May 21, 2006
Cruise Critic correspondent Jana Jones reports that Pride of Hawaii, the largest and most expensive ship ever built to fly the U.S. flag, was named Saturday evening by Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii in a ceremony that incorporated song, dance and traditions of the 50th state, including a blessing by a Hawaiian priest. Luminaries from around the country were on hand to celebrate the culmination of the project, conceived after the events of September 11, 2001, to bring three U.S. flagged ships to the waters of Hawaii.
This was a historic day on many fronts for NCL America, the division of Norwegian Cruise Line, which has built American flagged and American staffed ships to sail the waters of Hawaii without having to go to a foreign port.
Colin Veitch, president and CEO of NCL Corporation, spoke about the challenges encountered during the process of completing the three ships in NCL America's fleet.
"We were basically told we were crazy," he said. "We were told it couldn't be done, it was too risky an undertaking."
"But we've always been innovators," he noted. "NCL was the first line to cruise out of Miami, the first to cruise out of Seattle, the first line to develop a private island in the Bahamas and the first line to 'break the bonds' of traditional dining with our Freestyle Cruising."
With Pride of Hawaii, a dream has been fulfilled.
Priest Kahu Kordell Kekoa, adorned in traditional Hawaiian robes, performed a blessing on the ship by sprinkling water -- which signifies life -- on the laurel lei that adorned the dais. After the blessing, the lei was removed by Veitch, Senator Inouye and others to be brought to the ship for good luck.
While helicopters circled overhead and the fireboats in the harbor moved closer to Pride of Hawaii's berth, the Hawaii State Anthem was sung by Jana Anguay, who had also sung the National Anthem at the beginning of the ceremony. Mr. Veitch introduced a video salutation by Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi of California and read a written greeting from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger before introducing Tan Sri LIM Kok Thay, Chairman of Star Cruises, NCL's parent company.
Mr. Lim talked about the power of friendship that was required to see NCL America through to this point. Interestingly, he noted that NCL America's next project would be the refurbishment and relaunching of the S.S. United States, an American-flagged ship currently in wet-dock in Philadelphia.
Captain Paul Weidenhoeft of the U.S. Coast Guard spoke about the safety of the vessel and the safety training of the crew. "And there's something else," he said, "something that most people don't know. An American-flagged ship is invaluable to the security of our nation." He went on to explain that if the need were ever to arise, the NCL America fleet and its U.S. crew could -- essentially -- be conscripted into service to America (British cruised ships have notoriously served during wartime with the most recent being Cunard's QE2, which was part of the Falkland Islands conflict).
Between speakers, guests were treated to traditional Hawaiian entertainment, including conch shell blowers, a Tahitian voyage drum dance and a fire dance. Representatives from each onboard department paraded through the crowd to rousing applause. When Veitch returned to the podium to introduce Senator Inouye, he was backed by six women dancers in colorful yellow skirts and flower leis.
Veitch spoke about the positive economic impact the three American-flagged ships have had on the U.S. economy and on the Hawaiian economy in particular, stating that NCL America has created over 20,000 new jobs. Although 4,000 of the new jobs are seafaring positions, the others are a direct result of the tourism that is brought to the region by NCL America's ships, the provisioning required to stock them, the airline schedules into Hawaii that have been expanded because of them.
He introduced Senator Daniel Inouye as an American hero who has served as a senator from Hawaii for as long as Hawaii has existed as a state.
As the sun began to set behind the crowd gathered on the pier, Colin Veitch took the podium again and delivered perhaps the most unusual announcement of the evening.
When Senator Inouye had been selected as "Godfather" of Pride of Hawaii, it was yet another innovative step by NCL since the role is traditionally played by a woman. But it reflected the passion of the man for the project -- from the beginning (his late wife served as godmother for Pride of Aloha). Of course, the fact that he is a man -- although highly unusual -- should not stand in the way of his being the godfather of this ship.
In this case Veitch introduced a caveat: It was decided that having a man actually christening the ship might bring bad luck, so while Senator Inouye would perform the naming ceremony, a sextet of female employees, all from Hawaii, would do the honor of christening Pride of Hawaii.
And with Senator Inouye's words "May God bless this ship and all who sail in her," the six women pulled the lever releasing the bottle of Dom Perignon Champagne to break against the ship's hull, the fire boats in the harbor displayed their water fountains, and a cascade of red, white and blue crepe paper and confetti blanketed the crowd to the blaring strains of Kool and the Gang's "Celebration."
After a series of introductory cruises on the west coast, Pride of Hawaii will begin its seven-day cruise schedule out of Honolulu next month.