Originally published in The Toronto Star on Thu Jan 25 2007


By Heather Greenwood Davis

St. John’s, Antigua– Tor Baker, 32, is drumming his fingers against the mahogany pews in St. John’s Cathedral.

His caramel-coloured leather shoes are alternately tapping and rocking (toe-heel-toe) as he stands in an off-white suit about three metres from the spot where he was supposed to say “I do” to the love of his life an hour ago.

His bride is late.

But if he’s anxious – and he is –it can’t be that he doubts she will show.

After a year and a half of planning the meticulous details of this wedding, he knows that the chances are slim to none that Michelle Grant, 33, isn’t going to attend.

What is more likely on his mind, is the same thing that is on the minds of many of the guests who are frequently checking their watches and shifting to take in the harbour view at the back of the church: “Will the ship we came in on leave without us?”

Baker and Grant are one of thousands of couples who opt, each year, to add another level of excitement to their destination wedding by turning it into a multi-day affair.

Instead of simply flying in to and out of Antigua for their nuptials, the Toronto couple convinced 40 friends and family members to join them on an eight-night, five-island Royal Caribbean cruise aboard the Radiance of the Seas. They would tie the knot on a Tuesday at noon during the second port of call.

Long before meeting Baker, Grant had seen another couple do something similar and had fallen in love with the idea.

“It was absolutely beautiful,” she recalls of those St. Thomas nuptials. “I always wanted a beach wedding and I felt like with a cruise we would be able to maximize the amount of islands we’d be able to get to.”

It’s one of the reasons the popularity of cruise ship weddings is growing, says Valerie Brizuela, marketing manager for cruise line wedding planner Imagine VIP (www.imaginevip.com).

“We do approximately 3,000 weddings a year,” she says. The company works with most of the major cruise lines in the world and has seen an increase of 500 weddings a year since 2004.

Brizuela says the trend shows no signs of slowing down.

“The more people know about it, the more popular it becomes,” she says. “People are realizing they are throwing away 35 grand to get married in their hometown and it’s over in four hours. Or they can spend $10,000, get married in an exotic locale and have a great time for a week.”

That $10,000 U.S. ($11,792 Canadian) figure would include the approximately $3,000 U.S. ($3,537 Canadian) cost of a simple wedding (flowers, an officiant, cake, champagne, music, a co-ordinator and use of a photographer for an hour) and still leave you plenty of money to cover the travel costs of the bride and groom, she adds.

You can upgrade packages from that base price and have the company arrange as much, or little, of the day as you want.

Baker and Grant opted not to use the cruise line’s service and instead did all of the planning themselves. The stress and fatigue of organizing a church wedding and beachside reception from thousands of miles away on an eight hour in-dock timetable had Grant wishing that she had gone the planner route instead.

Especially when her best-laid plans hit a bump: The car carrying the bridesmaids, groomsmen, photographer and a CD of music with the songs for their first dances got lost en route to the reception at The Jolly Roger Beach Resort. By the time the car arrived, there was barely time for some quick photos before a nerve-wracking race back to the ship.

“That was something,” Grant says wryly.

But not every unexpected occurrence was a negative one.

“There were a few people that came from the ship that we hadn’t even met,” says Baker of the ceremony which was walking distance from the docks. “They heard about it over the announcements and they popped by to see. They said it was the best wedding they ever went to.”

Strangers sent them a bottle of champagne. Other passengers stopped them in the days that followed to swap emails so they could send them photos or gifts.

And then there are the memories.

At the end of the day, as the couple made their way up the dock to the ship, cheering passengers crowded the balconies and the captain ordered the ship’s horns to blow.

“Someone yelled out “kiss her” so I did,” Baker recalls smiling, “and the whole place erupted.”

It was the sort of thing they could never have organized.

“Even though it didn’t turn out as planned, it was beautiful,” says Michelle smiling. “It had everything we wanted.”

And best of all, when it was over, they still had six days left on board to recover.

For more information on Royal Caribbean weddings, visit www.royalcaribbean.com/home, check the “all about cruising” menu which has a pulldown list with “weddings.”

For information and tips on planning a wedding in Antigua visit www.antigua-barbuda.org

Heather Greenwood Davis is a freelance writer. Her column appears on alternate Saturdays. Her attendance at the wedding was subsidized by Royal Caribbean. Reach her at [email protected].