Go back to Titanic's times at hotel fit for royalty
By Ann Britton Campbell
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It's not often that mere mortals can afford to stay in the same luxurious lodgings where royalty once slept. And when those accommodations also boast intriguing links to the ocean liner Titanic, the chances seem remote indeed.
Yet for $255 a night commoners can get royally spoiled at Ryan Mansion Boutique Hotel and Spa in St. John's, Newfoundland, the same five-star bed and breakfast where Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, stayed in 2009 and where a magnificent carved staircase gives Titanic aficionados a sense of déjà vu.
To reach these accommodations fit for a (future) king, you'll need to travel clear across the U.S. to, say, Newark, where you'll board a three-hour flight north and east to the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. By the time you touch down on this wind-swept island in the Atlantic Ocean, you'll have crossed 4 1/2 time zones.
You'll also be close to the wreck of Titanic, which lies 370 miles off Newfoundland's eastern shore, an area where icebergs still float by each year.
It was on April 14, 1912, just before midnight, that the wireless station at Cape Race, Newfoundland, 100 miles south of St. John's, received and relayed Titanic's distress call: "STRUCK ICEBERG BADLY DAMAGED ABANDONING SHIP."
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the tragedy. In April, the same wireless station, now rebuilt and renamed the Myrick Wireless Interpretation Centre, will host a series of events. The most dramatic happens on the night of April 14-15, when operators at the station will re-enact the original transmissions of that fateful night with operators on a ship sitting over the Titanic gravesite.
(The neighboring province of Nova Scotia will also host events, as it was from the capital city of Halifax that three ships were dispatched to recover Titanic victims. Visitors can see numerous Titanic-related sites in Halifax, including the graves of 150 victims (destinationhalifax.com/visitors/titanic.)
Most visitors to Newfoundland arrive in St. John's, a vibrant city of 100,000 that British travel writer Jan Morris described as "the most entertaining town in North America." It is also one of the oldest. Since 1497, when explorer John Cabot landed here, a steady stream of fishers, settlers and military types have left their mark on this port city that's built higgledy-piggledy on steep hills surrounding a punch-bowl harbor.
Begin your Titanic explorations at the Johnson Geo Centre, where a permanent exhibit uses artifacts, historical photographs, interpretive panels and props from James Cameron's blockbuster movie to tell the Titanic story (fans take note: the movie will be released in 3-D on April 6). At The Rooms Provincial Museum, a new exhibition of Titanic artifacts including a passenger's life jacket, all collected in 1912 after the tragedy, opens April 16.
Titanic connections take on a lighter note when you step into the Ryan Mansion Boutique Hotel and Spa. Built in the same time period as the "unsinkable" luxury liner, 1909-1911, the mansion's entrance foyer is dominated by a finely carved English white oak staircase that is strikingly similar in style to Titanic's grand staircase and was, according to oral tradition, crafted by the same Belfast craftsmen.
How did such an opulent and historic staircase come to be in Newfoundland? Ryan Mansion was built by James Ryan, a wealthy Newfoundland merchant involved in the lucrative fish trade. Ryan schooners regularly crossed the Atlantic laden with cod for Europe and, during construction of the mansion, returned with luxuries for the house, including crystal and beveled glass, oak wainscoting, mahogany mantels and the sweeping staircase.
Explorer located wreck
A stay in the inn's royal suite will put you back $1,000 a night, but you can feel like a king or queen for much less. All guest rooms are filled with designer furnishings, original artworks and hopelessly romantic fireplaces. Queen-size beds are finished with crisp white Frette linens, and en-suite bathrooms have heated marble floors, jetted tubs for two, luxurious European amenities, separate marble/glass showers, and plasma TVs.
In addition to welcoming English royalty, Ryan Mansion has hosted Titanic royalty in the guise of Robert Ballard, the explorer who, in 1985 and as part of a joint French-American expedition, located the lost wreck and photographed it upright on the ocean floor.
During his visit in 1997, Ballard partook in what has become a signature offering at Ryan Mansion, a Titanic-themed six-course meal drawn from the actual menu served during the last meal onboard the luxury liner. The dinner is served on white linen tablecloths in the Prince William Dining Room using English replica china lined in 24-karat gold, just as it was in Titanic's first-class dining rooms.