Top Tips for Planning a Romantic Cruise Ship Wedding

Couples taking a romance or honeymoon / vow-renewal cruise on Allure of the Seas and other Royal Caribbean ships can celebrate their love for one another at sea.

When it comes to romance, “as we’ve all heard before, love is all you need,” Terry McKinney, romance travel specialist and franchise owner, Cruise Planners, Magnolia, TX, quips, but she also tells couples “they need a good ‘romance travel specialist’ to turn their trip into an unforgettable honeymoon beyond their wildest dreams.”

At bridal shows, she introduces herself as a romance travel specialist. “This sets the tone with the wedding couple from the onset,” says McKinney. “If a couple isn’t keen on cruising they typically are inquisitive by the end of our conversation because I’ve promoted cruising in such a way that they can really see the value and romantic aspects.” She’s planned everything from an Australia / New Zealand 25th-anniversary cruise to honeymoons in the South Pacific and the Mediterranean. Here are tips from McKinney and other experts.

Perfecting the Art: “You should know exactly what inspires them, and what they like and don’t like,” says Aggie Batista, franchise owner and vacation specialist, Dream Vacations, Rockaway Park, NY. “Every destination has its own beauty and knowing how to match your clients’ needs and wants with a destination is an art — an art that is perfected with great communication.”

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“We’ll ask them what cruise lines have they gone on before and what type of hotels they enjoy staying at,” says Rey Alton, senior travel advisor, Travel Leaders, Houston, TX. “If they’re a Marriott’s Royal member, we’ll put them on a Royal Caribbean cruise or if they are a Four Seasons [loyal guest], it might be Azamara or Seabourn.”

Review the Latest, Take Training: Carnival Cruise Line recently enhanced its wedding package program for agents by paying commission, plus the line just introduced new wedding package options, including shipboard weddings on embarkation day; while a ship is docked at a port of call; or at sea (vow renewals only); as well as beautiful shoreside settings at select destinations. Royal Caribbean International recently updated its wedding / celebrations programs. For affinity groups, Norwegian Cruise Line has introduced a free commitment ceremony or vow renewal amenity, which is a new perk that’s “opened the doors for all my long-term married clients to think of cruising in a special way,” says Batista. 

Alton says it’s critical for honeymoon / wedding sellers to take supplier training and stay updated because “we are in a world where the clients could know a lot more than we do about a product or offering because of their research. For example, agents need to know whether a cruise line captain can marry guests at sea. Some legally can, others can’t.” 

With Bermuda “flagging” (ship registration), Cunard Line and Princess Cruises can marry guests onboard; go to www.princess.com for a downloadable wedding planner. One Princess package includes use of the onboard wedding chapel / library; a legal ceremony performed by the captain; rose bouquet and boutonniere; a small, single-layer wedding cake; bottle of sparkling wine; champagne flutes; and a keepsake wedding certificate. 

Disney Cruise Line’s Fairy Tale Weddings program has onsite wedding coordinators to assist with ceremonies and receptions, book shore excursions and set up spa appointments. One romantic spot couples would love for a wedding? It’s Castaway Cay, Disney’s private Bahamian island. On the exotic side, Paul Gauguin CruisesPaul Gauguin offers a wedding ceremony and renewal of vows package at Motu Mahana, the line’s private islet off the Taha’a coast, or at the InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa. For a grand entry, the bride can arrive at the chapel on a traditional Polynesian canoe. 

Mine Your Existing Data Base: If clients have special anniversaries (10th, 25th or 50th) coming up, plant the idea of an anniversary cruise early with one spouse. Perhaps they’d love to surprise their partner. Agents can also set up “renewal of vows” ceremonies or book engagement cruises for a client who plans to “pop the question.” 

The romantic dining experience of Sel de Mer on Holland America Line’s Koningsdam will also be introduced on Nieuw Statendam.

Corral More Clients at Bridal Shows: “One of my top methods for selling honeymoon cruises is participating in bridal shows at the convention or department store,” says Beverly Brent, Brent Travel LLC, an independent agency in the Avoya Network, Oxford, MS. She connects personally with the couple at the show, asks what their dream wedding and honeymoon would be, and presents them with options based on their individual interests and budget.

