Last night, under a sharp blue-black sky and chilly temperatures, Dame Helen Mirren, godmother to P&O's brand new Ventura, officially welcomed the ship into service with the graceful (and yet dramatic) line, "I name this ship Ventura. May God bless her and all who sail on her."
And at that point the most colorful hullabaloo erupted as members of the Royal Marines Commando Team scaled the outside of Ventura to perform the ritual champagne smash. Perhaps in response to the failure last December of Cunard's Queen Victoria to successfully shatter the bottle on the hull on the first try -- despite repeated efforts by Godmother Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall -- P&O took no chances. Ten bottles were smashed on Ventura, all successful.
The event drew a throng of elegantly clad men in tuxes, women in ball gowns, and the occasional Scot wearing regimental tartans, who clustered around the ship's pool, despite pretty whippy winds and a stiff chill in the air. The bottle smash, and a fantastic fireworks show that followed, were the highlights of a series of celebratory events to mark the ship's arrival.
The launch also centred on a film, created just for Ventura of a spoof of the show "Spooks." It featured some familiar faces (and a confusing plot line about disrupting the ceremony), including a demonically genial Jonathan Pryce and an indulgent Roger Moore.
More familiar faces could be seen in the crowd. Actress Celie Imre gamely posed for the paparazzi. Comic actor Rowan Atkinson, who bought his own ticket to the event to support a favorite charity, was spotted on an elevator, talking about a "very good evening" and dashing Hugh Bonneville chatted up attendees with good grace.
The biggest star of the night was of course Dame Helen Mirren and she played the role of godmother with as much grace as was her rendering of "The Queen". We're told that upon boarding the ship early in the afternoon, she was welcomed onboard by crew members with such resounding applause that there were few dry eyes about (including hers); it was, we hear, a welcome that "raised the hairs on the back of your neck."
If, often, cruise christening ceremonies are limited to members of the great and the good (and assorted hangers on), P&O deserves kudos for welcoming three different children-oriented charities; it donated cabins to Kids Company, Barnardos and Naomi House and these organisations sold tickets to the event (and the subsequent overnight stay) as a fundraising effort.
The 115,000-ton, 3,080-passenger Ventura takes a bit of a breather today as guests departed first thing this morning. The ship welcomes passengers for its maiden voyage on Friday.
Stay tuned for our "sneak preview" of Ventura, the largest ship ever built and designed for U.K. cruise travellers.
--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief
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Ventura Christened -- By A Dame & The Royal Marines
April 17, 2008