Port Canaveral -- just a short drive from Jacksonville -- is becoming one of the busiest ports of embarkation for cruise lines. Formerly dwarfed by other Florida ports, Canaveral's roster of leisure ships has been growing, offering local vacationers more, and more convenient, cruise options.
"There are now three or four cruise lines with major ships sailing from Canaveral," said Steve Muraca, director of marketing for the Jacksonville-headquartered Cruises & Tours Unlimited agency. "There's a lot of tonnage out there."
Muraca noted that Royal Caribbean will sail its mega-ship Sovereign of the Seas out of Port Canaveral beginning May 2000. The ship will join the Disney Magic and several Premiere ships anchored there, as well as Carnival Cruise Lines' Fantasy. Said Muraca, "If I had to pick one ship that's our biggest sales producer, it's the Fantasy out of Port Canaveral."
With a thousand cabins and a ratio of 2.2 passengers to each crew member, Fantasy can comfortably float more than 2,000 people around the Caribbean. The neon-laden ship's decor steals inspiration from old movie sets.
Cruises & Tours Unlimited books 12,000 to 15,000 cruise ship cabins a year, Muraca said, with most of the tickets going to Jacksonville area residents. He said industry statistics show 30 to 40 percent of the cruise business is from the southeastern United States.
Less than a year after Princess Cruises introduced weddings at sea on the Grand Princess, Stephanie Kelly and Blair Byrne of Michigan became the 100th couple to say "I do" in the ship's chapel.
Princess' wedding program is the only one afloat that lets couples tie the knot at sea. When Royal Royal Caribbean International's Voyager of the Seas debuts at the end of the year, it also will have a dedicated wedding chapel, but on-board weddings will be held only while Voyager is in port.
With every detail for the special day handled by Grand's wedding coordinator, no wonder couples have chosen to marry on the ship. Besides being convenient, tying the knot on board lets couples wrap their wedding and honeymoon into one romantic package, says Princess.
As for who's gotten married on board, Princess provided some statistics:
The youngest couple were Tennille Jupe, 19, and Brad Jackson, 22, who also had the largest at-sea wedding so far: One hundred passengers, including 13 attendants, shared the Michigan couple's nuptials.
The majority of couples were Canadian. Of those from the United States, most hailed from Florida and California.
One couple who got engaged last year on Sun Princess tied the knot exactly a year later on Grand's Valentine's Day sailing in February. Sounds like those love boats are keeping Cupid quite busy.
For more information on Princess' wedding programs, call 1-800-421-1700.
Some shipboard enrichment can be literally uplifting. Consider: Western passengers on Regal China Cruises' Yangtze River sailings will gain insights into the ancient Chinese custom of kite-flying. Regal China will bring master kitemaker Wang Chi Feng aboard as guest lecturer on sailings throughout the spring and summer. A Beijing native, Wang will share the history of this ancient tradition and even fly beautifully crafted kites off the deck of the ship.
The Chinese believe that flying and releasing a kite is a way to let go your problems and worries. As Regal China vessels ply the Yangtze, passengers may see local farmers flying their kites along the riverbank. …