In honor of romance and Valentine’s Day, I’m sharing the Love Boat theme engagement party we co-hosted with Sistah B and her husband at their home in Charleston.

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Both my eldest son and nephew are getting married this year, and everyone couldn’t be more thrilled and happy!

Since we were already gathering for a week over Thanksgiving, it seemed the perfect opportunity to celebrate. Not only does our mother live in Charleston, but so do both my niece and spouse, and nephew and his sweet fiancé. Plus, eldest niece and her daughter traveled from Seattle for the holiday, and Sister A flew in from Florida.

Hubby and I rented a house with our sons and fiancé V, within walking distance to Sistah B’s waterfront home. She and her husband actually live on Folly Beach, the last barrier island across the water from Charleston. It was a wonderful setting for a joint Love Boat theme engagement party!

So now that you have a general idea of who, what and where, let’s raise anchor and set sail to party (warning, rocky seas with numerous corny puns ahead lol)!

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All Aboard the Love Boat!

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Even though I carry the title, Queen of Theme, full credit for the Love Boat theme goes to Sistah B (with an assist from my creative niece).

Both sets of parents had already agreed to host a catered, Southern-style seafood boil to feed the 16 of us. When Sistah B gingerly suggested the engagement party theme and how we could decorate over the phone, I was immediately on board (pun intended)!

It was a casual event designed to focus on the engaged couples, family, food and fun, rather than elaborate and pricey decor and tableware.

Anchored in Love

Nephew K had surprised A with a romantic proposal on Folly Beach. His sister and sister-in-law had set up a tent with flowers, champagne and goodies further down the beach. My niece — a professional photographer and sail boat captain — hid in the vegetation and popped out to photograph the special moments.

Several months later, my son proposed while vacationing at Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. While V had suspected it would happen during the trip, R fooled her into thinking it was going to be the following day.

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Instead, he chartered a private sunset sail, popping the question by going on bended knee on the bow of the boat. V didn’t realize the other couple on board were a decoy. Actually, they were the hired photographer with her spouse along for the ride! I teased afterward, that it was a little scary seeing him holding up the ring while sailing. After all, V can swim but the diamond ring cannot lol!

That made the Love Boat theme perfect for the occasion! There are so many great tie-ins with romantic, nautical and coastal phrases and decor. Not only does the theme work well for an engagement party, but also for a bridal or couples shower. It could be fun for a Valentines Day or couples dinner gathering too.

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Have you ever been to a Love Boat theme party?

Raising Anchor

Sistah B had sent an email ahead of time to everyone with the week’s daily schedule of events. That included outings and activities, including dolphin watching from their boat, beach bocce, bowling, and the Turkey Trot.

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Everyone helped prepare the Thanksgiving feast, but with so many people to feed over an entire week, Sistah B also put together a daily meal/menu plan. Included in the schedule was seafood boil on Tuesday night, with suggested cruise attire.

After the community oyster bake the evening before, Sistah B gave each couple a cruise lanyard (repurposed from a Disney vacation). In place of the name tag, was an invitation to the captain’s table during the seafood boil. I’m sure that raised their suspicions it was going to be an engagement celebration.

But, boy were they ever surprised when they boarded the Love Boat theme party!

The two couples had been working remotely all day. Meanwhile, the rest of us had spent the afternoon decorating, setting tables, and preparing appetizers and cocktails at Sistah B’s. My nephew and A picked R and V from the rental house so they arrived together.

Hanging on the front door was the newly refreshed DIY Anchors Aweigh Sailboat Wreath I had made for Sistah B several years ago.

All Hands on Deck

Inside, they were greeted by me holding a silver tray with four champagne-filled flutes. Music from the Love Boat TV show played in a loop (and stuck in everyone’s brains for days lol!). Next to me was the Love Boat theme party’s captain — my brother-in-law!

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And he wasn’t dressed in a costume either. Growing up in Annapolis, M comes from a distinguished line of sailors. Both his grandfather and father attended the Naval Academy, and M was a captain in the Navy Reserves. Both he and my sister met while working for the Navy on nuclear submarine programs.

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Wearing his actual hat and epaulets, M was the Love Boat theme party’s captain, while hubby served as first mate. I guess you could say Sistah B and I were the ship’s activities directors. Because everyone wanted to pose with the captain, M is in more pictures than either of the engaged couples lol!

Smooth Sailing

Sitting on the Folly River across from Charleston provided a lovely waterfront view to watch the sun set. While a trio of faux portholes on the sliding doors overlooking the screened porch helped to create the illusion we were on a cruise ship.

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For the Love Boat theme, decorations and tableware had a navy, gold and white color palate, with a few pops of red. Earlier, we parents had decorated the area over the tables with tissue balls, lanterns, and nautical flags. Hung across the sliding glass doors were anchors and a “tying the knot” banner.

