Not only is this an immense tragedy for the victims and their bereaved loved ones; it will quite likely also spell the end for this form of extreme deep-sea dark tourism for multimillionaires. At the moment I cannot imagine such tourist dives ever resuming. But we’ll see …
Titanic ... the "mother" of all shipwrecks! Relic of one of the greatest tragedies persisting in public perception, subject of countless books, movies, documentaries, etc. – and in 2012, the centenary of the ship's sinking, the legend saw yet another surge of media attention … and tourist activities.
Special cruises to the spot where she sank were scheduled, new exhibitions opened in various places – and: exclusive dives to the wreck itself resumed. Of course it was only a very small handful of very moneyed "tourists" that have ever been down to the bottom of the Atlantic
in special deep-sea submersibles to see the wreck with their own eyes. It requires a hi-tech expedition. But it was possible to do this form of adventure tourism. UPDATE: but since the tragic loss of such a tourist submersible in June 2023, with all five on board killed, such Titanic-wreck tourism is now quite probably history for good.
>More background info
>What there is to see
>Access and costs
>Combinations with other dark destinations
>Combinations with non-dark destinations
More background info:
You probably know all this already, but just to sum it up very, very briefly: on her maiden voyage in 1912, the reputedly "unsinkable" new liner collided with an iceberg in the North Atlantic
off the Newfoundland coast. The iceberg ripped the ship open and so she did sink. Chaos, lack of lifeboats and the arctic cold made for one of the worst disasters, with amongst the largest death toll in civilian seafaring: over 1500 drowned or died from hypothermia (only some 700 survived, a mere third of all aboard).
No other marine catastrophe has ever attracted as much media attention over such a prolonged period of time and no other is so firmly etched into public consciousness (although it was far from having been the very worst such disaster). Numerous films have been made about the tragedy, most notably James Cameron's 1997 blockbuster "Titanic" (at the time the most expensive film production ever), which for the centenary in 2012 even received a makeover and conversion into 3D. Cameron has himself repeatedly been down to the site to survey the wreck and substantial footage taken made it into a separate documentary film called "Ghosts of the Abyss" (released 2003).
The wreck of the Titanic was discovered only in 1985. It lies on the seabed at a depth of two and a half miles, broken into (mainly) two parts. Such a depth requires special deep-sea submersibles. Several exhibitions have gone down there not only to film but also to salvage artefacts from the wreck (although the suspected immense treasures were never found). Many of these artefacts have been displayed in travelling and permanent exhibitions around the world.
Some 200 Titanic museums exist around the world, including a huge one in the unlikely location of landlocked Missouri, USA
, and a small but earnest one (part of the maritime museum) in Southampton, Great Britain
, which was the port of departure for the Titanic's fateful maiden voyage. And, also just in time for the centenary of the tragedy, a new "Titanic Belfast Experience"
opened in Belfast
, Northern Ireland
, where the ship had been built.
But the question that everybody will be asking at this point is: can you actually visit the wreck, as a mere tourist? Well, yes and no … but for most mortals: no, not really. It has been done, though. In the wake of the huge success of the 1997 film, travel pioneer Mike McDowell started making tourist trips to the wreck available for Deep Ocean Expeditions (DOE)/Wild Wings.co.uk in 1998 – using the same Russian submersibles that were used by Cameron for his footage as well as for a National Geographic documentary. The cost charged for this privilege then was predictably exorbitant at 21,000 GBP (over 30,000 USD).
In 2005, these dives were discontinued, but DOE resumed them for a few even more exclusive offers in 2012 – to coincide with the centenary – this time at a cost of a whopping 60,000 USD per head! But the company has stated that these will probably have been the very last such opportunities and that they will not offer repeat expeditions to the Titanic in the future. It is very unlikely that any other companies could come up with the relevant expertise and equipment required to set up an alternative.
It has to be noted, too, that the company (RMS Titanic inc.) that was granted ownership of the site and the ship's remains actually objects to tourist expeditions to the wreck in any case. Amongst the reasons they state is the allegation that previous such trips apparently caused some damage to certain structures. Furthermore it is feared that objects might be surreptitiously removed. Given the extreme remoteness of the site in the black depths of the ocean, surveillance is not really an option, though.
