In 2016 Titanic II is set to embark on her maiden voyage, but how will it rate against its namesake, and its modern-day rivals?
When Queensland mining billionaire Clive Palmer announced plans to build Titanic II to add to his growing tourism portfolio, more than a few eyebrows were raised in the cruising world.
For one thing, the announcement coincided with the 100th anniversary of the loss of the great ocean liner. And building a cruise ship today is not only a major financial undertaking, but also a challenge when it comes to design.
Palmer has established the Blue Star Line and commissioned Finnish-based company Deltamarin, to build his ship in China. His vision of the future of luxury cruising combines the Titanic's traditional styling with 21st-century technology, but how will it compare to the original, and the competition?
If ever a ship embodied the grandeur of high seas travel, the Titanic was it. Built in Belfast by Harland and Wolff for the White Star Line, it was the largest and most luxurious moving object of her day.
Weighing some 46,000 tonnes, the ship had highly distinctive styling, an ornate interior decor, four towering funnels and a black hull stretching 269 metres.
It was also, however, a revolutionary ship on many other levels, possessing features either rare, or previously unseen, on other liners of its era. They included a grand staircase with ornately carved woodwork and a wrought iron and glass dome, a first-class lounge inspired by the Palace of Versailles, and a first-class dining saloon that could seat more than 500.
Other innovations included four lifts, a swimming pool, a hospital with an operating theatre, a squash court and Turkish baths.
Titanic also had new safety technology, including 16 compartments with doors that could be closed from the bridge if the hull were breached. It was said that four compartments could be flooded without endangering the liner, leading to the claim the Titanic was unsinkable.
As it prepared to set sail on April 10, 1912, the ship had 1,316 passengers on board (325 in first-class, 285 in second and 706 in third), a crew of 885, the eight members of the ship's band, and a number of guests' dogs.
Declared one of the most opulent ships in the world, she more than lived up to one of several nicknames, the "Millionaire's Special".
First-class guests had suites of interconnecting rooms decorated in a variety of styles. The suites featured conveniences we take for granted on cruise ships today, such as telephones and heating.
The most elaborate first-class accommodation came in the form of four parlour suites each with two bedrooms, a sitting room and a bathroom. Two featured private promenades.
The Titanic's single and two-berth second-class accommodation was comparable to first-class cabins on many ocean liners of the day, with bunk beds, mirrors and sinks with running water, but no private facilities.
Down in third class, passengers shared a cabin with up to six people. They had bunk beds and sinks with running water. There were just two bathtubs for the entire class, 700-odd people.
The blueprint of Titanic II is eerily similar to that of her namesake, and according to Clive Palmer, she will be the first of a new fleet of world class luxury liners.
More than 20,000 people are said to have registered an interest in receiving information about the liner's maiden voyage; a transatlantic crossing between Britain and the United States scheduled for April 2016.
The company in charge of the Titanic II's construction, Deltamarin, also built Celebrity Cruises' hugely popular Celebrity Solstice, and Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas, so its pedigree is already well known.
Instead of the sleek white lines and single funnel of today's modern cruise ships, Titanic II will bear a striking resemblance to the original. Similar in length and breadth, it will have a distinctive black hull and four funnels, nine decks and a total of 840 staterooms. In keeping with the original design, there is also full separation of the classes.
The plans show blocks of first, second and third-class accommodation, with public rooms and passenger stairwells in similar locations to those on the Titanic.
First-class staterooms and exclusive areas including a dining saloon, lounge and relaxation areas are grouped together in the midships area beneath the forward two funnels. Second class backs up to it also towards midships, with its own lift, a smoke room, a lounge and dining saloon.
Third class is divided between two areas; one huddled at the rear of the ship across four decks, and the other towards the front of the ship near the cargo and crew quarters.
Unlike on the Titanic, however, all staterooms in this modern version will feature private facilities, with no sharing of baths, or queuing for toilets. Other differences include provision for taking passenger vehicles on board, a "safety deck" with common public rooms, and enough lifeboats for all.
The main changes to Titanic II's design, however, are below the waterline, increasing her weight to about 65,000 tonnes. Sections previously held together by rivets will be welded instead for greater strength, and diesel engines will drive the ship, with bow thrusters for increased manoeuvrability.
Titanic II will also have a bulbous bow, a protruding bulb at the front of the ship that modifies the way water flows around the hull, reducing drag, increasing speed, range, fuel efficiency, and stability.
The Titanic may have been the ultimate in ocean travel in her era, but luxury cruising today isn't all about size. In the past two decades, the top end of the market has clearly steered towards boutique-sized ships and a single class of service across different categories of accommodation.
Take Seabourn Cruise Line, for example. Repeatedly judged the world's best small-ship cruise line, it upped the ante in 2009 with the introduction of the first of three new multimillion-dollar Odyssey class ships. Larger than the older siblings in its fleet, the yacht-like Odyssey, Sojourn and Quest carry just 450 guests each in ocean-facing accommodation, and have one of the highest ratios of space per guest in the cruise industry.
With four open-seating restaurants, and a minimalist contemporary design, this Four Seasons-style of cruising couldn't be further away from Titanic's class-structured traditions.
When it comes to luxury afloat, Regent's Seven Seas Mariner and Seven Seas Voyager remain the world's only ships offering spacious all-suite, all balcony accommodation.
Carrying 700 guests, Seven Seas Mariner was the first of the pair to launch, in 2001, followed two years later by Voyager. The most basic staterooms feature sitting and sleeping areas, a marble bathroom, walk-in wardrobe, a king-sized bed, interactive flat screen television and a fully stocked bar - and that must-have private balcony from which to watch the scenery slip by.
Most of the world's top cruise lines have a celebrity chef who has been lured to the high seas to whip up some culinary magic. Seabourn has restaurateur Charlie Palmer (no relation to Clive), Orion Expeditions has the renowned Serge Dansereau, and Hapag-Lloyd has the Michelin-starred Dieter Muller.
And when it comes to modern-day luxury, forget elegant swimming pools and promenades with comfy loungers; today's high seas patrons are spoiled with a wealth of other amenities including two-level spas with private villas, butler service and champagne on tap.
In architecture and tradition, the closest rivals to the Titanic and Titanic II are arguably the ships of the Cunard fleet. Also sporting black hulls and multiple funnels, the Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth clearly embrace the bygone era of high seas travel.
The Queen Mary 2 has kennels on board for pampered pets, day-to-day activities including high tea and themed balls in a traditional ballroom.
Where size is concerned, all three are behemoths in comparison. The Queen Victoria, which entered service in 2007, weighs 90,000 tonnes and carries 1,990 guests, while the almost two-year-old Queen Elizabeth is of a similar weight and carries 2,068 guests.
Both are eclipsed by older sibling the Queen Mary 2, which weighs more than 151,000 tonnes, carries 2620 guests and 1253 crew, and stretches for 345 metres.
The Cunard ships operate on a modernised version of a travelling class system based on the level of accommodation booked. At the top end of the scale are the Queens Grill Suites, ranging from 47 square metres to almost 209 square metres, and lavishly appointed with features including private balconies, complimentary bar setups, butler service and access to exclusive areas including a restaurant and a private sun deck.
In the three-odd years until Titanic II emerges, the fast-paced world of cruising will undoubtedly reveal more new ships and yet more innovation both above and below the waterline. Until then, we can only watch and wait as more details of Clive Palmer's vision of the future of cruising is gradually revealed.
- Sydney Morning Herald