There is not much out there for cruise brides, so I wanted to create a thread that might be helpful to anyone planning a wedding cruise.
How We Met
In 2013, I was interested in a singles Mediterranean cruise, but initially, it was sold out. Luckily, when I checked back a few weeks later, there was availability, so I booked right away. On the other hand, Manny was looking at a trip to Crete, but couldn't find a flight. So, he booked the Mediterranean cruise instead. When we stepped onto Norwegian's Epic in June 2013 with a group of 70 single people, we thought we were just going on vacation and meeting new friends. We talked a few times throughout the week, but the sparks really flew once we danced together during the Hot White Party. We got more than we bargained for when we met each other on this life altering trip!
Since Manny has been living in Ireland and I live in California, our entire relationship has been long distance. Fortunately, we both have a lot of vacation days each year and have been able to see each other about every 6 weeks. We meet in different locations each time, including multiple cruises. Over the past 2 years, we have explored 25 countries together.
We had started talking about marriage. Manny decided that he would rather me have a ring I loved instead of being surprised. So, he gave me a budget and I got to go shopping. Remember, he is still in Ireland, so he wasn't involved in the shopping process at all. I went to Shane Co. with a girlfriend where I was able to select a band, then choose the center stone. Of course, I checked with Manny and since I had stayed within budget, I got his approval! When Manny came out to California for Thanksgiving, we went together to pick up the final ring.
In November 2014, we went to San Francisco to celebrate Thanksgiving. I knew he had the engagement ring, but didn't know when he would be asking. The day after Thanksgiving, we went sightseeing in the city. We wanted to ride the cable car, but a portion of the line was closed due to the tree lighting in Union Square. So, we tried to find another place to get on the cable car. After walking up and down the hills from the Market turntable to the Hyde turntable, Manny gave up on the idea of getting onto the cable car, and got down on one knee and asked me to marry him next to the cable cars at the turntable.
Deciding on a Cruise
Since Manny and I met on a cruise, it was easy for us to decide we wanted to go on a cruise for our wedding. But, selecting the actual cruise was probably the hardest part of the planning so far. I think it took us a few weeks to make this decision. We preferred to do this portion on our own just by looking at the cruise line websites. There are multiple factors to consider, such as dates, cruise line, itinerary, and ship. Here is some insight into our thought process in which cruise would be the best choice.
Types of Cruise Weddings
When it comes to a wedding cruise, you can either do the wedding on the cruise ship or in port.
- Ship wedding on embarkation day. The benefit of this type of wedding is that guests can come on for only the wedding and don’t have to sail with you. Of course, the guests who aren’t sailing have to get off prior to the ship leaving. This is great for people with guests that could easily drive to the port, but that wasn’t the case for us. Also, most reviews made it sound like it is a very hectic day because the group (especially the bride) doesn’t have much time to get onto the ship and get ready prior to the ceremony. Therefore, we concluded this wouldn’t work for us.
- Ship wedding at sea. I had always envisioned the wedding on a cliff overlooking the ocean, so I knew the wedding chapel on the ship or even on the deck did not fit my vision.
- Port wedding. I had searched online for venues with the view I was looking for and I fell in love with Firefly in Jamaica. Therefore, this is where we focused our energy. All our guests will got off the ship in port, then travel to the venue for the ceremony, then return back to the ship later that same day.
We got engaged in November 2014 and knew we wanted to have at least 1 year to plan the wedding. Also, we expected to get married in the Caribbean and hurricane season is May to November. We didn’t want to ask our guests to travel during the holiday season in November or December. And, we felt guests might find it difficult to pay for a cruise after the holidays, so ruled out January. Since February and March are busy travel times due to spring breaks, we finally settled on April 2016. We did not care what our actual wedding date is, but if you are set on a date, you will need to be more flexible about the location of the wedding in order to make sure you get married on that date.
Even though Manny and I met on Norwegian, our preferred cruise line is Royal, so we focused on Royal cruises. We did also look at Carnival because their cruises were cheaper, but we felt the mature atmosphere of Royal was more fitting for our guests than the party atmosphere of Carnival.
Length of Cruise
At first, we thought about a 3 or 4 day cruise so that our guests wouldn’t have to take as much time off. But, once we realized these cruises usually went to 1-2 ports and had 1 day at sea, we thought the guests would feel like the cruise was a waste of time since most of it would be spent on the wedding. Also, since our guests would be flying to the port, they would need 1 day of travel prior and 1 day after. Therefore, they would end up taking off the same amount of time from work for a 6-7 day cruise as a 3-4 day cruise because the longer cruise would include weekend days.