Furthermore, it has to be remembered that going down to such depths poses serious health and safety risks
, even in the most state-of-the-art vessels. Moreover there's an ethical issue
to be borne in mind: the wreck of the Titanic is also a grave of sorts – and there have been objections against tourist trips to the site on those grounds too, including on the part of survivors (though the last ones have meanwhile passed away).
UPDATE: Dives were resumed in recent years, though ... but then tragedy hit: in June 2023 a special submersible (called "Titan", for good measure) was lost on a dive taking wealthy tourists down to the Titanic (at a cost of a quarter of a million USD per person!). All five on board perished. It's a massive tragedy. Now there are two wrecks at this spot at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean
. This new tragedy will most likely also mean that it will have been the last such tourist dive down there. I cannot see such offers coming back ...
Finally, there is no chance that the wreck will be there for all eternity anyway. Having been built from steel it is naturally rusting away. Even within the space of time from the discovery of the wreck to the latest dives, the increase in decay has become quite obvious. Eventually, nothing much at all will remain.
The photo at the top of this chapter, by the way, was taken at the special Titanic exhibition at the Ulster Transport Museum in Belfast
. It's the best scale-model depiction of teh sinking that I know of.
What there is (would have been) to see: The submersibles used for taking tourists down to the actual wreck have no more than a couple of tiny portholes to peek through. You'll never see the entire wreck, only sections of it illuminated by the submersible's floodlights … without such powerful lights, it's pitch-black down in those depths. So it may not be the grand panoramas as in the film footage, but still: the few privileged participants can at least say that they've seen (parts of) the genuine Titanic with their own eyes!
It takes not only money and courage, it isn't exactly a comfortable trip either, as space is severely limited in the required submersibles (and there are no toilets or galley). Basically, the pilot and a maximum of two passengers are stuck for hours on end in a pressurized, cold metal tube only ca. seven feet (2m) in diameter, submerged in the midst of the most hostile environment that is the deep sea. It's almost like being in a space capsule … only with even less comfort!
The advertising for those trips promised glimpses of the grand staircase, the bridge, the anchors, the boilers, the propellers and the Marconi room from where the SOS was sent. Other than that the view out of the portholes will for long stretches of time offer nothing but total darkness.
The expeditions set sail from St John's on Newfoundland in Canada
, and most of the 10-day trip you'd be at sea. Time would be spent listening to experts' lectures and for preparation. The exact length of the cruise and the time for the dives would always be dependent on the weather and sea conditions. The dives would then take about two hours down and two hours back up, leaving a few hours at that bottom of the ocean for viewing the wreck.
All in all, an enormous investment of money, time and effort (and tolerance of discomfort) was required for this most exclusive tourist activity. Now, without such expeditions being commercially offered at all any longer, it has become virtually impossible altogether to do this. You'd have to be a billionaire organizing your own expedition (if they let you at all). So stop dreaming.
It remains a cool dream, though. I have to admit that I envy those lucky few who have been able to do this – even though I know that I will never join their exclusive ranks. But just imagine, actually having these eerie scenes, which most people only know from their TV or movie screens, right in front of your own two eyes for real. It must be totally incredible!
UPDATE June 2023: ... and now it's over. After a submersible was lost, with all five on board dead, this is most likely the end of Titanic-wreck tourism for good. I'd be very surprised if it was to be resumed any time soon ...
nearly two and a half miles (4 km) down at the bottom of the North Atlantic
at 49 degrees 56' west, 41 degrees 43' north, 368 miles (almost 600 km) south-east of Newfoundland, Canada
Access and costs: virtually impossible, only at astronomical costs. UPDATE: and now, after the fatal accident of June 2023, there will most likely never be a chance again, not even for the wealthiest of tourist, to go down there ...
Details: Better forget it … unless you are a billionaire who's prepared to pay for setting up an independent expedition and the likely possibility of having to take on legal battles with the owners of the wreck.
