belfast-area site where doomed liner built soon fill up

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If you plan to visit the new and already iconic Titanic Belfast, leave yourself plenty of time and flexibility to get a ticket.

The must-see exhibit opened at the end of March to mark the 100th anniversary of the liner's launch. It also marked the beginning of Belfast finally cashing in on the public's never-ending interest in the doomed steamship that was designed and built in the city.

I visited Titanic Belfast with a group of about a dozen Canadians from a bus tour on a rainy Monday morning several months ago.

The attraction is a two-hour drive from Dublin and is one of the top European tourist stops right now.

It was packed with visitors from Europe and North America.

Our group was immediately disappointed to find out the wait to get in was three hours.

Many of us quickly rearranged our day, including the ultimate sacrifice on a bus tour: miss a paid, sit-down, three-course dinner.

I was on a busy 15-day bus tour that went all around Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, but did not include a scheduled stop at Titanic Belfast because of challenges booking groups. Joe O'Connor, our affable guide from Royal Irish Tours, wished us good luck at the drop-off near the attraction and took the rest of our bus mates around to sights in Belfast.

It was not so long ago that the Titanic was associated with Southampton, England, and its origin in Belfast was not talked about much. People in Northern Ireland's capital had a sense of embarrassment and shame about the ship.

This all changed with the discovery of the wreck in 1985 and confirmation the ship was built properly and the captain, an Englishman, drove it into an iceberg. Belfast started to assert its claim to ownership and pride in the famous luxury steamship. (The iceberg was said to be Canadian, but it has been pointed out to some in Belfast that Newfoundland was a British colony at the time of the sinking.)

The $154 million attraction is all about educating the world about Titanic from Belfast's perspective. The high-tech exhibit includes a shipyard ride, interactive displays, 3-D movies and a film about the wreck shown in a theatre setting -- all in this huge, dazzling building as tall and in the same shape as the vessel's hull.

Titanic Belfast assistant events manager Judith Anderson said the exhibit averages 3,900 visitors a day, with 140 admitted every 20 minutes.

A staggering 450,000 visitors went through in the first five months.

"We are the top tourist attraction in Europe," said Anderson in the noisy Bistro 401 restaurant on the main floor. "You need to pre-book two days ahead, especially during the summer. We have been sold out at 9 a.m."

The day our group visited was busy because it was raining, which is not uncommon in Northern Ireland in the summer. You can book online for tickets and time slots, but Anderson said they don't sell all tickets online, as that is not fair to people without Internet. I rushed through four storeys of nine galleries in an hour, although it is recommended to take two to three.

Afterward, I rejoined all my bus mates and enjoyed a Titanic Walking Tour, which was much more leisurely and equally entertaining.

Guide Colin Cobb, an admitted Titanorak, took us around at the shipyard workers' level. After more than two hours in the Titanic Quarter, we ended up at the bottom of the immense dry dock, which the legendary steamship once filled.

During Cobb's colourful and passionate talk, he would often end a stop on the walk by saying in his determined Irish accent: "She was fine when she left here."

-- Postmedia News




Titanic Belfast entrance cost is £13.50 for an adult (17.55 euros or $21.80). The attraction accepts euros, although that is not the currency of Northern Ireland. All visitors are advised to book online and in advance:

From Dublin to Belfast is a two-hour highway drive by car or train ride.

The Enterprise train runs throughout the day. It costs about £30 ($47) for a return trip. Board at Connolly station in Dublin and arrive at Central Station in Belfast, which is a short taxi ride to Titanic Belfast -- or a 20- to 30-minute walk:

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 23, 2013 D5

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