Agency organizes Titanic commemoration cruises

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A travel agency owner in the U.K. is planning a couple of cruises to remember: sailings commemorating the sinking of the Titanic.

Agents interested in selling the product can rest assured that on these memorial sailings no client will be confined to steerage.

British agency owner Miles Morgan has organized two voyages on chartered ships, one sailing from Southampton, England, and one from New York. They will rendezvous on April 15, 2012, at the point in the North Atlantic where the Titanic sank, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the disaster.

"I started planning these cruises probably five years ago," said Morgan, who owns Miles Morgan Travel, an 11-agency chain in southwest England. "I kept reading on Internet forums about how people wanted to do something like this to mark the anniversary, but I figured nobody would actually do it. So I did."

Titanic graphic.He called his new enterprise Titanic Memorial Cruises.

For the New York departure, Morgan, who is managing director of the enterprise, has chartered Azamara Club Cruises’ 694-passenger Azamara Journey, while the 1,309-passenger Balmoral, a Fred Olsen Cruise Lines ship, will sail from England.

Both ships are scheduled to depart on April 8, 100 years to the day after the Titanic left Southampton on its doomed maiden voyage to New York.

The Balmoral sailing went on sale last September, and the ship already is sold out, Morgan said, adding that he expects the Journey to fill up fast when tickets go on sale Monday, April 4.

Fares for the Journey’s 10-night cruise will range from about $5,000 to $14,000 per person, double, and Morgan is offering a flat $750 commission to U.S. agents regardless of the accommodations booked.

"We’re happy to do business with any U.S. agent," he said. "They just need to contact us." The booking website is www.titanicmemorialcruise.co.uk.

While it might strike some as odd that so many people are eager to converge at the site of a catastrophe that cost 1,517 lives, it does not surprise Morgan.

"The word 'Titanic' is known the world over, but if you walk down the street and try to point out the people who would want to do this, you wouldn’t be able to," he said. "The passenger base for these cruises, considering who we’ve seen booking the Balmoral, are Titanic aficionados of all stripes and descendents of the passengers or crew who died. And then there are those who simply are infatuated with the story."

Ever since director James Cameron produced the blockbuster film "Titanic" in 1997, Morgan said, "a whole new raft of people became interested in the story."

Some U.S. agents expressed skepticism last week about the popularity of a Titanic memorial cruise.

"I don’t know if I’d expect a whole lot of interest from the general public about something like this," said Linda Boling, an agent with Travel Leaders in Fredericksburg, Va. "I think you’d have to market it very specifically to history buffs or history groups, maybe people interested in ships and shipbuilding."

On the other hand, Boling added, "I do like the idea of the [Azamara] Journey."

Morgan said the response has been enthusiastic and global. Passengers already booked on the Balmoral hail from 29 countries, he said, "and our website has had hits from 170 countries. It’s a phenomenon."

Morgan said it took a long time to find the right vessels for the memorial sailings.

"We were looking for ships that have a classic design," he said. "We didn’t want ships with a lot of elevators, for example, or [water rides]. That wouldn’t be appropriate for what this trip is all about. It’s not a party cruise; it’s a commemoration."

Onboard the ships, expert lecturers will guide passengers through the history of the Titanic, and chefs will re-create meals that were served on the ship. Some passengers, Morgan said, have talked about dressing up in period clothing for the cruise.

He said he was still in the process of choosing lecturers.

"We will do that bit by bit in the coming months, because we want to make sure we are getting the best out there," he said. "Some experts are extremely knowledgeable but can be boring speakers."

The cruise aboard the Journey will leave New York on April 8, 2012, and make one port call in Halifax, Nova Scotia, before heading out to the site of the disaster. It will return to New York on April 18, according to the memorial website, which is still under development and where some of the dates appear to be tentative.

Halifax became the final resting place for the Titanic’s so-called "unclaimed victims," and passengers can visit that city’s Fairview Lawn Cemetery, where many of the bodies recovered after the sinking were interred.

On the westbound trip aboard the Balmoral, a port call will be made in Cobh, Ireland, which was Titanic’s last call before it steamed into the North Atlantic, and at Halifax following the commemoration at sea. The Balmoral will arrive in New York on April 20.

Morgan said it’s possible that other ships will be in the area when the Balmoral and the Journey meet up on April 14, the date when the Titanic made its fateful contact with an iceberg shortly before midnight. It disappeared beneath the waves at 2:20 a.m. on April 15.

Morgan said he was not sure which ship he would sail on to reach the site.

"I’ll be excited to go on either of them," he said.

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