Married – for free! – aboard N.J.'s official tall ship in LBI

Wednesday, 07 October 2009 00:00
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ajmeerwald_optBY RHONDA BASSAT-RIVERA
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM
WEDDING TRENDS

Things are really changing in the New Jersey wedding industry! New Jersey truly is becoming a destination wedding location – think Jamaica without the flight and passport delays!

Atlantic City, Cape May and shore towns in Monmouth County have long been desired spots for beach weddings in New Jersey. However, another locale is usurping that coveted title: Long Beach Island!

With the very active Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce (the "SOC Chamber") promoting LBI's gorgeous beaches and family-friendly atmosphere, not to mention world-class new venues such as Bonnet Island, Mallard Island Yacht Club and The Stateroom, LBI is making its mark on the wedding market.

In April, the SOC Chamber sponsored a "Wedding Road Show," which brought wedding vendors and engaged couples together in a caravan-type setting with visits to wedding service providers throughout the LBI region.

It was at the Wedding Road Show that Erik Kent, founder of NJWedding.com and Lori Pepenella, Destination Marketing Manager for the SOC Chamber, began to look for more ways to promote Long Beach Island as a wedding destination in New Jersey.

Just a few short weeks later, Pepenella contacted Kent about the SOC Chamber's idea to have a contest – win a wedding ceremony on board New Jersey's official tall ship, the A.J. Meerwald.

Kent immediately started marketing the contest on his website as well as via new media outlets Facebook and Twitter, and received nearly 100 entries in just a month. The contest was sponsored by the A.J. Meerwald, ReClam the Bay and the New Jersey Division of Tourism in addition to the SOC Chamber and NJWedding.com.

Not one to think small, the SOC Chamber and NJWedding.com decided to announce the winner of the contest at the Jersey Shore Store in New York City in late June! Flanked by luminaries such as the recently crowned Miss New Jersey Ashley Shaffer and N.J. media outlets like NJN, the winners, Tara Marie Meacham and Richard ("Rick") William Grafton Clapper of Lumberton, were announced.

boatwedding_optThey were selected from all the applicants because the bride always wanted to be married on a ship and the groom had spent his summers as a child on LBI. What a perfect couple to win the first non-crew member wedding ceremony on the A.J. Meerwald, especially in 2009 during the "Year of the Tall Ship.''

While only the wedding ceremony was included in the contest, many other vendors who learned about it via social media contacted Kent and volunteered their time and talents to enhance the lucky couple's day.

David Toth of David Toth Photographers provided a full day of wedding photography, Stephanie Somodi, of Invitation Designs by Stephanie created 50 custom invitations for the couple's guests and Deb Whitcraft, former mayor of Beach Haven donated her services as the wedding officiant.

Mr. and Mrs. Clapper were married on a glorious Saturday on July 25, 2009. Tara wore a strapless gown by Bonny with a custom sweetheart neckline that featured a hint of navy blue, while Rick honored his heritage and wore a kilt.

After their beautiful ceremony on board the A.J. Meerwald docked in Beach Haven, the newlyweds and their family and friends celebrated with a reception at the Mt. Holly Library. A beautiful video of the nuptials has been produced by J&S Video Services, and can be viewed here.

Asked about her feelings about her wedding, Mrs. Clapper states: "We were so grateful for this opportunity. We had hoped to have a wedding on a ship, but found it completely unaffordable until we won this contest. After a long streak of bad luck (including Rick losing his job in this economy), everything turned around from this point forward. Beautiful wedding, perfect pictures – and not one but two new jobs for my husband."

The SOC Chamber and NJWedding.com are already planning on holding another contest to win a wedding ceremony aboard the A.J. Meerwald in 2010. The Second Annual Wedding Road Show is scheduled for April 18, 2010, and – BREAKING NEWS! – three couples participating in the Wedding Road Show will be chosen to be on a new television show, which will detail their planning process!

As you can see, exciting wedding trends are happening right here in New Jersey!

Rhonda Bassat-Rivera is a wedding planner & consultant and the founder of West Orange-based Bride Ideas. Have a comment on this topic? Want to ask Rhonda question? Send her an email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and you may appear in an upcoming column!