The regular, scheduled dive expeditions in 2012 had a price tag of ca. 60,000 USD per person, including just one Titanic dive (accompanying persons not going on the dives at all still had to fork out 10 grand), plus costs for flights to/from the embarkation point in St John's. It's a lot, but compared to the costs of putting an expedition together independently, it's peanuts. Still, only short of "space tourism", dives to the wreck of the Titanic must rank amongst the most exclusive and expensive "tourist" experiences ever offered.
UPDATE: the latest dives cost a whopping quarter of a million USD ... but since the loss of the submersible "Titan" in June 2023, with all on board dead, such tourist dives are now most probably history.
When it was still possible to go there, the whole trip was around 10 days long, from St John's in Newfoundland, Canada
(i.e. plus travel time to get there and back): for the voyage to the area where the Titanic sank, lengthy preparations, and then the dive itself, which would have taken hours just for the descent and for getting back … plus the time actually looking at various parts of the wreck; so the dives themselves took a whole day in total.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
none anywhere near. However, cruise ships frequently pass by the spot where the Titanic sank into the Atlantic
and often stop for while, also for a moment's contemplation, possible period dressing-up and dining (but without any diving), before carrying on with the usual cruise pleasures … In 2012, the 100th anniversary year of the disaster, specially themed cruises were offered that even included recreated meals that the passengers would have had in the Titanic's restaurant that fateful night. It remains to be seen whether such specially themed Titanic cruises will continue to be offered when the media craze surrounding the centenary has ebbed off.
On land, Halifax
in Nova Scotia, Canada
, has a special connection with the Titanic tragedy. It was here that the stricken ship should have been towed to had it still been possible. Instead, the bodies of some 200 victims found floating on the ocean were brought here and laid to rest in a couple of cemeteries in Halifax. The town's Maritime Museum has a special section about the disaster, and, like so many institutions, organized special events for the centenary year.
Further away still, numerous other Titanic exhibitions/museums, far too many to list them all here, scattered around many parts of the world, cater for the kind of clientele who cannot get enough of the Titanic. Many involve some of the numerous artefacts that have been salvaged/retrieved from the wreck. Some are permanent fixtures, many more are travelling (i.e. temporary) exhibitions.
In 2012 there was, for example, a much hyped exhibition at the Luxor in Las Vegas, USA
(see Atomic Testing Museum
). I saw one in Hamburg
several years ago which was a big hit both with locals and tourists (but suffered severely from some hilariously poor translations
in the English texts accompanying the exhibits). They all ride the fine line between exploitation and respectful commemoration (with the more commercial outfits tending a bit more towards the former, perhaps).
At the departure point for her maiden voyage, Southampton, in the south of England
, the local maritime museum too has a substantial section about the Titanic, which is bit more sober and less sensational than the large commercial travelling exhibitions.
In the USA
there are two huge purpose-built Titanic museums, both in the shape of the ship itself (scaled down to half size) and displaying original artefacts from a 1987 expedition to the wreck. One of the two museums is located in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, the other in Branson, Missouri ... both in locations that are rather far from any sea. Both are run together as one business, and they are also quite recent enterprises, dating back to ca. 2006 and 2010, respectively, obviously created in time to feed off the hype of the centenary of the tragedy.
But the pinnacle of commodification of the Titanic legend has to be the new Titanic Belfast Centre with its "Titanic Experience
" in Northern Ireland
's capital Belfast
. This state-of-the-art attraction also opened just in time for the centenary – right at the place where the ship had been built. The part of the harbour around the shipyard has been named "Titanic Quarter, Belfast
" and here you can see the dry dock in which Titanic was fitted out, see the shipyard's drawing rooms and other associated sites.
Finally, in the small town of Alnwick
in Northumberland, Great Britain
, you can dine in the First Class lounge of the sister ship of the Titanic, the Olympic. The complete wood-panelling and other fixtures were acquired by the owner of the White Swan hotel and reinstalled there as the hotel's “Olympic Suite” dining room. So you can have a posh meal there and soak up the atmosphere that these original surroundings still emanate.
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
only the wide Atlantic
ocean … maybe dotted with icebergs from Greenland at the surface … but otherwise it's an empty and lonely place. The nearest land is Newfoundland, Canada
. Departure point and home of the Titanic was Great Britain
, much farther away to the east. Her destination, New York
, to the south was already much nearer when the disaster happened.