Wednesday 20 June 2018

Review: Belfast's Titanic Hotel is a heritage gem, but hard to love as a hotel...

Travel Insider

Checking into Titanic Hotel Belfast. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Checking into Titanic Hotel Belfast. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Titanic Hotel Belfast: Elevation from Queen's Road
Afternoon tea in the old drawing offices...
The Harland & Wolff Drawing Offices (archive)
Inside Titanic Hotel Belfast. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
A bedroom in the Titanic Hotel Belfast
A superior suite at the Titanic Hotel Belfast
A White Star Line print at the Titanic Hotel Belfast
Wolff Grill at the Titanic Hotel Belfast
Presentation Room, Titanic Hotel Belfast
Titanic Hotel Belfast. Photo: Press Eye/Darren Kidd
Main Staircase (Ground floor) before restoration
Titanic Hotel, main staircase. Photo: Press Eye/Darren Kidd
Inside the Titanic Hotel Belfast
Suite, Titanic Hotel Belfast
Harland & Wolff Drawing offices, before restoration
Titanic Hotel Belfast, drawing offices during restoration
Pat Doherty of Harcourt Developments with Kerrie Sweeney of Titanic Foundation in Drawing Room 2. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Titanic Hotel Belfast: Bar Lounge in the Drawing Office
Titanic model in Harland Bar. Photo: Press Eye/Darren Kidd
The Harland Bar at Titanic Hotel. Photo: Press Eye/Darren Kidd
Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

If you're a fan of Titanic, you'll love the idea of Belfast's newest hotel.

Set just steps from the iconic Titanic Belfast and incorporating the former Harland & Wolff Drawing Offices and Headquarters, the €32m build and restoration absolutely oozes heritage detail.

Step beyond the artfully-lit, sandstone facade, and your foot alights on a white star. A porter welcomes you in tweed cap and waistcoat. Flanking reception are the original, barrell-vaulted drawing rooms in which RMS Titanic was designed, complete with scale model (right), White Star Line posters and an island bar with Villeroy and Boch tiles identical to those from the original ship's pool.

Beyond that, you'll find a crisply restored wrought-iron staircase, the telephone exchange which received word of the ship's sinking in 1912, and the offices of Thomas Andrews among others, now laid out as 'heritage rooms' for meetings and events.

Titanic Hotel Belfast
Titanic Hotel Belfast

This building was "the heart of the yard", and historic detail, artefacts, prints and photos reflect that. At times, you really do feel like a time traveller.

That's part of the problem. Too often, I feel, the building's strength as a heritage project is its weakness as a hotel.

Exiting the drawing room and heading for the bedrooms, for instance, I felt the temperature drop. The 'heritage rooms', which could be excellently atmospheric spaces for drinks or afternoon tea, were soullessly lit and empty on a Wednesday night. Walking towards the elevator, I pushed through several heavy doors (as did the porter and his trolley), while the light glared and dipped, revealing a bare emergency exit hallway and a gaudy lift so bright it felt like stepping into headlights. Mood is crucial in hotels; abrupt changes like these break the spell.

It's early days, of course (the hotel opened in September), and there's lots to be hopeful about. Breakfast in the Wolff Grill was a tasty spread teeming with local produce. The hotel's mix of Art Deco and nautical themes chimes brilliantly at times - in slick, brass-edged bedroom furniture, for example, and big, porthole-shaped mirrors in bathrooms.

A bedroom in the Titanic Hotel Belfast
A bedroom in the Titanic Hotel Belfast

But it's gimmicky at others: ropes flop down from tyres around the restaurant lights; faux rivets stud headboards and bedroom doors in a nod to shipping heritage, but feel obvious and naff.

Should it dial up the Disney and go all in on the ocean liner theme? Or wrap the heritage in a boutique design reflective of 21st century Beflast?

It feels like a little of both, but convinces as neither.

The Titanic Hotel Belfast is an easy win for fans grabbing a bite, drink and a nose around, but to become a beloved Belfast hotel, it needs both heritage and heart.

B&B starts from £129/€146 per room (titanicbelfasthotel.com).

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