After journalists and VIP's assembled in the ship's Solstice Theatre, the St. Andrews Pipe Band of Miami pipe and drum corps ushered in cruise line executives including Celebrity Cruises President Dan Hanrahan and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. Chairman and CEO Richard Fain. Also present: Captain Panagiotis Skylogiannis. Emcee and cruise director Nick Weir kicked off the festivities with a video montage -- showcasing photos of Solstice during and after construction at Germany's Meyer Werft -- backed by an instrumental arrangement of Coldplay's "Viva La Vida." Both the U.S. and the Greek national anthems were performed (Celebrity's founding company, Chandris, was based in Greece).
Beyond the music and theatrics was the matter of actually christening the ship. Rabbi Terry A. Bookman and Seaman's Pastor Sverre Tofte both issued blessings, after which Fain spoke to the crowd about his affinity for the new ship -- comparing the final reveal of the finished product to seeing his young daughter enter the room dressed up for senior prom. "It sent shivers down my spine," Fain said. "The ship speaks for itself -- and when she speaks, people fall in love."
Finally, the moment all were waiting for: The traditional naming of the vessel, which falls under the job description of the ship's godmother. For Solstice, Celebrity chose not an actress or public figure, but a woman that Fain introduced as "as beautiful as the Solstice, but also somebody just as strong as this incredible vessel." Professor and biological oceanographer Sharon L. Smith is the first scientist ever to serve as a cruise ship godmother -- and is a two-time cancer survivor.
The connection between Smith and Celebrity is twofold. As Smith is dedicated to studying the effects of global warming on the world's food supply, so too is Celebrity at the forefront of protecting the environment (Solstice is one of the most eco-friendly ships afloat with energy-conserving solar cells and an advanced water purification system onboard). Secondly, the line has teamed up with the United Way to raise $100 million that will provide cancer screenings to those who could not otherwise afford them -- a partnership Smith was brought to tears in describing.
Smith took the podium from Fain and told the crowd that she fell in love with the sea on a freighter trip from New York to Buenos Aires as a child and stayed afloat throughout her adult years on numerous research vessels -- but "with all due respect to the research vessels, this [ship] is leagues beyond them..." Smith then cut a red ribbon that was stretched throughout the ship and up to the top deck, which signaled the release of a bottle of Champagne that smashed against the signature blue funnel on the first try. Blue streamers shot into the air in the theater where more bubbly was on display (in a bottle blown from blue glass by Corning, the company that operates the Hot Glass Show onboard Solstice).
After a few more preview sailings, Celebrity Solstice will set off on its inaugural voyage on November 23. The ship's maiden season in the Eastern Caribbean features two alternating itineraries featuring St. Maarten, San Juan and St. Kitts, or St. Maarten, San Juan, Tortola and Labadee. Both itineraries sail roundtrip from Ft. Lauderdale. The ship will reposition to the Mediterranean next fall.
Stay tuned for our Sneak Preview of the ship, coming next week.
--by Melissa Baldwin Paloti, Managing Editor