(10:37 a.m. EST) -- Costa Deliziosa -- Italian line Costa Cruises' brand-new 92,700-ton, 2,260-passenger ship -- was named at Port Rashid in Dubai today at an extravagant ceremony that mixed dazzling Arabian horsemanship with parachutists bearing Costa logos, traditional dance and an Italian tenor singing "Nessun Dorma."
The celebration culminated with a bottle of sparkling date juice being smashed confidently against the hull by the godmother, Lebanese-born Tala Dionisi, wife of the Italian ambassador to the United Arab Emirates -- date juice used instead of Champagne out of respect to Dubai's Muslim faith.
An important note: For the same reason, this event is not considered a christening, but a naming.
This is the first time a cruise ship has been named in an Arabian port. The attendance of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Radhid al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, after days of "Will he or won't he turn up?" speculation, confirms the huge significance of the event to the Emirate, which stands to earn 14 million euro from the ship's inaugural season here in 2010 and ambitiously aims to increase its cruise passenger figures from 250,000 in 2009 to 575,000 by 2015.
The party -- which was a double celebration for the ship and inauguration of the brand-new Port Rashid cruise terminal -- certainly wowed the audience, who were seated in a specially built stadium for 3,000 and included the 2,200 guests who are halfway through the inaugural cruise alongside 800 media and local dignitaries.
The interpretation of the dress code alone was mesmerizing -- the locals cool in their traditional white dishdashes (flowing garments) and aviator shades, while guests from Europe and beyond sweltered in black tie and party dresses.
Guests were treated to a traditional Arabic wedding dance (this, after all, being a marriage of sorts between Costa and Dubai) and a display of magnificent Arab horses, performing intricate dressage and later, galloping up and down a special sand track installed in front of the stadium, their riders in the flowing colours of the United Arab Emirates: red, white, green and black.
The Italian contribution included the ship's singers and dancers, and two tenors who sang the inevitable "Con te Partiro" (Time to Say Goodbye) and various other opera classics, although "Nessun Dorma" was cut short by the arrival of the royal party -- including the sheikh, crown prince of Dubai -- and its enormous entourage.
After the bottle had smashed, the VIP's were treated to a feast of Arabic mezzes, meats, dates and exotic fruits -- and, as a final nod to Italian influence, tiramisu.
Although the cruise line won't part with exact figures, sun-loving Brits and Germans are expected to make up the majority of Costa's passengers sailing from Dubai. Marco Rosa, Costa's U.K. managing director, reckons that the price of the cruises, which are packaged with flights on Emirates, will make Dubai and the Gulf affordable to new audiences.
He told Cruise Critic: "Dubai has really invested in promoting itself and we are getting the benefit now. Price is the big advantage of a cruise compared to staying in a hotel in Dubai. All the dinners and drinks could be quite challenging in terms of cost, especially for a family. Value for money makes a cruise the obvious choice."
The ship continues its maiden voyage later this week, ending in the Maldives, and will return to Dubai mid-March to operate seven-day cruises alongside its sister, Costa Luminosa. The winter season will be repeated in 2011 after Costa Deliziosa's maiden world cruise.
--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor
Image of horsemen appears courtesy of Sue Bryant. Other image appears courtesy of Costa Cruises.