Marriages are made at sea
Not only are cruise weddings still a huge novelty in India, they also allow agents to have wider margins while making it easier for the family to organise the once-in-a-lifetime event
Move over destination weddings, nuptials onboard a cruise liner is the way to go now. While the idea of cruising itself is still struggling to get the Indian holidaymaker’s attention as an option to holiday, history has shown that we like to get way more adventurous when it comes to weddings! Purely based on this quirkiness, perhaps weddings on cruise liners may just take off in the Indian market.
Paving the way to make this a possibility are multiple international cruise liners who have already connected the dots and are equating the idea of cruising with ‘life events’ of which wedding is a huge part. Take for example MSC Cruises. Promoted by Sharaf Travels in India, MSC Cruises has special packages for weddings. Kunal Sampat, General Manager India, MSC Cruises, explains, “Indian weddings as compared to others are enormous spectacles. At MSC Cruises, we ensure the client can live out their romantic dream. Be it a symbolic ceremony on-board or renewal of vows, we have packages designed for different occasions. Our events team co-ordinates with the planner to gather all the requirements. Once the same is provided, we shortlist the best possible venues onboard. We can also support by providing extra services to enhance the ceremony which include culinary delights, video and photo packages, live ceremonial music and more. Once the ceremonies are complete, we can even offer ‘Him & Her’ deluxe packages.”
MSC Cruises’ ships can accommodate anything between 2200-4500 passengers. The clincher it seems is how early the client books. “We have various venues available onboard that can be allocated to the group based on the size. We could have ceremonies in the lounges, on the open deck, in the Royal theatre, etc. We can also provide customised menus along with beverages, specially print personal motif on our daily programme sheets, dedicate a TV channel displaying their programme for the day, have dedicated hospitality desks, dedicated check-in/check-out counters and more,” Sampat adds. However, while fire is an essential element for a Hindu wedding, it is not allowed on-board due to safety reasons. The company will now be promoting its new next-generation ship, MSC Meraviglia, for weddings and promises to offer more value for wedding planners.
STAR OF THE SHOW
Meanwhile, Star Cruises and Dream Cruises ships are also equipped to host Indian weddings and offer a variety of packages. The ‘Wedding At Sea’ package includes everything that a couple needs to celebrate their nuptials, including beautiful venues, Champagne toast, wedding cake, and Indian vegetarian or international cuisine. Besides, an experienced wedding co-ordinator is also available to assist them in the planning process.
Naresh Rawal, VP Sales – India, Genting Cruise Lines, adds, “Elaborate Indian ceremonies can be accomplished with all the marriage rituals to commemorate the most important day of their life as they’ve always imagined it. The couple and their families can also avail of spa and beauty treatments, flowers (including custom orders), professional photography and videography, transportation to and from the ship or wedding location, priority check-in, and a variety of wedding reception options. We can even arrange for the sangeet and mehendi ceremonies, ranging from an elegant cocktail reception with gourmet selections and open bar to a four-course sit-down lunch on with wine service.”
For couples who wish to re-confirm their love at sea can also choose their ‘Vow Renewal’ package which offers married couples the opportunity to celebrate their love all over again with a private vow renewal ceremony performed by one of the ship’s officers. The package includes ceremony music, a
Elaborate Indian ceremonies can be accomplished with all the rituals that they've imagined
romantic single red rose, Champagne toast, a celebration cake for two, a commemorative vow renewal certificate, sparkling wine, canapes, and chocolate-covered strawberries delivered to their stateroom at the end of the ceremony. Star Cruises and Dream Cruises offer Indian, international, vegetarian and even Jain meals. The menu can be upgraded for wedding groups and decided in consultation with the family and chef on board. “It means any community from India can organise a wedding on a Star Cruises ship,” Rawal adds.
