In what could be called an appropriate tie-in, number 21 -- launched (of course) in the 21st century -- marks a radical departure for Carnival Cruise Lines. It's not so much that the ship itself, the fourth in Carnival's Conquest class, displays anything hugely revolutionary. What stands out here, reports Cruise Critic's Carolyn Spencer Brown, who was onboard to attend the festivities, is its itinerary: Carnival Liberty will be the first ship in company history to sail a full season in Europe, not only this year but also next.
As a result, it seemed just right that the flavor of tonight's christening of this Italian-built ship -- beginning its Italian-based summer cruise season tomorrow -- would be, er, Italian. Indeed, most speakers, ranging from Marco Nogara, Carnival Liberty's captain, to the bishop pronouncing the benediction, spoke in the native tongue. Even Bob Dickinson, Carnival's president and CEO, peppered his remarks with an Italian welcome.
Most eloquent was Corrado Antonini, leader of Fincantieri, the mega-Italian shipbuilder whose Monfalcone-based shipyard built Carnival Liberty, as he wished the ship "buona fortuna" before turning his attention to the next guest speaker -- Academy Award-winning actress Mira Sorvino. Sorvino, with Italian roots, had been chosen as Carnival Liberty's godmother and, said Antonini, "the ship will win its Oscar among cruise liners."
Sorvino (whose movies range from Woody Allen's "Mighty Aphrodite" to the bittersweet comedy "Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion") looked elegant and streamlined in a long black gown, and was the hit of the early evening christening. "I haven't spoken Italian since my wedding a year ago in Capri," she said in a rather tremulous voice, and then proceeded to offer her remarks in sometimes quite fluent Italian. Her occasional flubs were as treasured by the merry crowd as was her sincere effort to communicate with them.
We'd like to have been able to translate (aside from "I extend my best wishes for fair winds and smooth seas to all who sail upon this vessel") Sorvino's comments, but alas. No matter. With the help of Captain Nogara, she pulled the lever that was rigged to a Champagne bottle outside -- and the bottle smacked the hull and shattered quite satisfactorily.
If tonight's overnight gala cruise (most guests are Italian VIPs and travel agents) seems to indicate Carnival is moving in a more international direction, have no fear. While Carnival in many ways is very simpatico with Costa Cruises, its Italy-based sibling (indeed, newer ships share same basic designs and interior mastery by the ubiquitous Joe Farcus), sources here this weekend said that this ship in particular -- and the cruise line in general -- will always be geared to a primarily North American audience. Even on exotic-for-Carnival European itineraries. Indeed, folks sailing on one of Carnival Liberty's European voyages this summer will find most of their Mediterranean flavors in port rather than at sea.