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From Oprah to Queen Elizabeth: Why cruise ship godmothers exist and who gets to be one

Nov. 05, 2022
9 min read
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What do the Queen of England, Sophia Loren, Dora the Explorer and the rapper Pitbull have in common? They’re all ship godmothers and godfathers in a tradition that has evolved from ancient seafaring days.

In Viking times, ceremonies for new ships are said to have involved human sacrifices to appease the gods and protect the ship and its crew. The Babylonians offered ox blood. In ancient Greece, they’d put olive wreaths on their heads, drink wine and bless the new ship with water.

These days, we usually sacrifice a bottle of alcohol by smashing it on the bow and then raising a glass to celebrate. Although some ships have had their bows doused with brandy, Champagne and wine are the most popular choices. (During Prohibition, christenings in the United States were often done with water, juice and apple cider.)

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When it comes to choosing a godmother, traditionally the offer would be extended to female royalty. However, in recent years, cruise lines have gotten creative. The right godmother will get people talking and lead to a whole lot of free publicity, which is why we’ve seen celebrities, politicians, athletes and even cartoon characters stepping into the role.

Some join their godship’s inaugural cruise, but others only stay for the Champagne smashing and flashing cameras. Once the ceremony is over, most don’t have an ongoing role on their ship, though some find ways to keep working together with the cruise line.

What kind of person makes the cut to christen a ship? Let’s take a look.

Simone Biles

Simone Biles. CELEBRITY CRUISES

In 2021, Simone Biles, a 19-time world champion gymnast and seven-time Olympic medalist, became godmother for Celebrity Cruises' Celebrity Beyond. The line has often selected transformational and courageous godmothers who are breaking barriers and championing change in their respective fields. Biles joins fellow Celebrity godmothers Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code and the Marshall Plan for Moms, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai.

Jennifer Lopez

Keeping with its non-traditional way of doing cruises, Virgin Voyages did away with the "godmother" moniker, naming actor and singer Jennifer Lopez the "Chief Entertainment and Lifestyle Officer" for the line's Valiant Lady. Lopez isn't just the face of the vessel. She's partnered with the line, creating wellness programs and beauty products that are available across the Virgin Voyages fleet.

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Related: First look: 10 things I love about Virgin Voyages' new Valiant Lady cruise ship

Katy Perry

Katy Perry performs at Norwegian Prima's christening ceremony. TRISTAN FEWINGS/NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE VIA GETTY IMAGES

One of the latest in a long line of famous and attention-grabbing godmothers, singer Katy Perry christened Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Prima in Iceland in 2022 and followed it up with a live performance and a short sailing on the vessel.

Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth II attended the christening of Britannia in March 2015. JAMES D. MORGAN/GETTY IMAGES

The ship that shares the late British queen's name, Queen Elizabeth 2, or QE2, may now be a floating hotel in Dubai, but the queen was also the godmother of three ships that are still sailing the seas.

The queen christened two Cunard ships, Queen Mary 2 in 2004 and Queen Elizabeth in 2010, and was also godmother to P&O Cruises’ Britannia. Other royal family members who became ship godmothers include the late Diana, Princess of Wales and Catherine, Princess of Wales (formerly known as the Duchess of Cambridge).

Sophia Loren

As godmother to the largest number of vessels, Sophia Loren has christened nearly two dozen ships in the MSC Cruises fleet. Before becoming MSC’s godmother of choice, starting with MSC Lirica in 2003, Loren also became godmother of Princess Cruises’ original Crown Princess back in 1990.

Dame Helen Mirren

The British Oscar-winning actress Helen Mirren became the godmother of the world’s first discovery yacht, Scenic Eclipse. The founder and chairman of Scenic, Glen Moroney, said Mirren’s “style, beauty and spirit of adventure” were the perfect fit for Scenic Eclipse. It wasn't her first time smashing Champagne on a ship. Mirren also became godmother to P&O Cruises’ Ventura in 2008.

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey speaks during the Holland America Line and Nieuw Statendam dedication in 2019. JOHN PARRA/GETTY IMAGES FOR HOLLAND AMERICA

To celebrate becoming godmother to Holland America Line’s Nieuw Statendam, Oprah set sail on a cruise with her friend Gayle King and 2,666 Oprah magazine readers. Oprah also worked with HAL to provide lifestyle programs, including morning meditation and intention setting, across 16 ships.

Dame Judi Dench

Champagne bottles are built tough to withstand high pressure. Unfortunately, Dame Judi Dench found out just how hard they can be when she christened Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Legend in 2001. After three attempts, the bottle finally smashed and soaked her in the process, leading to “Dame Judi Drench” headlines alongside photos of her covered in Champagne.

Martha Stewart

The celebrity lifestyle expert's appointment as godmother was a controversial choice in 2006, coming just two years after she had been sentenced to five months in jail on felony charges. Stewart did the honors for Princess Cruises and christened the line's new Crown Princess ship that year. Stewart currently works with MSC Cruises creating exclusive onboard and onshore culinary experiences.

Malala Yousafzai

Celebrity Edge naming ceremony. CELEBRITY CRUISES

The youngest Nobel Prize laureate, Yousafzai continues her fight to give every girl the right to safe, free education through the Malala Fund. When she christened Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Edge with sparkling water rather than Champagne, she also marked a two-year partnership between the cruise line and her charity.

Priscilla Presley

Steamboats have godmothers, too, and the biggest and most luxurious one on the Mississippi has Priscilla Presley. American Queen looks like an old-school showboat on the outside but features modern comforts on the inside. When it stops in Memphis, guests receive an invitation to the godmother’s house, Graceland.

Dora the Explorer

Dora the Explorer during the official naming ceremony of P&O’s Pacific Explorer in 2017. JAMES D. MORGAN/GETTY IMAGES

When P&O Cruises called on Dora the Explorer to serve as godmother to Pacific Explorer, the Nickelodeon character was joined by SpongeBob SquarePants and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the christening celebration. Other animated godmothers include Shrek’s Princess Fiona, who is the godmother to Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, and Tinkerbell, who is the fairy godmother to Disney Cruise Line's Disney Wonder.

Pitbull

When Norwegian Cruise Line named Pitbull the godfather of Norwegian Escape in 2015, it took a lot of people by surprise. It turns out he’s the godfather who keeps on giving. Pitbull’s songs have been featured in Norwegian’s ads, he’s entertained guests at a CruiseWorld event and the video clip for his song “Freedom” is pretty much an ad for the cruise line.

Since Pitbull was named godfather, other men have also filled the role for NCL, including New York City radio personality Elvis Duran, who christened Norwegian Bliss in 2018.

'The Love Boat' cast

When "The Love Boat" cruised onto TV screens in 1977, the pilot was filmed on Princess Cruises' original Pacific Princess.

Fast forward to 2014 when six of the main cast members became godparents to the line’s Regal Princess. Gavin Macleod (Captain Stubing), Fred Grandy (Gopher), Ted Lange (Isaac), Bernie Kopell (Doc), Lauren Tewes (Julie) and Jill Whelan (Vicki) reunited to pull a handle that sent 50 bottles of Champagne crashing against the ship’s hull before singer and comedienne Charo brought down the house with a flamenco guitar performance. Now that’s a party.

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Additional reporting by Ashley Kosciolek and Kristy Tolley.

Featured image by SINA ETTMER/EYEEM/GETTY IMAGES
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
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  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
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Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees