Lured by the promise of cerulean skies and a relatively hassle-free day, British couples have been getting married abroad for years. Who could resist saying “I do” beside a turquoise sea with a horizon stretching into infinity?
An equal, or possibly greater, incentive is escaping the £32,273 that Hitched.co.uk purports is the average cost of getting married in the UK. By comparison, and with the venue taken care of, tying the knot at sea will cost from around £1,500 for the ceremony, music, flowers and champagne.
Add the cruise fare – say from £4,000 each for a suite on a two-week Caribbean voyage, and another £5,000 for business-class flights – and couples will still be more than £17,000 better off. That’s enough to consider inviting close friends and family along – and treating them to a reception on the big day. Those who marry at the start of the cruise can take the rest of the voyage as the honeymoon (another £8,000 or more saved).
So who conducts the ceremony? In most cases it’s the ship’s captain but vows can also be exchanged at idyllic ports of call in the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, or even Alaska if you’re drawn to a chilly, but memorable ceremony on a glacier. For married couples, vow-renewal services are also available, as are ceremony-only services. Marriage ceremonies on Disney Cruise Line and Paul Gauguin Cruises ships, in the Caribbean and South Pacific, are symbolic only.
River cruise lines have also got in on the act. AmaWaterways got the bug after a couple turned up for their holiday with their wedding gear and told the on-board cruise director that they wanted to renew their vows. A ceremony was organised at the Benedictine abbey in Vilshofen, Bavaria, with the abbot presiding and the other passengers as guests. Isn’t it time you considered breaking the rules?
The stress factor, or lack of it, is one of the biggest draws of getting married at sea. Couples pick their music, flowers and venue, and the cruise line’s wedding planner makes sure everything falls into place. On board, the ship’s event organiser takes over, booking hair and make-up appointments in the spa, decorating the venue and ensuring everyone is in the right place at the right time. All couples have to do is show up. Weddings at sea are conducted by the captain (or his deputy) under the laws of the country the ship is registered in (Bermuda, Malta and the Bahamas among them).
Couples can say “I do” in a chapel on Princess Cruises ships or opt for a more public ceremony in the atrium. Venues on Royal Caribbean vessels include the FlowRider surf wave (a 40ft-long surf simulator) and a rock-climbing wall. If the wedding is held on the ship while it is in port, the ceremony will be conducted by a non-denominational officiant.
On MS Paul Gauguin, marriage blessings are performed by Les Gauguines, the ship’s troupe of Polynesian entertainers, who tie the couple together in a ceremonial blanket, crown them with a wreath of Tahitian orchids and sing them a Tahitian love song.
We’re tempted by: Celebrity Cruises offers couples the chance to look around their chosen ship, peruse venues and meet the wedding coordinator before booking a cruise package. The cost for this, including a buffet lunch, is £214 per couple (£35 each for additional guests).
Ding-dong: A seven-night cruise in the South Pacific with a traditional Polynesian wedding (symbolic only) aboard MS Paul Gauguin costs from £5,680pp, departing in October. The fare includes flights and the ceremony (020 7399 7691; pgcruises.com).
Pick your moment
There are three ways to get married on a cruise: by the captain while the ship is at sea (the ship has to be in international waters, 12 miles from land); on the vessel while the ship is docked, or in a location ashore.
Celebrity’s Nautical Nuptials package costs £2,332 and includes the ceremony, venue hire, live music, photography, a cake for two and a bottle of Champagne. Princess Cruises offers locations in destinations ranging from Auckland in New Zealand to Vancouver Island in Canada. On the line’s e-wedding calendar couples can find dates and time slots for weddings or vow renewals online and request a price (expect to pay from around £1,500, plus £350 for the marriage licence. P&O Cruises has a dedicated Ceremony Planners number (0344 33 88 595) for weddings, vow renewals and commitment ceremonies.
We’re tempted by: Holland America Line has an Anchors Away package aimed at couples who want to cruise with their guests. All guests get priority check-in and boarding.
