Saturday, March 2, 2013

Raising the Titanic

Australian mining billionaire Clive Palmer has plans to rebuild the ill fated Titanic in an effort that "is not about money." The near-replica will be built by China's CSC Jinling Shipyard for an undisclosed sum.

While CSC Jinling has no experience building passenger ships, they are interested in expanding into the luxury market. Additionally, as legendary as the ship has become, realistically, rebuilding the ship isn't the undertaking many may think. In fact, the only thing unprecedented in Palmer's plan is building an ocean liner so small.

Let's start off by defining the difference between ocean liners and cruise ships. The Titanic, and most passenger ships built before 1960 were ocean liners, which means they were built to carry passengers across the Atlantic and then some. Basically, the hulls are sturdier and the life boats are higher (of which they're now required to carry enough). Cruise ships on the other hand drift leisurely around destinations that tourists usually drive or fly to.

Unfortunately for ship-o-philes and people like me who hate to fly, when Pan Am started carrying passengers across the Atlantic in a matter of hours, the market for ocean liners dried up over night.

Palmer's plan for his Titanic II is to recreate the experience as closely as possible. Not only will 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Class accommodations be limited to their quarters, travelers will be dressed in period garb.

It sounds fun, right?

For a night.

Titanic II's maiden voyage will carry its 1500 passengers from the United Kingdom to New York, completing the original's journey. With 3rd Class passengers locked below and everyone stuffed into early 20th Century corsets, it sounds like one of those murder mystery that just won't end.

You might be able to find a thousand rich eccentrics willing to shell out who-knows-what for its maiden voyage, but what about after that?

There's a reason the Titanic has never been rebuilt, and it goes beyond the bad mojo that comes with naming any ship "Titanic."

The truth is, while the Titanic was the biggest ship the world had ever seen - in 1912 - it's pretty small. If it sailed into New York Harbor like it did in the inadvertent comedy, Raise the Titanic, it would be dwarfed by today's cruise ships and ocean liners. Hell, if Titanic II ever finds its way to Dubai, it might even get scoffed at by a few sailing private yachts, especially when the Renaissance Faire - er, Victorian Faire - disembarks clad in pantaloons and lacey sunbrellas.

Without even making an iceberg joke, replicating the Titanic experience is masochistic by today's standards. Modern day passenger ships offer nightclubs, water parks, gyms, rock climbing walls, and zip lines. Even oil tankers occasionally have a pool or two.

The Titanic had a piano and a couple medicine balls.

Taking the kitsch factor to even weirder levels, the ship's 3rd Class passengers, you know the one's who won't be allowed upstairs for five days, well their entertainment will include Jameson soaked Irish jiggery.

Okay, that's kind of fun...until you consider how many 3rd Class passengers were just hunkering down to get to the States. If the Irish dance scene from James Cameron's Titanic actually happened, most 3rd Class passengers were barricaded in their windowless rooms because there wasn't a lot of space to party down there.

Let's face it, rebuilding the Titanic is like watching The Neverending Story at 30: Better left a memory.

You know where the Titanic's scale would really impress? Docked in New York Harbor as a hotel. But wait, there's already a ship sitting around with nothing to do, one that broke more records and had a lot more panache. And it's sitting down in South Philly just waiting for an eccentric billionaire to give her a second life.

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