There are multiple ways to approach this. I think you have to figure out on which factor is most important to you- ports, price or ship.
· Ports Visited
I knew that Jamaica was my favorite location, so we started with cruises that went to Jamaica, but did look at other ports also. One big consideration is whether the port is docked or tendered. I had read too many stories and have personally experienced a tendered port being missed due to rough seas, so we didn’t want to take a chance of planning a port wedding in a location that was tendered.
· Embarkation port
For a Caribbean cruise that went to Jamaica, we could sail out of Galveston (Texas), Port Canaveral (Florida), or Fort Lauderdale (Florida). We realized that both Galveston and Port Canaveral were at least 1 hour away from the airport, which would add the challenge of transportation from the airport to the port. We felt it would be easiest to sail from Fort Lauderdale since the airport is very close to the port.
Since we had it narrowed down to a Royal Caribbean cruise that left from Fort Lauderdale and sailed to Jamaica, we had 3 ships to choose from- Navigator of the Seas, Allure of the Seas, and Oasis of the Seas.
Since Allure and Oasis are some of the newest ships, the price was much higher. We thought the higher price might limit whether some of our guests would be able to join us. Also, the cruises on Allure and Oasis were 7 days, whereas the Navigator was a 6 day cruise. The 6 day cruise allows guests to travel on Saturday and get on the cruise on Sunday, then fly home either the same day as disembarkation (Saturday) or stay one more night before flying home on Sunday. We felt the shorter and cheaper cruise would be the best option for our guests.
Things We Learned
Now that we are actually planning the wedding, one of the negative aspects of our cruise is that we are docked in Jamaica from 7am to 4pm. This means that I will have to be up very early in order to get ready in time. Not every factor can be perfect, so I think making the entire trip better for the guests is more important than me being inconvenienced for a short time.
Also, some countries, such as Jamaica, do not observe daylight savings. From November to March, they are the same time as Eastern time, but from April to October they are 1 hour behind. Many cruise ships stay on Eastern time (“ship time”) during this time of the year, instead of switching to the time in each port (“local time”). Unfortunately, this depends on the captain of the ship. Therefore, it makes it difficult to make plans on the island because we are not 100% sure of the time we will be arriving and leaving.
Booking the Cruise/Group Booking Benefits
Since we expected to meet the minimum for a group booking of 16 guests, we elected to have a travel agent set-up a group booking for us.
Manny and I wanted to lock-in a rate to know guests would not pay higher than that price, so we paid a $200 refundable deposit per room. You can hold as many rooms as you would like. We will get our money back once all the guest deposits are paid or unbooked rooms are released, which will be in December. If the price of the cruise is lower than our group rate at the time a guest is booking, they will get the lower rate. Or, if the price drops after guests have booked, we can contact the travel agent and she is able to reprice those rooms (and we have already done this a few times). Therefore, our group price just guarantees the max price.
Our guests are contacting the travel agent directly. She is able to answer any of their questions and is booking their cruise. Once they are confirmed, she informs me so that I can keep track of who is coming.
For each 16 full paying guests, we will earn money (called tour conductor credits). So far, it looks like we will be getting about $600 per 16 guests. You can use this to pay toward someone’s cabin, keep it as onboard credit yourself, or disperse it amongst the guests. The details of how this is figured out are confusing, so I won’t go into the specifics at this time. I can explain if anyone has questions and will probably better understand once we get our final head count.
Each cruise also has group amenity points (GAP). I know you get these if you book through a travel agent, but not sure if you would get them if you created a group directly through the cruise line. The number of credits depends on the sailing, so some have no points and others may have 8. It seems 4 is the average. Travel agents are able to get this information ahead of time, so it could help in determining which cruise would provide more points. These points can be used to give your guests a bottle of wine per stateroom, cocktail hour, onboard credit, etc. For example, our cruise has 6 points, so we are hoping to pay for a dinner at a specialty restaurant (4 points) and give $25 onboard credit per stateroom (2 points). Travel agents don’t have to give you all the points, so it would be something to discuss in the beginning before signing a contract.
Now that the cruise was booked, it was time to move on to planning the actual wedding, but I will leave that for another post J