MS Balmoral left the dock at Southampton on Sunday for the Titanic Memorial Cruise, a voyage to retrace the doomed steamship's fateful journey on the 100th anniversary of the world's deadliest peacetime maritime disaster.
British travel firm Miles Morgan Travel, which specializes in tailor-made holidays, chartered the Balmoral to create a sympathetic memorial to the passengers and crew who lost their lives.
The company selected the Balmoral for the momentous event because it's operated by Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, whose parent company, Harland and Wolff, built the Titanic in Belfast. The ship is carrying 1,309 passengers, the same number as the Titanic.
Onboard are travelers from 28 countries who paid between $4,445 and $9,520 each for the opportunity.
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The memorial cruise sailed by Cherbourg, France, Sunday before stopping Monday evening at the Titanic's last port of call, Cobh. The Balmoral's arrival at the town, which lies on the south coast of County Cork, Ireland, was delayed slightly due to bad weather.
On Tuesday, it will continue west en route to the location in the North Atlantic where the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank on April 15, 1912, killing about 1,500.
The ship is expected to reach the site of the disaster on Saturday evening and passengers -- many of whom are relatives of the deceased -- will hold a memorial service at 2:20 a.m. to commemorate the 100th anniversary and pay tribute to the passengers and crew on board that fateful night.
Also occupying MS Balmoral's cabins are relatives of the roughly 700 survivors, authors, historians and Titanic buffs. Many will complete the journey dressed in period costume, carrying wreaths of flowers and family artifacts that they'll toss to the sea.
Billed as a once in a lifetime historical event, the 100th anniversary cruise is steeped in Titanic nostalgia. The crew hopes to recreate the complete onboard experience, sans disaster. Passengers will eat meals from the Titanic menu, listen to a live band playing period music, and attend lectures given by historians and experts.
The 12-night cruise will reach Nova Scotia on Monday and dock for two days to tour the Titanic sites in Halifax, including the largest burial ground of Titanic victims. The Balmoral will cruise into New York Harbor on Thursday, April 19, finishing the journey its predecessor was unable to complete.
1912 vs. 2012
There are, of course, some major differences between the memorial voyage and the one that left Southampton 100 years ago.
In 1912, traveling on the White Star liner was a voyage of purpose. It was primarily a means of transporting cargo, mail, and passengers, many of whom were emigrating to the U.S.
More than anything else, the ship was built with efficiency in mind and maritime experts say that the average person today would be bored to tears on the Titanic.
Cruise liners today are capable of traveling at the same speed as the Titanic, but rarely do as the act of cruising is now more about leisure. Compared to today's Broadway-style performances and innumerable activities, only the first class passengers were privy to the eight professional musicians that entertained on the Titanic. Activities in 1912 ranged from socializing to promenading on deck or playing cards with friends.
The Balmoral -- like nearly all of today's cruise liners -- is much more democratic, with a great deal more public space available to all passengers. Most modern ships have just one class of service, unlike the Titanic's three.
The facts surrounding the ill-fated maiden voyage of the Titanic permeate popular culture, and the disaster has spawned a myriad of books, television specials, and movies -- perhaps none more famous than James Cameron's recently re-released Titanic.
Yet, Titanic 3-D and the memorial cruise are just two of many commemorations and memorials to the reputedly unsinkable boat.
In Belfast, Northern Ireland, a new museum opened last month on the site where the White Star Line's most infamous ship was built. In Southampton, the city council will open the SeaCity Museum on April 10, 100 years after the Titanic departed from the city.
In France, a new permanent exhibit at the Museum of the Sea in the port of Cherbourg will commemorate the day the Titanic sailed there to pick up 281 passengers.
There are even more events on the other side of the pond.
On April 14 and 15, Nova Scotia will hold commemorative festivities including the Night of Bells, a procession through Halifax featuring stops at Titanic-related landmarks, interpretive presentations, live performances, and a moment of silence at the time when the Titanic began to sink.
Titanic fever will run wild at events across the U.S. from Unsinkable Molly Brown's house in Denver to the most unlikely of cities like Pigeon Forge, Tenn., and Branson and St. Louis, Mo.
Moreover, major exhibitions recently opened in Orlando and Washington, D.C., and Titanic societies (of which there are many) will hold conventions in Springfield, Mass. and Secaucus, NJ.
Though the Titanic never made it to its intended destination in New York Harbor, the city will honor the lives of several New Yorkers who passed away on that fateful night with tours, theatrical premieres, and graveyard vigils.
Rest assured that if a town near you had anything at all to do with the Titanic, its passengers, its crew, or their memorabilia, it will likely honor the centennial this weekend in a big way.