(6:13 p.m.) -- You can't get any more New York than baseball and Broadway. Tonight, Carnival Cruise Lines christened its largest-ever ship, Carnival Dream, with a little bit of both -- and some bubbly -- in the Big Apple.
Godmother Marcia Gay Harden, a Tony- and Academy Award-winning actress, named the ship this evening by swinging an official Yankees baseball bat -- signed by player Alex Rodriguez -- at a six-foot-tall faux bottle of Moet & Chandon onstage in the ship's main theater. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let's go back to the beginning....
Champagne- and wine-sipping guests -- travel agents, Carnival devotees and members of the media -- gathered at different viewing points throughout the ship to watch the ceremony, emceed by Carnival's much-loved cruise director and blogger, John Heald. Those in the Encore! show lounge were treated to a live performance by the ship's Fun Force dance troupe, decked out in blue track suits, who got the crowd clapping by cartwheeling and break-dancing to thumping techno music.
After the number ended, one "performer" had his dancing duds ripped off to reveal no other than Carnival Cruise Lines' CEO Gerry Cahill, dressed underneath in his "cruise elegant" khakis and button-down shirt (in keeping with tonight's dress code).
"I get to do some unusual things for a CEO," admitted Cahill, as a slideshow of images played onstage behind the podium -- one of which showed him testing out (and shrieking on) Carnival Dream's waterslide, in nothing but red swim trunks.
Indeed, the entire ceremony, while standard in substance -- speeches, a Champagne smash -- had Fun Ship edge. Even Reverend Henry Belin, the pastor who performed the traditional ship blessing, laughed as he recanted the story of his first cruise, and his disappointment upon walking into a tiny inside cabin -- for his honeymoon -- to find two twin-sized beds bolted to the wall. (Heald promised him a king-sized sleeper tonight.)
So where did the six-foot bottle of Moet & Chandon come from? Heald showed a hilarious slideshow that depicted how he carried the bottle through New York City after reportedly picking it up at John F. Kennedy International Airport. (We have to imagine the photo of the Champagne bottle perched near the Air France plane was Photoshopped.) Other images showed Heald carting the bottle up the stairs of a subway station and cuddling with it on the upper level of a double-decker tour bus, nicknaming "her" Monique.
Once he was able to rip himself away from the bottle, which was raised via platform to the center of the stage, Heald introduced Harden, who has a seafaring history herself -- her father was a captain in the U.S. Navy. She spoke fondly of a pleasure cruise her family took back to America after a tour in Japan: "It was the most fun I had as a kid I can remember."
Until tonight, we imagine, when she got to swing a baseball bat at Monique. The neck of the bottle flew off spectacularly, spewing confetti and signaling the release of a real Champagne bottle outside, against the ship's hull. It smashed on the first try.
The selection of Harden as godmother came in tandem with Carnival's partnership with St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, which is dedicated to finding cures for and saving children with pediatric cancer. Last week, Harden and Carnival unveiled the world's largest children's book in Rockefeller Center, which is where the Yankees come in: Harden says the ticker tape World Series parade was going on at the same time.
Cahill says the goal of the partnership is to raise "millions of dollars" over the next few years. For starters, the baseball bat used tonight will be auctioned off, with the proceeds going straight to St. Jude's. Interactive fundraising events will also take place onboard -- for example, for a designated hour on any given ship, the line will donate a set amount of cash for every person who goes down the waterslide.
Speaking of which, the pomp and circumstance isn't over just yet. Tomorrow, the line will actually christen its longest-ever waterslide courtesy of a special godchild. Carnival held a contest, "Virtual Book of Dreams," this summer; children were invited to share their drawings and essays online for a public vote. The winner -- Hailee Steberger -- will serve as the godchild and christen the slide with a ride down (that is if she can brave the cool temperatures and rain in Manhattan).
We'll be answering your Carnival Dream questions here all weekend -- and posting insights and pictures from the waterslide and everywhere else on the ship, too. Stay tuned!
--by Melissa Paloti, Managing Editor