Suggest a Honeymoon Registry: Another good option to discuss with potential honeymoon clients is establishing a luxury honeymoon registry so friends and family members can contribute to the honeymoon.

Navigate to Wedding Planners: “We are working with a number of wedding planners,” emphasizes Alton. “They are coming to us as our name gets around.” These partnerships are a great way to grow your agency business. Alton’s agency is planning a bigger push in this area. One tactic? He hosts an event for wedding planners so that they know exactly what the travel agency can do for both their business and their clients. “This is one aspect [that] I see as a growth potential for 2018,” he notes.

A few years back, Alton began working with one self-employed wedding planner who was the only employee in her company. Today, she employs five people and has sent at least 12 couples to his agency for arrangements. 

Go Social, Go Online: Brent congratulates couples who post their engagement photos on Facebook and then follows up with a private message letting them know she’s available to talk if they need help planning their honeymoon. “The younger crowd is all about social media, so I’ve found that having a presence on Facebook and wedding sites such as WeddingWire.com can also be great for connecting with prospective brides,” she says.

Instagram is one social network that Alton uses. “It is so visual and it is not cluttered by other messages out there like some of the other social media platforms,” he says. “That is what really separates it for honeymoon. It is one thing for me to say Tahiti is great or the Amalfi Coast is, but if you put that photo there with an underwater restaurant, that is a thousand words that you just can’t describe.” 

Partner Up, Show Off: Brides need services, and once they become engaged they gravitate like a magnet to wedding-related services. “To help create interest on a local level, I’ll leave my business cards at local florists, bridal shops and jewelry stores,” says Brent. Agents may also consider establishing a relationship with a local professional photographer with solid wedding experience.

You and your agency also will get noticed by potential romance or honeymoon / wedding clients by driving a big billboard. Translation? “I have my car wrapped with my business logo and get a lot of leads by parking it at bridal events and leaving business cards on the window,” Brent explains.

Tap into the Circle of Influence: “It may not be creative, but I have found that ‘old-school’ marketing — word-of-mouth — has worked best for me,” says Batista, who believes that when a person looks for someone to assist them with their special romantic moment, they look for someone they know they can trust. They usually reach out to their circle of influence for guidance. “If I have impacted someone in that circle of influence, my telephone will ring,” Batista stresses. 

Clients often will tell friends and family members if their agent has arranged a surprise of champagne and strawberries delivered to their suite by the butler or set up a romantic dinner outing under the stars. “I surprise them with something they were not expecting,” she says.

Pick the Right Itinerary: If a couple books a European cruise that calls at a capital city every day, that’s great if the duo loves sightseeing and shore activities. But if they’d rather just relax, go to the pool or a beach, then they might be better served with a Caribbean cruise with exotic port calls that offer great beaches or less crowded spots for dining and strolling.

SeaDream Yacht Club provides couples with Balinese Dream beds that can be turned down to sleep under the stars, complete with luxury duvet and linens.

In addition, “for couples who are not sure where they want to go, but tell me they want something ‘tropical’ with beautiful beaches, a cruise is a win-win because the couple could experience three to four different beaches during a seven-night cruise,” says McKinney. “Then, if they fall in love with a specific destination, we can send them back on a land trip for their first anniversary if they choose to not cruise again.”

Brent says her most romantic cruise booked so far has been a honeymoon to the southern Caribbean on Royal Caribbean International’s Freedom of the Seas. “Besides all the wonderful spa offerings available on the ship, I arranged for the newlyweds a unique mud bath experience in St. Lucia near the island’s volcano area,” she says, noting it was one of the couple’s top highlights.

“The itinerary really makes the cruise,” says Alton, who had clients who went to Tahiti on the Paul Gauguin. “They wanted to do multiple islands and they found that really romantic.” When Alton went on his own honeymoon, he sailed on Celebrity Cruises in the Mediterranean, and his wife liked such romantic features as dinner in Barcelona, and an overnight and gondola ride in Venice.

Batista planned a surprise honeymoon cruise that three daughters gifted to their parents for their 30th anniversary; the couple had not been able to go on a honeymoon after their wedding. Batista suggested Hawaii on Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of America. A seven-night cruise packs in nearly 100 hours of port time in multiple islands and scenic Napali Coast cruising. Since the parents were first-time cruisers, Batista created an all-inclusive experience. 

