When my friends Mark and Stef held their wedding onboard the Pacific Jewel a few years ago, it reminded me that cruise ships can be more than floating hotels. They're very often the locations for significant and sentimental events, from important birthdays, anniversaries and weddings to family reunions.
There are several advantages to holding a major event on a ship, one being the practical aspect of guests having accommodation and fully catered meals in the package, stretching the wedding celebrations or birthday party over days, not hours.
Celebrations on cruise ships can seem more festive than on shore. Even if you're only doing a short cruise for the event, there's the excitement of the shipboard formalities, the sail away from port, some big sea action if you're lucky (or unlucky, depending on your disposition.)
A shipboard occasion feels special. There's a good chance many of the guests haven't been onboard a ship before so there's an inherent novelty to the experience. Given the right ship, there's a strong element of glamour. You can't beat a sailor who is immaculate in their uniform for attractive art direction. Many passengers enjoy dressing for dinner and on longer cruises some lines still do formal nights, where guests are encouraged to wear gowns and tuxedos.
Those throwing the party don't need to hire musicians and DJs because they come with the territory, even on the smaller ships. There are hairdressers and beauticians on tap. On many cruises there are butlers to take care of the ironing and shoe polishing. Bars that stay open until the last guest has gone to bed. And hundreds of strangers to share their joy.
Being a part of a stranger's happiness is one of the things I like best about cruises. Perhaps I'm a natural sticky-beak, but I love proposals and spontaneous anniversary speeches and birthday cakes brought out of the galley for everybody to share.
I love the older couples who take to the floor to do ballroom dancing, heads together as if there is no one else in the world, and the honeymooners you only see once or twice, toasting each other with champagne at the quietest table in the restaurant.
So many weddings and parties were delayed during the pandemic that there's a real rush to catch up now. Everywhere I go lately I meet couples who cancelled their weddings, once, twice, even three times and are jumping on the opportunity to do it now, quickly, before some other world event catches up with them. Many are opting for smaller weddings, which are less vulnerable to logistical interruption.
Ships are also great for eloping. There's something romantic about sailing away from it all together, even for a few days.
Big life events aside, people want to catch up, full stop. Catch up with family. Catch up with friends. Catch up with the good times they missed when travel came to a halt.
Cruising ticks a lot of boxes for many people, especially those who are looking to reconnect with family. In many ways, a cruise is the perfect multi-generational holiday.
Different generations can come together in one place and go off and do their own thing during the day, meeting at mealtimes. Families love being together but maybe not all the time. Children can be not seen and not heard for hours if there's a good kids' club.
Those who want to learn something tune in to destination lectures, take bridge lessons or, on expedition ships, join in scientific research with onboard marine biologists. The outgoing and energetic hit the dance floor at night. The sybaritic head for the spa and pool.
Even on ships that boast a lot of technological wizardry, there's a supply of old-fashioned games that allow families to connect to a simpler time. Most cruise ships have TVs and included WI-FI these days but there's usually so much going on, it's an opportunity to break away from digital addictions, even for a while.
Since the pandemic, people are naturally nervous of building too much complication into an itinerary. The big attraction of cruises, as everyone knows, is the concept of travelling to many places without having to pack and unpack multiple times. And there are fewer customs and immigration lines as all this is taken care of behind the scenes.
That in itself, in this world, is cause enough for celebration.