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Breaking the Bottle and Blessing the Ship: The Most Memorable Cruise Ship Godmothers

For as long as ships have been built, they've been ceremoniously blessed in one way or another. Wine, water and whiskey have been used to christen them, though go back far enough and animals and even humans were sacrificed in the name of appeasing the gods and protecting a new ship and her crew

The sexes may be more equal than ever, but their god parent roles remain aligned to good old fashioned gender stereotypes. While godfathers are busy breaking each other's noses, their fairer counterparts are smashing champagne bottles against the hulls of fancy cruise ships.

For as long as ships have been built, they've been ceremoniously blessed in one way or another. Wine, water and whiskey have been used to christen them, though go back far enough and animals and even humans were sacrificed in the name of appeasing the gods and protecting a new ship and her crew.

For eons, it was men -- royalty, captains, priests and politicians -- who were typically summoned to participate in the various religious and secular rituals. Eventually the rite evolved into the now standard practice of a woman in high standing breaking a bottle of champagne across the bow. (Though there are exceptions, United States Senator Daniel K. Inouye recently christened NCL's Pride of Hawai`I, but he was referred to as the ship's sponsor, not its godfather!)


Celebrities are often the godmother of choice since they tend to attract lots of coveted media attention for the cruise line. Sports figures, politicians, royals and wives of cruise line executives are also in the mix. Even nobodies. For the recently launched Freedom of the Seas, Royal Caribbean chose a real person to the do the honors, Katherine Louise Calder, a foster mother to more than 400 special needs children and an adoption advocate. She smashed the bottle in May as millions watched a live NBC Today Show telecast of the ceremony. For her trouble, Calder gets a free cruise a year for life. Not bad.

No matter who they are, starlet or gal next store, a godmother's role is to bestow good fortune on the ship and all who sail aboard. If she's beautiful or funny, all the better. Here are some of the most memorable cruise ship godmothers in recent years.

Dame Judi Dench; Carnival Legend, Carnival Cruise Lines (2002)


Dame Judi Dench, known for her award-winning Shakespearian stage acting and Oscar-winning film roles, did a fine performance at the christening of the Carnival Legend in Essex, England. Like live theater, you have to expect the unexpected. On the third attempt by Dench and Captain Claudio Cupisci to smash the bottle against the hull, the thing finally broke. And did it. The now worked-up champagne sprayed all over the unsuspecting godmother. Subsequent newspaper headlines screamed: "Judi Drench!" Carnival Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing Vicki Freed recalls Dench laughing about the whole thing and not the least bit concerned about her wet hair and clothes. A BBC News report at the time said she took the soaking in good spirits, and like any good mother, commented, "I hope that if at any time this great ship feels it needs my help, it will feel free to call on me and I will go rushing to its side."

Kim Cattrall; Norwegian Dawn, Norwegian Cruise Line (2002)

"When we finally met backstage before the christening," NCL CEO and President Colin Veitch said about Sex in the City star Kim Cattrall, "I knew we had chosen well. Cattrall was putting her speech together using facts about the ship that could be suggestive of, shall we call it, the promise of a 'fun time.' Large comfortable beds seemed to be a big plus! Then she told the audience that the Dawn was 'by far the biggest ship in New York...and don't let anyone ever tell you that size doesn't matter!' That got a big laugh and cheers from the audience who already realized that we were not about to have a stuffy christening." Veitch recalls that Cattrall pulled the lever with gusto and a degree of suggestiveness. What else would you expect? "Kim was absolutely memorable, and everyone there recalls the event as great fun and entirely in keeping with our unstuffy approach to cruising."


Queen Elizabeth; QM2, Cunard (2004)

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth presided over the elaborate christening ceremonies of the QM2 in January, 2004. The festivities included fire works and live music by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Massed Bands of the Royal Marines. There were some 2,000 distinguished guests invited to watch pier side. A few were watching from above. QM2 Second Officer Ben Lyons had a bird's eye view of it all from the Bridge of the ship. "We had gone through several rehearsals in the preceding days and I remember the tension we felt trying to time the blowing of the ship's whistle to just after the Queen officially named the ship and triggered the champagne bottle. Can you imagine if we sounded the whistle while she was talking?" Lyons asks, as if he can hardly bare the thought. Other insiders say a piece of white paper taped to the podium read: "I name this ship Queen Mary 2. May God bless her and all who sail in her." Even the Queen needs a cheat sheet.