“I created a beautiful gift box that the daughters gave to their parents announcing their surprise honeymoon / anniversary cruise,” she says. Batista also arranged a pre-cruise hotel and had the car service greet them with leis at the airport. “We also created a honeymoon cruise registry for all friends and family to purchase experiences during the cruise, such as shore excursions at every port of call,” says Batista. Once onboard, the couple opened the door to a decorated stateroom with celebratory cake, plus gifts arrived daily from family and friends.

Older clients may wish something different, such as a more intimate river cruise. Europe and North America await, but for those seeking the exotic, Africa, South America and Asian rivers also beckon. For example, cruisers can explore Chinese rivers on Victoria Cruises, Pandaw or European lines. 

Explain the Perks of Adult-Only Areas: Kara Bebell, luxury travel advisor and co-owner, The Travel Siblings at Tzell Travel Group, New York, NY, suggests agents try to choose more intimate vessels that tend to have fewer family programs and more spaces for adults, like specialty restaurants, cocktail bars and lounges. Spas that pamper onboard also entice couples who are eager for Zen-like services, wellness options and couple’s spa treatments.

In addition, “the adults-only retreat areas on cruise ships, such as The Sanctuary on Princess Cruises and The Solarium on Royal Caribbean are always helpful when selling a romantic or honeymoon cruise,” Brent suggests. The newest Solarium will be on Royal Caribbean’s new Symphony of the Seas, sailing the Mediterranean this summer before repositioning to PortMiami and Caribbean cruising later this year. 

On the spa side, Seabourn’s mindful living program created by Dr. Andrew Weil is now available on Seabourn Sojourn, and will launch on Seabourn Ovation later this year. Created in conjunction with The Onboard Spa by Steiner, “Spa & Wellness with Dr. Andrew Weil” is led by a dedicated mindful-living coach certified in yoga and meditation. Yoga classes and wellness seminars are offered daily. 

Don’t Overlook Sports: Some couples feel lost without their sports fix — such as a daily run or competitive action in other athletic pursuits. Many ships have running tracks up top, as well as basketball courts, and some even have bumper cars or racing slides. It’s a sales hook for a honeymoon or romance cruise. 

Launching this spring is Norwegian Bliss, which will allow clients to zip around hairpin turns on the largest racetrack at sea and shoot for the stars in galactic laser tag. McKinney loves all the sports-related activities on cruise ships because “couples are competitive so what’s wrong with a little love-hate on the race track? Not a thing.”

For couples who are sports enthusiasts, Norwegian Bliss will have the largest racetrack at sea.

Focus on Vow Renewals: It’s not just honeymoons, weddings at sea or romantic getaways that agents can sell. Vow renewal ceremonies, often with a dozen or even more friends and relatives in tow, can be a very lucrative business for the agent and a special occasion for the client. Some cruise ship ceremonies are “individual” — exclusive to one couple, while others are conducted for groups of couples. 

Talk to the line about a post-ceremony special cake, maybe a low-fat version so the couple can indulge without guilt, or ask the chef to prepare a special meal, perhaps something served at the couple’s original wedding.

Celebrate With Specialty Dining: Holland America Line’s Nieuw Statendam launches this year, and one of the highlights of the ship is Sel de Mer, a French seafood brasserie, which couples can choose for a romantic meal. Another new ship, Carnival Horizon will have Carnival’s first teppanyaki dining venue along with Guy’s Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse|Brewhouse. For couples seeking luxury, Seabourn Ovation will set sail this May with The Grill by Thomas Kelleher. Other ships’ specialty eateries offer Italian, Pacific Northwest, Brazilian, Asian or other regional cuisines. 

Think Exclusive, Think Luxury: McKinney seeks out ships with special romantic overnight opportunities such as sleeping outside under the stars with a private dining experience. Bebell suggests smaller ships such as Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises for honeymooners who are foodies. “The inclusive vintages and Michelin-star quality cuisine amp up this yachting adventure,” she says. (Note: SeaDream Yacht Club’s signature Balinese Dream Beds enable couples to star-gaze at night sans dining, but with full turn-down service upon request.)

