Decided to say, “I do”? Congratulations! The next step in planning your nuptials is typically deciding on a wedding venue. Why limit your options to land when you can exchange vows on a cruise ship? If you’re considering how to have a wedding on a cruise ship, there are a few things to know. The following should help you on your way to planning — or attending — a wedding on a cruise ship.
Cruise Weddings: A Complete Guide to Getting Married on a Cruise Ship
How do cruise weddings work?
A legal marriage can’t be recognized in open seas, which are not under the jurisdiction of any country, unless the ship captain or officiant is also a justice of the peace, minister, or notary public. That means that most legal cruise weddings take place either onboard the ship in port or harborside, docked in a destination. Many cruise ships do have chapels, but some offer more scenic options like a ceremony out on deck.
Each port has their own requirements to obtain a marriage license, which couples are responsible for handling. Documentation should be completed and submitted approximately two to three months prior to any legal ceremony at sea.
Same-sex marriages are a possibility in countries where they are recognized. Of course, any couple can also opt for a symbolic ceremony, meaning that there is still all the pomp and circumstance of a celebration, without it being legally binding.
Cruise wedding couples can choose to hold their ceremony in a homeport like Seattle or Miami before departure. This gives them the ability to choose their own clergy and invite day guests onboard for the afternoon before setting sail. Or they can choose a wedding in a port of call, like Mexico, either onboard the ship or at a venue like the beach of a resort.
Attending as a guest? It’s probably best to leave the giant gift box of fine China at home and opt for either a cash gift or utilize the couple’s registry to mail them their present ahead of time. Some cruise lines even offer their own registry and wedding websites. This allows the cruising couple to register for shipside gifts like spa treatments, excursions, and onboard spending money.
When to book a cruise wedding?
It’s important to decide if most of the wedding guests will only be along for the vows, or if friends and family are also cruising with you. If you extend the invitation for the latter, be sure to book your cruise wedding well in advance. You will need to secure a block of cabins with a group rate and ensure that guests have ample time to plan the vacation and request off work.
On the other hand, if guests are traveling just for the ceremony, be sure to advise them to fly in well before the day so they don’t miss the big event.
Cruise lines only allot a certain number of weddings to take place on any given week or sailing. So, if you have a very specific date in mind, it’s best to book as far in advance as possible. The downside to this is that during that long stretch of time, something could impact the sailing affecting dates, ports of call, and more. As with any cruise, all guests need to be flexible — even those exchanging nuptials.
One way to handle any potential tweaks to your cruise wedding is to provide as much logistical (time and place) information as possible on save the dates but refer to the voyage as “Caribbean” or an “Alaskan adventure,” rather than listing specific ships or ports. As the date draws nearer and it’s time to send out the official invitations, you can include more information at your discretion.
As with every aspect of a cruise wedding, it’s important to discuss how any changes (or heaven forbid, cancellations) will be handled with your coordinator so expectations can be managed.
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What is included in wedding cruise packages?
Each cruise line has a dedicated wedding coordinator to help plan the absolute best cruise weddings. Typically, there are a variety of packages on offer, much like at any banquet hall or more traditional wedding venue.
These wedding cruise packages vary in offerings from an intimate ceremony on the ship to an idyllic destination event and reception — but they do not include the cost of the cruise itself. In addition to standard marriage packages, many cruise lines also offer vow renewals and even romantic proposal packages.
Inclusions of wedding packages vary by cruise line and by tier. Packages typically employ the cruise line’s preferred vendors, so keep in mind that it might be difficult or impossible to handpick florists or photographers.
Expect cruise wedding inclusions along the lines of:
- Services of a wedding coordinator pre-cruise and onboard
- Ceremony officiated by ship captain
- Recorded music
- Wedding cake and sparkling wine toast
- Dedicated photographer
- Keepsake certificate and small gifts for the wedded couple
- Dinner for two and/or a luncheon for guests
- Breakfast in bed
As with any milestone event, you can keep it as simple as an intimate elopement or as lavish as a large ceremony with a banquet dinner with every upgrade on offer. Choosing a cruise line that provides options will help tailor your wedding day to fit within your means as well as your dreams.
Should I get married onboard or in port?
The decision to officiate a cruise wedding onboard or in port is a personal decision, but there are a few logistical differences between the two options.
Only couples with a relatively small guest list are able to conduct their wedding onboard a cruise ship. Most lines restrict onboard wedding parties to 50 non-sailing guests maximum.
Sailing with more than 50 guests might be its own organizational challenge, but couples looking for a larger wedding at sea can opt to hold their ceremony at a land-based venue in one of their itinerary’s approved destinations.
Some neat options of cruise wedding venues include the shores of San Juan; a winery in Santorini; cruise line private islands like MSC’s Ocean Cay Marine Reserve; or atop a glacier in Juneau, Alaska. The nice part about a destination cruise wedding package is that many cruise lines include roundtrip transportation from the ship to the venue for the couple in the cost of the package.
Either a marriage in port or onboard can be legally binding, as long as the couple works with the cruise line to file the correct paperwork in advance.
What is the best cruise ship to get married on?
Because you’ll be embarking on your built-in honeymoon along with your wedding, be sure to choose a ship and itinerary that distinctly suits your style. A notable exception is popular cruise line Viking Cruises, which does not offer cruise weddings.
The ship that will serve as the setting for your wedding day should reflect you as a couple. In addition to the itinerary and the length, consider how you’ll want to spend your time aboard together. Are you looking for a ship that will cater to the whims of your entire wedding party or are you looking for an intimate escape that revolves around time by the pool or in the spa?
Using a travel advisor who specializes in cruise weddings could be helpful in selecting the right vessel for your preferences and perhaps most importantly, your budget. It’s also helpful to note that not every ship in a cruise line’s fleet accommodates legal marriage ceremonies.
How much do cruise weddings cost?
In terms of the packages, cruise weddings are a considerable value when it comes to how much is spent on the ceremony and reception in comparison to the average land-based wedding. However, an inherent part of a cruise wedding is the cruise, which can fluctuate in price depending if the betrothed are looking to splash out on a suite or opt for a more modest cabin.
As an example, Carnival’s entry-level Signature Ceremony for up to eight guests is $1,799. Princess Cruises, known for being the “Love Boat,” offers a selection of wedding packages including a Timeless Wedding at Sea, also for up to eight guests, for $4,495. Most wedding packages are modifiable to add additional guests for a per-person fee.
A simple Polynesian-style vow renewal ceremony on Paul Gauguin Cruises is just $290. But its weeklong Tahitian cruises typically start from about $10,000 per couple.
What to wear for a cruise wedding?
While a cruise wedding is unlike your typical occasion, it still borrows from common wedding etiquette. The marrying couple sets the tone for their special day. It is up to them whether it is a fully formal event or if the theme is more beachy chic.
If you’re a guest, take your cue on what to wear from the invitation and when in doubt, ask. Just because it’s a destination wedding in Hawaii doesn’t automatically mean flip-flops and shorts are acceptable. On the other hand, many couples enjoy the freedom to fuss less about gowns and tuxedos as they — and many of their nearest and dearest — get ready to voyage through Alaska or set sail on a tropical vacation.
Did you find this guide to cruise weddings helpful? Were you or someone you know married at sea? Drop us an anchor below to share your experiences with cruise weddings.