As travel agents, members of the media and other guests assembled in the ship's Equinox Theater, the Royal Air Force Halton Pipes and Drums band led a procession from the Lawn Club to the theatre to signal the official start of the ceremony, emceed by cruise director Nick Weir and highlighted by music themed to the ship's moniker. A vocalist and live band, including a piano that was elevated from below the stage, performed songs such as the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun" and U2's "Staring at the Sun."
The British and American national anthems were also played while a video montage of the ship provided a visual backdrop, as did British, American and Celebrity Cruises flags flying high.
On hand for the event were Richard Fain, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (Celebrity's parent company) chairman and CEO; Dan Hanrahan, president of Celebrity Cruises; Apostolos Bouzakis, the ship's captain; and godmother Nina Barough, CBE (Commander of British Empire) and founder of Walk the Walk, a U.K.-based breast cancer foundation.
Equinox is the second ship in the line's innovative Solstice class, and there are only subtle differences between the two (in addressing the crowd, Fain pointed out that there's unique artwork onboard this ship -- it was brought over from Celebrity Galaxy, recently transferred from the Celebrity fleet to Tui Cruises). It's also the second ship to be christened by a non-celebrity with a touching story. Dr. Sharon Smith, the godmother of Equinox's predecessor, Celebrity Solstice, was the first scientist ever to christen a cruise ship -- and is a two-time cancer survivor.
As with Smith last year, Barough's story brought many attendees to tears. Fain explained that she first got involved in charity work 12 years ago when she participated in the New York Marathon with some friends -- all of which power walked in decorated bras to raise money for breast cancer. Soon after, Barough was diagnosed with breast cancer herself. After overcoming the disease, she started the Walk the Walk foundation, which offers Moon (nighttime) and Sun (daytime) walks where marathoners wear, yes, decorated bras. To date, Barough has raised over £50 million ($85 million) for breast cancer causes.
After Fain's introduction, Barough surprised the crowd by asking everyone to stand up, hold hands with their neighbours and think happy thoughts to collectively bless the ship -- then hug each other. Fain, standing next to Bouzakis on stage, joked it was the first instance "where I held hands with the captain!"
Finally: The big event. After blessings by Southampton-based Reverend Andrew Huckett and Rabbi Mark Winer of the West London Synagogue, an aerialist from Equinox's entertainment troupe lowered onto the stage a pink ribbon, the global symbol for breast cancer awareness. In a new tradition, Solstice godmum Dr. Smith was in attendance and handed down to Barough the pair of scissors used to cut the ribbon. This signaled the release of a magnum-sized Champagne bottle (designed by the Corning Museum of Glass, which runs the glass-blowing program onboard) against the ship's funnel.
It smashed on the first try.
Other festivities on tap for this evening include a sail-away party and a gala dinner. Equinox will sail its first revenue cruise on 31 July, an eight-night Norwegian Fjords itinerary calling in Stavanger, Flam, Geiranger and Oslo. After a series of European cruises, Equinox will cross the Atlantic to its homeport in Ft. Lauderdale.
In 2010, the third ship in the class, Celebrity Eclipse, will debut -- and will be homeported in the U.K.
--reported by Kelly Ranson, U.K. Editor
Pictured: Nina Barough and Richard Fain