The Princess of Wales (then Duchess of Cambridge) launches Royal Princess in 2013. Credit: Cunard

I name this ship... everything you need to know about the godmothers (and godfathers) of cruise ships

Author: Deborah Stone

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From Queen Camilla to Sophia Loren, cruise godmothers are a diverse and glamorous collection of women. There are even a few men too...

Anybody watching the Coronation of King Charles and Queen Camilla will have been deeply impressed by a flawless performance.

The entire ceremony, in all its dazzling complexity, went off without a hitch and no one – from the royal couple to the youngest choirboy – put so much as a foot wrong. But even for such consummate professionals as the King and Queen, there are times when the wheels don’t run quite as smoothly. Times such as the naming of a ship – as Queen Camilla knows only too well.

When she christened Cunard’s Queen Victoria in December 2007, accompanied by Charles, the bottle of Veuve Clicquot failed to break as the then Duchess of Cornwall pressed a button and
declared: ‘I name this ship…’

Happily, a second bottle could be discreetly smashed by hand as she finished ‘…Queen Victoria,’ without missing a beat.

Camilla had better luck when she named in 2019, all smiles in the Dover sunshine as she cracked a bottle of English sparkling wine over Saga’s first new-build boutique ship.

But why, you might be asking, does a cruise ship need a godmother? And why is it important that the christening bottle breaks on cue?

The then Duchess of Cornwall does the honours for Saga. Credit: Saga Cruises

Nobody really knows, to be honest, but sailors have always been a superstitious lot. Even back in Greek and Roman times they would beg their gods for good luck whenever a new ship was launched, offering wine among other gifts to the deities. The Vikings even made animal sacrifices to appease their gods with blood.

Today’s christenings are much more civilised affairs, although bottles that don’t break are still seen as a bad omen, as Dame Judi Dench – or Drench, as headlines described her – discovered when her third attempt to smash a bottle over Carnival Legend, back in 2002, ended in her being sprayed with champagne.

In fact, ships’ godmothers are a relatively recent invention. In the past it was always men – priests, tribal chiefs or royalty – who were called upon to name ships or bless them, often throwing a glass of wine over the deck.

In 18th-century France the ceremony was more like a wedding, with the ship’s godfather handing its godmother a bunch of flowers as they both named the ship and a priest blessed it with holy water.

The Earl and Countess of Carnarvon presided over the launch of Viking Osiris. Credit: Viking

Our own Royal Navy was among the first to adopt godmothers – or sponsors, as it calls them – in the modern sense. Cruise lines have mostly followed this tradition, although that doesn’t mean there are no ships’ godfathers.

Norwegian Cruise Line
invited rapper Armando Christian ‘Pitbull’ Perez to smash a bottle of vodka over Norwegian Escape when he became its godfather in 2015. He was followed by two more godfathers – Chinese American pop star Wang Leehom for Norwegian Joy in 2017, and US radio presenter Elvis Duran for Norwegian Bliss the same year. Unlikely choices?

"We like to break the boundaries," said Gary Anslow, NCL’s UK director of sales. There are even ships with multiple godparents. Dressed in silver sequins, dance group the Rockettes christened NCL’s Norwegian Breakaway on the Hudson River in 2013, while in 2014, Princess Cruises invited cast members of the 1970s TV series The Love Boat to do the honours for Regal Princess.

Godmothers and godfathers have few obligations after naming their ship and blessing all who sail in it, but their role is to bring the vessel good luck. The Titanic sailed without being christened, and look how that turned out.

Viking’s 80-plus ships all have godmothers, apart from Viking Osiris, which was named by the eighth Earl of Carnarvon on the River Nile last summer to mark 100 years since his great-grandfather’s discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb.

The Norwegian-based company has a particularly poetic blessing for godparents to recite: "May your guests and crew always be safe and may you always have a hand’s width of water beneath your keel..

The Rockettes are the godmothers for Norwegian Breakaway. Credit: NCL

Like other cruise lines, Viking has appointed some remarkable women as godmothers. Retired NASA astronaut Nicole Stott became Viking Neptune’s godmother in Los Angeles this January, using a historic Viking broad axe to cut a ribbon and break a bottle of aquavit on the ship’s hull.

Other exceptional women include Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai – godmother to Celebrity Edge – who was shot by the Taliban in Pakistan for speaking out about girls’ education, and who now partners with Celebrity Cruises to raise awareness of her campaign around the world.

And MSC Cruises offshoot Explora Journeys has invited American oceanographer, explorer and conservationist Dr Sylvia Earle to be godmother to Explora I this July.

Things are a little different over at Virgin Voyages – as regular ‘sailors’ (aka guests) will already know – and the line has dumped the godmother role altogether, appointing Jennifer Lopez as ‘fleet guardian’ instead.

But while showbiz royalty such as J-Lo can sprinkle stardust over a brand-new
ship (film legend Sophia Loren is godmother to the entire MSC fleet), for a truly regal welcome to the world, you can’t beat the real thing.

The Dutch royal family has launched 11 Holland America Line ships, and Princess Margriet – godmother to MS Rotterdam – attended Holland America Line’s 150th anniversary celebration in Rotterdam this April.

J Lo is both Scarlet Lady's godmother and chief entertainment and lifestyle officer. Credit: Shutterstock

Here in Britain, our own late queen sent 21 bottles flying during the course of her long reign, launching everything from cruise vessels to warships and even her beloved Royal Yacht Britannia.

Queen Elizabeth
was godmother to many of Britain’s best-known cruise ships, including the legendary QE2 and its 2010 replacement, Queen Elizabeth, as well as the world’s only cruise liner, Queen Mary 2. Her Majesty also christened P&O Cruises’ Oriana in 1995 and Britannia in 2015.

Other royal P&O godmothers include Princess Anne, who named Aurora in 2000 and Oceana in 2003; Diana, Princess of Wales, who christened the original Royal Princess in 1984; and the current Princess of Wales, who named the replacement Royal Princess in 2013.

And there could be another chance for a royal godmother to step forward next year, when Cunard launches its fourth ship, Queen Anne, before its maiden voyage from Southampton.

Will there be an invitation in the post for Queen Camilla? Cunard, discreet as ever, couldn’t possibly say.

Queen Elizabeth loved cruising and christened many ships over the years. Credit: Shutterstock


1. Dame Joan Collins was chosen to name Uniworld’s SS Joie de Vivre in Paris in 2017 because she was felt to epitomise the ‘joy-of-living’ philosophy of the river line’s ‘super ships’.

2. Bahamian triathlete Erin ‘Bionic’ Brown lost a leg to bone cancer in her 20s. Chosen for her inspiring determination, she became godmother to Royal Caribbean’s Odyssey of the Seas in 2021.

3. American astrophysicist and former NASA astronaut, Tamara Jernigan, named Carnival Pride in 2002 at Florida’s Cape Canaveral – surely a walk in the park, after spending 1,500 hours in space.

4. Berkshire mum Nina Barough CBE christened Celebrity Equinox in 2009. One of several Celebrity Cruises’ godmothers to beat breast cancer, Nina launched the Walk The Walk charity and London’s first MoonWalk in 1998.

5. Norwegian explorer Cecilie Skog christened Hurtigruten’s MS Spitsbergen in the Lofoten Islands in 2019, proving a natural fit for the expedition ship because of her experiences at the North and South Poles.

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