In the world of cruising, new ships are launched with much pomp and circumstance. The ceremony you’re likely to read about, and even more likely to remember, is the christening, or naming. That’s the moment when a ship, all gussied up for a gala night of celebration and the onset (traditionally) of its maiden voyage, welcomes the industry’s elite to a big party. The event is centered on a luminary (actress, political figure, model, actress, member of royal family, actress) who as godmother attempts to break a bottle of Champagne against the ship’s hull. A successful smash (and it doesn’t always work on the first try) signifies good luck for the ship in the years to come.
It’s usually a great time. There are speeches (sometimes too many speeches), offbeat dance performances and confetti snowstorms to mark the moment before all head inside the ship for a celebratory dinner. But for some reason I usually feel let down afterward. I’ve never been able to figure out why.
And then yesterday I knew. Having covered the cruise industry for the past 16 years, first for The Washington Post and now for Cruise Critic, the christening ceremony means the ship is finished and goes out to work just like every other vessel on the oceans. It’s done. So the joyful moments of that ceremony are fairly fleeting.
Perhaps that’s because I’ve come to love following the progress as a ship travels from a keel laying (when, literally, the first piece of steel is set in place) to float-out, then to christening. It gives you a special connection with that vessel, a bond (others that qualify for me in that regard are Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas, Viking River Cruises’ Longships, Oceania’s Marina, and Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth).
The most moving of all ceremonies to me is the float-out.
Up until a ship floats out it’s merely a construction project that has no visual connection with the sea. It stands on blocks. It could be a suburban condo complex for all that it looks like a ship.
When the time is right, usually about a year before the ship is slated to launch, the wall protecting the construction area, or drydock, is lifted and sea water floods in. Maybe shipbuilding is so sophisticated these days that there’s little danger of a new-build not floating, but still, I always draw a breath just in case water sprouts out through an errant seam in the hull! Seeing a ship go from blocks to floating is an amazing spectacle.
In contrast to a christening, the traditions surrounding a float-out ceremony are always more quiet and come as much from the shipyard and its culture (whether in Italy, Germany, France, Finland or Japan) as it does from the cruise line. It’s a quiet event, typically attended only by shipyard workers and executives, cruise line honchos, and, occasionally, a handful of journalists and travel agents. There are no gala dinners. The honor of presiding over the event, as in the case of Princess’ tradition of float-out madrina (essentially godmother of the float-out), is usually given to a dedicated employee of either the line or yard. Occasionally we’ve seen a travel agent receive the honor.
In the case of Regal Princess, which is being built at Fincantieri’s shipyard in Monfalcone, Italy (near Trieste), it was Cruise Critic.
I couldn’t be prouder to be asked to represent Cruise Critic as madrina of Regal Princess. To learn Princess recognizes and respects our vibrant community of cruise aficionados and our sheer love for cruising (and yes, sure, we have plenty to criticize, too!) was as powerful as the float-out itself. And that’s saying something.
One of the things that makes cruising so special is you do honor traditions from hundreds of years ago. To have Cruise Critic be part of that long line of tradition for even a couple of minutes was out of this world. And to see the ship float — well, that’s just the best show on the water.
And after hacking a string via some kind of meat cleaver, the bottle of Italian prosecco (the bubbly of choice for Italy’s Fincantieri) did break on the first try. I like to think that heralds great, good luck, not just for the future of Regal Princess but also for our own Cruise Critic.
Find out all about Princess’ next ship, Royal Princess.
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