The Japanese-influenced ceremony – the ship was the first to be built in a shipyard there since Crystal's Crystal Harmony some 14 years ago – featured the usual speeches, by honchos such as Princess CEO Peter Ratcliffe, Nagasaki Governor Genjiro Kaneko and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries President Kazuo Tsukuda.
Intriguingly exotic and unique-to-inaugural events included a dragon dance, a parade of young girls wearing brightly patterned kimonos, a taiko drum performance and a Shinto-style blessing (where a wand, topped with salted paper strips, was waved and shaken in front of the ship, all in the name of purification). Invited guests (most of whom were Asian, along with a contingent from Princess’ Santa Clarita, Ca. headquarters then moved inside for another interesting and tradition-minded facet of the day – the official gift-giving ceremony. Princess presented ship godmother Mrs. Yoshiko Tsukuda, wife of the Mitsubishi present, with an (appropriately themed) gorgeous diamond necklace. Finally, the ceremonial events ended with a toast of sake – the rice wine famous in Japan.
Expect a similar tone to a follow-up event – the launch of Diamond Princess’ sister ship Sapphire Princess, currently in drydock at Nagasaki – is slated for inaugural in June.
The event held more than the usual verve of an inaugural celebration. The tag-team construction of the two ships at Mitsubishi took a near-tragic turn in the fall of 2002 when the first of the pair – Diamond Princess -- caught fire (and burned for days). Workers from the shipyard, with the help of a little juggling from Princess Cruises, were able to triumph over the quite-devastating damage by swapping the original Diamond Princess for Sapphire Princess, which was also under construction though a few months behind its older sibling. So the ship launched today was originally slated as Sapphire and the fire-damaged vessel that's well on its way to an on-time finish in June – spiffed up and on pace – will be called Sapphire. During his speech Thursday, Ratcliffe paid a tribute to the shipyard, saying today's on-time delivery was "truly a remarkable achievement."
Another interesting-strange occurrence at this particular inauguration was the role played by Carnival Corp. chairman Micky Arison. Princess, at one time a serious competitor to several of the Carnival Corp. cruise lines, was acquired by Carnival just ten months ago. Even though the creation of both Diamond and Sapphire Princess was a project five-years-in-the-making and dreamed of long before there was any thought of teaming up with Carnival Corp., it was Arison's responsibility to officially accept delivery.
Diamond Princess sets off from Nagasaki on Friday for a non-passenger trans-Pacific crossing (via a quick stop in Tokyo). The ship begins its inaugural season on March 13 and will sail spring trips to the Mexican Riviera from Los Angeles before repositioning to Alaska, where it will offer Seattle-based itineraries.