By Arline Bleecker
The Orlando Sentinel
Despite cruising's romantic image, some of the most romantic ships afloat didn't offer shipboard weddings until recently.
Case in point: the luxury sailing vessels of Windstar Cruises.
Although the line's ships have been consistently cited by passengers and travel publications for their romantic ambience and as ideal honeymoon spots, you couldn't get married aboard a Windstar ship. Last June, though, the line finally tied the knot, so to speak, conducting its first wedding ceremony, aboard the Wind Surf in Monaco.
Windstar Cruises partners with an outside concessionaire to arrange weddings, as do many lines that offer matrimonials. In this case, it's with a Miami-based company called The Wedding Experience, which unveils custom weddings on the line's four sailing ships as well as shoreside in ports of call.
Windstar's often-exotic or remote destinations can make for some truly romantic nuptials. How about a Maori tribal wedding dance to celebrate your ceremony in Rotorua, New Zealand?
Windstar also has launched the first cruise-line weddings in Europe, according to the line. In Italy, couples can be whisked off to the hills of Tuscany to be married in a small countryside villa, signify their ardor with a fireworks display while sailing out of Venice, or even say their vows within the vaunted walls of the Vatican. Unique unitings, indeed.
Of course, you always can opt to say "I do" on board.
"Unlike many cruise lines that cringe at the thought of the logistics involved with weddings on deck, the Windstar fleet practically was built for them," says Tom Russell, Windstar's vice president/sales and marketing.
Couples can take their vows beneath the sleek sails, surrounded by family and friends or in a private ceremony.
For a number of reasons, it's not usually possible for U.S. citizens to be legally married in foreign ports - particularly true of cruise passengers, who might not linger in a port long enough to satisfy the waiting period. But a couple that have either just been legally hitched or plan to do so when they get home can enjoy a blessing ceremony aboard, thanks to the cruise line and The Wedding Experience.
"Basically, it is the same ceremony as a `legal' ceremony," says a spokeswoman for the line. "The only distinction is that all of the paperwork is done prior to or after the couple's cruise." A minister or public official officiates, and each couple receives a wedding certificate to commemorate the event.
Windstar offers blessing ceremonies on all itineraries, as well as legal ceremonies in Santorini, Greece, the Caribbean and all ports in Italy and New Zealand. Couples must book a cruise before arranging nuptials. It's best to book early to secure your preferred ship, date and site.
Each Windstar ceremony is priced individually. The average wedding costs $2,000, which is in addition to cruise fare. Up to 10 guests can attend an on-board ceremony at no additional charge. For more information, contact Windstar at 1-800-258-7245 or The Wedding Experience at 1-877-580-3556.
Meanwhile, Windstar's parent, Holland America Line, has expanded its longstanding U.S. and Caribbean wedding options to include European ports, also courtesy of The Wedding Experience. Couples can choose to wed aboard a Holland America ship or in a romantic location ashore, including in Santorini, Florence, Rome, Naples and Stockholm.
Holland America's wedding packages in Europe start at $1,900 and include wedding planning, officiant, recorded music, custom wedding ceremony, wedding site, bride's bouquet and groom's boutonniere, a bottle of champagne, a 10-inch wedding cake, photography service, a photo album, a keepsake certificate and 10 announcements. Options such as live music are extra.
Tying the knot on a Holland America ship while in a U.S. or Caribbean port starts at $945. The price differential between the line's weddings here and abroad is mainly due to "logistics," says a spokeswoman for the line.
Holland America's North American packages are arranged by Vancouver-based Royal Ocean Events (1-888-475-5511),
which can schedule weddings in Fort Lauderdale, Acapulco, Barbados, San Juan, St. Thomas, Costa Rica, Halifax, Juneau, Kona, Los Angeles, New York, San Diego and Vancouver. These packages include many of the same basic options as the line's Europe packages, and also include options for beach, garden or glacier weddings.
Maybe you're already married and seeking someplace romantic to celebrate your anniversary. Why not try an intimate barge cruise in Europe? For couples celebrating their silver and golden wedding anniversaries this year, French Country Waterways discounts 25 percent and 50 percent, respectively, on its barges in Burgundy.
The discount applies to select July and August sailings on the 12-passenger Horizon II and 18-passenger Esprit, which regularly are priced from $3,295 to $4,295 per person, double occupancy.
These floating country inns ply the canals of Burgundy on leisurely six-night cruises through rolling countryside dotted with medieval villages, stately chateaux, vineyards and pastures. The all-inclusive cruises ply passengers with sumptuous French cuisine and fine wines. Also included are a dinner ashore at a three-star Michelin restaurant (La Cote d'Or in Saulieu or Lameloise in Chagny), private wine tastings and daily sightseeing excursions. For the anniversary celebrants, there's a festive dinner on board to mark the milestone occasion.
To qualify for the anniversary discount, a couple must have tied the knot in 1952 or 1977 and submit proof, such as a copy of the wedding certificate. The cruise need not coincide with the wedding date, however. For more information call, 1-800-222-1236.
© 2002, The Orlando Sentinel (Fla.).
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.