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A look at the cruise ship godmother tradition - who, what and most importantly - why?

Sarah on Apr 22, 2016

A look at the cruise ship godmother tradition - who, what and most importantly - why?

Royal Caribbean and Holland America have recently announced the identities of the women who will become godmothers to their latest vessels. The long-standing tradition of naming influential women as sponsors and protectors is an exciting part of the lead-up to any launch, and these two new candidates stand in very good company.

Who are these cruise godmothers, and why does the concept exist? It' s a good question! They are women from all walks of life, comprising a range of nationalities and everything from actresses to royalty, athletes to politicians, and even some ladies who are in no way celebrities but as "normal" as the next person. Their role is one with origins that can't quite be traced back to any one moment, but are well-rooted in nautical heritage around the world.

We took a look at some of the most interesting godmothers and the history behind it all!

Latest godmothers: Chinese actress and Dutch royalty
The recent announcements serve to illustrate the variety of women chosen for the role of godmother - it is exciting to see such a range of influential and talented people taking on our beloved ships.

The Ovation of the Seas will have Fan Bingbing as its patron, an internationally-acclaimed Chinese actress and number one on the Forbes China "Celebrity 100" list. As one of the most influential Chinese stars, holder of awards from a variety of international film festivals and philanthropist, she is the ideal candidate, and will be the first Chinese celebrity to receive the honour from an international cruise line.

Fan Bingbing godmother of the Ovation of the Seas

Meanwhile, Holland America Line has named royalty as the godmother of the recently-launched ms Koningsdam, in keeping with the theme established by the ship's name: "Koning" means king in Dutch. Her Majesty Queen Máxima of the Netherlands will christen the ship in Rotterdam on the 20th of May 2016 - she already holds the title for the ms Nieuw Amsterdam from her time as Princess. She's not the first in the Dutch royal family to christen a Holland America vessel, nor the first to serve as godmother - HRH Princess Margriet had the honour for the MS Rotterdam and MS Oosterdam, and then-Queen Beatrix for the MS Eurodam.

Her Majesty Queen Máxima of the Netherlands

A long-standing tradition unpacked
The pomp and ceremony surrounding ship godmothers and naming events do make the process more exciting - but from where does the tradition stem?

Ceremonial launchings of ships have long been a part of the nautical world in many countries and cultures - Such blessings have been traced back as far as the ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman empires. In India, a ship is launched with a "puja" ceremony that dedicates the ship to a god, while Japanese launchings incorporate silver axes to scare away evil and bring good luck. Religion, superstition and unquestioned ritual are and have always been the major driving forces behind such ceremonies.

old ship

The tradition of having women sponsor and christen ships began in the British Royal Navy. Before the 19th century, it was strictly men and usually members of the royal family, senior naval officers  or Admiralty officials. When civilians first began to be given the honour, women were also included - and they have slowly become the go-to gender for ship patrons. The practice moved to the United States and the western world, and the US Navy has a very strong "Society of Sponsors" made up of women who have taken part in the time honoured tradition.

Sponsors in the cruise world became godmothers, these charged with very similar duties: christening, usually with a bottle of champagne, bringing luck and blessings to the ship and generally serving as a representative of the vessel. The godmother tradition also helps in bringing publicity to the line and their launch - Kristin Chenoweth released a series of videos for Royal Caribbean promoting the many unique and innovative features of her "godship", the Quantum of the Seas, when it was launched. The godmothers also generally benefit from some good publicity around their appointment.

There are a few perks involved in being a godmother, beyond the honour of being chosen. They are often presented with jewelry or other gifts, and also are traditionally entitled to one free cruise per year on their ship.

The ongoing duties of a godmother past the christening ceremony are virtually nil - and like godparents of humans, some find themselves more involved with their proteges than others. We suspect the Queen and her granddaughter-in-law Kate are rather too busy and wary of paparazzi to spend time onboard the ships they named. However, it has been said that dutiful Dame Judi Dench has sent the Carnival Legend a Christmas card or two. Dance company the Rockettes are joint godmothers of the Norwegian Breakaway, and members of the troupe have sailed many times on various itineraries offering dance and fitness classes to passengers.

Our top picks: Famous and fabulous godmothers
There have certainly been some memorable ladies sponsoring cruise vessels over the years! These are a few of the godmothers which have caught our interest.

  • Dame Helen Mirren, Ventura. Who better to launch an elegant, traditional P&O UK vessel than one of the world's most established and respected actresses? Dame Helen's career is a story of class, talent and hard work, and she seems to be the perfect choice for a "patron saint" of any ship.
  • Sophia Loren, MSC Cruises ships. This Italian screen legend epitomises the European grace and elegance that MSC Cruises also captures - and she's such a good fit that they have asked her time and time again! Sophia is godmother for eight MSC ships.

Sophia Loren

  • Queen Elizabeth II, Britannia. For their big and modern new flagship, P&O would consider only the most influential of women - and they couldn't have done much better than the current monarch of the United Kingdom. Who wouldn't want the Queen as their godmother?
  • Line employees, MS Prinsendam and Celebrity Reflection. We were tickled by the way these two cruise lines honoured their employees. Holland America named Rose Abello, Eva Andresen and Linda Ehlenberger, all company executives, as godmothers of the Prinsendam to represent all of the line's employees. Celebrity gave the title of godmother for the Celebrity Reflection jointly to Jovanka Goronjic, Megan Mathie, Helen O'Connell and Rosey Rodriguez, all survivors of cancer who hold various roles in the company from glassblowing artist to community relations manager.
  • Barbara Kendall, Pacific Pearl. It's great when the choice of godmother has some real meaning - and Kiwi legend Barbara Kendall is an excellent choice for P&O Australia's  Pearl! As a triple Olympic medallist in boardsailing, she is well at home on the seas - and presides over the Pacific Pearl which spends a lot of time in her beautiful home country.
  • Katherine Louise Calder, Freedom of the Seas. When choosing a godmother for the Freedom, Royal Caribbean looked past celebrity status and instead chose someone whose extraordinary accomplishments have gone unknown to the world. Before being godmother to the ship, Katherine Calder had a much more important role as foster mother to hundreds of special needs children. She was chosen by popular vote after a nationwide competition.
  • Duchess Catherine of Cambridge, Royal Princess. We just love how the name of the ship matches the way that most people view this lovely woman! Duchess she might be, but "Kate" has captured the hearts of the world as a modern-day princess, making her an excellent choice as godmother of this new and innovative Princess ship. The original Royal Princess was named by her late mother in law, Princess Diana.

Royal princess

Whatever the reason for the godmother tradition, we enjoy the ceremony of a new ship being launched - and were happy to be a part of history being made when Cruise Sale Finder staff were present at the christening of the Pacific Aria and Pacific Eden. Have you witnessed one of these auspicious events?

I have enjoyed visiting as much of the world as possible over the years. Europe and the Mediterranean are personal favourites, but there is so much to see very close to our little Australasian corner of the globe- one of my top travel experiences was snorkeling with tropical fish and turtles in New Caledonia! Cruising is a fantastic way to see it all, and we hope to make booking a cruise easier for both first-timers and old salts. From ship tips to destination news and views, we will keep you up-to-date. Happy cruising!

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