Ding-dong: A wedding package on Cunard’s Queen Victoria or Queen Elizabeth starts from £1,400 including the services of a wedding coordinator, an at-sea ceremony, flowers and wedding music, Champagne, invites and a White Star Bellman bridal escort (0344 338 8644; cunard.co.uk).
There’s a wealth of romantic and unconventional locations for those who prefer to get hitched on land during their cruise. Paul Gauguin Cruises offers symbolic weddings on Motu Mahana, its private islet off the coast of Taha’a in French Polynesia, or in a luxury resort in Bora Bora. With Princess you could tie the knot on a cliff in San Francisco or on a beach in St Lucia. Celebrity Cruises offers a winery on Santorini in Greece, the Vatican in Rome, or the town hall in Florence. Norwegian Cruise Line suggests a rainforest garden in Juneau, Alaska.
Cruise lines will organise the weddings but couples are responsible for sorting out the licences and finding out whether the ceremony will be legally recognised in the UK.
We’re tempted by: The top-of-a-glacier ceremony in Juneau, Alaska. The £3,694 price with Holland America Line includes a helicopter ride to the glacier (cruise fare costs extra).
Ding-dong: Disney fans can say “I do” under the palms on Castaway Cay, its private island in the Bahamas, from £3,115. Package inclusions stretch to a pianist, on-board credit and dinner for two at Palo – a dress-to-impress Italian restaurant on all its ships. Cruise and flights extra (0800 171 2317; disneycruise.com).
Icing on the cake
The day can be made more memorable (and probably more expensive!) with tempting extras.
On Cunard’s ships you can order an ice sculpture for a mere £156. The line also offers a Veuve Clicquot afternoon tea (£23pp) or music from a harpist (£140 per hour). Celebrity Cruises can line up a violinist or DJ (£234) or a singer (£467).
Celebrity has a bride’s hair day for £86. Carnival offers pre-nuptial spa services from £108, including everything from shaves, manicures and pedicures to teeth-whitening.
We’re tempted by: P&O Cruises’ Bridal Top to Toe spa package, from £270, including a mani-pedi, facial, make-up and hair styling and a St Tropez tan.
Ding-dong: An exclusive Haven suite on a two-week Caribbean cruise from New York on Norwegian Bliss, departing in January 2020, costs from £4,839pp. Flights extra (0333 241 2319; ncl.co.uk).
Say it again
Many cruise lines offer vow-renewal ceremonies conducted by the captain or a senior officer. Cunard can arrange them on Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth, from £467. Marella Cruises has three options. Choose the Platinum package and the line adds his-and-hers spa treatments, breakfast in bed, dinner at the captain’s table, Champagne and VIP seats at an evening show (from £200). AmaWaterways’ aforementioned impromptu vow renewal is now available to all, at no charge, with flowers and fizz thrown in.
We’re tempted by: Vow renewals on the yacht-styled SeaDream ships, which take place on the bridge wing with flowers, a Champagne toast and live music. From £584.
Ding-dong: A suite on AmaWaterways’ seven-night Romantic Danube cruise from Vilshofen to Budapest costs from £4,059pp, departing March 22, 2019 (0800 320 2336; amawaterways.co.uk).
The perfect honeymoon
Getting married early on in the cruise is the most cost-effective way to honeymoon, especially when there are some romantic extras thrown in. Choose a Disney ship in the Caribbean and you can have a couples massage and a private hot tub in a Spa Villa on Disney’s private island Castaway Cay. With SeaDream you can enjoy a night under the stars in a Balinese bed. For old-school romance, choose Star Clippers’ sailing ships. Couples can laze on the boom net under billowing sails and spend days on exotic beaches. Honeymooners receive a bottle of fizz and chocolates if they tied the knot within six months of sailing.
We’re tempted by: Norwegian Cruise Line’s Deluxe Honeymoon package, which includes a professional portrait, two half-body massages and more.
Ding-dong: A romantic cruise of the Greek Islands, including Skiathos and Skopelos, on board the four-masted Star Flyer costs from £1,655pp, departing in August. Flights extra (0808 231 4798; starclippers.co.uk).
Did you get married at sea or are you planning to? Tell us about your experience in the comment section below.
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