By Michael Coleman
Female monarchs, heads of state, legendary actresses, world-class athletes, comedians, astronauts and even an animated film character have been named godmother for many of today’s new, gleaming cruise ships. And, like the ship itself, the godmother’s name will live forever in maritime history.Â
The task is relatively simple, but the rigors of the job became obviously apparent in 2002 when Dame Judi Dench became affectionately known as Dame Judi ”Drench” when the champagne bottle she was attempting to break on the hull of Carnival Legend – on the third attempt, no less – soaked the Oscar-winning British actress and Captain Claudio Cupisti.
When Martha Stewart served as godmother to Crown Princess during the vessel’s official naming ceremony in New York this week, she joined an elite sorority of women whose sole role is to bring good luck to ships and the passengers who sail on them.
“Christenings evoke the sophistication and romance of ocean travel that are integral elements of the cruise experience,” said Terry L. Dale, president and CEO of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the marketing arm for 20 premier cruise lines and nearly 17,000 North American travel agencies. So, when Ms. Stewart presided over the vessel at the new Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, she was in good company.
While some might question the wisdom of the choice based on Stewart’s recent and well-publicized legal troubles, she still built a professional career unlike no other business woman in modern history and for that received a place among Time Magazine’s “America’s 25 Most Influential People,” Fortune’s “50 Most Powerful Women” (twice), Vanity Fair’s “New Establishment List of the Top 50 Leaders of the Information Age,” and Forbes’ Annual 400 List.
Stewart also joined a heady list of luminaries who christened Princess Cruises’ ships over the years including the late Princess Diana of Wales, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Sophia Loren, Audrey Hepburn, Olivia de Havilland, the first lady of Alaska, Nancy Murkowski and Mireya Mossoco, president of Panama. The cast of The Love Boat, the popular TV show filmed aboard Princess ships, also served as godmother to Dawn Princess in 1997.
The 2004 christening of Queen Mary 2 by Queen Elizabeth II, meanwhile, followed an established tradition under which a senior female member of the royal family names Cunard Line ships. The original Queen Mary was named by Queen Mary, wife of King George V, in 1934. Queen Elizabeth was launched by the late Queen Mother, then Queen Elizabeth, in 1938. QE2 was named by the current Queen in 1967.
Christening ceremonies, however, haven’t always been smooth. As noted, it took British actress Dame Judi Dench three attempts to smash a bottle of champagne against the hull of Carnival Cruise Lines’ Carnival Legend in 2002. In her last attempt, she soaked herself, thus earning the nickname Dame Judi ”Drench.”Â
Actress Mira Sorvino, Newswomen Paula Zahn and Katie Couric, retired Army Pvt. Jessica Lynch and astronauts Tamara Jernigan and Sally Ride have also been godmothers at Carnival.
Luxury operator Crystal Cruises has chosen legendary actresses as godmothers over the years. Acclaimed singer and actress Dame Julie Andrews served as Crystal Serenity’s godmother at a Southampton, England, ceremony in 2004. Angela Lansbury had the honor of christening Crystal Symphony in 1995. In 1990, Mary Tyler Moore named the line’s Crystal Harmony, which has since been transferred to parent company NYK Line.
In an industry first, Tinker Bell christened Disney Wonder in 1999, marking the first time an animated character was named as a godmother. She not only released the bottle of champagne against the hull but also sprinkled pixie dust on the ship thanks, of course, to the Disney magic of laser projection.
Royal Caribbean, through a partnership with NBC’s Today show, launched a national search for the godmother of its new Freedom of the Seas, the world’s largest passenger vessel. Katherine Calder of Oregon, a foster mother to over 400 children, won the honor and christened the vessel last month. Other Royal Caribbean godmothers have included Queen Sonja of Norway, Lauren Bacall, Whoopi Goldberg, Gloria Estefan and former first lady Rosalynn Carter.Â
Ceremonies have come a long way since the Vikings marked ship christenings with human sacrifices and high priest charms designed to appease the gods.