Tinker Bell; Disney Wonder, Disney Cruise Lines (1999)


The first fairy godmother in cruise ship history -- not to mention the first imaginary one -- was Tinker Bell, the beloved pixie from Peter Pan. In remarks leading to the introduction of what was billed as a "mystery godmother," former Walt Disney Parks and Resorts president Paul Pressler said, "She worked at Walt Disney's side almost from the beginning ¿and her unique talents, her bright personality, and her boundless energy have brought happiness to all us." Mickey Mouse did the official introduction of Tinker Bell, who magically appeared courtesy of a powerful laser projection, fluttering down the length of the ship, sprinkling fairy-dust blessings, and making a warbling speech (translated for the benefit of the audience by Mickey). The smashing of the ceremonial champagne bottle against the hull queued a grand Disney-style fireworks display accompanied by the company's theme song, "When You Wish Upon a Star."

Sophia Loren; Lirica & Opera, MSC Cruises (2003 and 2004)

The Coliseum, the canals of Venice and Michelangelo are Italian icons. So is Sophia Loren. Sultry screen siren from the 1950s, the 70-something diva still turns heads with her va-va-varoom looks. Who better to christen a pair of new Italian ships? "For 70 years old, she's well preserved," said MSC president and CEO Richard Sasso, adding, "She has a great figure, the woman is still in her prime." Sasso recalls how the audience at the christening of the MSC Opera just loved it when she looked out at them all and simply said, 'mama mia.' "The way she said it was very spontaneous, she was overwhelmed by the cheering and the warmth of the audience," Sasso adds. "She's so perfect as a godmother and spokesperson --- beautiful, stylish, elegant, and sophisticated. Can you imagine that for the rest of my life I can tell all of my relatives that I appeared on stage with Sophia Loren," Sasso added, truly impressed.


Melania Trump; Norwegian Jewel, NCL (2005)

Considering the size of her engagement ring from The Donald --- reportedly a 12-carat $1 million dollar rock --- it couldn't be more fitting that the model-turned-Mrs.-Mogul would be chosen to christen the Norwegian Jewel. "I am honored NCL selected me to christen Norwegian Jewel and to serve as her gGodmother," she said at the christening, adding, "At 93,502 gross tons, she is by far the largest, most luxurious jewel I have ever seen and is absolutely stunning." Sorry Donald. Veitch adds that Melania Trump had the distinction of christening not only the biggest jewel in the world, but the largest ship that NCL has built in its 40-year history.

Chris Everet; Volendam, Holland America (1999)


In choosing tennis great Chris Everet to christen the Volendam, Holland America spokesman Erik Elvjord said the line was looking to connect with a younger, more active audience. "We wanted to show we were attracting more than seniors to our ships," he said. The now 51-year-old Tennis Hall of Famer displayed no shortage of youthful vitality when she took matters into her own backhand, shall we say. "The bottle didn't get enough swing to it and bounced," Elvjord remembers. They grabbed the back-up bottle under the podium to break it directly against the hull. "Most godmothers need a little help when this happens. Not Chris, she demolished the bottle against the ship."

Whoopi Goldberg; Serenade of the Seas, Royal Caribbean (2003)

Always the jokester, Comedienne and actress Whoopi Goldberg kept the audience in stitches when she served as godmother for the Serenade of the Seas, asking if, as a godmother, she'd have to put the ship through college. Badum ching. All kidding aside, in a recent NBC "Today" show interview, Goldberg got serious about her role as godmother for two Royal Caribbean ships (also the Viking Serenade in 1991). "It's an honor and a privilege, something I don't think I ever dreamt about, "she said. "I'm in the company of queens."


Audrey Hepburn; Star Princess, Princess Cruises (1989)

Before Audrey Hepburn, says company spokeswoman Julie Benson, a mega actress had never been used to christen a ship. "She was truly a princess and a goddess and everyone was in awe of her," says Benson. Unlike most godmothers, Hepburn actually sailed on the ship following the ceremony, dong a 7-night Caribbean cruise. Benson recalls her being very quiet and very elegant. "We were looking for women who were considered royalty, so we looked toward the entertainment industry. We choose someone who had a legacy, someone who was truly a star," Benson adds.

Original Love Boat Cast; Dawn Princess, Princess Cruises (1997)


"We started to have some fun, and thought what better epitomized Princess than the Love Boat that clearly shaped our early history," company spokeswoman Julie Benson says. She remembers the chairman of P&O, the dignified Lord Sterling, wasn't crazy about the having a bunch of American men and women television stars christen the ship. But he eventually agreed to break with tradition. Smart move. "We had more press in attendance at this christening than the three previous christenings combined," Benson recalls. "It showed what an icon that show was. Gavin, Jill, Bernie, Fred, Ted and Lauren were all there, reuniting for the first time after 20 years. It was a love fest," Benson says. When it came time to pull the lever to release the champagne bottle against the hull, tradition was upheld. Jill Whelan and Lauren Tewes did the honors, while the male cast members stood behind them. Seven years later, Jill (aka Captain Stubing's daughter, Vicki) not only did the honors again for Caribbean Princess, but even got married on board. Captain Stubing (Gavin MacLeod) gave the bride away with a kiss.

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