P&O Launches Britain's Arcadia

April 15, 2005
Britain's golden girl runner Kelly Holmes -- who thrilled the nation by scooping two gold medals at the 2004 Athens Olympics and was rewarded with the title "Dame of the British Empire" -- was a popular choice of godmother for the new Arcadia, U.K.-based P&O Cruises' biggest superliner to date.

Sadly, the naming ceremony for the 85,000-ton, 1,968-passenger Arcadia, held last week at Southampton's Mayflower Cruise Terminal, didn't make nearly enough of her or the new ship.

P&O decided to go "contemporary" for its launch -- which meant there was no seating. Instead, guests (including Carnival Corporation President Micky Arison, who snuck in unobtrusively in his usual self-effacing style) stood cheek-by-jowl in a hangar adjacent to the ship, guzzling canapes and Champagne to fend off hunger pangs and ease the pain of aching feet, while strolling artistes on stilts blew bubbles over our heads and acrobats twisted themselves into various gravity-defying contortions for our entertainment.

This went down well enough with the younger element, but -- forgive me for being a traditionalist old fogey -- I felt the lack of focus detracted from the impact of the naming, effectively relegating it to a sideshow.

Eventually, and with very little build-up, Dame Kelly scuttled nervously on stage to "do the deed" at blink-and-you've-missed-it speed. But once the screening curtains had dropped to reveal Arcadia's sparkling white prow, matters improved considerably.

The baptismal Champagne bottle shattered in spectacular style, showers of ticker tape descended, the music swelled and the audience clapped its approval as a magnificent firework display lit up the Southampton sky.

Perfect. And enough, already.

Sadly (and partly because we had to wait for the ship to reposition before we could reboard) the effect was then marred by a troupe of dancers cavorting onto the stage and prancing about for another 10 minutes or so, while an unknown singer in a bizarre beige woolly hat belted out a song I'd never heard of (and don't particularly wish to hear again). It was -- as we understating Brits would put it -- something of an anticlimax.

Still, the guests seemed happy enough as they clambered back on board for a late celebratory dinner, though I suspect many smiles simply expressed relief at the prospect of sitting down at last.

Arcadia's now on her Mediterranean maiden voyage. Throughout the summer, the ship will offer a range of European cruises, from the Baltic to the Adriatic to the Canary Islands. The ship transits to the Caribbean in October where it will be based in Barbados.