Sailing into a Celebration

Zermatt, Switzerland was just a private jet flight away for a couple in Venice on a Silversea cruise.

Zermatt, Switzerland was just a private jet flight away for a couple in Venice on a Silversea cruise.

In May, while fellow Silver Whisper guests were touring St. Mark’s Square in Venice, a couple celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary on a Silversea Cruises’ cruise from Rome to Athens took “celebrating in style” to the top of the mountain—literally. With help from the Silver Shore Concierge, the duo set off on an exclusive port-day adventure by private jet from Venice to Zermatt, Switzerland. Soon, they were kicking up white powder on the ski slopes.

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It shows how a luxury cruise can lead to customized celebratory fun. When the male guest boarded Silver Whisper, he told the concierge he’d heard about a late-season Alps snowstorm and good skiing in Zermatt. Mentioning that he and his wife were avid skiers, the guest also stressed that their milestone anniversary was the same day as the ship’s overnight port call in Venice.

So, the ship’s concierge set up the private jet to whisk the couple off for spring skiing, arranged limo transfers in Zermatt, and reserved a romantic anniversary dinner “apres-ski” at one of the town’s best restaurants. He also secured a hotel day room for the couple to freshen up before dinner and booked a pre-dinner massage for the wife. After dinner, the guests were flown by private jet back to Venice to meet their ship, ending their special day with a nightcap at The Bar on Silver Whisper.

Wintergarden Suites (left) on Seabourn Quest are a great backdrop for celebration cruises.Pictured: Wintergarden Suites on Seabourn Quest are a great backdrop for celebration cruises.

Anniversary and birthday travel absolutely “rule” as the top types of special-occasion travel, cited by 48 percent and 46 percent, respectively, of consumers intending to use a travel advisor who participated in the “2014 Portrait of the Affluent Traveler” survey, conducted by MMGY Global and sponsored by Luxury Travel Advisor. Of those, 40 percent intend to use a travel advisor to handle anniversary arrangements and 37 percent plan to use an advisor for birthday travel.

Other types of celebratory travel cited by the affluent survey participants included family reunion (23 percent), wedding (19 percent), honeymoon (18 percent), graduation (12 percent) and class reunion (12 percent); for those types of occasions, 6 percent to 14 percent of those surveyed plan to use an agent. More reasons cited for celebratory travel included retirement, a bonus or raise in compensation, engagement, religious celebration, new job, bachelor/bachelorette getaway, or vow renewal.

Silversea’s Le Champagne (here) is the only Relais & Châteaux restaurant at sea, offering a romantic dining experience.Pictured: Silversea’s Le Champagne is the only Relais & Châteaux restaurant at sea, offering a romantic dining experience.

Many travelers consult an experienced travel advisor pre-cruise to help set up onboard arrangements before boarding. Experienced luxury travel specialist Elaine Pesky of Protravel International (www.protravelinc.com), New York has arranged for 24 people to sail this fall for a 75th birthday celebration of family and friends on Oceania CruisesRiviera from Civitavecchia (Rome) to Lisbon. Pesky has reserved Oceania’s private dining room so the cuisine can be customized as per the group’s specific likes, with special wines and cheeses as well as a favorite type of cake for the birthday event dinner.

When planning celebratory travel, little touches matter. After Pesky learned that the birthday celebrant loves a particular type of dark chocolate and has it flown in each week from Switzerland, she arranged for one person in the sailing group to place several boxes in the birthday celebrant’s cabin upon arrival.

Small customized group dinners (like the one Pesky is planning on Oceania) are offered by most luxury lines within intimate onboard dining venues that accommodate a limited number of guests. Reservations are a must. For example, at Silversea’s Le Champagne, the only Relais & Châteaux restaurant at sea, guests are treated to a welcome cocktail party with hors d’oeuvres and champagne; a six-course dining experience with wine pairings; a specialty dessert; singer or musician to entertain; and unlimited after-dinner drinks.