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Two tables, each set for eight, used nautical theme decor to carry the Love Boat theme. In the picture above, V is checking out the captains table.

After hubby’s heartfelt champagne toast, we all enjoyed about an hour of cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and snacks.

Everyone had a lot of fun taking turns posing for pictures in front of the cruise ship and beach scene — in every combination imaginable! Later, we all posted photos in a shared album of pictures taken throughout the week-long Thanksgiving festivities.

The backdrop was a really worthwhile, low cost investment that set the Love Boat theme scene — both party decor and photo booth. Captain M made a wooden “frame” to hang the canvas from. Earlier that afternoon, Sistah B and I used a low temperature to iron out fold creases. After the party, the banner was easily rolled up for a likely cruise theme cocktail or dinner party in the future.

Captain’s Table

Each table was simply set with round sea grass placemats, flatware in napkins tied with a life preserver candy, water glasses, place cards, a pair of lantern or hurricane candles, and nautical flags.

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We shopped Sistah B’s house for decor, which included binoculars and compasses. It was my “job” to style the Love Boat theme centerpieces and tables. Easy peasy with all the right elements!

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Two pairs of hurricane and lantern candle holders anchored the centerpieces. A mixture of flameless and real candles were used to decorate the house and tables.

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To unite the look of both settings, I used three placemats matching the gold tablecloth as a runner down the center of the other’s white cloth.

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Parents of the two grooms and the engaged couples gathered at the captains table. Meanwhile, grandmother of both grooms held court at the other table of family members.

Don’t Rock the Boat

Although the family had prepared appetizers and snacks, the Southern-style seafood boil was catered. They pulled up in a specialized van, and set up in the driveway. I went down to watch the shrimp go into boil pot and chat with the amiable three-man team. Once finished, they came around back and set the food out on the screened porch. Dinner was served buffet style.

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There was shrimp, sausage, small red-skinned potatoes, and corn on the cob in the common boil, plus coleslaw on the side. For dessert was oh-such-a-treat, Key Lime pie.

Unfortunately, this is not the best of pictures, and does not reflect how delicious the meal was! I think everyone made at least a second trip to the buffet to refill their plates! It was low light, and I had been making merry (i.e. drinking champagne and a gin and tonic lol)! At the time, I wasn’t really thinking about taking blog-worthy photos.

For practicality and ease of clean-up (after all we were there to party!) we used heavy-duty paper plates. Everyone lingered over dinner and dessert with more toasts, storytelling and lots of laughter!

Tying the Knot

After dinner Sistah B and I shared two family wedding traditions. To accompany the stories, I had gathered photographs from ours and previous generations weddings. Everyone got a big kick out of the pictures and different styles of wedding dresses.

One tradition is the bride and groom drinking champagne from a silver loving cup. It’s purpose is for the couple to share their first drink as wife and husband, and to show the coming together of two families.

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It’s a ancient custom with roots in Irish, Scottish, French and Jewish cultures. Today, loving cups come in many designs, shapes, sizes and colors. But the old French custom is a two-handle, silver bowl. My mother revived the tradition when hubby and I got married.

Family Heirloom Necklace

Also since my wedding, the bride has worn a now 125-150 year old lavalier. The necklace belonged to the two groom cousins’ great, great grand-mère. We believe she brought it with her from France, and that it may have belonged to her mother. When she lovingly passed it to my mom, the delicate lavalier was in a fragile state. Mom had it restored and gave it to me as my something old.

It is my most treasured family heirloom.

Lavalier necklaces have existed in some form for hundreds of years. They are generally described as finely crafted gold and detailed pendant finished with a single stone dangling from the base.

Mine is decorated with tiny diamonds and seed pearls, which is probably hard to see here.

Lavaliers are believed to have been named after the Duchess La Vallière, mistress of King Louis XIV. Later, the French actress Eve Lavallière gained the stage name because she often wore that style of necklace. Through the end of the Victorian Era (when our family heirloom dates to), lavalier pendants were detailed with floral motifs and delicate seed pearls. Styles evolved through the Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and Golden Age of Hollywood to become more opulent and the height of their popularity.

We stressed that we wanted the girls to know we loved them like family already, and that wearing the necklace was optional.

Do you have any family wedding traditions?

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Romantic Inspiration

If you’re looking for engagement, bridal shower, rehearsal dinner, wedding or other romantic affair inspiration, check out Love is Sweet Bridal Shower.

Invitation, decorations, favors, menus and game ideas for other theme gatherings can be found in Debbee’s Buzz, My Favorite Things Party blog archive. For instance, a bee theme works well with a more rustic or farmhouse chic affair, as in “meant to bee.”

Along with Valentine’s Day table settings, my blog is full of romantically set tables and napkin folds.

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