Remembering Debbie Reynolds: Godmother of the ms Veendam

In December the world lost the legendary actress and singer Debbie Reynolds. Reynolds (84) died suddenly due to stroke only one day after the passing of her daughter, writer and actress, Carrie Fisher.

Turner Classic Movies Tribute To Debbie Reynolds

Born Mary Frances Reynolds in El Paso, Texas, Debbie Reynolds won “instant stardom” at the age of nineteen in the iconic movie musical classic Singing In The Rain. In a career that would span over six decades Reynolds would grace the stage and screen big and small. Reynolds’ notable roles included the eponymous films, Tammy, the Singing Nun, Charlotte’s Web and later Mrs. Bernice Brackett (Kevin Kline’s mother) in In and Out. She would also take on the roles of the atypical TV mom in shows such as Wings, Rugrats, and Will & Grace.  Of course, to many of a certain generation, Reynolds was simply known as what she jokingly referred to as “the role of a lifetime:” “Princess Leia’s mother,” referring to her daughter Carrie Fisher and her role in the original Stars Wars Trilogy

One of Debbie Reynolds’ lesser known roles, however, was that of Godmother to the Holland America Line’s ms Veendam.

No stranger to travel industry herself, Reynolds, attempted to create a vacation destination of her own by purchasing the infamous Paddlewheel Hotel in Las Vegas in 1992 and transforming it into the Debbie Reynolds Hollywood Hotel and Casino. Included was a museum which housed her extensive collection of Hollywood costumes and movie memorabilia. Unfortunately, the venture it ran into financial difficulty and both the hotel and museum eventually closed in 1997.

Debbie Reynolds and Harve Presnell in “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” 1964.
Photograph: Everett/Rex/Shutterstock

In 1964 Debbie played the title role in The Unsinkable Molly Brown: a movie musical loosely based on the life of Margaret Tobin (later known as Molly Brown), an American human-rights activist, philanthropist and actress who survived the sinking of the RMS Titanic, a character featured briefly again in 1997 by Kathy Bates in John Cameron’s Titanic. In 1996, Reynolds would return to the theme of luxury cruising  when the ms Veendam was launched in January of that year and christened in May. According to the Holland America blog the 55,451-ton, 1,627-passenger ms Veendam IV “embarked on [her] maiden voyage on May 15, 1996 after being christened by actress Debbie Reynolds who served as Godmother”.

Debbie Reynolds Seated

Debbie Reynolds, Godmother of the ms Veendam

Featuring the atrium’s dual deck glass sculpture created on the island of Murano by the world renowned glassmaker Luciano Vistosi, upon its launch Holland America hailed the ms Veendam as a “magnificent floating resort that is a destination unto herself,” and with her “spacious staterooms, elegant restaurants, dazzling show lounge, and a $2 million collection of art and antiques,” the true definition of luxury. In their 1996 pre-launch video Chris Jurasss, cruise director of the ms Veendam stated, “I like to say the entire ship is a work of art. So much attention has been paid to its finest details. The Veendam was built entirely in Venice and the craftsman who installed the ship’s interior: the tile and marble, the glass and woodwork are descendants of the artisans who created Venice’s pallazos and churches.”  Today the ms Veendam has become the grande dame of the fleet and quintessential Holland America fan favourite  just like her godmother.

Holland America Line did not release an official statement upon her death in December 2016, however, representatives from the cruise line noted that it was an honour to have Debbie Reynolds as godmother to the ms Veendam and agreed that Ms. Reynolds was “a force like no other” who would be sorely missed.

On this Valentine’s Day we at Cruise and Travel Report send out this love letter to Debbie Reynolds and pay tribute to the life and legacy of a true Hollywood legend.

Pre-Launch Promotional Video. Cruise Director Chris Jurasss takes you on an “exclusive tour” of the ms Veendam.
Video provided courtesy of Holland America Line. Copyright 1996 All rights reserved.

Updated 9 February 2019 and 14 May 2020