Fresh from a three-week overhaul at Grand Bahama Shipyard, where the former Royal Princess gained several P&O Cruises touches and a new livery, Adonia was renamed by singing legend Dame Shirley Bassey. The theme for the celebrity-studded ceremony was diamonds, in honour of one of the diva's greatest hits, "Diamonds are Forever."
The festivities, which took place in blazing sunshine by the ship's top-deck pool, were short and sweet. Opera-singing group Incognito, masquerading as members of the audience, kicked off the proceedings by bursting into song, entertaining guests with opera and pop hits before actor Hugh Bonneville, taking a day off from filming season two of the ITV hit "Downton Abbey," took to the stage as master of ceremonies. Upon introduction, Dame Shirley made a striking entrance to thunderous applause and said grandly, "Welcome to my ship." As she uttered the time-honoured words, "I name this ship Adonia...," she pressed a diamond-shaped button to launch a bottle of Balfour Brut Rose, an English sparkling wine, down a zip-line across the deck. The bottle smashed and guests were showered with sparkling silver confetti.
A gala dinner featuring lobster, smoked salmon, fillet of beef and a trio of chocolate desserts was followed by a fireworks display -- and an unexpected treat. Dame Shirley took to the microphone again to introduce the fireworks, and launched into an a cappella rendition of "Diamonds are Forever." The audience was thrilled, but the public relations people were gnashing their teeth, as the TV camera crews had long since been sent home, making this a genuinely private performance.
Adonia, the smallest ship in the P&O Cruises fleet, looked tiny in Southampton alongside Celebrity Cruises' 122,000-ton Celebrity Eclipse. P&O Cruises' Aurora (double Adonia's size) and Grand Princess (triple) were visible in distance. Adonia was originally built in 2001 as Renaissance Cruises' R8 and has also sailed as Minerva II for Swan Hellenic and, most recently, Princess Cruises' Royal Princess.
P&O (or indeed, any of the other owners) hasn't made many changes to the interiors, and many of Renaissance's original "country house" touches remain, including an ornate, wrought-iron staircase, faux fireplaces and trompe l'oeil ceilings.
What has changed is that the casino has been replaced by Anderson's, P&O's trademark clubby lounge, and two new alternative restaurants, Ocean Grill and Sorrento, have been created on the Sun Deck. Ocean Grill was built in conjunction with celebrity chef Marco Pierre White and Sorrento serves classic Italian dishes.
Power sockets in the cabins have been changed to accommodate British three-pin plugs, and those vital accessories for Brits, kettles and teabags, have been added to all cabins. The onboard currency is now Sterling.
Adonia set sail today on its maiden voyage, a 16-night cruise to the Western Mediterranean. The ship will sail out of Southampton all summer before embarking on a series of Mediterranean fly-cruises in the autumn and an 87-night voyage to South America in January 2012.
--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor
--Photo appears courtesy of P&O Cruises.