Bebell’s most romantic cruise ever booked was a luxurious Silversea CruisesAntarctica voyage. “What’s more romantic than chilled champagne and mitten-covered hands cozying up under your parkas while overlooking the glaciers? The intimate Zodiac experiences with guides included in the voyage were an opportunity for the couple to set out on an adventure that was once in a lifetime,” she notes.

From McKinney’s perspective, “I love the charter jet aspect, as I think this is a unique niche and quite romantic in itself, and this can be combined with a luxury suite aboard a cruise ship to make for a dream honeymoon.”

Staying in Pampered Comfort: “Spa suites are a big ‘yes’ for honeymooners,” says McKinney, who also believes “the luxury ship-within-a-ship aspect is growing throughout the industry and its privacy and exclusivity factors exude romance.” The just-launched MSC Seaside has the largest MSC Yacht Club at sea, plus the ship sails year-round from Miami. Among many other ship-within-a-ship enclaves or accommodations with exclusive access to a special lounge, restaurant, pool or other spaces, are those of Norwegian (The Haven), Carnival (Havana accommodations), Royal Caribbean (Royal Suite Class) and Celebrity Cruises (The Retreat) that typically offer access to a special lounge, restaurant, pool or other exclusive spaces. 

The highest level for Royal Suite Class is Star; those suites come with a “Royal Genie,” who can arrange romantic dining en suite or in a secluded public space on the ship, as well as create special shore experiences, suggest shopping opportunities or arrange for front-row theater seats. Travel Agent recently interviewed Reyno Varkevisser, one of the Royal Genies on Harmony of the Seas.

Agent Terry McKinney tells us that spa suites and couple’s treatment rooms (such as this room onboard the just-launched MSC Seaside) are a big yes for honeymooners.

One tip our agents put forward? Suggest clients choose forward-facing balcony accommodations (at the bow) for superb views and a sense of “sailing into the future together.” Clicking champagne glasses and savoring caviar while sailing into Monte Carlo or Hong Kong is a stunning memory. Also, when wedding clients go ashore to get married, agents can talk to the cruise line about decorating their stateroom or suite with “Just Married” amenities or decor.

Sell the Complete Experience: Keep the dream going for the clients with such elements as pre- or post-cruise stays at exclusive luxury resorts and hotels, private cars and guides for intimate shore-touring experiences, restaurant reservations for romantic dinners in secluded or exclusive locales, reservations at spas both onboard and ashore, any one-of-a-kind programs or staterooms / suites with a view, private whirlpool, balconies and more.

On one honeymoon trip, McKinney set up clients in luxury suites with private whirlpools on the balcony, and also arranged first-class flights, private roundtrip transfers and private shore excursions. “I made sure my clients’ suites were tastefully decorated and that they had champagne and roses upon arrival,” says McKinney. She arranged specialty dinner reservations, gave them the spa menu in advance, and sold private shore excursions. Informing the excursion providers that it was the couple’s honeymoon “worked like a charm,” she notes. “In Italy, during a private tour of the Amalfi Coast, we set up a very romantic private luncheon on a seaside cliff and the bride was blown away,” she adds. 

Alton’s most romantic cruise booked for a client? He says it was a laid-back Tahiti voyage: “The client told me ‘thank you’ and said he had ‘triplets on the way.’”

Carnival Adds Commission For Wedding Packages

Carnival Cruise Line is paying travel agent commission on wedding package sales. Commission tiers during Wave Season, January 1 to March 31, 2018, are: Silver (one to 10 weddings), $200 per wedding; Gold (11 to 35 Weddings), $225 per wedding; and Platinum (35+ weddings), $300 per wedding. 

After March 31, agencies reaching Silver, Gold and Platinum booking tiers will earn ongoing per-wedding commissions as follows: Silver, $150; Gold, $170; and Platinum, $200. Agents who do not book wedding packages prior to March 31, 2018, will qualify for the silver level commission tier for the rest of 2018. Additionally, agents will earn accelerated commissions (paid April 16, 2018) on wedding packages during this Wave Season booking period. Ongoing commissions will follow Carnival’s standard monthly payment process.

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