15 MAY 2012: Exhilaration. Euphoria. Thrilling. Magical. All words which describe how I felt (and still feel) as I christened the beautiful river ship AVALON VISTA last Friday in Enkhuizen, Holland. Am I on Cloud 9 - you betcha!
It was a dual christening and the coin toss had decreed that the sister ship to mine, the Avalon Visionary, would be named first by her Godmother, the really delightful and charming Nicole Mazza. To whom I am now bonded forever more. We joked about this and chatted about our emotions - a blend of nervousness and excitement for both of us. And of course the pressure was on...
I had wanted to thank the Canadian team of lovely Avalon/Globus ladies for all their kindness (and frankly for nominating me in the first place!) so before boarding the ship, I organized a fun evening out in Amsterdam.
Champagne cocktails first at the fab bar in the Pulitzer Hotel and then a long and somewhat raucous dinner at the Five Flies restaurant which has been around for 400 plus years and boasts a great many antiques along with a few Rembrandts. I highly recommend it for both the food and the atmosphere.
It was a thrill to embark on the Vista for the first time and meet the crew along with Captain Henk Schoustra who presented me with my first bouquet of flowers that week. As we chatted I assured him I took my responsibility as Godmother very seriously. I really feel a huge connection with the ship and the crew and I did my best to express to him just how much this whole honour means to me. And I promised not to let him down.
Henk was very appropriately wearing a Canadian pin and when I asked him for a Dutch pin (as he is a Dutchman) he very kindly found one. From then on we both wore our pins religiously. It was a nice bonding moment and as we all know the Canadians and the Dutch have a historic relationship harking back 60 plus years.
And of course having so many friends from the Canadian travel industry and Canadian media (as well as a few US pals) along for this fantastic trip was wonderful. It just made it all the more special that people whom I love and adore were with me to witness such a special moment for Vanessa and the Vista.
And so back to the big day which dawned with promise; I finally felt calm, and my equilibrium which was a bit off key the preceding day, was right back on track. I knew all would be well. The ships looked beautiful and all was readied. Flowers and balloons abounded and the crew was in good spirits. We just needed a little respite from the wind - I had no desire to lose my hat in the midst of the ceremony!
And so it began; Nicole addressed the audience of VIP's, members of the British, US, Australian and Canadian travel industry, as well as key media from many countries, the very nice mayor of Enkhuizen and other distinguished guests. As well of course the ship's two Captains, their Officers and crew. Then it was time for her to name and bless the ship and swing her champagne bottle against the side of the hull. It smashed into pieces and the crowd roared their approval.
Then it was my turn. I felt strangely calm and in control - all nerves had disappeared. The hat was anchored to my head and the wind had died down a little. The sun was even trying to peek out.
I addressed my remarks to the audience and tried my best to speak thoughtfully, with appropriate cadence and resonance. I had taken a great deal of time in writing my brief remarks and wanted them to really ring true for everyone who had a role in the emergence of the Vista. And then the magical moment -one I had thought of many times during the last 11 months -since I was first invited to be the Godmother of this ship. I remember pausing and smiling as I prepared to say:
"I name this ship Avalon Vista. May God bless and protect her and all who sail in her forever more".
Then I turned to my captain - Henk - who was standing behind me patiently holding the bottle of Moet et Chandon high up on the end of a rope line. I had to stand on my toes to reach it and as he handed me the suspended bottle I felt completely confident. I swung it with all my might taking no chances. Adrenalin was coursing through my veins and I was one determined Godmother! And oh joy -it smashed against the bow of the Vista and literally exploded. The ship's horn rang out and there were cheers all around and most of all from the Captain and myself and from Patrick Clark who was beaming.
It was such a thrilling and unique moment.
And from that moment on I don't think I had anything but a smile on my face. I had done my duty.
And here are my remarks:
"It is a remarkable honour and profound privilege to be the Godmother of this beautiful vessel.
As we christen this ship, I trust that she will be guided by strong and worthy hands and the steadfast knowledge and skill of her Captain and crew.
May the men and women who conceived of her, built and designed her and those to whom she is now entrusted be recognized for their work and may they inspire others.
I hope she will be a true vessel of encouragement and promote harmony, understanding, grace and camaraderie, thereby enriching the lives of those who sail with her.
And may she stay on the truest of courses, sail safely to each of her destinations and always be a stellar presence on the rivers of Europe.
I name this ship Avalon Vista. May God bless and protect her and all who sail in her forever more".
Vanessa Lee is a very happy woman. I have never before felt the kind of emotion and feelings that I experienced as I christened the ship. It was a truly euphoric moment - as if I had scaled a mountain. Thank you Avalon Waterways for choosing me - you have given me a great honour, one I promise to live up to and one which will stay with me forever.
Video of Vanessa's remarks from the Christening of the Avalon Vista