Wednesday, July 10

vacation recap: Tennessee... and the Titanic?

The Q family and I spent last week exploring Eastern Tennessee.  Despite the fact that it rained every single day of our trip, we made the best of it, and, to paraphrase my own mama, it's a good thing I love my in-laws because there was a LOT of family time.

Our first stop was Sevierville, Tennessee, better known as the hometown of Dolly Parton and the gateway of the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg touristy area.  I had been to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg before, both with my family and with the competition clogging team I used to belong to, but it was Mr. Q's first time.  I think he was a little overwhelmed by all the silver diners, wax museums, laser tag arcades, and fireworks stands, even though I had tried to prepare him by explaining that Pigeon Forge is like a redneck version of Las Vegas.  It is so delightfully tacky, complete with things like this brand-new Titanic Museum Attraction, which my sister in law and I could not resist dragging Mr. Q to on the second day of our vacation.  I mean, we are the family who had a Titanic dinner party.  We owed it to the ship.

The Museum Attraction is impressive looking.  Supposedly it's half the size of the actual ship and there's even a model ticket office outside where "passengers" receive boarding passes.  Each boarding pass features a real passenger from the Titanic and a bit about their life.  The attraction was surprisingly educational.  It is staffed by "first class maids" and a lookalike "Captain Smith," but the tour is self-guided.  As you enter the museum, there are dollhouse-sized models of the ship showing the different levels - even the Louis Vuitton luggage and Renault car in the cargo hold- and each part of the museum itself represents a different part of the ship.  In the first class stateroom, there's a real piece of smoking room paneling inset with mother-of-pearl, and a model of one of Lady Duff Gordon's fashion designs.  In the third class hallway, Irish music can be heard, there is a third class cabin with four bunk beds, and there is a glass door with an iron gate - right behind the glass, water rushes down the stairs over and over.  Hello, perspective.

What I did not expect was the impressive number of artifacts inside - heirlooms and photos from families that were on the ship, letters mailed from on board, items and photographs that were taken from the ship before it sank or recovered from the sea on the night of the sinking, including a deck chair and the violin that was played until the end.  Staff members can direct visitors to any special artifacts related to the passengers on their boarding passes and are very knowledgeable about the ship's history.

"It doesn't look any bigger than the Lusitania."

My inner history buff and inner seventh grader were both pretty happy, because there was also a room dedicated to the film, complete with hats and costumes worn by the actors, a model of the heart of the ocean necklace, and inside looks at the casting and special effects.  The most memorable parts of the museum attraction were the rooms replicating the ship's bridge (where "Captain Smith" told us a memorable story about Baptist minister John Harper, who helped a fellow passenger find faith in Jesus before he died) and deck, where there's a wall of ice, 28-degree water for visitors to try keeping their hands in, models of the different degrees of slope the passengers on the deck would have experienced, and models of the lifeboats with survivors' stories.  After leaving the deck, visitors can learn about the expeditions to the Titanic wreck site before entering a memorial area and learning the fate of the passenger on their boarding passes.  My passenger, a child traveling in third class, lived, as did my sister-in-law's.  She had Juliette Laroche, whose story was really interesting - her husband was the only black passenger on the Titanic.  Mr. Q's passenger was not so lucky - he had a kidnapper!

But the moment where awesome meets tacky is really summed up in this photo.  The attraction's reproduction of the Titanic's grand staircase, constructed from the original builder's plans?  Gorgeous, and fun to re-enact being Rose and Jack on (I really love my sister in law).  It really helped me understand just how opulent and luxurious the ship was.  Standing in front of a green screen to have this photo taken?  Definitely the "cheese factor" of the Titanic Museum Attraction.  But look how happy we were to oblige.  

I'll be back with the second part of our Tennessee vacation tomorrow.  But first, I've got to know... what's the strangest vacation destination you've ended up enjoying?


  1. I know I share this post on my blog previously, but still, this looks like SO MUCH FUN. I would love to go. I have gone to the traveling Titanic exhibit, which sounds similar, but seems like it would be smaller than this. Now I just need to convince my husband that the next time we're in Tennessee this NEEDS to be a stop on out list.

    1. You would love it! I was expecting it to be so cheesy but the history buff in me absolutely loved it. And really, what else is there to do in Pigeon Forge besides ride roller coasters?