An encounter with the vagaries of South Florida's tropically inclement weather couldn't dampen the spirits tonight of the literally thousands of media, VIP's and dignitaries on hand for the naming ceremony of Royal Caribbean's Liberty of the Seas. The official launch was accompanied by a celebratory dousing of the ship with a bottle of Perrier-Jouet Champagne.

The ceremony was followed by a one-night "cruise to nowhere" for the benefit of the United Way of Miami. Royal Caribbean demonstrated its corporate responsibility credentials by donating the entire ship, the overnight cruise, and all associated costs to the United Way; all proceeds from the sale of tickets to the event going entirely to the charity.

As the ship prepared for the naming ceremony, the Royal Promenade was being decked out for the charity event, with silent auction tables being set up throughout the entire length.

Royal Caribbean generally does their naming ceremonies onboard, and though I rued not being able to experience one of those spectacular pierside fetes that other lines in the industry love to host, given the problems with the weather it was just as well. The event started at 4 p.m., sharp, in the Platinum Theater, with a rousing Gaelic entrance by Miami's St. Andrews Pipe Band, led by a color guard bearing the flags of Argentina (home turf of Liberty’s master, Hernan Zini), Norway (country of origin of RCI), Canada (native country of Liberty's Godmother, Donnalea Madeley), and the United States (for reasons I daresay we needn't elaborate upon!).

The flag bearers were followed by Adam Goldstein and Dan Hanrahan, presidents, respectively, of Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, along with Miami mayor Carlos Alvarez and other dignitaries, and the full pipe and drum corps, whose march down the aisles of the Platinum Theater may have been rousing enough to be heard on the International Space Station without benefit of satellite uplink.

After a welcome by Cruise Director Ken Rush, members of the Miami Children’s Chorus performed "One Voice," the adoptive theme song of the United Way, accented by a video montage of Royal Caribbean employees from virtually every shipboard department. And then a large string orchestra, rising on the hydraulic orchestra pit, played a processional for the ship's godmother.

Donnalea Madeley is an Ontario-based travel agent whose business acumen has contributed significantly to the success of RCI and of the cruise industry in general. She is the first travel agent to be selected as godmother, and, in an era of increasing numbers of people booking their own travel on Internet, a shrewd and justifiable tribute to an industry segment that is a cornerstone of the growth of cruising. Donnalea's other qualities include a passionate connection to the cause of providing aid and relief to the less fortunate worldwide. She is co-founder of "Hands Across the Nations" which brings aid to communities in developing countries in West Africa and South America.

Following blessings by a Miami rabbi and Norwegian pastor, the national anthems of Argentina, Canada, Norway and the United States were all performed while the color guard stood at attention. Following that there was a short speech by Royal Caribbean International CEO Richard Fain, followed by a video presentation on behalf of the United Way. Then Fain introduced Ms. Madeley, for whom a video tribute was projected. After that video the screen was filled with a live images of the bottle of Champagne suspended by rope over the forward flank of the ship, and with the flip of a control we watched the bottle descend, crashing mightily and convincingly against the ship’s painted name.

After concluding remarks from Ken Rush, those of us not staying for the gala charity event and overnight sailing (e.g., yours truly), rushed to get off the ship before the 6 p.m. sailing!

--by Steve Faber, Senior Contributor

Images appear courtesy of Steve Faber.