No matter how new or technologically advanced a ship is, there are various maritime traditions that surround its launch. From superstitions to practical steps that make sure everything goes to plan, here are just some of the events that lead up to a ship embarking on that all-important first journey.

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. 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.

Arvia's coin laying ceremony
Arvia’s keel laying ceremony

3. Site visit

Just as you’d expect a new house build to include site visits, so too does the build of a ship. 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!)

Celebrity Beyond sea trials
Celebrity Beyond completing her sea trials

6. Handover

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 logbook handover too, just like when you buy a new car.

7. Shakedown

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 ironed 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.

9. Christening

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.

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…

MSC Seaview Christening Ceremony
MSC Seaview’s christening ceremony

10. Maiden voyage

Then it’s finally time for the main event – a cruise ship’s maiden voyage! Paying guests will board for the first time and get to experience everything a brand-new vessel has to offer.

If you’ve never experienced a maiden voyage before, we’d strongly recommend adding it to your cruising wishlist. Arvia’s first cruise, for example, will be departing Southampton for a 14-night trip to the Canaries.