Cindy Cardella of Fairfield, New Jersey, was named Norwegian Gem's "It" Girl tonight. Cardella, 31, was one of more than 500 Latitudes members (NCL's past passengers) who submitted videos in the hopes of being chosen the grand prize winner. While all five finalists (including Cruise Critic's own coka) attended tonight's ceremony and set sail on the two-night inaugural cruise, only Cardella was given the honor of breaking the ceremonious bottle of Champagne on the hull of the ship.
Cardella pulled a lever topped with a shiny silver ball that catapulted the bottle of bubbly against the outside of the ship. It smashed on the first try. In addition to tonight's cruise and honors, Cardella will receive a weeklong cruise for her and five friends in the ship's luxurious Garden Villa.
Journalists and travel agents onboard assembled in the ship's atrium and Stardust Theater, dressed as instructed beforehand to wear white, black and/or leopard print -- the color palette that's surrounded the intense marketing campaign hyping the ship's launch. Lighted lip-shaped pins that blinked red were handed out at the door.
One guest bucking the dress code in a gorgeous sparkly red dress was songstress Mariah Carey ... or so we thought. Turns out it was a look-alike. We also had a "near" celebrity run-in with "P. Diddy" (and we mean "run in" quite literally -- I nearly stepped backward into the spitting image in a moment of clumsiness!). Though neither were the real deal, the whispers afterward -- other attendees were fooled, too -- added an extra element of celebrity to the celebration.
Other head honchos on hand included Tam Sri LIM Kok Thay, chairman of NCL Corporation, and executives from Apollo, the firm that acquired half of NCL earlier this year.
The festivities kicked off as a group of men dressed in black "security" T-shirts jokingly led Andy Stuart, the line's executive vice president of marketing, sales and passenger services, away from the stage because he was "not on the guest list" -- before getting up on stage to perform. The New Jersey-based group, Dem Boyz Step Team, was featured in "Stomp the Yard," a film released this year about underground street dancing. Luminescence Choir, a gospel ensemble based in New York, also performed Carey's "All I Want for Christmas is You" (we spotted "Carey" singing along in her seat) and Justin Timberlake's "Sexy Back."
Introduced by emcee and entertainment staffer Mark as the man "who brought sexy back and Norwegian Gem to New York, " NCL President & CEO Colin Veitch presented the videos of each of the five finalists, sitting in the front row wearing black and leopard print. The "It" Girl selected, he explained, should be a "free spirited, sophisticated and confident woman who embodies everything that is hip."
Before announcing the winner, Reverend August Gold of the Sacred Center of New York blessed the ship with a loud, spirited invocation, inviting everyone to stand up and join her. NCL also screened it's movie-sode (a short film) entitled "License to Thrill," in which Veitch, dressed in a white sport jacket, channeled James Bond as he searched Venice, Paris and more for the line's new "It" Girl … ending up, of course, in Manhattan aboard the Norwegian Gem. There were some surprise laughs as crewmembers danced throughout the video; even the captain had a cameo, showcasing his "bling" (a big gold necklace).
One other surprise? Veitch says Freestyle 2.0 -- a new concept that will premiere in advance of the line's F3 ships -- will be unveiled at a press conference tomorrow. Stay tuned to Cruise Critic for details.
The 93,500-ton, 2,394-passenger Norwegian Gem is the sixth and final ship in the Jewel class, bringing back favorites including the bowling alley in the Bliss Ultra Lounge and Nintendo Wii (which can be played on the big screen in the atrium).
The ship set sail tonight for its two-night inaugural cruise to nowhere, which will be followed by two one-night sailings for American Express cardholders. Then, the ship will sail seven-day Bahamas and 10- and 11-day Southern Caribbean itineraries through April 2008.
--by Melissa Baldwin, Managing Editor