Emerald Princess Heralds Mom's Day

May 13, 2007

In a tribute held today that appropriately honored mothers around the world, Princess Cruises' new Emerald Princess was christened in Piraeus, the port for Athens.

With temperatures near 90 degrees under a brilliant blue sky, the morning ceremony was a chance to celebrate television, too -- befitting of course for Princess Cruises, whose ships, in an earlier era, were featured internationally on "The Love Boat."

Indeed, Gavin MacLeod, the heroic captain of "The Love Boat," served as Master of Ceremonies. He introduced the ship's godmothers thusly: "It is so fitting that two of the most iconic mothers and daughters from American television are here to name Emerald Princess."

Florence Henderson, who played Carol Brady on "The Brady Bunch," and her youngest "TV" daughter Susan Olsen, who was Cindy, were one pair; "Happy Days"' Marion Ross, the matriarch of the Cunningham clan, and Erin Moran, her on-screen daughter Joanie, formed the other. All four together were charged with the official Champagne-smashing duties.

But not yet.

First, as with most christening ceremonies for most cruise lines around the world, there were traditions. The hundreds of folks thronging Deck 16, encircling Neptune's Reef & Pool and at poolside -- from passengers aboard the existing cruise to special guests from Piraeus, Athens and beyond -- were entertained with theme tunes from "The Brady Bunch" and "Happy Days" played by the ship's resident band.

The National Anthem of Greece was performed by the Philharmonic Band of the City of Piraeus. Emerald Princess' resident band played America's Star Spangled Banner -- and it was moving to see M.C. Gavin MacLeod singing passionately, hand on his chest (as was his wife, Patti, with whom earlier this week he'd starred in a performance of "Love Letters"). She was watching from the pool deck with the rest of the invited guests.

Princess Cruises' President Alan Buckelew noted in his remarks that it was fitting to celebrate a Mother's Day christening in Greece as that country was -- and this was new to us! -- the birthplace of the tradition. Even if, as he said, ancient Greeks honored their matriarchs with honey cakes, wine and flowers at dawn, and "We may celebrate it a little differently," (more sleep and less wine at dawn -- though all women attending were presented with a single pink rose), the sentiment was the same.

The Mayor of Piraeus, the circa 2600 B.C. port city where ships dock for Athens (and which has its own pleasures that many folks miss in their rush to the "big city"), stepped up and noted that the location of the christening -- and the ship's name -- were both symbolic. He commented that Piraeus has long been "a gateway to the emerald waters of the Aegean Sea." And having sailed on Emerald Princess around the Greek Isles this past week -- under perfectly sunny skies -- he's right on with the "emerald seas" reference. (The Aegean is really the most beautiful in the world.)

Interestingly, this christening was quite a departure from Princess' original plans. Both Royal Princess (just acquired from sister line Swan Hellenic) and the all-new Emerald Princess were set to debut this spring -- and both were scheduled to anchor at the magical isle of Santorini on the same Saturday of Mother's Day weekend. And so the two iconic mother-daughter pairs were selected for a special dual christening. Each pair would act as godmothers for one ship.

Alas, the sinking of Louis Cruises' Sea Diamond in Santorini last month, which was a traumatic event for anyone who loves cruising, made it inappropriate to hold a maritime celebration there, at least for now.

The ships still anchored in Santorini's vast caldera -- interestingly, Emerald Princess represented the fleet's biggest class of ships, and Royal its smallest "explorer" range -- but it was just a normal port of call.

Sort of.

The day, amounting to the new ships' first meeting, was still momentous; Emerald Princess' captain and officers were ferried over to Royal Princess to visit with Commodore Fadchen, who helms Royal. And Fadchen had news of his own to announce: A new godmother had been selected for Royal's rescheduled christening, now set for June 14 in Portofino. And that would be? Los Angeles' Lorraine Artz, the line's most well-traveled passenger (4,078 days at sea aboard Princess ships, amounting to about a decade at sea) will be leading the ceremony. Following the meeting in Santorini, the two ships, sailing different itineraries, went their separate ways (Royal onto Canakkale, and Emerald to Piraeus to be christened).

Back onboard the festive Emerald Princess in Piraeus, Gavin McLeod introduced Marion Ross and Florence Henderson; the latter's Mother's Day quip -- "And thanks to the father who made us all mothers!" -- brought down the house. Marion Ross, the epitome of her warm and nurturing television persona, was appropriately matriarchal in her remarks.

And then Susan Olsen and Erin Moran joined them at the podium for the traditional champagne smash. The ship's horns blared. Members of the crew assembled in the background cheered, and guests applauded. All four godmothers, who've been onboard for most if not all the cruise, which began on May 5 in Rome's Civitavecchia, turned around to wave and salute the crew.

And then the crowds dispersed. Crewmembers went back to work. Godmothers and special guests were feted at a brunch in Botticelli, the ship's set-seating dining room. DaVinci, the "personal choice" eatery, opened for passengers. Horizon Court, the ship's buffet venue, put on its typically expansive spread, and passengers took off for half-day shore tours of Athens.

Emerald Princess, now officially named, is back in business.

--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor

Images appear courtesy of Carolyn Spencer Brown