CHARTERS FOR WEDDINGS
Meanwhile, Costa Cruises recently hosted a lavish wedding of Adel Sajan, son of the UAEbased Indian business tycoon, with Sana Khan, on-board the Costa Fascinosa cruise that sailed the Mediterranean. Nalini Gupta, MD, Lotus Destinations, GSA Costa Cruise India, says, “This was the first time that such a big cruise ship was booked for a wedding. Over 1000 guests sailed on-board the 3800-passenger capacity ship from Barcelona to Marseille, and then to Cannes before finally stopping at Savona.” She thinks that Indian weddings and a cruise have a perfect fit, enabling the bride and groom to actually enjoy their wedding. This was seen at the recent wedding of Sana and Adel where guests didn't have to worry about travelling to different venues for ceremonies. A poolside party closed the event with the cutting of the wedding cake, prepared by the Costa’s corporate chef – an extraordinary 12-level dessert weighing 140 kilos, almost three metres high.
Speaking about allowing fire ceremonies on board, Gupta says, “We may now be willing to explore that possibility with our Safety Officer supervising it. We have been very keen on having Indian weddings on-board Costa ships, but due to safety guidelines of the fire ceremony, we were unable to explore this segment.” Costa will create wedding brochures with specific itineraries for the Indian market. The guest has to just buy the cabins, and everything from food, entertainment, and venue is taken care of. Only alcohol and excursions are chargeable over and above the cabin price. “Even for that, we have lots of deals, like an unlimited alcohol package, which is charged at USD 35 per person, per day, covering a large variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Our ships can accommodate 1500-5000 guests depending upon the ship,” Gupta adds. Two things that Costa doesn’t allow, however, is any décor that interferes with the physical structure of the ship and alcohol bottles from outside.
India is a last-minute market and group bookings on cruises can get very tricky during peak season
CHARMING RIVER CRUISES
That may be a huge dampener for Indian families to opt for an ocean cruise. But what
about river cruises? Kiran Bhandari, Co-founder, CruiseClub Vacations based in Pune, feels that the latest trend is weddings on river cruises. “This is quite a charming experience, as it is basically a floating hotel taking you through the beautiful European countryside landscapes, and then stopping right in the heart of cities. These are suitable for compact groups, with most ships with a capacity of 150-180 passengers. But the advantage is that you can charter the entire ship, and for any duration, which is nearly impossible on large ocean cruises in Europe,” he adds.
Cost-wise, this turns out to be a lot more affordable as compared to any other cruise experience, and sometimes even land-based weddings. Since the ship is entirely allocated to the group, it is a completely private experience. As such, food and alcohol can be customised exactly as per the needs of the group. Bhandari gets a lot of wedding groups for this from cities like Mumbai, Ahmedabad, and Kolkata, and they are usually Marwari and Gujarati weddings.
THE LATE MARKET
Unfortunately, India is a last-minute market and group bookings on cruises can get very tricky, specially during peak season. Cruise Professionals does get a lot of wedding group requests each year, but they have not had a chance to host an Indian wedding since these requests have generally come only five or six months prior to the sail date. Nishith Saxena, Founder & Director, Cruise Professionals, says, “This segment shall grow only when the wedding planners start seriously considering cruises as a unique option and work according to the cruise schedule rather than running a parallel operation, which sometimes disturbs the operational efficiency of the ship.”
Also, since Indian weddings require a high level of customisation, offering exclusive areas for ceremonies may become a challenge, specially on a high-end ships, unless the requirements have been provided in advance.
“The whole idea of a cruise is an all-inclusive price but when we start working on customisations for weddings, the costs start spiraling. On Princess Cruises ships, we have a wedding chapel where we can actually create and do almost anything within reasonable deviations for Indian weddings. What we do not allow is the Indian-style ‘pheras’ as this is a safety hazard,” Saxena clarifies.
Such elemental problems might put a spoke in the wheels of cruising as an option for Indian weddings, but Indians are resilient creatures and their desire to be different may just finally win the battle with tradition.