The excitement on board Ovation of the Seas is palpable. The temperature began to rise yesterday when Captain Henrik Loy picked up the Southampton pilot at Nab Tower.
It grew as the ship sailed sedately up Southampton Water, past a hardy group of ship enthusiasts braving the wind on Calshot Spit.
The NorthStar observation capsule, looking like an escapee from the London Eye and almost as high above the waves as Portsmouth’s Spinnaker Tower, was raised in time to salute P&O Cruises’ Britannia and then Ovation passed another crowd of well-wishers in Mayflower Park before tying up at the City Terminal.
First off the ship was the Captain, to be greeted by Stuart Leven, Royal Caribbean’s UK managing director, who was ready to present a cuddly panda toy and a guidebook to China – where the ship will eventually make its home.
Meanwhile, security staff started to ready their check-in terminals and the shelves in the shops on the Royal Esplanade finally began to fill with the jewellery, watches, handbags and T-shirts that will be on sale to the first paying passengers.
They don’t arrive until later in the week, however. Today is a shakedown event, for a select group of UK media and about 800 travel agents from around the country.
We will have to tread carefully around the remaining contractors still applying the finishing touches, filling pots with colourful plants, and cleaning the last paint spots from floors and walls. And we will be patient and forgiving with the waiters who still haven’t worked out where everything is yet.
The robotic mixologists in the Bionic Bar are fully functioning, though, and last night prepared their first Captain Greybeard cocktail – a potent mix of Captain Morgan rum, Grey Goose vodka, and Jack Daniel’s, topped up with Diet Coke.
I can attest to its knock-out powers, and now any Royal Caribbean passenger can get one for themselves at the Bionic Bar. Just remember the name: Captain Greybeard. Please don’t try sending the bill to me, though.
Ovation sets out on a pre-inaugural cruise this Thursday, followed by the official maiden voyage on April 17. The ship finally leaves the UK on May 3, on its grand odyssey to China, where it will finally be christened by Chinese actress Fan Bingbing.