There's good news for couples who want to get married in a beautiful location without the hassle of planning a formal, sit-down dinner for 300 of their closest friends. Many cruise lines now offer a variety of services to help you plan a shipboard or shoreside ceremony, which, of course, will be combined with a romantic cruise honeymoon.
Planning a cruise wedding can be as easy as making one call. Just dial and, poof! In-house wedding coordinators will begin arranging the ceremony, menu, cake, flowers and music. Some will even help you to obtain wedding licenses or provide invitations and thank-you notes. And it's easy to let them handle all the extras -- from tuxedo rental to hair and spa appointments.
An onboard wedding can be a great value, as well. Prices start at about $795 (the sky's the limit) on top of the cost of the cruise. Typically, onboard weddings are held in a ship's chapel (if one exists), a lounge, the library or a boardroom. But, the larger ships can offer offbeat ceremony locales aboard a carousel or on a rock-climbing wall. While the members of the wedding couple must be passengers on the cruise, most lines with full-service packages include an option for landside guests to come onboard for a couple of hours for the event.
Married folks can also get in on the fun with onboard vow-renewal ceremonies -- a perfect way to celebrate on your anniversary trip.
Weddings and vow renewals at sea can, indeed, be the ultimate in romance. But, before you book your cabin, remember these tips:
If you want to get married at sea by the captain, you're limited to only a handful of cruise lines, due to legal limitations that are based on ships' countries of registry. On the "can officiate" list are Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises, whose ships are now registered in Malta. Princess Cruises' captains are also able to marry couples at sea; its ships are registered to Bermuda. Beginning in 2012, Cunard will offer onboard weddings after its ships are re-flagged from Southampton to Bermuda.
Several cruises lines have private islands for wedding or vow renewals. Disney Cruise Line captains can lead wedding ceremonies onboard or at Castaway Cay. However, because senior officers cannot perform legal ceremonies, the actual "legal" marriage (and paperwork signing) must occur in the cruise terminal before the ship leaves Port Canaveral -- not terribly romantic. Holland America conducts weddings and vow renewals at its private island, Half Moon Cay, during its Caribbean and Panama Canal cruises.
For the most part, it's the big-ship, mass-market cruise lines that have embraced full-service weddings. Some, like Crystal Cruises, don't allow onboard weddings. Others -- mostly in the high-priced luxury category -- like Seabourn don't have a problem with wedding or vow renewal plans, but they eschew packages, opting to provide customized amenities to these guests.
Weddings have become so popular on some ships that Carnival, Celebrity, Azamara, Holland America and Royal Caribbean levy surcharges for certain times of the year.
Cruise ship weddings may not be for everyone. If you've always dreamed of picking out each flower yourself or getting married in your hometown in front of 300 people, you may not be happy with this simple approach. And, getting married legally while at sea is complicated, so plan to have your ceremony on the ship while it is in port, or plan well in advance.
Weddings in ports of call can be fabulous, but what happens if the ship has to cancel the call? Consider very carefully ports that require ships to tender; Grand Cayman, for instance, can be a highly unpredictable site, as winds often hamper tender operations, causing cruise ships to skip stops at the island. For the same reason, we do not recommend planning a shoreside wedding at a Caribbean locale during hurricane season (June through November).
And, while many brides start planning their dream nuptials a year to a year and a half in advance, don't jump the gun by planning land-based, post-cruise celebrations too early. Couples have been bumped from their wedding cruises -- due to full-ship charters after they booked -- forcing them to reschedule everything.
Check out our picks for the best cruise options for weddings.
