Cruise ships commemorate Titanic's voyage

Passengers wearing period costume queue to board the Titanic Memorial Cruise in Southampton, England, on Sunday. Chris Helgren / Reuters

Updated April 8 -- The first of two Titanic-themed cruises set sail from Southampton Sunday on a 12-night cruise that will follow the Titanic's original itinerary.

The vessel, the MS Balmoral, is operated by Fred Olsen Cruise Lines — whose parent company, Harland and Wolff, built the Titanic. The ship has a 1,350-passenger capacity, but will carry 1,309 paying passengers on the Titanic Memorial Cruise, “the same number that sailed on the fateful Titanic voyage,” the company said on its website.

The cruise sold out nearly two years ago, so a second ship, the Azamara Journey, part of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., was added during the summer of 2011. That ship departs New York on April 10, “exactly 100 years to the day the Titanic departed Southampton” the company said, for an 8-night voyage.

As of January, when about one-third of the spots on the Azamara Journey were still available, interior staterooms were selling for $4,900. The top cabin, the Club World Owners Suite, cost nearly $15,000.

The Titanic sank in the early hours of April 15, 1912, after hitting an iceberg. More than 1,500 people lost their lives.

The Titanic Belfast Experience is a new visitor attraction location in Belfast's Titanic Quarter, on the original site of the Harland and Wolff shipyard -  birthplace of RMS Titanic. David Moir / Reuters

The cruises were designed to replicate food, entertainment and dress of the era. “Passengers will have the opportunity to dress up in period clothing on some nights,” said Miles Morgan, founder of Miles Morgan Travel, the company that organized the Titanic Memorial Cruises.

Expert lecturers will be on board to discuss Titanic-focused topics, including Philip Littlejohn, grandson of Titanic survivor Alexander James Littlejohn, and author of "Titanic — Waiting for Orders" which tells the story of his grandfather, who was a 1st Class Steward on the ship. Dana McCauley, co-author of “Last Dinner On the Titanic: Menus and Recipes from the Great Liner,” is the food consultant, and will help create menus based on meals eaten during the Titanic’s inaugural voyage.

“It’s been an interesting journey,” said Morgan. The inspiration began about five years ago when a gentleman walked in off the street to one of his 12 travel agencies in England and suggested the idea.

The ships will make stops at cemeteries in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to visit the final resting places for many unclaimed victims, and atop the Titanic grave site on April 15, when a memorial service will be held at 2:20 a.m., “to pay tribute to all the brave passengers and crew on board that fateful night,” according to the company site.

“We are not releasing what will take place in advance,” Morgan said, regarding the details about the service. “Because it is a very unusual occasion, many passengers will also find their own way to remember the moment.”

The Titanic sails out of Southampton, England, in April 1912 at the start of its doomed voyage. AP Photo/File

Among the passengers will be Titanic fans, but also some descendants of survivors and those who perished.

“I want to be outside on the deck, to feel how cold it would have been,” said Jill Kirby, great-niece of a ship worker, to experience “the personal feeling of actually being there and reliving a moment that occurred 100 years ago, to just have a feeling of how people must have felt.” Kirby, originally from Southampton, England, but now of Los Angeles, said her great-uncle, Alfred Albert White, was a crewman in the engine room, and was the only one from his department who survived the tragedy.

Often it is the famous passengers who are remembered, she said, but “many unknown lives were lost. The cruises are excellent ways to memorialize those victims that may not be as famous. All lives are important,” she said. “The lives of these people meant something and were cut short because of this terrible tragedy.”

Tim Wallis, of Waterloo, Ontario, is taking the voyage to honor his great-grandmother, Catherine Jane Wallis, who died in the sinking but whose body was never recovered. “I just kind of felt an obligation to complete the journey,” he said.

“She made it to the rail and was about to get on a life boat, but realized that she forgot her paperwork,” said Wallis, who recounted the story based on eyewitness accounts. She went to retrieve her papers, “but she never made it back,” he said. His great-grandmother was on the ship to work, as her husband drowned eight months earlier and she had to support her three small children.

Wallis also said he was taking the cruise to honor his aunt, who spearheaded efforts in DNA testing for Titanic victims, and who died on April 15, 2006. Wallis has a few other uncanny connections to the Titanic: his own birthday is April 15, and he and James Cameron, the “Titanic” film director, share the same hometown.

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