Photos: The christening of Viking Cruises' new Viking Orion
LIVORNO, Italy — River cruise giant Viking's move into ocean cruising hit another milestone on Thursday as the company christened its fifth ocean ship, Viking Orion, along the waterfront of Livorno, Italy.
With Livorno's historic Fortezza Vecchia fortress serving as a backdrop, the ship's godmother, retired NASA astronaut Anna Fisher, used a Viking axe to slice a large red ribbon that triggered the smashing of a bottle against the 930-passenger vessel.
Fisher sliced the ribbon from atop the bow of Orion as hundreds of invited guests watched from the ship's two-deck-high, forward-facing Explorers' Lounge.
Moments earlier, Fisher had told invitees she was excited to be christening Orion, noting her daughter thought she might be even more excited about the christening than the recent news her daughter was having a baby.
"When she was telling me (I) was going to be a grandmother, I was telling her I was going to be a godmother of a ship, and she said, 'I think you're more excited about being the godmother of a ship than a new grandmother," Fisher noted before clarifying. "I'm excited about both."
The traditional bottle breaking took place at the end of an elaborate, high-tech evening show and musical concert that paid tribute to Nordic mythology and the spirit of exploration. Famed British explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes served as the narrator for the event, which included projections across the Fortezza Vecchia's historic tower, smoke effects and lighting shooting into the sky.
The production included musical performances from Italian tenor Antonio Corianò, Norwegian bukkehorn musician Sissel Morken Gullord and Norwegian crossover soprano Sissel Kyrkjebø. But the scene-stealing moment of the event came when a jetpack-wearing "rocket man" flew hundreds of feet through the air from Fortezza Vecchia's historic tower to the ship carrying the axe used in the christening. After hovering over the ship like an astronaut on a space walk, the rocket man glided down to the bow of Orion just steps away from Fisher.
Orion was named in part in honor of Fisher’s work on NASA’s Orion exploration vehicle project, which came at the end of a lengthy career at the space agency that also included a flight on the Space Shuttle Discovery. Fisher was one of the original six women accepted into NASA's astronaut training program and the first mother in space.
Orion's name also is a nod to the original Viking explorers who used the constellation for long-distance navigation. Fiennes narration during the event referred to the myths of these early Viking travelers.
Attending the event were more than two dozen current and former NASA astronauts who have joined Fisher for a multi-day celebration on board the vessel. At the end of the ceremony, Fisher presented Viking founder and chairman Torstein Hagen and his daughter, Viking senior vice president Karine Hagen, with blue NASA flight jackets covered in NASA mission patches from many of the astronauts' flights.
In addition to its godmother and name, Orion has a link to NASA by way of its art collection, which is studded with NASA photographs of astronauts and NASA missions. The ship also is one of the first with a planetarium.
Orion is a sister to fast-growing Viking's first four ocean ships: Viking Star, Viking Sea, Viking Sky and Viking Sun. The vessels have debuted in rapid succession since 2015.
First look: Inside Viking Ocean Cruises' new Viking Sky
Like the earlier ships, Orion boasts a modern, Scandinavian-influenced design, and its cabins are large by cruise ship standards. Even the smallest rooms offer 270 square feet of space. In addition, every cabin comes with a balcony.
Since debuting in 2015, Viking's ocean cruise division has made a mark in the industry with a formula that centers around small ships, a focus on the destination experience and more time in ports than is common at many ocean lines. The company also is setting itself apart from many cruise operators with a "no nickel-and-diming" philosophy. In a relatively rare twist, Viking offers a shore excursion in every port that is included in the fare. Also included in the fare is beer and wine with lunch and dinner and unlimited WiFi access — something that can cost up to 75 cents a minute at other lines.
Orion will depart on its maiden voyage with paying passengers on Tuesday — a Mediterranean sailing out of Barcelona. The ship initially will sail in the Mediterranean before heading east to sail in Asia, Australia and Alaska.
The arrival of Orion is part of an ambitious expansion underway at Viking. The line has announced plans to have as many as 16 ocean ships in its fleet by 2027.
Viking's new ocean ships are among USA TODAY's list of the 25 most beautiful cruise ships. To view all 25, scroll through the carousel below.