When the Titanic went down in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic Ocean in 1912, only 705 people lived to tell the tale of the fateful voyage. Now, on the eve of the disaster's centenary, another 1,309 passengers will have the chance to sail the same route.
The Titanic Memorial Cruise left Southampton, U.K., on April 8, but had to change its route slightly on April 10 after one passenger fell ill. No details have been given about the guest's condition, but the ship was diverted 20 nautical miles east to bring it closer to the coast and within reach of a helicopter.
Demand for a spot on the MS Balmoral, the ship making the voyage, was overwhelming, according to Miles Morgan, who owns his own travel agency in London and began organizing the anniversary cruise more than five years ago.
"I always thought it was a good idea but never imagined it would go so global," he said in an email to CBC News. "We've had hits on the website from over 200 countries and bookings from 29."
Morgan leased the Balmoral, an ocean liner built in 1988 and owned by U.K.-based Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, and began selling tickets for the cruise in 2008. The last ones sold out in early 2011 — although a few recently became available because of cancellations. Prices range from $4,429 for an inside cabin to $12,655 for the most luxurious suite.
The roughly 1,300 passengers aboard the MS Balmoral, which include at least 50 Canadians, will follow the same trajectory as those on the Titanic, stopping first in Cherbourg, France, and then Cobh, Ireland, before setting sail across the Atlantic.
The cruise will stay faithful to the Titanic's intended route even once it passes the site where the original vessel sank but will make one additional stop that was not on the original itinerary—in Halifax — so that passengers can visit the Fairview Lawn Cemetery, where 121 people who died aboard the Titanic are buried.
The voyage will end on April 19 in New York City, the Titanic's intended destination, although passengers can choose to make the return trip to Southampton, where the ship is due to arrive on April 29, for 20 per cent of the original fare.
For those who can't get a cabin on the Balmoral, a second cruise operated by Morgan's travel company, Miles Morgan Travel, offers another kind of Titanic experience and has a number of spots still available. The Titanic Anniversary Cruise, aboard a ship named the Azamara Journey, will sail from New York on April 10 to the site where the Titanic sank, with a stop in Halifax.
Philip Littlejohn, a U.K.-based school inspector and educator, will be one of several experts aboard the MS Balmoral lecturing to passengers on various aspects of the Titanic's history and tragic fate.
Littlejohn has been on a dive to the Titanic wreck site and has a particular connection to the storied ocean liner. His grandfather, Alexander Littlejohn, was a steward aboard the Titanic.
"He was a steward in the First Class dining room," Littlejohn said. "He'd been a publican for most of his life so his knowledge of the licensing trade, particularly in Edwardian times when cocktails were becoming fashionable, would have made him very popular with First Class passengers."
Once the Titanic hit the iceberg that was its undoing, the elder Littlejohn was put in charge of lifeboat No. 13, despite having no training at sea.
"White Star Line [Titanic's owners] believed in putting stewards into lifeboats because the First Cass passengers had paid for stewards on the Titanic so they were entitled to a steward in the lifeboat," Littlejohn said.
"The snag was that he couldn't row, but saying so would have been signing his death warrant."
Littlejohn will give two lectures to passengers on the Balmoral — one about his grandfather's experience aboard the Titanic and another detailing his dive to the wreck site.
Other lecturers will include Canadian journalist Alan Hustak, author of Titanic: The Canadian Story, about the 130 Canadians who were aboard the Titanic, and Commodore Ronald Warwick, a former captain of the Queen Elizabeth 2 cruise ship, Cunard Line's flagship ocean liner, who was on the same Titanic dive in 2001 as Littlejohn.
On April 14, the ship will drop anchor at the exact geographic co-ordinates of the sinking. At 2:20 a.m. in the local time zone (which is three hours behind GMT) on April 15, the precise time the Titanic sank, there will be a memorial service to commemorate those who died in the tragedy. Littlejohn says he hopes this service will be poignant for the passengers.
"There should be a pause for thought that [more than] 1,500 people died that night," he said. "We should remember those people who lost their lives, and the wreck site should be treated with respect because it is a maritime grave."
He says the service will be of particular importance for him as a way to pay tribute to his grandfather, who carried the burden of the disaster throughout his life.
"Like most Titanic survivors, he never, ever mentioned a word about it," he said. "There was a certain sense of guilt that they had survived while women and children had died."
Morgan says the cruise appeals to a wide variety of people, from those who enjoyed James Cameron's blockbuster film Titanic to Titanic enthusiasts who have dedicated parts of their lives to researching the doomed vessel.
"Then, of course, there are others — and these are very special people — who lost great-great-grandparents, great-uncles and aunts and other family members all those years ago and see this as a way to remember them," he said.
Littlejohn says the story of the Titanic still resonates with people because a large cross-section of cultures and classes was represented on the ship.
"Titanic was a microcosm of society, from the very rich like John Jacob Astor, right down to the poorest immigrant travelling steerage," he said.
"There will be people from 29 different countries on the cruise, and it is an international story."