Cruises have long been popular with honeymooners looking for a romantic getaway after the wedding. Now, a growing number of brides and grooms are tying the knot on cruise ships and sailing off into the sunset with their entire wedding party in tow.
Cruise weddings have increased 60 percent in the last decade, according to the Cruise Lines International Association, which represents major North American cruise lines and associated travel agencies. Carnival Cruise Lines alone expects some 2,200 couples will marry aboard its ships this year, paying anywhere from $1,195 for a basic civil ceremony to $1,795 for a deluxe romance package with a one-and-a-half-hour reception and a celebratory ice carving.
Norwegian Cruise Line said it performs more than 400 weddings annually, with prices , which can fluctuate based on the season from $1,850 for an onboard wedding the day of embarkation to $2,450 for an onshore wedding by a canal in Venice, for instance, or at a Colonial chapel in New Orleans during a port of call. And many cruise agents report that their wedding business has picked up in the last two years as couples look for ways to save on nuptials and find that cruises are a less expensive alternative to other “destination” wedding locations.
“On a ship, it’s a lot easier and more cost-effective to get everyone together,” said Donna Ratte, owner of a Cruise Holidays agency in Palm Springs, California. “The food is included in the cost of the cruise, and you can have a cocktail reception before your meal.”
Deanna and Nathan Kitzke, from Kennewick, Washington, were married in front of 50 friends and family members last March onboard Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas before pulling out of port for a seven-day cruise to Mexico. By opting for the most basic wedding package, which included the venue (a lounge aboard the ship), an officiant from the local port of call, flowers, music while the couple walked down the aisle, a strawberry and Champagne toast and an hour at a bar, the couple paid just $1,500.They paid an additional $5,000 for the cruise, staying in a balcony room. Guests who chose to sail with them paid their own way, with some sharing rooms, for less than $1,000 each. Others came onboard for the ceremony alone.
Back home, Deanna Kitzke said, “A venue by itself is roughly $3,000 to rent for one day,” not including flowers, food, music and all the other wedding standards that can quickly add up to $15,000 or more. “For half the price,” she said, “we got to have a weeklong honeymoon vacation with all our families , it was an amazing time.”
Couples considering a cruise wedding need to think very hard about this last point. Though it’s possible to lose someone on many large cruise ships these days, newlyweds also need to be comfortable with the possibility of running into Uncle Phil and Aunt Margaret on the way to couples massage at the spa. Travel agents recommend booking a room on a different deck from the rest of the guests and planning some private shore excursions to ensure some honeymoon time alone.
While cruise lines advertise their weddings at sea as a straightforward package, there are other unique considerations couples must contend with when planning a cruise wedding. For one, only a few cruise lines , Princess, Celebrity and Azamara Club Cruises , have captains who can legally perform the ceremony. These lines have ships registered in Bermuda and Malta, which recognize marriages in international waters. So couples who choose to be married at sea with Celebrity, for example, will receive a marriage license from Malta.
Most other shipboard ceremonies take place in the port on the day of departure. This allows a local officiant to perform the ceremony and guests who don’t plan to sail with the couple to come aboard for the wedding and leave before the cruise embarks. Also, while it’s possible that a ship will need to skip a port of call for weather or other reasons, it’s unlikely the cruise will change the embarkation port.
Even if there are no glitches, choosing a port of call in which to be married can be tricky, as each has its own legal requirements. Some destinations, like Belize and St. Maarten, require couples to undergo a waiting period of three and 10 days respectively to process an application. Others like the Cayman Islands have no residency requirements. “Honestly, we think you should just go to City Hall first,” said Carley Roney, editor in chief of theknot.com, a wedding Web site, which lists marriage license requirements for popular destinations.
No matter what kind of ceremony, it can be helpful to work with a good cruise agent when planning a wedding at sea. Cruise specialists can help you and your guests secure the lowest rates and answer questions family and friends may have about the ship.
“Prices on cruises were going up and down,” said Kitzke, who worked with Jim Carey of Cruise Holidays in Kennewick for her wedding at sea last year. “Our agent got us the lowest fare possible at all times. He fielded every single call from family, friends. “My aunt in New York became one of his best friends.”