Package Details: Princess offers three wedding packages. The "Tie the Knot at Sea" package, for $1,800 plus a $450 license fee, includes use of the onboard wedding chapel, a candlelit ceremony officiated by the captain, use of a wedding coordinator, live music, two floral arrangements, a rose bouquet for the bride, groom's boutonniere, the services of a photographer and a selection of prints, wedding cake, Champagne and two keepsake flutes, and a keepsake wedding certificate. The "Tie the Knot Harborside" package -- ranging from $1,300 to $2,000, plus licensing fees up to $500, based on destination -- includes priority check-in and boarding for the couple and guests, an onboard wedding ceremony performed by a nondenominational officiant, a wedding coordinator, recorded music, silk floral arrangements, a bouquet and boutonniere, a photographer and one included print, wedding cake, Champagne and a keepsake certificate. The "Tie the Knot Ashore" package, ranging from $1,800 to $2,200, includes a beach or garden ceremony, transportation for the couple, an officiant, a wedding coordinator, a bouquet and boutonniere, a photographer and one included print, cake for two, Champagne and a keepsake certificate. Receptions, photography packages and enhanced ceremony options are available at extra cost.
Coolest Quirk: Not only can your ceremony be conducted at sea by the captain, but the line has also installed state-of-the-art technology that allows you to broadcast the ceremony live, via Webcam, to friends and family on land. Some Princess captains are pretty romantic; on one particular cruise over Valentine's Day, the captain casually announced he'd conduct vow renewals for anyone who wanted them, and about a half-dozen couples showed up.
Caveat: Depending on the destination, licensing fees can add an additional $500 to a "Tie the Knot Ashore" package.
Vow Renewals: Princess' "Renewal of Vows" package costs $220 per couple and includes a group ceremony, an orchid bouquet and boutonniere, a commemorative certificate signed by the captain, a bottle of Champagne, two souvenir Champagne glasses and a framed photo of the ceremony. The "Deluxe Renewal of Vows" package, at $495, adds a few extra amenities, such as breakfast in bed and a 25-minute massage or facial.
Package Details: Carnival offers three wedding packages. The "Just for the Bride & Groom" package starts at $1,195 and includes an official civil ceremony with a bouquet for the bride and a boutonniere for the groom, a Champagne toast with keepsake flutes, a wedding cake with cake topper, prerecorded wedding music, a decorated bridal aisle and a photographer. (Prints are extra.) The "Welcome Aboard" package costs $1,635 and includes all the aforementioned amenities, plus a cocktail hour with an open bar and hot and cold hors d'oeuvres, a traditional two-tiered wedding cake and coffee service. The "Deluxe Romance" package starts at $1,795 and includes all of the above, plus a 90-minute reception and an ice carving. Prices for packages and marriage licenses, which are extra, vary based on the port in which the ceremonies are performed. Videography services, live music and tuxedo rental are also additional. Shoreside packages are available in certain ports, such as Key West, San Juan, Grand Cayman and Barbados.
Coolest Quirk: We like the easy-to-use, free, online gift registry that makes it easy for guests to contribute to a couple's destination wedding. It provides couples with a wedding Web site, blog, e-mail wizard, photo album and Facebook/Twitter uploaders.
Caveats: Plan ahead, if possible; weddings are available only when in port (including embarkation ports), and there's a maximum of three allowed per day. Additional surcharges apply for certain months -- May and June, in particular -- as well as holidays.
Vow Renewals: Carnival offers vow renewals, starting from $385, including a shipboard ceremony performed by the captain, a Champagne toast, flowers, wedding cake, photography services and recorded music; up to eight guests are permitted. A deluxe package, starting at $735, adds a one-hour reception with an open bar and hot and cold canapes; it allows up to 20 guests.
Why? Royal Caribbean's program rivals NCL's in terms of variety, with one extra: Its coordinators will arrange shoreside ceremonies at various ports of call. Royal Caribbean is also the first line to offer adventurous shipboard and destination weddings through a subprogram, Explorer Weddings. And, with Royal Caribbean's newest ships, there are cooler onboard sites for ceremonies.
Package Details: There are three avenues to Royal romance. The "Shipboard Duet Package," starting at about $1,995, is the most basic and includes a wedding coordinator, onboard ceremony with officiant, one hour of photography, recorded music, a bouquet and boutonniere, chocolate-covered strawberries and sparkling wine. The "Shipboard Harmony Package," from $2,295, allows for a few more extras, including a Champagne breakfast in bed and nicer flowers in the bride's bouquet. The third option is a shoreside wedding that includes transportation to the ceremony site and all the options of the Duet package. (Prices start at $2,395 but vary more widely, based on the shoreside wedding site.)
