Image: Cattrall's christening
Mark Mainz  /  Getty Images
Actress Kim Cattrall is seen christening the Norwegian Dawn in this file photo. Cattrall is flanked by NCL's President and CEO Colin Veitch, left, Captain Hoydal, center right, and Chairman of Star Cruises Tan Sri K T Lim.
By Anita Dunham-Potter Travel columnist
updated 5/9/2007 11:35:31 AM ET 2007-05-09T15:35:31

Ship christenings have come a long way since the Viking era, when ships were launched with human sacrifices to appease the gods and protect the new ship and its crew. While good fortune no longer requires human sacrifice, it does seem to require the human touch of the celebrity sort.

Ceremonial evolution
Traditionally, important ships were "christened" by royalty or by the ship's owners as they were launched from their building blocks into the sea. To mark these occasions, bottles of champagne or sparkling wine were broken against the ship's hull. Over time, the ritual duties were passed from high-ranking men to high-ranking women. In either case, the ceremony was meant to bring good luck to the ship and those who sailed on it.

Today's "godmothers," as the modern launchers are called, may no longer hobnob with the queen, but they are certainly high-profile standouts who attract lots of prized media attention for the cruise line. Recent ship godmothers include Rosie O'Donnell, Sophia Loren, Kathy Ireland and Martha Stewart. These women join an illustrious group of earlier godmothers that includes Queen Elizabeth II, Queen Sonja of Norway, Audrey Hepburn, Dame Julie Andrews, Shirley Temple Black, Lauren Bacall and the late Diana, Princess of Wales.

Smashing publicity
Cruise lines will often ramp up the celebrity hype by christening the ship with a theme. For example, next week Princess Cruises will celebrate Mother's Day by christening its newest ship, Emerald Princess, with a pair of television's favorite moms: Florence Henderson, best known as Carol Brady on "The Brady Bunch," and Marion Ross, who played Marion Cunningham on "Happy Days."

But when it comes to ship-launching publicity, no one can touch Royal Caribbean International, who last year partnered with NBC's "Today" show to ask the public to pick the godmother for Freedom of the Seas, the world's largest passenger ship. Viewers voted for Katherine Louise Calder, a Portland, Ore., woman who is foster mother to more than 400 children. Not only did the public vote, they also watched the christening live as the entire show was broadcast aboard ship. A similar contest was held this year for Liberty of the Seas, although without the "Today" show, when Royal Caribbean named Canadian travel agent Donnalea Madaley to do the honors. Madaley was selected from among nearly 2,500 nominations of female travel agents who have demonstrated dedication to philanthropy and service in their communities. She will christen the ship on May 18.

Sometimes a cruise line will take a more unconventional approach. In 1997, Princess Cruises chose the original "Love Boat" cast to christen Dawn Princess. In 2002, Holland America Line bestowed the honor of representing the Prinsendam on all of its more than 10,000 employees worldwide. And, in 1999, Disney Cruise Line did what only Disney can do: It had Tinker Bell serve as fairy godmother for the Disney Wonder (she magically appeared via laser projection and fluttered down the length of the ship, sprinkling her fairy-dust blessings).

‘Bad-girl’ godmothers
Not all godmother choices are as popular as Tinker Bell. When domestic doyenne and convicted felon Martha Stewart was named godmother to Princess Cruises' Crown Princess, there were a lot of groans. And when Rosie O'Donnell was named godmother to Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Pearl, many wondered why the controversial talk queen was chosen.

Alan Wilson, editor and publisher of Cruise News Daily, says the choices all come down to a competition for media attention. He calls the more controversial choices "bad-girl godmothers," whose tarnished reputations are part of the draw. He says the controversy usually is a win-win situation for the players: the cruise line gets more publicity and the bad girl gains back some respectability.

Lady Luck
Fortunately, ship christenings have evolved from stuffy affairs into fun festivals with some entertaining moments.

In 2002, NCL chose "Sex in the City" star Kim Cattrall to be the godmother for Norwegian Dawn. Cattrall touted the ship's large comfortable beds and then purred to the audience that the Dawn was '"by far the biggest ship in New York ... and don't let anyone ever tell you that size doesn't matter!'" It took English actress Dame Judi Dench three attempts to smash a bottle of champagne against the hull of Carnival Cruise Lines' Carnival Legend in 2002. In her last attempt, she soaked herself, earning the nickname Dame Judi "Drench."

And what do the godmothers get besides the honor of christening the ship? They are usually presented with fabulous jewelry and, best of all, are able to enjoy a free cruise a year for life on their "godship."

Sadly, once the ceremony is over, most godmothers abandon their ships. The exception is Dame Judi, who Carnival says she is the only godmother to stay in contact with her godship, Carnival Legend. Indeed, Dame Judi sends the ship a Christmas card every year. Now, that's the perfect godmother.

Sound off! Do you have a comment, an idea, a complaint or a problem for Anita to solve? Send her an e-mail and you might find yourself in her next column.

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