Every bride imagines all the details falling into place on her perfect wedding day. Jill Schildhouse tried on only six wedding dresses until she found the one: a flowing ball gown silhouette with an intricate lace overlay cascading from the bodice. She had always dreamed of a cruise wedding and envisioned herself wearing the gown on the deck of a ship with water splashing around her, the gentle wind blowing through her hair. She planned an intimate destination wedding on a Princess cruise ship gliding across the Mexican Riviera.
But with the news of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreaks on cruise ships, the possibility of canceling her dream wedding seems more and more likely.
In early February, the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined its 3,500 passengers for two weeks in Yokohama, Japan. Another Princess cruise ship that voyaged to Hawaii has recently become associated with a series of coronavirus infections and one death in Northern California. Worldwide, nearly 100,000 people have been infected with COVID-19, according to the latest estimates. Over 3,000 people have died.
Schildhouse’s ceremony isn’t scheduled until October, but with the news of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreaks on cruise ships and the state department’s warnings, the possibility of canceling her dream wedding seems more and more likely. “I had always envisioned getting married on a cruise ship. I’m about to turn 43 and this is my first wedding, so I’ve waited a long time for this moment, longer than most women. If it doesn’t work out, it would be devastating,” says Schildhouse, who has put down a $3,000 nonrefundable deposit for her wedding ceremony.
Schildhouse is one of many brides who are waiting anxiously to know how the coronavirus might affect their upcoming nuptials. Wedding plans are being disrupted because venues in at-risk regions are closing or travel bans are preventing couples and family members from getting in or out of their areas. The cost of cancelling or rescheduling a wedding can be severe: most couples put down nonrefundable deposits and travel plans are booked far in advance. Having to sacrifice a dream wedding to the coronavirus is every bride’s nightmare.
“I’ve waited a long time for this moment. If it doesn’t work out, it would be devastating.”
Wedding industry experts say to not make any important decisions about the wedding without knowing the most up-to-date and reliable facts from people on the ground. “Don't make any decisions based only on the news. Make sure to talk to your local vendors and ask them for their insider point of view,” says Giovana Duailibe, CEO and founder of Belief Wedding Creators, an international community for wedding planners. “If couples really need to make changes in their wedding, the first people that need to know are their guests. Communicate in an easy and clear way, without panic,” she says.
At the top of many brides’ list of wedding stressors: how the rapidly spreading coronavirus will affect travel plans for themselves and their guests. Ana Zuniga, 25, who lives in Berlin with her fiancé, is scheduled to be married in early April in Miami, where her family resides. The couple is planning to entertain 110 guests from Germany, Sweden, New Jersey, Texas, Missouri, and Florida. They had their legal ceremony this week and Zuniga is en route to Miami to be with her family, but her fiancé will remain in Berlin until April 1 when he flies to the U.S.
“If the coronavirus outbreak becomes more serious and they don’t allow my fiancé, his family, and friends to travel on April 1st, money, flights, and time would be lost, as well as a dream,” she says. “I would be completely heartbroken.”
For those who are already at their destination weddings, they fear that if the coronavirus keeps spreading, they might not be able to come home. Stephanie Castanon and her fiancé William Gendron from Miami had their wedding in Lima, Peru this weekend. Instead of a traditional honeymoon, the couple opted for a “buddymoon” to Machu Picchu with 70 of their friends. The wedding party has invested in $1,000 of non-perishable foods in case they have to extend their stay and third party travel insurance in case someone gets sick. “Who knows how bad it could be by then,” says Gendron. “If things go sideways, I will want to have U.S. healthcare available.”
The coronavirus isn’t the first disaster the wedding industry has had to navigate. Couples and wedding planners have worked their ways through natural catastrophes like Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and the Zika Virus in South and North America, as well as political conflicts in locations like Greece and Venezuela. Duailibe says it’s important to stay positive in turbulent and uncertain times. “Don't give up. This is your dream, and you should have the most amazing wedding of your life,” she says.
“We've been planning this wedding for almost a year and a half, and who would have thought that a pandemic would potentially ruin it?”
Megan Avellar, 29, is planning a June wedding in Orvieto, Italy and trying to keep an open mind. The couple’s budget for the wedding is $85,000 and they’ve already paid deposits to the Italian wedding planner, venue, catering, photographer, and videographer.
“We've been planning this wedding for almost a year and a half, and who would have thought that a pandemic would potentially ruin it,” she says. “However, at this point it's out of our control. We will roll with the punches if we inevitably have to cancel or postpone,” says Avellar.
Coronavirus isn’t halting all weddings in their tracks. Many couples have gone on with their ceremonies despite the virus and taken precautions to ensure everyone’s health. In an annual government-sponsored mass wedding in the Philippines that took place in late February, 220 couples underwent health and travel checks and wore face masks as they said “I do” in a crowd of other newlyweds. Couples held hands after rubbing them with sanitizer and kissed through surgical masks.
Whether couples sacrifice their dream weddings, push them to a later date, or go on with the ceremony using masks and swab tests, the most important thing about love in the time of coronavirus is the love.
Minhae Shim Roth is a writer and reporter based in Northern California. You can often find her running around with her husband and son in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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