NEW YORK -- The mood at the New York Passenger Ship Terminal was as suspenseful as the last moments before the organist keys up the Wedding March.

The upstairs seating area (lounge or lobby overstates the amenities) was ringed with brides-to-be, wearing their casual best and flipping through bridal magazines. Some with mothers or fiances, most with girlfriends -- all were waiting to board Royal Caribbean's Nordic Empress.

The premise for the occasion was Bridal Expo, a shipboard wedding fashion show and luncheon. The purpose: To sell honeymoon cruises.

At the foot of the waiting area staircase, beaming like proud parents, stood Jacquelyn Wolfer, owner, and Scott Winsten, senior vice president of sales and marketing, of Fifth Avenue Cruises and Tours International.

The event, which Wolfer and Winsten heralded as the first ever, and the idea of getting 250 prospective clients on board a product for a few hours, was their brainchild.

"Many brides want to be married or have their honeymoon on a ship, but they have no idea [what to expect]," Wolfer said. "Most of these girls have never cruised before. Some of them have never traveled."

Most of the agents' prospective clients were there mainly for the fashion show and wedding vendors who would be on the ship. But the unique venue was definitely a draw; Wolfer said she turned away nearly 300 girls who responded too late.

There were some honeymoon shoppers, like Cawrie Saccone, who was considering a cruise, and Mary Fuchs and Mitchell Katz, who were using the day to see if a cruise would be the right honeymoon trip for them.

As it goes with trial-and-error inaugurals -- and weddings -- there were a few flies in the soup. The Viking Empress was 90 minutes late returning to New York from Bermuda, and, of course, there were the usual security delays.

Two hours after the event's scheduled start time, with irritated brides-to-be still waiting to board, the ship's crew was confronted with an influx of regular passengers and guests for three onboard weddings.

Once on the ship, however, the bridal show guests were placated with champagne, then a three-course luncheon in the ship's main dining room.

Vendors made speeches, the fashion show went on and the guests were able to tour the ship and be back on land in time for its 4 p.m. departure.

Despite the setbacks, Wolfer and Winsten agreed it was a promotion worth pursuing in different cities, perhaps four times a year.

"Cruising is a very popular honeymoon," Wolfer said. "The premise [at the Expo] is getting them on, so they can see how gracious it is."

Do they think they'll get business from these brides? "Definitely," Wolfer said.

Travel agents, she said "have to stop moaning and groaning ... and direct that energy to where they make money: group and special-interest travel."

It worked for at least one couple. At the end of the day, Fuchs and Katz were ready to take the big plunge: the cruise vacation. "Definitely, after this," Fuchs said. "This really helped."

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI