When they built Titanic Belfast in 2012 to mark the 100 year anniversary of the ship's sinking, it was seen as a huge risk. After all, £100 million for a museum is a big outlay and there were the doubts over how much people would be still be interested in the story.
My word, how the doubters were proved wrong. Visitor numbers exceeded projections, the riverside was rejuvenated and in 2016 it won Europe's Leading Tourist Attraction award at the World Travel Awards (travel Oscars). For many people Titanic Belfast is THE reason to visit Belfast and this has had a great knock on effect for the rest of Northern Ireland and even in the keeping of the peace.
It's easy to see why this has been such a success story. The slick retelling of the tragedy with all the hi-tech gadgets and sensory doo-dahs one would expect of a super modern visitor centre grabs your attention from the off and never lets go. The exhibition first sets the Belfast scene and moves on to the construction, life on board, the sinking and finally the Titanic in popular culture.
The building itself, which resembled the bow of a ship and is set against the backdrop of the iconic Harland and Wolff cranes, is a stunning piece of design. Next door the SS Nomadic is a fully restored tender (tugboat) which can be an interesting little add on and there's also the dock and pumphouse which can be toured to get a sense of the enormous scale of the ship.
If, like us, your museum concentration span is around an hour to ninety minutes then it's important to pace yourself. An inordinate amount of time is taken to set the scene of early 20th century Belfast and to describe the construction of the ship. Too much time taking in every word at the stage may lead you to rush the story of the sinking because of weariness or time pressures. And this would be a shame as, let's face it, this is the exciting and important bit.
There is the option of taking an audio guide but unless you are a non-English speaking or visually impaired we recommend not to. There is so much to see, watch and hear, adding a load more information being whispered into your ear can cause an overload. I can barely eat a sandwich, walk and breath at the same time, so this was too much.
A final word of warning: despite taking in tonnes of information, sights and sounds over potentially two and a half hours, you will almost certainly leave the museum with Celine Dion's My Heart Will Go On firmly stuck in your skull thanks to the ten second dirge you hear right at the end. Minus one star.