For the first time ever, Royal Caribbean is letting the average cruiser decide who will christen their newest ship through a Web-based poll, the second phase of a nationwide search. The contest is a new -- and unusual -- twist on an old tradition: Most of the time, cruise line execs simply choose a godmother, generally from the ranks of royalty or Hollywood (past Royal Caribbean godmothers include Her Majesty Queen Sonja of Norway and Whoopi Goldberg). Royal Caribbean chose the upcoming launch of this innovative, highly anticipated ship as an opportunity to instead honor an everyday person who has demonstrated exceptional courage, determination, inspiration and dedication.
Exactly what does the godmother do? Besides presiding over a ship's naming ceremony (and breaking a bottle of bubbly on the hull for good luck), it is also maritime custom for her to serve as a "guiding spirit" throughout its lifetime.
After reviewing thousands of potential candidates, Katherine Louise Calder, Ieta Kimbrough and Robyn Raphael were selected as finalists. Want to vote? Visit www.today.msnbc.com to make your choice known. Here is the rundown on the nominees:
Calder, from Portland, Oregon, has been a foster parent to over 400 children in the last 27 years, acting as a "level three" special needs foster care provider and adoption advocate in her area.
Kimbrough, from Indianapolis, Indiana, survived homelessness and domestic violence as a young mother. She founded The House of Refuge in 2001 to provide support for victims of domestic violence in Indiana.
Raphael, from Roseville, California, lost her five year-old son to neuroblastoma in 1998. In honor of his memory, she founded the Keaton Raphael Memorial to assist children and their families in the fight against pediatric cancer.
The winner, who will be announced live from the Torino Winter Olympics in February, will preside over the inaugural ceremonies at the ship's official debut in May and can cruise once a year on any Royal Caribbean ship free of charge with a guest -- for the rest of her life!
Freedom of the Seas, weighing in at 160,000 tons and carrying 3,634 passengers, will debuts in May. The first "child" in the line's new Freedom family of ships will sail seven-night itineraries to the Western Caribbean.