(5:15 p.m. EDT) -- With a swing of a broad axe, delivered by a man flying through the air wearing a jetpack, former astronaut Anna Fisher christened Viking Cruises' newest ship, Viking Orion.
Fisher used the traditional Viking broad axe to slice through a ribbon attached to a bottle of aquavit, sending it smashing into the hull of Viking Orion. In a surprise that wowed those gathered, a real-life rocket man flew from Livorno's Fortezza Vecchia (old fort) carrying an axe. Decked out in purple neon, he took a few laps around the ship before landing and handing the axe off to Fisher.
The christening took place in front of crowd that included media, VIPs and a huge group of fellow astronauts, scientists, military and explorers. While Champagne is traditionally used for ship naming ceremonies, Viking has established its own tradition of using aquavit, a Scandinavian distilled spirit.
"I can't thank you enough for this incredible, incredible honor," Fisher said after being welcomed to the stage by Viking Chairman and founder Torstein Hagen.
Another ship christening tradition is the blessing, and Orion's was delivered in Italian by Monsignor Liberio Andreatta and translated by Viking Senior Vice President Karine Hagen said: "Protect this ship, her crew and her guests."
The ceremony included a concert narrated by British explorer Ranulph "Ran" Fiennes. The concert paid tribute to Nordic mythology and the spirit of exploration. Italian tenor Antonio Coriano, Norwegian bukkehorn musician Sissel Morken Gullord and Norwegian singer Sissel Kyrkjebo performed (Kyrkjebo will serve as godmother to Viking Jupiter, which debuts in 2019). Livorno's historic Medici-built Fortezza Vecchia served as a gorgeous backdrop to the event, with narrative projections playing off the limestone tower.
"We are grateful for Dr. Fisher's many contributions to the scientific community, and we are humbled that she is godmother to Viking Orion," Torstein Hagen said. "The spirit of exploration is at the heart of the Viking way of travel, and we look forward to welcoming guests onboard our newest ship, which has been designed to offer opportunities for learning about the great history of space exploration."
The ship christened, Fisher presented both Hagens with blue flight jackets adorned with patches gathered from herself and her "astronaut friends." Accepting the gift, Hagen joked that the real question is, "does it fit?" (It did.)
Fisher, 68, served as a mission specialist aboard the space shuttle Discovery, which launched November 8, 1984. The first mother in space, Fisher is one of the "original six" women accepted into NASA's Astronaut Training Program. Fisher, who retired in April 2017, contributed to a number of projects at NASA, including the International Space Station and Orion, a spacecraft being designed to take humans to Mars and beyond. Fisher celebrated her retirement by taking a Viking River Cruise, and the partnership was born.
Since Viking announced Fisher would be the ship's godmother, the cruise line has consistently promoted the ship's ties to exploration. Onboard, that means a new Explorers' Dome planetarium, where passengers can watch one of two movies on space in 3D, see the night sky and take in lectures from resident astronomers. Additionally, photos of space exploration adorn the walls alongside more traditional Viking art. During the ship's inaugural voyage, members of the ship's esteemed guest list will speak on space travel and exploration.
"We're going to carry that message of space exploration even further," Fisher said.
The 930-passenger ship is the fifth ocean cruise vessel in Viking's fleet and is nearly identical to its sister ships, Viking Star, Sky, Sea and Sun. The cruise line focuses on enrichment and port-intensive itineraries, with an onboard environment heavy on learning and relaxation. It offers a relatively inclusive experience, with wine, beer and soft drinks at lunch and dinner, a shore excursion in every port and one of the best thermal suites at sea included in your cruise fare. The first of Viking's ocean-going vessels, Viking Star, debuted in 2015, making it one of the youngest and fastest-growing cruise fleets around.
Viking Orion will spend the summer sailing Eastern and Western Mediterranean itineraries before heading to Asia, Australia and Alaska, in 2019.
-- By Colleen McDaniel, Senior Executive Editor