Some cities—your Londons and Parises of the world—have so many things to see and do that they don’t even have to try to attract visitors. Other smaller cities seriously amp up their tourism campaigns to convince young foreigners on their grand tour that it really is worth staying a few nights. One way to do this is to hitch your star to one famous thing. In Liverpool, it’s The Beatles, and if there was ever something a city deserved to create a capitalist extravaganza around, it’s the most popular band of all time. So go ahead, Liverpool, we approve.
In Belfast, however, it’s the Titanic. Oh, you didn’t know the Titanic was built in Belfast? You definitely will after visiting. Not only is every vaguely Titanic-related attraction milked for all it’s worth, but an entire section of the city is named after the Titanic. Belfast is really, really proud to be the birthplace of the ship. So proud, in fact, that it leaves you wondering if they’re aware that it was pretty much a massive failure.
Now, I’m not blaming the young men of Belfast who built the ship for what happened. Sometimes, icebergs just pop out of nowhere and it doesn’t matter how well-built your boat is. But the Titanic pretty famously didn’t have enough lifeboats and a lot—like a lot—of people died because of this terrible decision. So what is it exactly that were celebrating here? Because the theme park-esque “Titanic Experience” does feel like a celebration.
The real resonance of the Titanic seems to be lost here. It’s such a poetic, almost Tower of Babel-esque, example of man thinking he’s infallible. I would buy the shit out of a ticket to the “Titanic Museum of Human Folly.” Instead, I paid £14.50 to be told what an incredible feat of shipbuilding it was and see what a first-class cabin looked like. (The third-class cabins were actually very hostel-like).
Maybe what’s bothering me is that tourist-friendly commemorations of tragedies can totally be done, as I’ve learned from all the World War-related museums I’ve been to in the U.K. As you walk through, say, the Imperial War Museum in London, there’s a sense of deep solemnity about what you’re witnessing. Imagine if they added a theme park ride taking you through mock trenches or something—that would be totally cringey. But there’s a literal theme park ride in the Titanic Experience.
To Belfast’s credit, it’s 100 percent working. This is the most packed museum I’ve ever been to and everyone’s buying it hook, line, and sinker. (Sorry). Honestly, I blame Leonardo DiCaprio. I hope you’re happy with yourself, Leo. Belfast should send you Titanic-sized check. ZING.