Even at half-scale size, this massive ship looms large as one of east Tennessee’s hottest new attractions.
The 30,000-square-foot, $25 million Titanic Museum debuted earlier this spring with more than 20,000 visitors for its opening weekend. The grand opening, hosted by Regis Philbin, featured fireworks, a ship christening, and free concerts from country music sensation Neal McCoy and a Beatles cover band. The opening coincided with the 98th anniversary of the ship’s sinking in which some 1,500 people died, making it one of the deadliest disasters in maritime history. The tragedy was all the more devastating because the luxury ocean liner was billed as “unsinkable.”
Visitors to the Titanic Museum can tour through a half-size reproduction of the original Titanic. The museum includes 20 galleries that display nearly 400 authentic Titanic artifacts either carried from the ship by survivors or found floating in the wreckage. The ship sank on April 15, 1912 after colliding with an iceberg on the night of April 14 on its maiden voyage. Many of the artifacts in the exhibit have been put on public display for the very first time.
Also within the museum are full-sized models of third-class quarters, a first-class suite, dining rooms, and a $1 million exact reproduction of the ship’s grand staircase, originally built between the A- and B-decks of the ship. The re-creation came from the original plans of Harland and Wolff, the Titanic builders. The first-class suite in the museum was the cabin used by the character Rose in the Academy Award-winning, James Cameron blockbuster movie, “Titanic.”
The Titanic Museum ship is actually anchored in water to give visitors the feel of a vessel at sea. Interactive, hands-on exhibits allow people to experience the real-life details of the passengers on the ship. For example, each visitor receives a boarding pass bearing the name of an actual Titanic passenger or crew member, whose fate is revealed on the Memorial Wall at the end of the tour.
Visitors can also touch the surface of an iceberg, hold onto the ship’s wheel, send an SOS signal, study historical artifacts from the original ship, recount stories from the actual passengers, and test their balance on mini-decks that tilt steeper and steeper to show what it was like on board as the ship sank. There’s even a water tank chilled to 28 degrees to give visitors a feel for the icy waters where the Titanic sank with nearly two-thirds of the passengers and crew. For children eight years old and younger, the Tot-Titanic Play-and-Learn Room offers age-appropriate educational activities.
This is the second Titanic Museum of its kind. The other is in Branson, Mo. The Pigeon Forge site was chosen because of its close proximity to other popular tourist destinations such as Dollywood, outlet malls, water parks, and a plethora of restaurants and hotels.
For those who always wanted to know what it felt like to be on board one of the most famous ships of all time, an adventure awaits.