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Wedding Cruises Prove Popular

September 9, 2009 By: George Dooley

Over 60 percent of travel agents report that their cruise wedding business has increased in the last two years, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) member lines report with increases of as much as 60 percent in the last decade. More and more cruise lines offer shipboard wedding packages, amenities and wedding planning services, including legal marriages performed by ships’ captains virtually anywhere in the world. A CLIA breakdown by cruise line shows diversity of options and sales opportunities for agents. 

Couples have gotten the message that a cruise can be the setting for an ideal destination wedding – an easily planned, fully-personalized marriage ceremony, reception and honeymoon all rolled into one convenient package. The options are boundless: a shipboard wedding on embarkation day followed by a honeymoon for two; a shoreside wedding on a tropical beach; or a sunset marriage ceremony at sea with everyone in the wedding party enjoying the entire cruise are among the many choices.

Whatever the plan – a wedding close in the Caribbean or Bahamas on one of the newest and largest ships in the CLIA fleet or on an  all-suite luxury vessel in Europe or the South Seas – couples and wedding planners will find outstanding value at every price level, often with costs significantly less than a similar land-based wedding and reception.

It is even possible to charter an intimate luxury yacht or elegant river cruise ship and have total control over all the details, even the itinerary. And, besides weddings, many CLIA lines offer honeymoon and vow renewal packages, bachelor and bachelorette parties, even programs for “popping the question” – the ultimate engagement party at sea.

To gauge the significance of the cruise wedding market and its trends, CLIA recently surveyed those who sell approximately 90 percent of all cruises. More than 300 travel agents provided their input on who they are booking destination weddings at sea for and what their wedding clients are looking for. Here are the highlights of the findings:

*    Almost 40 percent of travel agents have sold shipboard or destination wedding cruises
*    Cruise weddings are getting more popular: Travel agents report booking more day-of-embarkation wedding cruises (18.3 percent); more shipboard weddings with guests going along for the cruise (22.1 percent) and more in-port weddings during the cruise (18.3 percent)
*    Over 60 percent of agents report their cruise wedding business has increased in the last two years
*    The best reasons to have a cruise wedding? Almost 35 percent of agents say their clients want to combine a wedding with a honeymoon; over 23 percent said value offered by cruise lines was the top reason
*    For romance, nothing beats the Caribbean/Bahamas: Over 80 percent of agents rank this destination as the overwhelming favorite among cruise wedding clientele
*    The typical wedding cruise is a seven-day voyage in the Caribbean and/or The Bahamas, on a large cruise ship with less than ten guests in the group. However, almost 30 percent of agents report booking wedding groups of 10 to 20 guests and over 10 percent book wedding parties of 20 to 30, and some cruise lines have reported wedding parties of as much as 200
*    The typical cruise wedding clientele are mid-priced travelers aged 44 or younger who book eight to 10 months ahead

Here is a sampling of how CLIA member lines cater to bridal couples and other romantic travelers.

Azamara Cruises

Azamara offers legal, captain-led wedding ceremonies, vow renewals and in-port wedding programs. Partnering with The Wedding Experience, a variety of packages feature everything from private receptions in the ship’s specialty restaurant to cake, Champagne and more. Guests should book in advance to ensure processing of legal documents and licenses.

Carnival Cruise Lines

Some 2,300 couples will take advantage of Carnival's all-inclusive wedding packages this year, a 50 percent increase from a decade ago. Carnival's wedding programs include an official civil ceremony, reception and other value-added features and can be tailored to the couple's wishes. Shipboard ceremonies are available on embarkation day in Carnival's U.S ports and many Caribbean destinations. Vow renewal packages are also available.

Celebrity Cruises

Celebrity’s most popular wedding package is the “Nautical Nuptials” program featuring a captain-led wedding ceremony at sea offered on all Celebrity ships except Celebrity Xpedition. Other packages available include a “Bridesmaids’ Tea Party,” a “Cigar and Cognac Party,” a “Test the Waters” package and a “Welcome Reception.” Vow renewal celebrations are also offered.

Costa Cruises

Costa’s cruise weddings take place while the ship is in port, either onboard or on land, with the company’s wedding planners taking care of all the details. Couples may invite guests to join the full cruise or simply spend wedding day with the bride and groom. Among the choices are a “Caribbean Island Wedding” in a beach or garden location, or an “Italian Shipboard Wedding” in keeping with Costa’s romantic heritage.

Crystal Cruises

Crystal offers captain-led wedding vow renewal ceremonies and it is rare that one of the company’s ships sails without at least one honeymoon couple. Focusing on helping guests plan and enjoy a completely customized honeymoon rather than a pre-packaged program, Crystal offers such romantic options as a candlelight dinner on a suite’s verandah, onboard florists, a portrait studio and private shore excursions.

Disney Cruise Lines

Guests on Disney Cruise Line can exchange vows onboard the ship or step ashore for a romantic beach-side ceremony on the line’s private island paradise, Castaway Cay. With a magical Fairy-Godmother functioning as wedding planner, Disney’s Fairy Tale Weddings handles all the details, including floral arrangements, elegant cakes and Champagne toasts. For many couples, Disney is also the ultimate honeymoon experience.

Holland America Line

Holland America offers a Wedding Package as part of its Group Advantage Program (GAP). The wedding couple enjoys a free stateroom upgrade and a commemorative wedding cake with at least eight staterooms booked and the entire group enjoys numerous amenities, including a Pinnacle Grill lunch, private wine tastings, and chocolate-covered strawberries and Chase Limogere Brut in their staterooms.

MSC Cruises

MSC offers a variety of amenity packages to enhance cruise honeymoons and other romantic occasions. These range from a bottle of Asti Spumante and a special fruit basket or a bottle of Ferrari Perle and cold canapés, to a “Romantic Sunrise” – Champagne in commemorative flutes, orange juice and pastries – to a “Romantic Sunset” – Champagne in commemorative flutes and chocolate-covered strawberries.

Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian offers two wedding packages – “Onboard Aisles” and “On Shore Aisles” – available in ports in the  U.S., Canada, Europe, the Caribbean, Mexico and Bermuda. Both include a ceremony conducted by a local official plus all the features of a wedding, from music to wedding cake and sparkling wine. Norwegian also offers vow renewal packages and an “Engagement Aisles” program for the ultimate proposal at sea.

Paul Gauguin Cruises

French Polynesia in the South Seas is the setting for “A Lifetime of Memories” as the staff of Paul Gauguin create an unforgettably romantic event for honeymooners or those celebrating an anniversary. Among the features are a celebratory bottle of Champagne, a Polynesian blessing ceremony performed by Les Gauguines, an exclusive pillow gift and a photo portrait.

Princess Cruises

Princess pioneered weddings at sea more than a decade ago, and since then ship captains have married thousands of couples while sailing in locations around the globe. The unique "Tie the Knot at Sea" program offers ceremonies in the Mediterranean, Caribbean, Alaska and other exotic locales, which couples can customize with live music, flowers and reception options. In addition, a harborside option enables couples to be married in port, and ashore weddings are available in a variety of scenic ports.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises

Guests wishing to make customized wedding plans in conjunction with a Regent Seven Seas cruise may use the services of Royal Ocean Events, which can handle all the details and requests. A honeymooner package features a letter of congratulations from the captain, Veuve Clicquot Champagne and caviar, in-suite canapés every afternoon, a miniature wedding cake and Leonidas chocolates and more.

Royal Caribbean International

In addition to a “Royal Romance” package featuring a one-hour wedding ceremony onboard ship or on shore on embarkation day, couples on Royal Caribbean can exchange vows while climbing the ships’ rock walls or ice-skating or even catching the waves on the shipboard Flowrider. Shoreside wedding venues include the glaciers of Alaska, European castles, rainforests and an Italian vineyard.

SeaDream Yacht Club

SeaDream offers two wedding vow renewal ceremonies – one designed for couples only, the other for as many as 12 guests – and both conducted by the yacht’s captain. Iced Champagne and canapés, a cake and flowers add special touches to the elegance of an elegant luxury yacht experience. SeaDream points out four couples who have completed the legal process at home, the shipboard vow renewal ceremony can serve as a wedding.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

Offering an intimate and elegant atmosphere, Uniworld's boutique hotel-style ships provide the ideal situation for couples to charter the vessel and create the wedding of their dreams. Uniworld can accommodate 82 to 160 guests, depending on the ship, and offers flexibility to customize itineraries and inclusions. Short of this, Uniworld river cruise itineraries are perfectly suited for honeymooners whether they want to explore Europe or even the treasures of the Nile in Egypt.

Windstar Cruises

Windstar invites couples celebrating honeymoons, renewing wedding vows or honoring a special anniversary to discover romance at sea. Chilled Champagne, chocolate-dipped seasonal fruit, breakfast in bed, “Time for Two” massages and elegant dinners for two at sunset are among the amenities featured on the line that has been named “Most Romantic Cruise Line” by Porthole Magazine.

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