Getting Hitched on the High Seas

Vicky Freed, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Carnival Cruise Lines, vows that this country's divorce rate would drop if more people would tie the knot on cruise ships. "I swear," she asserts, "marriages last longer." A couple weds during a ceremony-at-sea on a Carnival Cruise ship

Though Freed, most likely, isn't able to cite any empirical evidence to support her claim, she may have a point: Getting married on a cruise is a hassle-free way to get hitched, and, often, costs a lot less than a traditional land-based wedding. Getting past those two obstacles will at least tack on a few extra years to any marriage, right?

The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) says that an increasing number of couples are saying "I do" on cruise vacations. "Cruise vacations are proving more and more popular with honeymooning and wedding couples of all ages," says Terry Dale, CLIA's president and CEO. "Because cruises are, by nature, virtually all-inclusive, they offer a convenient way in which to celebrate a wedding, honeymoon or vow renewal."

The all-inclusive part is key. While a wedding package will cost extra, feeding guests and family shouldn't be cause for concern, because, well, food is free on a cruise ship. Yeah, you're going to have to finance libations, but the wedding on Freedom of the Seas is going to leave you with money left over—even more if you decide to honeymoon on the ship. "Do the honeymoon, too," instructs Freed. "That's what makes it hassle free—you don't need the hotel." Disney Cruise Lines' wedding package includes a ceremony on the company's private island, Castaway Cay

A History of High-Seas Romance

Weddings have long been a fixture at sea, branded into the American psyche by the TV series, The Love Boat. What Saturday Night Fever did for disco, The Love Boat did for cruising. As most know from seeing the program, love was always in the air. What most don't know is that the bulk of the series was shot on Princess' Pacific Princess.

"We've had a long history of weddings because of the show," says Jan Swartz, Princess' senior vice president of customer service and sales. Princess has performed more than 2,000 weddings over the last two years, and they remain the only line that can marry couples at sea because they are Bermuda flagged. "Many couples love being married on deck," Swartz says, "and we've also had marriage proposals made over our Jumbotrons," as part of the line's Engagement Under The Stars program.

One of the companies making couples' dreams come true is Royal Ocean Events, based in Vancouver and specializing in cruise weddings. Tonia Scurr, who used to work for Holland America Line, founded the outfit 10 years ago, after Holland America asked her to run its wedding program. She branched out to other lines—Carnival and Regent to name two—and says the cruise-wedding market is ripe.

"Cruise weddings are becoming quite a thing right now," she says. "Some couples tend to not want the big flashy weddings. Plus, they want to put some of that money from mom and dad toward a house or something." Newlyweds cut the first piece of wedding cake on a Princess Cruise

Not Your Parents' Wedding

Scurr counts onboard ceremonies—those usually take place while the ship is in port before embarkation—as well as weddings at any of the line's ports of calls as equally popular. She just handled 67 guests aboard Holland America's Zuiderdam, with the bride and groom tying the knot on a beach in St. Thomas. Her company handles the hands-on operations of land weddings; the job goes to ship hostesses when the ceremony takes place on the ship. Scurr notes that Alaska is one destination that's becoming huge for weddings. "What can I say?" she says. "People want to get married on a glacier; it's very popular."

Ice caps aren't the only curious wedding venues. "We have couples marrying on our rock climbing walls, even our FlowRider surf simulator," says Ken Muskat, regional vice president of sales and market development for Royal Caribbean International. "Therea market for these people. Everything is packaged for them, and then they'll stay on for their honeymoon. It's the perfect package."

Susan Weissberg, president of Wyllys Professional Travel in Coral Gables, FL, is having similar success, especially with post-wedding festivities. "The honeymoon market is big for us," she says. "Whether on a large or small ship, we find that people are exhausted from the weddings and preparation and just want to go on the ship and check their troubles at the gangway." Couple prepares for their nuptials in the wedding chapel aboard Royal Caribbean International Cruises' Navigator of the Seas

When it's all said and done, perhaps the mystique of a wedding at sea is what draws more couples; the option to sail to a wind-swept beach spot for a barefoot wedding or, simply, to hold the ceremony on deck under the stars. "Many couples enjoy being married on deck," says Princess' Swartz. "There's nothing quite like marrying out in the open air with the ship at sea."

According to some luxury lines, their business centers more on anniversaries and vow renewal services, not actual wedding ceremonies. Makes sense: Luxury lines' clientele is well above the age of 40, while most first marriages consummate well before that age. "We don't get a lot of interest in weddings," says Andrew Poulton, director of strategic marketing for Regent Seven Seas. According to a recent CLIA poll, 20 percent of agents surveyed said the most palpable change in their honeymoon and wedding business came from couples renewing vows aboard cruise ships. To that, many luxury lines, as well as mass market and premium ones, offer programs specifically revolving around a vow renewal ceremony.

A Look at Some Onboard Packages

Weddings are a joyous time for couples, families and friends, and can be a financial windfall for travel agents.

"They are a fantastic source of group business for agents," says Swartz. Imagine the commission agents can bag if they book a wedding with just 20 sailing guests. Not only that, you may be turning on new cruisers who have never sailed before. They may enjoy the experience and book their next cruise or vacation through you. Undoubtedly, it behooves travel agents to try and mix in some wedding business.

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