Today marks the christening of new P&O Cruises ship Iona. After a year-long wait, she’ll make a sparkling debut in Southampton as Music Director, Gary Barlow, serenades a virtual audience. The latest P&O ship has been years in the making and behind her oh-so-anticipated launch are ten maritime traditions that play a part in every build.
1. Steel cutting
It might not look like much, but a laser-cut slice of steel signals the beginning of every new cruise ship build process. Shipbuilders and cruise line industry heads come together to mark the beginning of an often multi-million-pound project that will be two or three years in the making.
2. Keel laying and coin ceremony
The keel laying is a notable point in the build of every new ship like Iona. Cranes will left the main component of the hull, known as the keel, into dry dock – an area designed to let water flood in and where many ships return for refurbishment later down their lifeline.
Keel laying is often marked with a coin ceremony, with coins welded into the ship’s structure somewhere for luck.
3. Site visit
Just as you’d expect a new house build to include site visits, so too does the build of Iona and the like. During the main bulk of a new ship’s construction, the shipyard will arrange for cruise line representatives and press to don their hard hats and take a guided tour. It almost always comes with a disclaimer that the ship is still in a raw state, with hanging wires, stair grills and exposed beams meaning sturdy shoes are a must!
4. Float out
The float out of a new cruise ship is a major event, with the flood gates literally opening to allow water to touch the ship for the first time. More maritime traditions come into play here, with a temporary godmother to the ship often breaking that very first bottle of champagne on the hull and a chaplain giving his blessing over the ship and all that sail upon her.
5. Sea trials
Start your engines! All eyes are on the Captain during sea trials, with the ship embarking on a test drive that’ll make sure it’s capable of negotiating the high seas effortlessly (and quietly – noise levels must meet a certain standard for a ship to be given the green light to welcome passengers!)
The handover of a new ship is a huge milestone. The shipyard will officially hand over ownership of the ship to the cruise line in a ceremony (they love a ceremony!) and the shipyard’s flag will be replaced with that of the cruise line. There’s a log book handover too, just like when you buy a new car.
Any travel industry bods reading this will be familiar with the shakedown cruise! Before any new ship launches to paying passengers, a number of guests from within the industry and in the media will embark for a short voyage designed to assess how well things run. Any little niggles are then iron out and it isn’t unusual to attend a shakedown voyage and see them finishing off things like carpeting or touching up paintwork – there’s no room for ‘that’ll do…’ on a multi-million-pound ship!
8. Inaugural voyage
Most ships are built in Italy or Germany and their inaugural voyage sees them reposition to wherever they’ll spend what’s known as a maiden season. This is when new vessels destined for Caribbean cruises tend to make a whistle stop into Southampton, giving UK cruisers the chance to see them in all their glory.
And so we come to be where we are today, with Iona’s christening just hours away. The christening of a new cruise ship is the main event, with a godmother officially naming the vessel and pushing the button that’ll send a bottle of champagne or the cruise line’s sparkling tipple of choice smashing against the hull. Iona will be toasted with the smash of English sparkling wine as part of the tradition and her guests can drink the very same one on board this summer…
What happens when the bottle refuses to break at a cruise ship christening? Well, it’s considered very bad luck indeed, but fortunately happens very rarely! Queen Victoria suffered the awkward failure in her christening ceremony and she’s doing just fine…
10. Maiden voyage
Iona’s first cruise looked set to be something really special, with a whole IonaFest festival at sea scheduled for her maiden voyage. While things didn’t go to plan there, her newly-planned maiden voyage in British waters in August will see a whole host of special events, as is tradition when it comes to welcoming the first passengers of a new ship. We can’t wait to join them!
Plan your holiday on Iona here and see what all those months of hard work and maritime tradition were in aid of!