(2 p.m. EDT) -- Garlands of red and white balloons, what seemed like acres of red carpet, and special effects including a pirouetting fireboat spraying water jets and a tenor belting out "Nessun Dorma" created a lavish spectacle in Amsterdam today.
The occasion? Viking River Cruises launch of four ships during a single ceremony. The line claims to have smashed the previous record for multiple and simultaneous christenings (three), which it also held.
The lavish festivities marked the debut of Viking's new series of riverboats, the Longship-class. Four of these sleek, 190-passenger sister-boats have been built together in Germany, although a delay at the shipyard meant that two, Viking Odin and Viking Idun, were named in Amsterdam and two, Viking Freya and Viking Njord, by live video link at the yard in Rostock, where they're being finished off for a mid-April debut. Four godmothers cut scarlet ribbons and four bottles of Veuve Cliquot, two in Amsterdam and two in Rostock, smashed to cheers of a 600-strong crowd gathered in Amsterdam under dazzling sunshine.
The godmothers were an eclectic group.
Joanna Lumley (left), star of "Absolutely Fabulous," christened Viking Odin, a ship named after the chief god of Norse mythology. "I've never been godmother to a god before," she told the delighted crowd.
Gail Wiswedel (second from left), who named Viking Njord, was chosen because she's Viking's most travelled customer, having notched up 11 cruises (which goes to show how young river cruising really is, given that plenty of ocean-going passengers would consider nothing less than 30 as an impressive total).
Dr Lisa Randall (third from left), Viking Idun's godmother, is a respected theoretical physicist, a subject close to the heart of Viking's Norwegian founder, Torstein Hagen, who himself holds a degree in nuclear physics.
Award-winning TV producer Rebecca Eaton, who served as godmother for Viking Freya, heads up "Masterpiece Theatre," a company sponsored by Viking.
Champagne flowed throughout the ceremony and on into the evening, when Viking Odin and Idun set sail for a celebratory dinner on Amsterdam's Ij Bay. The line has good reason to congratulate itself. The four ships, which Hagen describes as a "quantum leap" in riverboat design, with their full balconies, indoor-outdoor dining and chic interiors, are pretty well sold out for the rest of the year. And there are eight more sisters coming. Two Longships, Viking Embla and Viking Aegir, will debut this summer, and six more are scheduled to hit the rivers in 2013.
--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor