In the last few years, cruise lines have begun to ramp up the services they offer couples who want to get married onboard. And the good news is that, as a result, planning your wedding can be as simple as planning your honeymoon.
Potentially, you need to make just one call (many lines have in-house wedding coordinators) and -- poof -- they arrange the ceremony, the menu, the cake, the flowers, the music. Everything, in fact, but the invitations. Some even help obtain wedding licenses. And it's easy to let them handle all the extras, from tuxedo rental to hair and spa appointments, too.
An onboard wedding can be a great value as well. Prices start at about $800 (the sky's the limit) on top of the cost of the cruise. Typically, onboard weddings are held in a ship's chapel (if it exists), a lounge, the library or a boardroom. While the wedding couple must be passengers on the cruise, most lines with full-service packages include an option for land-side guests to come onboard for a couple of hours.
An even bigger area of interest to cruise lines, not to mention romantic passengers, is in vow renewals --which is a perfect service to offer when you think about it, as so many folks travel to celebrate anniversaries.
Weddings and vow renewals at sea can indeed be the ultimate in romantic. 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 cruise lines due to legal limitations based on ships' countries of registry. New to the "can officiate" list are Celebrity and Azamara -- Celebrity recently re-registered its ships in Malta, where new regulations permit legal marriages at sea; Azamara's two ships are registered in Malta as well. Princess' captains are also able to marry couples at sea; its ships are registered to Bermuda.
Note: Disney captains can lead wedding ceremonies onboard or at Castaway Cay. However, the actual "legal" marriage (and paperwork signing) must occur before the ship sets sail, in the cruise terminal -- not terribly romantic.
- For the most part, it's the big-ship, mass-market cruise lines that have embraced full-service weddings. Some, such as luxury operators Crystal and Cunard, don't allow onboard weddings. Others -- and these fall mostly in the high-priced luxury category, such as Seabourn -- don't have a problem with your wedding or vow renewal plans but it's strictly a do-it-yourself deal.
- Weddings have become so popular on some ships in their fleets that Carnival and Royal Caribbean both levy surcharges for certain times of the year.
- A cruise ship wedding 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 yours on the ship while it is in port, or even in the port itself.
- Weddings at 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.
- In that same vein, if you're planning a shoreside wedding at a Caribbean locale during hurricane season -- well, we hope you sail with a flexible spirit. Our advice: Try to cruise at another time.
- Vow renewals are also popular -- in addition to the basic information included below, be sure to check out Trendwatch: Renewing Your Vows at Sea.
Check out our picks for the best cruise options for weddings.
Why? Princess is a prime choice because, of all the lines offering shipboard wedding options, it offers the best combination of features, services and facilities. Princess' Weddings at Sea packages are available on Grand Princess, Golden Princess, Star Princess, Diamond Princess, Emerald Princess, Sapphire Princess, Caribbean Princess, Crown Princess, Coral Princess and Island Princess, all of which have dedicated wedding chapels.
Package Details: Princess offers three wedding packages. The "Diamond Package," for $2,400, is their most expensive option; you get a candlelit ceremony with flower arrangements and a string quartet, an orchid bouquet and boutonniere, a photographer (some prints are included), and a ceremony video. Before the wedding, the bride receives a facial and professional hair styling in the onboard salon; after the ceremony, the couple gets Champagne with toasting glasses, wedding cake, and a lithograph painting of the ship. The "Emerald" and "Pearl" packages are slightly less expensive and offer simpler flowers, less pricey Champagne and fewer amenities. Couples can also choose to throw a reception onboard for up to 80 people; prices begin at $70 per person.
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 Web cam to friends and family on land. Some Princess captains are pretty romantic; on a recent Regal Princess cruise over Valentine's Day, the captain casually announced he'd conduct vow renewals for anyone who wanted 'em -- about half a dozen couples showed up.
Vow Renewals: Princess' "Renewal of Vows" package costs $205 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 $485, adds a few extra amenities such as breakfast in bed and a 30-minute spa visit.
Celebrity Cruises/Azamara Cruises
Why? Until recently, the only North American line that was able to host at-sea weddings officiated by its captains was Princess, whose ships are registered to Bermuda. Celebrity created new options for engaged cruisers when it re-registered its ships in Malta, where new regulations permit legal marriages at sea. Azamara's two ships are registered in Malta as well.
Package Details: Celebrity and Azamara put brides and grooms in touch with "The Wedding Experience," a wedding planning organization that handles weddings onboard cruise ships (as well as destination weddings). Packages begin at $2,500 and include the captain-led ceremony, an event coordinator's services, a deck wedding (weather permitting), photography services (photographs are sold in a separate package), dinner for two in an onboard specialty restaurant, a bouquet and boutonniere, and one couples' massage.
Coolest Quirk: Couples also get some romantic extras, such as chocolate-covered strawberries, a bottle of Champagne, two Champagne flutes, a fresh floral arrangement in their stateroom -- and rose petals on their bed on their wedding night.
Caveat: Ceremonies are available onboard summer 2008 onward. Licensing and regulatory fees are not included, and the number of wedding ceremonies performed on each sailing is based on the captains' availability. Azamara and Celebrity recommend that couples book their wedding package in advance to allow time for the processing of marriage licenses and legal documents, though the cruise lines haven't finalized an exact recommendation.
Vow Renewals: Both Celebrity and Azamara offer vow renewal packages. The Aisle to Isle option at $475 includes the services of a pre-cruise event manager, an officiant, recorded music, Champagne and cake for two, a certificate, a rose and matching boutonniere, and one hour of photography services (photos sold separately). The $650 True Love Knot Renewal throws in some photos (including one signed by the captain), Champagne flutes, an upgrade to a full bouquet, and breakfast for two delivered to the stateroom.
Disney Cruise Line
Why? It's a fun and quirky choice -- particularly for second-wedding folks who have young kids -- and Disney offers a low-stress, low-hassle package.
Package Details: Disney's "Weddings at Sea" package is available for three-, four- and seven-night cruises. Packages start at $1,900 and include a Florida marriage license, bridal bouquet and boutonni¨re, the services of an officiant, a solo musician, Champagne toast, two-tier wedding cake for wedding couple and 8 guests (additional guests can be added at $10 each), $100 onboard credit for the wedding couple, and dinner for two at Palo, the alternative restaurant on Disney Magic and Disney Wonder. The assistance of a wedding coordinator in planning the wedding is also included.
Coolest Quirk: Dress steaming is included in the package price. We love it, too, that you can opt for a ceremony on Castaway Cay, Disney's private island (but remember our advice about hurricane season).
Caveat: Beyond the cake and Champagne, Disney's wedding package does not include a reception or other services for wedding guests, though these are available at an additional cost. The $1,000 cost of a vow renewal ceremony sounds pretty steep. Note that if the couple is married onboard, the captain presides over the ceremony -- but the legal marriage must take place beforehand in Florida. If the marriage occurs on Castaway Cay, it's performed by a Bahamian officiant.
Vow Renewals: A renewal of vows package is available for $1,000 per couple and includes all the amenities of the wedding package except the marriage license.
Norwegian Cruise Line
Why? NCL offers a vast array of options which can turn their basic packages into a full-blown extravaganza. And their newer, designed-for-Freestyle vessels such as Norwegian Sun, Norwegian Spirit, Norwegian Star, Norwegian Dawn, Norwegian Jewel, Norwegian Gem, Norwegian Jade and Pride of America feature a wide range of restaurants with easily available romantic dining for two.
Package Details: NCL offers two basic packages: "Onboard Aisles" for shipboard weddings and "Destination Aisles" for those held on land. Both packages are available in a wide range of ports -- including but not limited to embarkation ports -- in the U.S. (including Alaska and Hawaii), Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. "Destination Aisles" is also available in the Mediterranean.
"Onboard Aisles" ranges in price from $1,100 per couple (for shipboard weddings held in most Southern U.S., West Coast and Canadian ports) to $1,450 (for Grand Cayman, St. Maarten, and Northeast U.S. ports). The package includes priority embarkation for the couple and their guests (if the wedding is on embarkation day), snacks and refreshments in the couple's stateroom upon embarkation, a ceremony conducted by a local civil officiant, pre-recorded music, a wedding coordinator, a basic bouquet, matching boutonniere with one bloom, professional photography service for one hour, one 8 x 10 photo, a private website to view and order photographs, gifts, and favors, a wedding cake, one bottle of private-label Champagne, and a keepsake certificate.
"Destination Aisles" ranges in price from $1,450 in a Colonial Chapel in New Orleans to $2,450 in various locations in Florence, Rome or Venice. It includes the same amenities as "Onboard Aisles" except for the priority boarding and in-cabin snacks, but adds private taxi transport for the Bride and Groom to the wedding location in port.
Marriage licenses are extra in all cases, and prices vary depending on the local authority.
In addition to the basic packages, there is a huge range of a la carte options including spa and beauty services (not available on embarkation day), flowers (including custom orders), live music, photography and videography, transportation to and from the ship or wedding location, tuxedo rentals, and a wide variety of wedding receptions ranging from cold hors d'oeuvres with open bar at $24 per adult to a full sit-down luncheon at $45.
Caveat: An extra wedding coordinator, at $150, is required for every 25 guests above the first 25.
Vow Renewals: Vow renewal packages are offered at the same prices as the wedding packages, and include the same amenities.
Carnival Cruise Lines
Why? Carnival Spirit, Pride, Legend and Miracle have onboard chapels, though you can buy Carnival's "Deluxe Romance" package on any of the ships in their fleet.
