A sunny day on Britain's south coast got off to a festive start, with the first ever Celebrity Sunwalk, a sponsored event organised in conjunction with Walk The Walk, a breast cancer charity that began a collaboration with Celebrity last year when its founder, Nina Barough, was chosen as godmother to Eclipse's sister ship, Equinox. Eclipse's godmother, yachtswoman Emma Pontin, also battled the disease.
Set in Southampton's waterfront Mayflower Park, the party went on all day with bands, DJ's and walkers in fancy dress, and attracted almost 1,000 participants, the new ship forming a dramatic backdrop to the festivities. Hundreds of people later stayed in the park to watch the naming ceremony on giant screens.
Onboard, invited guests gathered in the ship's theatre for the ceremony, which seemed more emotionally charged than previous Celebrity ship namings and lacked the razzle dazzle and flashy celebrities seen at the naming of P&O's Azura in Southampton two weeks ago. Only the night before, Eclipse had returned from its much-publicised rescue dash to the Spanish port of Bilbao to collect 2,000 holidaymakers stranded in Spain because of the Icelandic volcano eruption. Royal Caribbean chief executive, Richard Fain, paid tribute to the ship's crew for their part in the mission.
Next, a tear-jerking film describing Emma Pontin's battle against breast cancer was shown while the choir Only Men Aloud (recent winners of the reality TV competition, Last Choir Standing) sang Robbie Williams' "She's The One." An aerial acrobat "flew" on wires around the theatre, bearing a pink ribbon that snaked through the ship to the funnel, where a methuselah of Champagne was suspended.
The blue bottle was specially created by the Corning Museum of Glass, which runs the Hot Glass Show onboard the Solstice-class ships. It shattered with a satisfactory smash when Pontin cut the pink ribbon.
Guests drank Pimm's on the ship's lawn as Eclipse sailed out of Southampton into the sunset for a two-night pre-inaugural cruise for travel trade and media. Celebrity Eclipse is the first of Celebrity's ships to be based out of Southampton and will welcome its first paying guests on 26 April 2010. It will sail cruises through the summer to the Mediterranean and Canary Islands.
--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor
Behind the Scenes: Celebrity Cruise Ship Brings Ash-Stranded Brits Home
Photos: Launch Weekend for Celebrity Eclipse