Cruise Ship Godmothers
For as long as sailing vessels have been built, they have been ceremoniously blessed in a number of ways before making their maiden voyage. Historical records tell us that water, wine and even sacrificial blood have been used in the name of appeasing the gods and blessing a ship. But, in modern times, civilisation has gone through a somewhat marked refinement in customs. Now, these occasions are lavish red carpet affairs with elaborate stages and champagne baptisms, where thousands turn out from far and witness the blessing ceremony.
A major part of this modern ceremony is the naming of a ship’s godmother , who is entrusted with the guidance of the ship to and around their destinations, by blessing the ship, for the safety of its crew and passengers throughout their journey. Traditionally, champagne or sparkling wine is broken against the ship’s hull, and it is thought to be bad luck for the ship if the bottle does not break.
In 20th century France, ships were subject to ceremonies similar to those in marriage and baptism. Priests blessed the ships, whilst men (given the title ‘godfather’) handed the godmother flowers. Together, they would say the name of the ship in order to bless it.
With the phenomenon of the celebrity status, this naming ceremony is now a glitzy event with a red carpet and media attention. The cruise lines use the opportunity to promote the cruise and the ship, whilst keeping the public interested with well known faces and names. Royalty, well known celebrities and even a Disney character have been honoured as godmothers of ships.
Possibly the most well-known godmother, Queen Elizabeth II, christened Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, on a cold, rainy day in January 2004. Queen Elizabeth took to the stage wearing a fuchsia coat and purple hat with fuchsia rim, and after making her speech, she broke the champagne on the ship’s hull. This was followed by a firework display and the playing of the bagpipes.
Oscar winner and well-known actress, Helen Mirren, was named godmother of P&O’s Ventura in April 2008. However, instead of the usual champagne breaking, at the press of a button she was joined by a team of Royal Marine Commandos who abseiled down the side of the ship to break the bottles.
In 1991, the first “Fairy Godmother” was named, with Tinkerbell being made godmother of Disney Wonder, as she flew along the ship sprinkling fairy dust. Her involvement was kept top secret until the last minute, taking everyone by surprise and maintaining some “shock factor”.
It took British actress, Dame Judi Dench, three attempts to smash a bottle of champagne against Carnival Cruise Lines’ Carnival Legend. In her last attempt, she soaked herself, earning the nickname Dame Judi Drench.
One controversial choice of cruise ships godmothers was Holland America Lines’ Zaandam in 2000. American child stars, Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen were given the honour, even though they were too young to cruise alone and were also unable to drink the champagne as they were under the age of 21. But, the idea was to appeal to younger people and introduce cruising to a new generation.
The tradition of the cruise ship godmother is an important role, and one that clearly has much history behind it. While the type of people who bless the cruise ship may have changed over the years, one thing remains the same - ships are launched with all the blessings and good will in the hope that they will always return to the harbour safe and sound.