Tying The Knot At Sea Is A Cinch

by Ming Tappin

Today's cruise ships come with built in chapels for weddings at sea.

Weddings at a port of call can also be arranged, including transportation for the group.

The sky is the limit with wedding themes and photo ops onboard.

Our own wedding day in Miami, 20 years ago.

Destination weddings have become a huge trend in recent years. More and more couples are looking for innovative ways and exotic locales to tie the knot, inviting families and friends to share in the moment. Much has been written about weddings held at resorts on sunny isles, with palm-fringed backdrops and shoeless guests on white sand beaches. But weddings at sea haven’t been as prominently featured and I would like to weigh in on this subject in this week's column, with some personal experience of my own.

20 years ago my husband and I were married on a ship in Miami. As you know I am an avid cruiser, so when it came to planning our wedding, a cruise was a no-brainer for us. We were married onboard the ship before it sailed, then our families and friends joined us on a wonderful week-long cruise. 

Onboard ships in 1995, the only wedding venue was the library. The room was decorated with 2 waist-high styrofoam pillars topped with silk flower arrangements. Banquet chairs were placed in the room to seat guests. My taped wedding march was played on a ghettoblaster sitting in the corner of the room. But it was oh so glamorous at the time!

Today, many ships have specially built chapels with proper pews and decor, some even come with webcams so that the wedding can be broadcast to those at home who aren't able to join the cruise. The Captain has also been given the power to conduct weddings which can be performed while the ship is at sea. This was not possible back in my day.

Trying to capture the wedding market, each cruise line has extensive packages to suit the bride and groom. The sky is the limit really - customized flowers, cake, photography, elaborate receptions and banquets can all be arranged for the perfect day. All arrangements are made through professional wedding planners either contracted by the cruise line, or are part of the cruise line's own in-house department.

If the couple still wishes to have their wedding on a beach, arrangements can be made to have the ceremony take place during a port of call, complete with transportation for the group and all pertinent details catered to. No matter where the nuptials take place, wedding planners ensure the couple is aware of the legalities in obtaining all the necessary papers.

I still remember the only 3 decisions we had to make for our wedding: the colour of the ribbon on my bouquet, the flavour of our wedding cake and the colour of the icing flowers on the cake. Everything else from the justice of the peace, photographer and reception was taken care of. Whether simple or elaborate, the best part is that the marrying couple makes all the arrangements with the wedding planners directly, thus sparing the travel agent from Bridezilla moments.

With weddings naturally come group travellers, typically multi-generational families and friends who may be new to cruising. It is a wonderful way to introduce new cruisers to the experience who otherwise might not have sailed. And of course, every anniversary milestone presents a future opportunity to get the couple (and the group) back for more cruises. We had a group on our 10th anniversary cruise and will have another one this year for our 20th. Again, it's all about turning your clients into annuities by securing their future business.

If you are an agency selling a lot of destination weddings, I encourage you to look at cruise weddings. A cruise might be more complicated to sell than a land vacation, but the guest satisfaction is so much higher. Cruise lines have dedicated web pages or microsites on their wedding programs and Business Development Managers are available to help - including hosting consumer nights to provide potential participants with details and handle questions. With TCs, group amenity points and high commissions, you will be on your way to more lucrative groups by selling weddings at sea.

Ming Tappin is a cruise veteran with over 20 years’ experience in the industry and has sailed on 36 cruises and counting. Based in Vancouver, Ming is Owner of Your Cruise Coach Consulting.

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