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So You Want to Get Married on a Cruise

Everything you need to know to start planning your shipboard nuptials

June is the most popular month for weddings, and an increasing number of couples are deciding to tie the knot on cruise ships. Besides the romance of saying “I do” at sea, shipboard weddings offer lots of perks: they’re relatively easy to plan, they include a built-in honeymoon, and they’re often much more affordable than a traditional ceremony ashore. 

Many people believe that couples can be legally married by any ship’s captain. Alas, it’s not true. Where that notion arose is anyone’s guess, but it’s been fueled for years by Hollywood movies and 1970s sitcom The Love Boat. Although not all captains can perform weddings, many cruise lines have figured out ways for couples to marry, and on some ships captains do perform the rites.

It all comes down to the laws of the country where the ship is registered. Bermuda, Malta, the Marshall Islands, and the Bahamas give their blessing to captains marrying couples at sea. But these ceremonies aren’t as spontaneous as the movies and TV would suggest. They must be arranged well in advance, and couples need to obtain marriage licenses. Currently, captains legally officiate on Princess Cruises and Cunard Line, whose ships are registered in Bermuda, and on Celebrity Cruises, whose ships are flagged in Malta. (Some other lines that are legally able to offer this service choose not to.)

Lines with ships registered in other countries can still arrange weddings on their ships, but these take place while the ships are in port or at destinations on the cruise and involve a nondenominational shore-side officiant. Such weddings offer other upsides: The couple can usually invite a few nonsailing guests at no charge (or purchase a reception package that allows for a larger guest list), and destination weddings can take place in exotic locations like a Caribbean beach or an Alaskan glacier. 

Cruise weddings are also relatively easy to plan because most lines offer set packages that vary from a simple ceremony followed by a champagne toast to more lavish receptions with live music and a sit-down meal. A professional wedding planner arranges everything and helps couples get the required license from the destination.  

Princess Cruises is one of the best-known lines for weddings (it is the line featured on Love Boat). Its at-sea ceremony is performed by the captain in the wedding chapel or library and includes a candlelit ceremony, recorded music, two floral arrangements, a rose bouquet and boutonniere, a professional photographer, and a small cake. Also included are keepsake champagne flutes, a bottle of wine, chocolate-covered strawberries, a deluxe breakfast for two, dinner for two at a shipboard specialty restaurant, and rose petals on the bed with turndown service. All this costs $2,985, including $498 for the license.

Princess also offers shipboard weddings in port performed by a nondenominational officiant. These have fewer included items and vary in price depending on the destination ($2,500 in San Francisco and $3,000 in New York, for example). Weddings ashore are priced from $3,000 to $5,000. There are also ample ways to personalize any kind of ceremony with additional flowers, a custom cake, and live music. 

Cunard’s wedding package features an at-sea ceremony with the captain and flourishes like a bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne, invitations and thank-you cards, and a White Star bellman to escort the bride to the ceremony. On the ocean liner Queen Mary 2, the price is $3,400, including the license. Celebrity Cruises’s weddings start at $2,500 plus $750 for the license, but they offer plenty of optional extras, such as a bridesmaids’ tea or a gentlemen’s whiskey tasting. And Carnival Cruise Line, which is very popular with young couples, has five packages, starting at $1,355. Ceremonies on the ship are conducted in port or at destinations, and captains do not officiate. 

Convinced? Here are some tips for planning a cruise wedding:

1. Plan ahead. Most couples start six to nine months before the cruise, but many lines recommending starting as early as a year ahead.

2. There may be limits to the number of guests you can invite to weddings on the ship in port. Carnival allows no more than 50 nonsailing guests.

3. Some popular dates carry surcharges. For example, Carnival charges $200 extra for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day, while May and June dates are $100 extra.

4. If you have your heart set on marrying in a Caribbean destination, avoid hurricane season (June through November) when ships may have to miss a port due to weather conditions.

Anne Kalosh doesn’t count the cruises she’s taken, although there have been hundreds—including five years as a shipboard newspaper editor, sailing the world. She loves the experiences sea travel offers. Her byline has appeared in many major publications, and she’s on top of the latest cruise developments as the long-time U.S. editor for Seatrade-Cruise.com and Seatrade Cruise Review.