Whether you envision a barefoot beachside ceremony, a tidy onboard gathering with the big blue ocean as a backdrop, or a more traditional day of celebration with loved ones, many cruise lines have customizable wedding packages to make your dream a reality. The hardest part? Narrowing down your choices for where to sail for your once-in-a-lifetime journey. Below is our beginner's guide to wedding cruises to help you pick your ideal romantic getaway.
You have more options than you think
Get married while gliding across the open ocean, or wait until you've arrived at some exotic destination and exchange vows there. In some cases, you can even get married while in a port and invite family and friends to witness the occasion.
Between all of the options offered by all the major cruise lines, your choices for wedding cruises are quite varied.
While most of the major cruise lines offer ceremonial services, each company differs a bit in where you can do that ceremony, and what it entails. For example, Carnival Cruise Line does not offer weddings at sea officiated by the captain; Disney Cruise Line, on the other hand, offers weddings at sea and not much else. Norwegian Cruise Line and Princess Cruises offer weddings at sea, weddings in ports and weddings at certain destinations.
Not sure which type of ceremony you want? First, decide on a cruise ship you'd like for your journey, or settle on a destination. Then contact the cruise line and see what they offer for weddings on those ships and routes.
Private island weddings are a possibility
Prefer palm trees and serene waters over a traditional venue? Consider having your ceremony on one of the cruiselines' private islands.
Carnival's Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas offers a true secluded island experience — no flowers, chairs or private vehicles are available on the island, and there's no place to get dressed either. Come primped and ready for a simple, romantic affair with your partner.
With Royal Caribbean, you can arrange a symbolic ceremony on CocoCay island in the Bahamas or Labadee cruise port in Haiti (note that you will need to have had a civil ceremony previously).
You'll have quite a variety of destinations to choose from
Even if you plan to stay on the ship for your wedding, the destinations you'll sail to are still important for the overall romantic experience. Picture yourself surrounded by the Caribbean Sea, or sailing Pacific Mexico, or even into quaint seaside towns in the Mediterranean? Not a problem.
Norwegian Cruise Line takes wedding cruisers to destinations in the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Bermuda, Hawaii and Europe. Royal Caribbean's most popular wedding cruise destinations are Bermuda, Grand Cayman, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Cozumel, St. Kitts, St. Lucia and St. Thomas. And Celebrity Cruises can accommodate your special day in more than 200 destinations around the globe.
Receptions are not out of the question
The packages offered by cruise lines for weddings usually include some basic things related to the ceremony — an officiant, a wedding planner, a wedding coordinator, flowers, a photographer (you'll need to buy the photos separately), plus some nice extra touches such as bottles of champagne and flowers.
Basic ceremonial packages tend to run in the $2000 - $3000 range, an affordable option for couples who want to keep it simple and just have a private ceremony. And most allow for a handful of family and friends to attend the ceremony (provided they're cruise guests or can come to the port) at no extra charge.
But what if you have your heart set on a full reception? Not a problem on most cruise lines, but there are restrictions on the number of guests you can invite, and of course, there are extra costs for food, beverages and entertainment beyond the basic package costs. And these costs don't apply to cabin fare — your guests will have to book their own rooms for the voyage.
Depending on your budget, you can customize many aspects of the reception, from menus and drinks to floral arrangements and DJ services. Carnival even offers tuxedo rental for the groom and groomsmen, so you'll have one less thing to bring on the boat.
Your wedding planner and wedding coordinator will make everything easier
Planning a wedding is stressful enough, and adding in the cruise factor complicates things further, right? Not necessarily. The major cruise lines will assign you a wedding planner who will help secure all the details ahead of time, according to your wishes. Then, on the actual day of the event, you'll have an on-site wedding coordinator to make sure everything goes as planned. Details related to legal aspects of getting married at sea or in a foreign country will be handled by your wedding planner, who will help you dot your i's and cross your t's.
Group bookings mean perks and savings for you
If you've got family and friends planning to cruise along with you, consider acting as the group coordinator when you reserve your group's cabins. Cruise lines usually offer savings for group bookings that amount to freebies and perks for you or for the entire group.
Same-sex weddings are a possibility
There are legal restrictions in certain countries and ports, but most cruise lines have offerings for same-sex couples looking to tie the knot.
Carnival Cruise Line can arrange same-sex weddings in St. Thomas (U.S. Virgin Islands), Key West, and with special approval, in Cozumel. Likewise, Princess Cruises can perform same-sex weddings where legally permissible, and can do symbolic ceremonies otherwise.