Package Details: The package price begins at $1,500, though it depends on what port the ceremony is performed in. It includes an official civil ceremony with a bouquet for the bride and a boutonniere for the groom. There's a decorated aisle, a photographer (prints are extra), and pre-recorded wedding music. The package also includes a 90-minute reception in a lounge for up to 20 people, including an ice carving centerpiece, a cocktail hour with open bar and hot-and-cold hors d'oeuvres, a Champagne toast with keepsake flutes, a traditional two-tiered wedding cake with a bell cake topper, and coffee service. Marriage license fees are additional and depend on the jurisdiction in which the ceremony is performed. Shore-side packages are also available in certain ports such as Key West, San Juan, Grand Cayman and Barbados.
Caveats: Plan ahead if possible; weddings are available only when in port (including embarkation ports) and there's a maximum of three 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 $785, adds a one-hour reception with open bar and hot and cold canapes, and allows up to 20 guests.
Royal Caribbean International
Why? Royal Caribbean's program rivals NCL's in terms of variety, with one extra plus: its coordinators will also arrange shore-side ceremonies at various ports of call. Royal Caribbean is also the first line to offer adventurous shipboard and destination weddings through its sub-program, Explorer Weddings. Best ships to aim for are Royal Caribbean's Freedom-class series of vessels, which include Freedom of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas and, debuting in May 2008, Independence of the Seas.
Package Details: There are three levels of Royal Romance, which is available in selected ports of call in the U.S., Canada, the Caribbean, and Europe. The "Duet Package," starting at about $1,095 (we're using Florida ports as a guide) is the most basic and includes the ceremony, photography, a photo in silver frame, cake and Champagne. The "Harmony Package," from $1,295, allows for a few more extras, including additional photos and breakfast in bed. And the "Symphony Package," from $1,495 has yet a more frills, such as a limo ride to the ship. All prices vary depending on the port where the wedding is performed, and not all packages are available in all ports.
Receptions are not included in the price of the ceremony, but several options are available. They include a formal wedding lunch at $45 per person, a buffet for $25, or hot and cold hors d'oeuvres and bar service for $26. In most cases there's a 25-person minimum.
Booking an Explorer Wedding adds an adventure component by combining a cruise with an exotic destination or themed wedding or vow renewal. Swap nuptials, for example, on the FlowRider (on Freedom or Liberty of the Seas), the ice-skating rink, rock-climbing wall or ship's golf course -- or on top of an Alaskan glacier, in a rainforest, mid-air in a hot-air balloon or in a medieval castle. Packages include a bouquet and boutonniere, traditional or customized music accompaniment, Champagne, a wedding cake, a keepsake Explorer Weddings marriage certificate and use of a photographer.
Coolest Quirk: The aforementioned shoreside ceremonies, which run the gamut from the simply scenic (a beach in San Juan, Puerto Rico) to the funky (a winery in Santorini, Greece) to the exotic (a ceremony atop a glacier in Juneau, Alaska).
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 -- and another $150. Weddings on Voyager- and Freedom-class ships (which have chapels) have become so popular that there is also a $100 surcharge for shipboard wedding ceremonies on those vessels (Voyager of the Seas, Explorer of the Seas, Adventure of the Seas, Navigator of the Seas, Mariner of the Seas, Freedom of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas) and Independence of the Seas. 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, Valentines Day, Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Eve are subject to a $200 surcharge.
Vow Renewals: The Royal Encore Vow Renewal package, $400, includes a shipboard ceremony performed by the captain, two-tier wedding cake, Champagne, a photo in a silver-plated frame and flowers. Explorer Weddings packages are also offered to couples renewing their vows.
Why? P&O's ships that offer their Weddings at Sea package (Arcadia, Artemis, Oceana and Oriana) have different clientele (and knowing who you're sailing with definitely comes in handy when planning an event as important as your wedding!). Arcadia and Artemis are child-free (nobody under 16 is allowed onboard), while Oceana and Oriana do allow children.
Package Details: Beginning at £675, the Weddings at Sea package includes the ceremony venue (you can choose to be married indoors or outdoors), 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. And brides and grooms will of course receive the VIP treatment, such as priority boarding (except Caribbean itineraries). Licensing fees will cost an additional £225. Other services, like the cake, wedding album, Champagne breakfast in bed, reception parties/dinner and spa treatments are not included and pricing is available upon request. (Video service is only available on Arcadia.)
Coolest Quirk: You can book a shore excursion in conjunction with your ceremony to personalize your day, like a gondola ride in Venice or snorkeling in the Caribbean (keep in mind, though, that the cruise line cannot guarantee your request).
Vow Renewals: 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 wedding portrait and a certificate signed by the captain.
Cruise Critic Cruise Styles: Best Cruises for Weddings
I wanted to note that one of our ports of call was actually canceled when we went on our last cruise. The waves were simply too high and it was too dangerous to tender to the island. So, as it mentions above, it does happen!