Princess Christens Ruby Princess

November 7, 2008
There was a sea of red around the pool as partygoers, obeying an invitation to come dressed for a ruby hued celebration, gathered to see the christening of Princess Cruises' newest ship, the 3,080-passenger Ruby Princess, in Ft. Lauderdale yesterday.

As the crew took their position on the decks above the pool, the band struck up "Isn't She Lovely" and Gavin MacLeod -- one-time captain of U.S. television series "The Love Boat" and 20-year ambassador for Princess Cruises -- got the ball rolling for his ninth ship christening.

"I feel like I'm in a rose garden," he quipped, a reference not only to the ruby red attire of those watching but also to the bunches of red roses that had been used to deck out the stage area for what was to be a celebration of romance.

Reminding everyone that Princess Cruises has just been voted best cruise line for romance by the 2008 Cruise Critic Editors' Picks Awards, cruise director James Lay, as Master of Ceremonies, promised "lots of romance tonight."

Romantic moment number one was that Trista and Ryan Sutter, a couple who met and married through "The Bachelorette" TV show, were to be godparents; romantic moment number two was that they were also to be attendants for a wedding that was to take place as part of the ceremony -- definitely a first for a ship christening.

But all that was to come. First, James Lay called Princess Cruises' president and chief executive officer Alan Buckelew to the podium. "This wouldn't be a ship naming without Gavin MacLeod," he joked, before going on to praise the teamwork that makes Princess tick.

He said Ruby Princess offers a few new special touches to excite passengers -- a reference to features like a new behind-the-scenes ship tour; an English pub lunch being served in the Wheelhouse Bar; free lemonade in the Horizon Court self-service restaurant; and new enrichment programmes, including how to host the perfect party, read the stars at night and mix cocktails. There are also plenty of Princess' trademark features, including Movies under the Stars and the adults-only Sanctuary.

"There will be no more new ships for Princess for a while, but in the next few years we will continue to innovate to raise the bar on existing vessels," Buckelew promised.

And then it was time for that wedding, between Kip and Danielle, soon to be Mr. and Mrs. Hickman courtesy of Phil Roberts, a member of Princess Cruises' romance department and, coincidentally, a minister.

The Hickmans were picked through a competition Princess ran in USA Today to search for inspiring stories of romance. They met on a blind date and said marrying on Ruby Princess would be a dream.

Cue Princess, which made their dream come true.

As Pachelbel's "Canon in D Major" played, giving way to "Here Comes the Bride," Danielle appeared on Deck 17 and walked slowly down to the stage, joining Phil, her husband to be, and the Sutters, to make history with the first wedding at a ship's christening.

One role over, the Sutters took to the podium for the big moment. "I'm excited and a little nervous," Trista admitted in a quavering voice. "We are truly blessed to be parents [their son, Max, was born a year ago and another patter of tiny feet is due in April] and now honoured to be godparents."

And then they pressed the button, the bottle swung and smashed, and a shower of red streamers burst down upon the pool area. Princess' newest ship had officially become a Ruby.

Ruby Princess will be sailing in the Caribbean this winter before relocating to Europe in April 2009, to cruise between Barcelona and Venice via Istanbul and Athens.

--by Jane Archer, Cruise Critic U.K.-based contributor