For the first time, the cruise line has spread the time-honored practice of ship naming over two days -- the "pomp and circumstance" (speeches, gift giving and entertainment) took place this evening during a Naming Ceremony & Gala Celebration in the ship's Arcadia Theater. Early tomorrow morning, godmother Katherine Louise Calder will carry out the maritime tradition of breaking a Champagne bottle against the hull of the ship ... not just in front of the folks onboard, but also for millions of NBC's "Today" viewers (the show will air live from the ship tomorrow morning).
The ceremony, emceed by Cruise Director Ken Rush, opened with the New York City Festival Chorale and Royal Caribbean Singers performing a Broadway musical style song written just for the occasion -- "Freedom to Explore" -- to an audience of VIP's, and friends and family of those involved in the project. Magic Johnson was sitting front and center, happily posing for pictures with kids and adults; we also heard rumors that Spike Lee and Bruce Willis were onboard.
Blessings were bestowed upon the new ship, as is traditional, by Rev. Andy Moore of the Seaman's Church Institute of New York and New Jersey, and Rabbi Abraham Krantz of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The NYPD Emerald Society Pipes and Drums led the procession of Fain, Captain William Wright and Katherine Louise Calder.
Calder was "voted" into the position of godmother in a nationwide contest sponsored by "Today" and Royal Caribbean; she and two other finalists were selected from a pool of over 6,000 nominees. Calder has provided foster care for over 400 children over the last 27 years. "The generosity of Royal Caribbean needs to be recognized because they brought my entire family here." In fact, Calder's four grandkids (foster children her own daughters decided to adopt) came up on stage to give her a bouquet of flowers. Speaking of gifts, Fain presented Calder with a necklace (and from the way it sparkled, it must be fraught with diamonds). As godmother, Calder can sail free from here on out.
Richard Fain thanked everyone who worked to make Freedom of the Seas the line's most innovative ship to date. "Size is not what distinguishes Freedom of the Seas," Fain said. "What distinguishes the Freedom and Voyager classes is the wealth of choices offered to guests ... I'm not sure what it takes to raise [our architects' and designers'] eyebrows. I sort of have in mind this NASCAR thing."
Royal Caribbean also took this evening as an opportunity to announce the winner of the Crayola "Freedom to Explore" essay and artwork contest. Cassandra Stone, 8, of Paramus, New Jersey, was selected from over 350 entries to win a free seven-night cruise for four and a variety of Crayola products. Stone's colorful drawing of animals (in her essay, she described closing her eyes to imagine never-before-seen creatures on her travels) will hang outside Freedom's Adventure Ocean kids' club.
Surprise guest and five-time Grammy Award winner Al Jarreau closed out the evening with "Mornin'" and a rendition of Elton John's "Your Song." (Surprise is an understatement -- we thought the unlisted artist was going to turn out to be Barry Manilow, who's scheduled to sing tomorrow on "Today.") Late-night fireworks are on the schedule.