Azamara Club Cruises’ “Best of the Best” dinner is served up in the lovely Drawing Room (library) for suite guests. A separate “Chef’s Table” experience, available to all guests by reservation, is served in Prime C; it’s a special five-course meal paired with select wines. These dining experiences are typically hosted by a senior officer or guest speaker. Chef’s Table menus give guests a choice of French, Italian or California cuisine. We suggest going “French” with tuna tartare Nicoise, smoked potato leek soup, scallops Grenobloise, filet of beef au poivre or seared sea bass, and a crunchy apple and pear fusion for dessert.

In terms of helping guests “pop the question,” cruise lines typically are eager to help. For example, in May, the onboard staff at Todd English, Cunard Line’s alternative dining venue on Queen Mary 2, assisted a male guest as he got down on one knee and asked his girlfriend to marry him. She said yes, the dining staff clapped, photos were taken and champagne was served.

Ruth Turpin, owner, Cruises Etc., Fort Worth, TX, recalls a proposal she helped set up for a prospective groom on Crystal Symphony. She arranged a private evening in Crystal CruisesVintage Room, the groom picked from a special menu and, with the sommelier’s help, chose wine pairings. Floral arrangements adorned the room and Turpin had a quartet of musicians play the couple’s favorite songs. The potential bride was totally surprised. She accepted the man’s proposal and the couple celebrated their honeymoon onboard the same Crystal ship a year later.

Luxury lines typically will assist travel advisors and guests pre-cruise with planning special occasions. On Crystal Cruises, a Crystal Celebrations consultant working for Imagine VIP will help guests select an event location onboard or in port. Party elements can be arranged à la carte or within a package that might include a personalized website, save-the-date cards, invitations, catering, specialty cakes, flowers, photography, live music and themed décor.

Edie Rodriguez, the former Edie Bornstein and Crystal’s president and COO, celebrated her wedding and honeymooned with 14 friends onboard the Crystal Serenity earlier this year. She consulted with the sommelier to create a special Vintage Room menu. The celebratory dinner began with white sturgeon caviar, chive custard; gazpacho blanco, lobster and olive; lamb’s lettuce with potato mousseline, quail breast, pancetta and truffle foam; and porcini risotto and basil. Next, the group dined on sea bass with artichoke, shallot and red radish with lemon snow; green tea passion granite; and Wagyu loin with white asparagus mousse and smoked baby vegetables.

Cheeses served included Grana, Taleggio and Gorgonzola with truffle honey. The meal ended with a synergy of chocolate and berries. Crystal’s elegant table setting included rose napkin rings. A celebratory wedding cake was topped with a box of chocolates.

The group toasted the newly married couple with Moet et Chandon, Cuvee Dom Perignon, Brut, Epernay 2004, and savored such wines as a red Vega Sicilia, Valbuena, Ribera Del Duero, Spain 2003, chosen because the groom’s family hails from that country. One savory white wine was Chardonnay, Rossj Bass, Langhe, Angelo Gaja, Piemonte, Italy 2012, selected because the couple adores Italy.

Guests honeymooning or celebrating a milestone wedding anniversary on Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ Europa 2 might check out the “Honeymoon Special: The Art of True Romance” package. It’s available at no extra charge and includes champagne, flowers, a romantic dinner, and a pre-booked day-bed lounger in a private section of the sun deck.

Also included is onboard credit, which can be used to purchase beverages and spa treatments. We’d definitely opt for the lomi lomi, a traditional Hawaiian oil massage. This honeymoon package special applies to Europa 2 cruises booked no more than six months after a wedding ceremony or milestone anniversaries such as 10th, 20th, 25th or 40th, providing the cruise begins up to one month before or after the anniversary date.

Onboard staff for Compagnie du Ponant’s Le Ponant will assist couples celebrating a wedding anniversary by setting up a dinner under the stars on the sun deck. The captain will personally speak to the couple at the start of the meal, and the duo will celebrate with champagne, strawberries, rose petals, candles and a classic soundtrack.

