Carnival Sunshine was officially renamed Sunday night in New Orleans amid jazz music, heartfelt speeches and more than a few jokes from cruise director extraordinaire John Heald, onboard to emcee the event.
With about 600 people looking on, Lin Arison named the ship following an event that paid homage to the arts, which the philanthropist and author holds dear.
Carnival Sunshine, formerly Carnival Destiny, underwent a $155-million, 75-day renovation in May 2013. It sailed Mediterranean itineraries before arriving this weekend to New Orleans. Arison served as godmother of Destiny when it debuted in 1996, at the time, the largest cruise ship ever built.
"I think one of the most exciting things that happened today, for me, was going around the ship and seeing the transformation," said Arison, wife of the late Ted Arison, founder of Carnival Cruise Lines. "I know that it's going to continue being lucky, which is the most important thing for a ship."
On stage in the Liquid Lounge theater, Arison, along with Sunshine Captain Giuseppe Giusa, pulled a ribbon attached to an oversized replica of a Champagne bottle -- the crowd then watched on video monitors as the real thing smashed on the hull of the ship. The New Orleans vibe was strong, with nods to Mardi Gras on stage and an enthusiastic performance from the Pride of Destrehan High School Marching Band.
In conjunction with the invitation-only event, Carnival donated $25,000 each to Miami-based New World Symphony and National YoungArts Foundation, which Arison and her husband founded in 1981.
A highlight of the evening was a spirited performance by YoungArts, which included jazz classics, tap-dancing, modern dance, a surprisingly touching twist on Biz Markie's "Just a Friend" and, of course, Louis Armstrong's "Boy from New Orleans." The performance garnered a hearty standing ovation from the crowd.
Father Joseph Doyle provided the ship's blessing, and Carnival Cruise Lines President and CEO Gerry Cahill spoke about the feat of completely transforming a ship, noting it's more difficult to do than actually starting from scratch.
Cahill called Sunshine, "A remarkable reflection of how the Carnival brand has evolved," referring to the ship's heralded Fun Ship 2.0 features, including Guy's Burger Joint, RedFrog Rum Bar, BlueIguana Tequila Bar and EA Sports Bar as well as a waterpark and massive SportSquare.
Sunshine will sail seven-night Caribbean cruises from New Orleans through March 2014.
--By Colleen McDaniel, Managing Editor