Everyone and their brother knows about the fact that the Titanic bumped into one of nature’s ice-cubes and sank nearly 100 years ago. But what was life actually like onboard the ‘ship of dreams’, during those four days when passengers treated this crossing like any other which they might have booked? What would they have eaten, what would they have experienced and where could they go around the ship?
The Ship’s Interiors.
The R.M.S. Titanic was nothing less than a great, big, steam-powered floating hotel. Her public rooms were all lavishly decorated to match the styles of great European palaces, English country houses and famous hotels such as the Hotel Ritz in Paris, France. Her first class areas and accomadations were the most luxurious and the most comfortable which anyone could ever have imagined to have existed on a seagoing boat in the early 1910s. All the public rooms were brightly lit with electric lighting at night, and dazzling sunlight in the morning. The ship’s dining-rooms and hallways, cabins, staterooms and libraries were a whirlwind of polished brass, wrought iron, glass, carved wood panelling, patterned carpets and crisp, bright colours. No expense was spared. The Titanic had not one, but two grand staircases. The first one, everyone knows about, the second, smaller staircase was located further back and it stopped one deck short of the one forward, but it was details like this that made the Titanic famous. She was designed to be impressive and she was designed to be luxurious. Her luxury was part of her very purpose. The Titanic was built as the second of three ships which the White Star Line hoped would provide some stiff competition to its main competitor, the equally famous Cunard Line. Cunard ships prided themselves on speed. They made fast, efficient crossings which won them big bucks in the lucrative transatlantic-crossings business. White Star wasn’t able to build ships that were as fast as Cunard’s, so instead of speed, they went all out on luxury.
Prices and Tickets.
How much did you have to pay in order to be a part of all this floating luxury?
In 1912, a first-class ticket for a parlour suite stateroom cost $3,450. Today that’s $75,260.
In 1912, a first-class ticket for a berth cost $150. Today that’s $3,270.
In 1912, a second-class ticket cost $60. Today that’s $1,308.
In 1912, a third-class ticket cost $15-40, depending on the size and type of the cabin. Today that’s $327-$872.
Even today, that’s a hell of a lot of money to be paying just to hop on a ship to sail across the flipping Atlantic Ocean! But of course…passengers would never have paid so much for their tickets, if they were not assured of the very highest luxuries. What sort of ammenities did the Titanic have for her passengers and which class of passengers could expect what?
As we’ve seen, travelling on the Titanic was anything but cheap. Fifteen dollars in 1912 was about two week’s wages for the average working man. A bottle of Coca Cola was five cents, a film-ticket was five cents (a ‘nickel’, from which we get the term ‘nickelodeon’). The cheapest watch (a pocket watch, back then), cost one whole dollar in a day and age when you could buy an entire meal, plus drink, for about twenty-five cents. For all their hard-earned money, people on the Titanic were expecting bang-for-their-buck on a nuclear level. What could they expect for all their money?
In First Class:
For their meals: An a-la-carte restaurant, the Cafe Parisien and the First Class Dining-Saloon (this latter capable of serving over 600 people in each sitting).
First Class Dining-Saloon.
First-Class a la carte restaurant.
The Cafe Parisien.
For their amusement: The first-class library, the swimming-pool, the gymnasium, the ship’s dark-room and the ship’s squash-courts. Also, the musical abilities of two bands, the Wallace Hartley Quintet (comprising of a cellist, two violinists, a bassist and a pianist), and another musical trio. Passengers could expect music such as selections from the Gilbert & Sullivan ‘Savoy Operas’, classical music, early jazz and ragtime tunes, popular music, folk-songs and classical and opera pieces.
First-class gymnasium, located on the boat deck.
For their relaxation: The promenade deck, the turkish baths, the first-class receoption room, the lady’s reading-and-writing room and the men’s first-class smoking-lounge.
The Titanic’s First-Class Smoking Room.
The First-Class Reception Room on D-Deck. In the second photograph, the double-doors on the left lead into the First-Class Dining-Saloon (photo further up). In the third photo, behind the pillar on the right, you can see the bannister which made up the last flight of the Forward Grand Staircase.
For their accomadation: First-class parlour suite staterooms and berths, complete with electric heaters (it could get below freezing on the Atlantic Ocean at night).
For their servants: The Valets’ & Maids’ dining-room.
The swimming-pool was open to both men and women, at separate times. It contained heated water and was the first such swimming-pool to exist on an ocean-liner.
In Second Class:
For their meals: The Second-Class Dining-Saloon.
The Second-Class Dining-Saloon. You can see a piano at the back of the room, another, neat little detail.
For their amusement: The second-class library and the ship’s dark-room (for any photographers).
The Second-Class Library
For their relaxation: The second-class smoking room and the second-class reading-and-writing room.
For their accomadation: Second-class staterooms and berths.
The food for the first and second-class restaurants were all cooked in the same galley, so the quality of food served to second-class passengers was of the same served to first-class passengers.
In Third Class (also called ‘steerage’):
For their meals: The Third-Class Dining-Saloon.
For their amusement:…not much. Third-class passengers generally provided their own amusement with musical instruments they brought with them.
For their relaxation: The poop-deck, the third-class common-room, which contained a piano for budding musicians amongst the passengers. Considering how expensive a piano is, this was a real luxury for passengers travelling in third class.
Ammenities open to all passengers:
The ship’s infirmary (with an operating room and the services of two expert physicians).
The ship’s marconi room (the radio-room, from which passengers could send telegrams. A telegram was 12s 6d…twelve shillings and sixpence…for the first ten words, and 9d…ninepence…for every word thereafter. It’s no wonder that telegrams were often kept as short as possible. A pound sterling was 20s).
The ship’s four elevators (lifts). The elevators were located behind the Forward Grand Staircase on D-Deck. Three elevators for first-class passengers, one elevator for second-class passengers. Third-class passengers had to walk.
The ship’s two barbershops, available to all classes.
The only known photograph of the Titanic’s elevators. One of them, anyway.
Class-Divisions onboard Ship.
Despite all her bells and whistles, her gadgets and gizmoes, her devices and doovalackies, the Titanic was no different from any other ship on the high seas back in the 1910s in that she stuck strictly to the class-system that existed in society at the time. Onboard ship, all passengers were expected to know their places and they were expected to stay there. First and second-class passengers were not expected to mingle and third-class passengers were expected to stick to themselves, below deck. They were called ‘steerage’ passengers because their berths were often deep down in the ship, some even below the waterline, near the engines…near the ‘steerage’ area of the ship at the stern. Despite popular myth, the Titanic never boasted the big, intimidating accordian-grille gates which the 1997 James Cameron film immortalised. Careful studying of the ship’s blueprints, survivor-testimonies and examinations of the shipwreck itself, provided no evidence that such gates ever existed. There were, certainly, small barriers set into corridors to indicate where one part of the ship ended and another began (indicating, yet again, class-divisions), but these were not in any way meant to be used as crowd-control barriers. They were described simply as low gates which could be stepped over or climbed over in the event of an emergency.
Arriving in New York.
Had the Titanic actually arrived in New York City as it should have, passengers would have disembarked by class, first first, second second and third…last. Luggage would have been unloaded and claimed and any prior transportation which passengers had arranged, would have been waiting for them in New York.