Receptions are not included in the price of the ceremonies, but several options are available. They include a formal wedding lunch at $48 per person, a buffet with bar service for $48 or hot and cold hors d'oeuvres and bar service for $32. There's a 25-person minimum for the lunch or buffet and a minimum of 16 and maximum of 50 guests for hors d'oeuvres. Other add-ons include entertainment, cake and ice carvings.
Booking an Explorer Wedding adds an adventure component by combining exotic-destination cruises with themed weddings or vow renewals. Swap nuptials, for example, on the FlowRider onboard surf simulator (onFreedom of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas, Independence of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas), in the grand "Central Park" area or on the carousel aboard Allure and Oasis of the Seas, or on top of an Alaskan glacier, in a rainforest, midair in a hot-air balloon or in a medieval castle in port. Packages include the wedding ceremony and officiant, wedding coordinator, ceremony music, a bouquet and boutonniere, sparkling wine, chocolate-covered strawberries, a keepsake Explorer Weddings marriage certificate and use of a photographer. Onboard Explorer Weddings start at $300, plus the cost of one of the traditional onboard wedding packages. Shoreside Explorer Wedding packages start at $2,595.
Coolest Quirk: The aforementioned shoreside ceremonies, which run the gamut from simply scenic (a beach in San Juan, Puerto Rico) and funky (a winery in Santorini, Greece) to exotic (a ceremony atop a glacier in Juneau, Alaska). Plus, it offers the ability to arrange a ceremony in a memorable onboard location on the line's largest mega-ships.
Caveats: Watch out for a la carte charges that can add up. For instance, couples who want to plan a Royal Romance wedding less than 45 days from sailing pay an extra $250 late fee. You'll pay $150 for a wedding coordinator if you have an onboard reception, and wedding parties of more than 25 guests require an additional wedding coordinator for another $150. Weddings on Voyager-class, Freedom-class and Oasis-class ships (which have chapels) have become so popular that there is also a $100 surcharge for shipboard wedding ceremonies on those vessels. Beyond that, an additional $100 surcharge applies to weddings and vow renewals scheduled in May, June, September or October. Holidays -- such as New Year's Day, Valentine's Day, Easter, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Eve -- are subject to a $200 surcharge.
Vow Renewals: The "Royal Encore Shipboard Vow Renewal" package, at $595, includes a shipboard ceremony performed by your ship's Cruise Program Administrator, recorded ceremony music, bouquet and boutonniere, keepsake certificate, chocolate-covered strawberries, sparkling wine and use of a photographer. The "Labadee Shoreside Vow Renewal" package, for $695, includes a ceremony on secluded Dragon's Point Beach within Royal Caribbean's private playground on Haiti (cordoned off from the rest of the island), as well as the aforementioned sparkling wine, strawberries, flowers and certificate. Couples can also arrange a shoreside vow renewal ceremony on CocoCay, Bahamas -- Royal Caribbean's actual private island.
Package Details: Beginning at £699, the "Weddings at Sea" package includes the ceremony venue, ceremony conducted by the ship's captain, floral arrangements for the ceremony, music, certificate, Champagne, a professional photographer to capture the big day, an onboard wedding coordinator, invitations and thank-you notes. Brides and grooms receive V.I.P. treatment, starting with a bottle of Champagne, flowers and fresh fruit delivered to their cabins on embarkation day.
Coolest Quirk: You can book a shore excursion -- like a gondola ride in Venice or snorkeling in the Caribbean -- to personalize your day. (Keep in mind, though, that the cruise line cannot guarantee your request.)
Caveat: Licensing fees will cost an additional £249. Other services -- like the cake, wedding album, Champagne breakfast in bed, reception parties/dinner, videography, and spa and salon services -- are not included, and pricing is available upon request.
Vow Renewals: For £250 per couple, the "Vow Renewal" package includes a ceremony conducted by the captain, an iced celebration cake, a bouquet for the bride, a matching buttonhole for the groom, Champagne and a professional photographer during the ceremony. Gifts given to the couple are two Champagne flutes, a silver-plated frame, a photo of your choice and a certificate signed by the captain.