Azamara Prime C gives guests a chance for a “Chef’s Table” experience—a five-course meal paired with select wines.Pictured: Azamara Prime C gives guests a chance for a “Chef’s Table” experience—a five-course meal paired with select wines.

On Le Ponant, L’Austral and Le Soleal, staff will alternatively organize private wine tastings in the suites, personalized decoration of a suite, the renewal of wedding vows onboard, or a birthday celebration with personalized entertainment in a private area. We suggest asking about cooking lessons with the chef or private dance lessons with one of the entertainers.

Other one-of-a-kind options? Compagnie du Ponant’s onboard staff will design a personalized video or even create an original song for the celebrant; an onboard entertainer will sing it or a member of the family can do so. Honeymooners sailing on L’Austral in Antarctica have posed for celebratory photos in Zodiacs decorated for the event.

Even normal cruise activities can lend themselves to celebratory fun, though. For example, Regent Seven Seas Cruises recently debuted 12 new productions onboard its three ships. So a group sailing on Seven Seas Mariner for a retirement celebration first might attend a “Dancing in the Streets” show with 1960s and 1970s music from The Four Tops, The Temptations, Lionel Richie and The Jackson Five, before heading to an onboard lounge. There, primed by the music to reminisce, each person might cite a fond memory of the retiree “back in the day,” and share funny old photos they’ve brought along.

Ponte Vecchio, over the Arno River in Florence, is an iconic location for celebration moments.Pictured: Ponte Vecchio, over the Arno River in Florence, is an iconic location for celebration moments.

Chris Schwenk, travel experience manager, Great Escapes Travel, Lake Mary, FL has booked much celebratory travel, including one high-end family event onboard Seabourn Cruise Line’s Seabourn Quest. Traveling from Barcelona to Athens last September, his customers consisted of a mom and dad, as well as several adult children. Schwenk reserved the ship’s luxurious Wintergarden Suite along with five adjacent suites. He also arranged several pre-cruise nights at the Arts Hotel in Barcelona and a post-cruise stay at the Hotel Grande Bretagne in Athens. Through his agency’s Virtuoso relationship, he secured upgraded accommodations, and he set up customized shore trips for the group, including a private boat trip from Sorrento to see the Blue Grotto and the Amalfi Coast.

Larger family groups can consider chartering a small luxury ship, as nothing beats having the entire ship to oneself. Bob Lepisto, president, SeaDream Yacht Club says earlier this year the line hosted an unusual “120th Birthday Celebration Charter” as both the husband and wife were turning 60. The couple invited family and friends to join them for their celebration as they sailed from Rome to Dubrovnik. For one evening celebration they requested a gluten-free cake and got it. Plus, the charter meant they could have a private family “dessert presentation” poolside.

Charter coordinators typically will arrange customized dinner menus, and onboard activities to fit the group’s interests, such as a wine-and-cheese sunset event, yoga instruction, culinary tastings, enrichment lectures or computer classes. Shoreside, the concierge can set up a private castle tour or a South Pacific beach outing.

Once a voyage is chosen, a charter group can work with the line to customize the itinerary, as long as the ship can easily get to the embarkation port for its next regular cruise. So a family could attend celebratory fireworks show at Florence’s Ponte Vecchio or linger longer in Grand Cayman so scuba fans can fit-in multiple dives.

While special occasion charters are known to most celebrants, the element of surprise is also a popular option. A couple may think they’ve been given a voyage as a gift, only to get onboard and discover it’s their own private charter shared with family and friends.

Data from the recent MMGY Global Affluent Traveler survey show that 62 percent of those who intend to use a travel agent say they’re interested in taking a cruise over the next two years. That spells opportunity. Fortunately, the upscale lines offer customized arrangements to assist those planning once-in-a-lifetime milestone events at sea.

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