As the clock strikes midnight, Champagne glasses clink, people cheer and golden confetti fills the room. It isn't New Year's Eve, however -- it is April 5, 2008, and the celebration is in honor of the late-night christening of MSC Poesia, the ninth ship in MSC Cruises' fleet, against the famed White Cliffs of Dover.
The christening ceremony is a maritime tradition in which a selected godmother smashes a bottle of bubbly against the hull of a ship for good luck, officially "naming" the vessel. At the stroke of 12, on the bridge of the 89,600-ton, 2,550-passenger Poesia, godmother and MSC spokeswoman Sophia Loren cut with scissors a ribbon the colors of the Italian flag (red, white and green), which signaled a device outside on the pier to release the bottle toward a spotlighted section of the freshly painted ship. The bottle broke on the first try.
This U.K. ceremony marks the first time an MSC ship has ever been christened outside of Italy.
Loren has christened the last five ships introduced by fast-growing MSC, including MSC Poesia, and is eager to maintain her ties with the Naples-based cruise line. This time around, in a stunning black and red dress, she smiled and said: "I look forward to the next one!" (The "next one" is MSC Fantasia due out the end of this year; it'll be the line's biggest ship ever.)
Like Loren, other attendees also stayed indoors on this chilly and damp England evening for what was a ship-wide party rather than the standard pier-side gathering. Travel agents, cruise line executives and press from across the globe -- from the U.S. to the U.K., Italy to India -- watched the requisite smash on the many shiny plasma TV's that dot the ship's lounges and public areas, while waiters doled out flutes of chilled Champagne and midnight snacks and cookies.
The party started earlier in the day with a gala dinner across two traditional set seatings and entertainment in different venues throughout MSC Poesia -- Italian opera legend Andrea Bocelli and British songstress/guitarist KT Tunstall performed two concerts apiece for both the early and late diners. Tunstall turned out standing-room only crowds in the secondary show lounge, Le Moulin Rouge, but Bocelli (joined by soprano Paola Sanguinetti) truly stole the show performing Italian classics like "O Sole Mio" and even Elvis' "Can't Help Falling in Love."
Also on hand for the festivities were American artist Brian Olsen, who painted a life-sized portrait of Sophia Loren on stage in front of a live audience, within minutes, to the beat of thumping dance tunes; jazz musician Peter Grant; and BBC Radio 1 DJ Annie Mac. Special attendees included the owner of MSC Cruises, Gianluigi Aponte; CEO of MSC Cruises, CEO Pierfrancesco Vago; and, representing the Royal Family, the Prince and Princess Michael of Kent.
MSC Poesia departs April 6 for an inaugural cruise to Cork, Lisbon, Barcelona, Rome, Naples, Messina and Dubrovnik, arriving in Venice on April 19. The ship will be based in Venice through November, departing every Saturday for weeklong cruises visiting Greece, Turkey and Croatia.
Though this ship will sail mostly Eastern Mediterranean itineraries after its inaugural, the port of Dover was a significant choice for the christening of MSC Poesia because the cruise line on the whole is dedicating more and larger ships to the U.K. market. MSC Armonia departs Dover every 11 days to the Norwegian fjords and Baltic. In 2009, look for MSC Lirica and in 2010, the bigger, newer MSC Musica (Poesia's older sister).
--by Melissa Baldwin, Managing Editor
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MSC Christens Poesia With Party in Dover
April 5, 2008