Queen Máxima of the Netherlands douses the bell of the Koningsdam with champagne.  

Actresses, athletes, politicians, and even members of royalty bless new ships before they set sail

This past Friday, Holland America Line celebrated its 12th royal ship naming in Rotterdam. The guest of honor was the ship’s “godmother,” Queen Máxima of the Netherlands. With the words “I name thee Koningsdam. May God bless the ship and all who sail on her,” the queen pulled a cord that sent a jeroboam of Veuve Clicquot smashing against the ship’s hull. The queen also blessed the ship’s bell by dousing it in champagne before giving it a lusty ring—a Holland America tradition.

To usher in their new ships, cruise lines throw lavish events, which range from formal ceremonies to fun-filled parties. There are often concerts, champagne receptions or meals cooked by celebrity chefs, fireworks displays, and special touches such as hot-air balloons, marching bands, confetti cannons, or acrobats rappelling down the sides of the ship. And, of course, there are lots of celebrity guests. 

Some namings have themes that highlight the company’s history. Earlier this month, Viking Ocean Cruises played up its Norwegian heritage when naming Viking Sea on the Thames at Greenwich. Dressed in an embroidered bunad (Norway’s traditional national costume), Karine Hagen, the daughter of Viking founder Torstein Hagen, used a replica of a historic axe to release a rope that sent a bottle of aquavit crashing into the bow. 

The star of these naming ceremonies—or christenings—is the ship’s godmother, who is always a notable person and often a celebrity. Oscar winners, Olympians, astronauts, philanthropists, politicians, comedians, and singers have all played the part. Some of the most famous have been Sophia Loren, Audrey Hepburn, Julie Andrews, Helen Mirren, Diana Ross, Mariah Carey, Margaret Thatcher, and Michelle Kwan. For one naming, the entire chorus line of the Rockettes served as co-godmothers, giving their blessing in precise unison, of course. 

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Even cartoon characters can be godmothers (with the help of a few special effects): Tinkerbell is the official godmother of Disney Wonder. And sometimes the honored guests aren’t stars but regular folks who’ve done something special such as crusade for breast cancer research, contribute to their community, or win a talent contest. At other times the wives or daughters of ship owners are awarded the role.

Once in a blue moon there are also godfathers. Last year the rapper Pitbull named Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Escape in Miami, his hometown, then performed a full-length concert for attendees.

But the ultimate godmother is a royal godmother. Queen Elizabeth made global headlines when she christened P&O Cruises’ Britannia last year as well as Cunard’s ships the Queen Mary 2 (2004), Queen Elizabeth (2010), and Queen Elizabeth 2, widely known as QE2 (1967). Kate Middleton, the duchess of Cambridge, blessed Princess Cruises’ Royal Princess in June 2013 while she was pregnant with Prince George. (This was an especially fitting pairing as back in 1985 Princess Diana had named an earlier Royal Princess, which has since been renamed.) Norway’s Queen Sonja did the honors for Royal Caribbean International’s Majesty of the Seas in 1992. And Camilla Parker Bowles, the duchess of Cornwall, was the godmother for Cunard’s Queen Victoria in 2007—watched over by a doting Prince Charles. 

Although godmothers win publicity for the ship just by attending the ceremony, their most vital duty while there is to make sure the bottle actually breaks. If it doesn’t, it’s considered bad luck. In 2002 at the naming of Carnival Legend, actress Judi Dench had to take three swings to break a magnum of champagne. On the third try she got a little extra muscle from the ship’s handsome Italian captain. The bottle smashed so hard that it soaked them both, and the next day U.K. headlines dubbed the actress “Dame Judi Drench”.

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Anne Kalosh doesn’t count the cruises she’s taken, although there have been hundreds—including five years as a shipboard newspaper editor, sailing the world. She loves the experiences sea travel offers. Her byline has appeared in many major publications, and she’s on top of the latest cruise developments as the long-time U.S. editor for Seatrade-Cruise.com and Seatrade Cruise Review.