Swan Hellenic Christens New Minerva

July 7, 2003

In what is already a busy season for new ship christenings, Swan Hellenic's official unveiling ceremony for Minerva II, the former Renaissance 8, was easily the year's most elegant. Held in London (rather than the more usual Southampton), the event featured a potent combination of unforgettable vistas and lots of star power.

The one-ship British cruise line got permission to sail up the Thames - according to the Times of London it is the largest cruise vessel ever to travel as far as London Bridge - and then anchored in the center of that majestic river. The ceremony, held poolside, featured numerous speakers - all beginning their talks with "good evening lords, ladies, and gentlemen" as if the scene were something out of a Merchant Ivory flick. Highlights included a quick speech by godmother Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, and a poetry-reading by Dame Judi Dench, who had once performed skits on a Swan Hellenic cruise and was obviously a fan. Another well known British actor (and best-selling novelist) - Stephen Fry - handled master of ceremony details. The event's most magical moment was a post-sunset fireworks show over London Bridge.

The traditional champagne smash was handled in a creative way: a taut high-wire was rigged from the ship's smokestack to a wall on the opposite side of the pool area. Let loose, it sailed gracefully overhead until it contacted with the wall and shattered on the first effort. Dame Judi Dench, who had handled her first-ever godmother duties for Carnival Legend last summer -- and who had notorious difficulty when it took three attempts to smash the bottle (the last soaking the actress, who then earned the moniker "Dame Judi Drench") -- was heard to say how relieved she was just to read a poem.

Speaking of Carnival, Swan Hellenic, which had been owned by P&O Cruises since 1983, now falls under the Carnival Corp. umbrella since the latter's recent acquisition. As such, Carnival Corp. chief Micky Arison was on-hand. The peripatetic Arison has, since the mid-April closing of the deal for P&O Princess, had a busy schedule of appearances at P&O Princess-related ship events, including Island Princess, AIDAaura, Ocean Village, Adonia and Minerva II. Arison's by no means ignoring the more seasoned Carnival Corporation cruise lines - he made it to Naples for the unveiling of CostaMediterranea and is slated to be on hand for Carnival Glory and Holland America's Oosterdam later this month, as well as at Costa Fortuna at the end of the year.