(10 a.m. EDT) -- In what turned out to be a nightlong celebration -- with karaoke and serious celebrity-hobnobbing -- P&O Cruises yesterday welcomed its brand-new Azura to the fleet. Ballerina Darcey Bussell CBE fittingly served as godmother in a dazzling, dance-themed ceremony around Azura's Aqua Pool, officially naming the 116,000-ton, 3,080-passenger ship.
Some 1,200 guests -- cruise line executives, VIP's and members of the media -- shivered on the cool Southampton night in formal dress (many sticking to a special black, white and gold theme, the cruise line's colours), fortified by free-flowing Taittinger Champagne.
After waiting for what seemed like an age, the audience was rewarded with a surprise appearance by newsreader Sir Trevor McDonald. McDonald compered the evening, which kicked off with a nifty version of the Sailor's Hornpipe by students from the Royal Ballet School, where Bussell trained.
The dance theme continued with performances from the ship's entertainers, including a re-enactment of the famous Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers version of "Dancing Cheek to Cheek"; a vigorous "Jailhouse Rock"; and the raunchy song "Do You Love Me?" -- which was immortalised in "Dirty Dancing."
Finally, Bussell twirled onto the stage -- stunning in a scarlet Jasper Conran frock -- and into the arms of Captain Keith Dowds to perform the honours. Bussell cut a black ribbon with an old-fashioned clapperboard to successfully smash a bottle of Taittinger against the ship. A spectacular fireworks display followed, viewed by not only those onboard but also thousands of spectators in nearby Mayflower Park, who had been able to witness the naming on giant screens.
Who else turned out for what was one of the biggest cruise nights of the year? The gala dinner that followed was the perfect setting for a game of spot-the-celebrity, both major and minor. "Strictly Come Dancing" stars Tom Chambers, Camilla Dallerup and Craig Revel Horwood were among the crowd. We also spotted comedian Johnny Vegas; "I'm a Celebrity..." runner-up Kim Woodburn; chef Gary Rhodes, who has restaurants on P&O's Arcadia and Oriana; TV presenter-turned-wannabe-MP Esther Rantzen; and a host of soap stars from Hollyoaks and Coronation Street (who later dominated the karaoke party in Malabar).
Joining Captain Dowds and Darcey Bussell at the top table in the Oriental Restaurant were Azura's own wine expert, Olly Smith, who designed and stocked The Glass House, the ship's wine bar, and Michelin-starred chef Atul Kochar, mastermind behind gourmet Indian restaurant, Sindhu, on Deck 7. Both Kochar and Smith will join several cruises a year for workshops, tastings and book signings.
Azura departs on its maiden voyage on Monday, bound for the Mediterranean, before embarking on a summer season of cruises from Southampton.
Video Ship Tour: You can have your own sneak preview of the ship right here!
--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor
More on Azura
Watch the Naming Ceremony on P&O Cruises' YouTube Channel
All About Azura: Itineraries, Facts, Photos from P&O Cruises
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P&O Cruises Names Azura in Star-Studded, Dance-Themed Gala
April 11, 2010