A series of wedding bookings on cruise ships has inspired Fahy Travel’s manager Caroline O’Toole to launch a Weddings at Sea brand. Abigail Healy finds out more and looks at options for nautical nuptials
Tranquil beachside locations and lush tropical wedding bookings gardens are what clients often dream of when planning a wedding abroad, but a cruise can provide a perfect venue, with all of their wedding party and guests in one place plus a stunning ocean backdrop.
It’s something Galway-based Fahy Travel has cottoned on to. Manager Caroline O’Toole and consultant Fiona Flaherty have invested time and energy into growing the agency’s cruise business and have booked a wedding with MSC Cruises every year for the past four years. (The MSC ceremonies are symbolic, rather than actual legal weddings.)
One, due to take place this May, has an impressive 190-person guest list, which O’Toole explains is an entire village.
“We get people coming into the agency telling us they want to book the wedding cruise – and that the whole village has been invited.”
Given the size of the wedding party, O’Toole is planning to attend the big day herself so she can be around to help out personally and ensure everything runs smoothly.
Having identified an area of such strong booking potential, O’Toole made the decision to develop a standalone brand, Weddings at Sea, that she will take out across Ireland and promote at wedding shows.
“I’ve had the idea in my head since I made my first cruise wedding booking. Then the market grew so fast and we opened a cruise lounge in the agency to specialise in the sector in December. Finally we will be ready to launch the brand in early May,” she enthuses.
A smart logo and dedicated website will be used to market the brand to potential customers, and O’Toole has booked Ireland’s top two wedding shows to push it out to a targeted audience.
“It will be a really bespoke service with clients able to make an appointment to come to see me in our cruise lounge. People want the safety and reassurance of sitting and talking to someone. It’s almost like going to a hotel and talking about your wedding package options, except with me it’s a cruise.”
And O’Toole is quick to point out the value of booking a cruise wedding, which will be an important selling point.
“You can get a basic cruise wedding package for about €3,000, whereas a land-based wedding will typically set you back somewhere between €20,000 to €30,000.”
She explains another good selling point is that if a couple has a land- based wedding, guests are forever pestering with questions about where to stay, where to eat and what to do, whereas on a cruise this is all sorted.
O’Toole has set her sights on even bigger horizons too, with other brands including Anniversaries at Sea and Birthdays at Sea and even Hen parties at Sea, for which she is using the catchy strapline “Let’s set sail before the veil”.
The hen parties, in particular, will be a marketing tool in their own right, with O’Toole planning to market the three and four-night cruise packages when they come out in September and October so brides-to-be can plan a taster cruise to see if they’d like to go back onboard for their big day.
Here are four options for clients keen to wed at sea along with key selling points. Note that package prices are in addition to the cruise fare:
Venues: Couples can choose between three locations for their wedding depending on the ship, from the atrium to the sky lounge on the Meraviglia-class ships.
Legalities: MSC offers three symbolic ceremony packages (not religious or legal): Silver, Gold and Platinum. Agents should remind clients that a marriage certificate from an official shore side ceremony must be brought onboard.
Planning: Brides and grooms have their own wedding planner onboard and a point of contact in the UK too.
Selling points: MSC offers wedding preparation packages, photo packages, pre-sailing wedding consultancy, a symbolic ceremony certificate and booklet signed by the captain, and a variety of entertainment such as a DJ, band or show as part of the package.
Points to consider: Remember to talk through bridal prep, music, food and photos. A wedding package includes eight guests (including the bride and groom) and additional guests are extra, so there’s huge potential to secure a large booking.
Book it: The Silver package with eight guests costs €520. msccruises.co.uk
Venues: Couples can book Tie The Knot wedding packages to take place onboard, harbourside or onshore. Legalities: Both legal and symbolic ceremonies can be held at sea. If couples choose to get married harbourside or onshore, the legalities will vary by destination.
Planning: Princess’ Wedding Calendar (princess.eweddingcalendar. com/wedding-calendar-home) is a useful resource to help your customers plan their dream ceremony. Couples are also assigned a wedding coordinator to help plan prior to departure. Once onboard, they meet the officer who will be their wedding coordinator.
Selling points: The Tie the Knot at Sea package has some great inclusions such as live music, two floral arrangements, a bridal bouquet and groom’s boutonniere, a photographer plus prints, wedding cake and champagne. Harbourside and onshore packages have slightly different inclusions.
Points to consider: Think about marriage licences and destination- specific requirements for harbourside and onshore weddings. If clients want a ceremony at sea, the wedding coordinator will obtain necessary documentation but it’s important this is reviewed, signed and sent back no later than 60 days prior to sailing.
Book it: The Tie the Knot at Sea package costs $2,500 plus a $498 licence fee. princess.com
Venues: The most popular include Dazzles lounge bar, Central Park, Olive or Twist, Vintages and the Star Lounge.
Legalities: Both onboard and shoreside weddings are available. If guests want the captain to conduct the wedding ceremony, this is possible when the ship is in international waters with the marriage legally recognised in the Bahamas. The Bahamian maritime marriage licence requires at least 90 days for processing.
Planning: All couples have a pre- cruise wedding planner and onboard wedding coordinator.
Selling points: All packages include nice extra touches such as a bottle of champagne, a wedding cake, dinner for the couple at a speciality restaurant, chocolate-covered strawberries and mimosa breakfast in bed, a one-hour photography service and a decorated stateroom.
Points to consider: All weddings at sea must be booked at least 90 days prior to sailing but encourage couples to book as far in advance as possible.
Book it: Packages start from $1,950. The Vows at Sea package for up to 50 guests starts from $3,850. royalcaribbean.co.uk
Venue highlights: On Solstice-class ships, guests can choose to get married on the ship’s real-grass lawn with panoramic views from the top deck.
Legalities: Celebrity Cruises offers a range of legal wedding packages, including at sea (the captain can officiate), in port and onshore options, as well as vow renewal and engagement packages. Same-sex weddings at sea are also available.
Planning: A dedicated wedding planner is available to couples to take care of all the details. The Celebrity Cruises wedding calendar is also a useful resource (celebrityweddings. eweddingcalendar.com).
Selling points: The Nautical Nuptial – At Sea Package is an all-inclusive, legal, captain-led ceremony. It covers all the details including flowers and photography.
Points to consider: Celebrity Cruises’ weddings team are able to handle all of the details for the bride and groom. The weddings are performed under the Maltese flag and couples need to obtain the appropriate wedding licence.
Book it: The Nautical Nuptials – At Sea package starts from $2,995. celebritycruises.co.uk