Not all travel consultants will delve into the world of land-based destination weddings. It is truly a niche that needs a lot of care, hand holding, attention to detail, and a thick skin. However, when it comes to a destination wedding mixed with a cruise, many consultants appear more willing to take them on even if they normally avoid destination weddings in general. Cruise-based destination weddings have a deceptive appearance of ease to them, and can catch even the most experienced of travel consultants off-guard.
The cruise-based wedding isn’t just a matter of blocking group space and booking rooms into that space. There are actual wedding ceremony logistics to be worked out with the cruise line. In most cases, the cruise lines will have a wedding/romance department that you can refer the bride to, but that doesn’t let us (the travel consultants) off the hook.
My biggest fear is the bride (and/or groom) that has their heart set on a port-specific ceremony. For example, let’s take a seven-night cruise that departs from Florida and one of the ports of call is San Juan, Puerto Rico. The bride and groom are adamant that their wedding take place in port on the day the ship visits San Juan. Absolutely nothing else will do in their minds. No matter how often you warn them, advise them, and have them sign waivers and disclaimers absolving you of any liability, what do you think will happen if the ship’s captain changes the itinerary for any reason (with the most likely reason being weather)? The best case scenario is that he just changes the day that the ship calls on the port in question. Some fancy footwork and frantic phone calls might salvage the wedding (assuming the venue, preacher, etc. can be changed to the new date the ship will be in port). The absolute worst case scenario is that the port is dropped from the itinerary completely that week. Que the hysteric bride having a melt down in the middle of the atrium because her wedding is “ruined.”
It bears noting, not all brides will react this way. Some have a much more laid-back “go with the flow” attitude and they’re more apt to be flexible. But it’s the hysteric-melt-down cases you tend to remember more, and can lead to unhappy brides leaving less than stellar reviews about your agency. And as we all know, negative reviews can be detrimental to the reputation of both yourself and your agency. Especially in the honeymoon/destination wedding niche, bride reviews on websites focused on the niche (like Wedding Wire) are treated as gospel by new prospective brides that are just starting to work on their wedding and honeymoon. Negative reviews can have severe consequences for an agency.
How do you protect your agency, as well as your sanity? My recommendation is to have a policy in place, before anyone ever asks you to help them with a ship-based destination wedding. Will you take the business or turn it away (possibly referring it to a consultant you know that specializes in the destination wedding niche)? If you take the business, what forms, waivers, and disclaimers will you have in place? What will your policy be for port-specific ceremonies? Will you insist that they have the legal ceremony in the US before the ship departs? That makes everything else a lot easier, since the ceremony on the ship (or in port) will only be symbolic. You cannot fly by the seat of your pants and learn as you go when it comes to the most important day in someone’s life, their wedding day. So before you take on this business, you need to be ready for it. Talk to any consultants that you know and respect that specialize in this niche, and ask for their advice. Talk to your supplier BDMs, find out what they offer regarding the wedding logistics, what they recommend when a bride wants a ceremony in a specific port, etc. Look for seminars, in person training courses, webinars, etc., and learn all you can about the niche in general, and cruise-based weddings specifically.
Above all, be prepared and know in advance how you will respond to the request, should you ever get one.
Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel located in Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations, she focuses on travel for 18 to 23-year-olds. Susan can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (888) 221-1209.