It’s been more than a century since the Titanic sank beneath the surface of the North Atlantic, claiming more than 1,500 lives after colliding with an iceberg during its maiden voyage in April 1912. But the passage of time has done little to dampen interest in the doomed ocean liner, as record-breaking sales for films, television specials and books have shown. Now, a Chinese investment group is hoping to claim its share of the market with a new Titanic theme park, slated to open in 2016.
In a press conference earlier this week, executives from the Seven Star Energy Investment Group revealed additional details for the park, officially known as the Romandisea Seven Star International Cultural Tourism Resort. Expected to cost 1 billion yuan ($165 million), it will be situated in Sichuan Province, a landlocked region more than 930 miles from the nearest coast—a perhaps unlikely location for a maritime-themed tourist spot. While the resort will also include recreations of European castles, a man-made beach and even ancient Turkish baths, its prime attraction is certain to be the life-size replica of the Titanic. Built to spec using blueprints for Titanic’s sister ship, RMS Olympic, the ship will be permanently moored along the nearby Qi River.
It’s not the first attempt to cash in on the public’s seemingly endless fascination with Titanic. Traveling exhibits of artifacts recovered from the wreck site do big business, and museums dedicated to the tragedy can be found in the most likely (Belfast, Ireland, where Titanic was built) and unlikely (Branson, Missouri) of places. But the Romandisea resort hopes to lure visitors with a unique—and controversial—twist. Their Titanic will feature a high-tech shipwreck simulator—dubbed a “6D” experience by the investment group—that will allow hundreds of visitors at a time experience Titanic’s fateful collision with an iceberg.
According to Su Shaojun, Seven Star Energy’s CEO, upon “impact,” the ship will shake and tumble, while sound and light effects will “let people experience water coming in…They will think: ‘the water will drown me. I must escape with my life.” While some may question the idea of recreating one of history’s worst maritime disasters, Su went on to say that the company thinks “its worth spreading the sprit of the Titanic. The universal love and sense of responsibility shown during the Titanic shipwreck represents the spiritual richness of human civilization.”
The next few years are shaping up to be competitive ones in the Titanic tourism landscape. Months after the Romandisea resort opens, Australian billionaire Clive Palmer is expected to launch Titanic II, a full-size, seaworthy replica of the ship. First announced in 2012 to commemorate the centenary of Titanic’s sinking, it will be the flagship of Palmer’s new Blue Star Line—a callback to the White Star Line that Titanic, Olympic and other ocean liners once sailed under. And while Titanic II will lack the collision “experience” China’s theme park will offer, it won’t lag far behind in an attempt to provide authenticity. Passengers departing from Southampton, England, just as Titanic did in 1912, can book a ticket in posh first-class berths (with the highest prices rumored to be in the six figures) or choose to stay in tiny, cramped lower deck cabins—bunk beds included—and dine communally on a simple menu of meat and potatoes, as Titanic’s 700 third-class passengers did. Titanic II will, of course, make one key concession to modern-day standards: Unlike its predecessor, it will come fully equipped with ample lifejackets and lifeboats for its more than 2,200 passengers.