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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, October 4, 2002

Hotel's aquarium divers pop the question for hopeful suitors

By Wade Kilohana Shirkey

The usual procedure is the guy drops to one knee on the restaurant floor as fellow diners look on curiously.

But at the Pacific Beach Hotel's Oceanarium restaurant, the "Will you marry me?" is usually offered to an unsuspecting guest in the restaurant by a diver inside its 280,000-gallon aquarium.

Customers take advantage of the unique service about 25 times a week, for everything from birthdays and anniversaries to retirements and graduations.

Since 1979, it has operated in much the same way.

A diver holding a sign with the appropriate message descends the three stories to the bottom of the aquarium, guided to the "intended celebratory victim" by numbers on the inside of the 7-inch-thick, shatterproof acrylic glass windows, each of which weighs 1 1/2 tons.

Around the diver glide the aquarium's finny denizens, ranging from giant rays to ta'ape (blue-line snapper), paku'iku'i (achilles tang) to kihikihi (moorish idol), and lau'ipala (yellow tang) to kahala (amber jack). Even a wrasse or two.

If the "WILL YOU MARRY ME (name here)?" sign is successful, the restaurant — and diver — break out in uproarious applause.

If not, said aquarium curator Jane Fee, it's one of the most humiliating — and public — marriage turn-downs possible.

The divers can see "out" and "tell if the girl is going to say 'yes' or 'no,' " Fee says. It's a bad sign if she only looks down at her hands. And there have been more than one, Fee suspects, who timidly have said "yes" amid the public attention, applause and fellow diners' well-wishes — only to rethink the question later.

For holidays, divers descend with "watery greeting cards" for diners and perhaps props such as Santa hats. The divers' signs have "matured" from grease pencil and acrylic sheet to the use of a special machine. The stunt has also gone from free to $20.

And "you'd be surprised at how many people want to buy (their) sign," said Fee.

Kids are the most enthralled with the personalized shows, said hotel marketing director Grayce McCullough. "Children love to see their name (and birthday greeting). They all want to know, 'How'd the diver know I was here?!' "

As for Fee, she has changed her mind about the aquatic marriage proposal idea.

"I used to think the "Will You Marry Me" (stunts) were stupid," she said. "I mean, like (the guys) were afraid to ask."

That was until she took down one of the proposals herself.

"You can (just) see the emotion" by the surprised bride-to-be, she said. "There was the guy on his knee ... I was practically crying. In water yet!"

And Fee is not above using the aquarium's dive shows for a bit of tomfoolery.

Devilishly clued in that one of the divers, with back to the restaurant, was wearing a forbidden thong swimsuit, their boss furiously pointed at the conniving divers: "I want to see you, you and you in my office immediately."

That's when the diver showed him the message on the sign: "APRIL FOOL!"