You've bought the candy and flowers. You've made reservations at your sweetie's favorite restaurant. Maybe you've even bought some sexy underwear for the occasion. But what happens when it's time to take Valentine's Day to the next level? Do you hear them wedding bells a'chimin'?
A seamless, one-piece wedding/honeymoon can take a lot of forms, from the cheesily cool (Vegas) to the totally extravagant (renting a castle in France). For some folks, though, it's all about getting hitched Love Boat style, and to accommodate them practically all the mainstream cruise lines offer wedding packages, with Princess, Carnival, and Royal Caribbean being the romance leaders and NCL, Celebrity, Disney, Holland America, and Costa following in their wake.
If you want the full Love Boat scenario, with the captain officiating in his spiffy uniform, you have to go to the Love Boat line itself: Princess Cruises (tel. 800-PRINCESS; www.princess.com/onboard/weddings). Their vessels Diamond Princess, Sapphire Princess, Coral Princess, Island Princess, Grand Princess, Golden Princess, Star Princess, and Caribbean Princess are currently the only cruise ships where the captain himself does the honors. Each of these ships typically hosts six or seven civil ceremonies a week in their dedicated wedding chapels, which are adorned with fresh flower arrangements, stained glass, and warm carmel-wood furniture, and seat about three dozen. The one hitch? Captains can only officiate while in international waters, so going with this option means you can't invite family and friends unless they're also sailing. To fill out the wedding party in these instances, assistant pursers in their dress uniforms are available to escort brides down the aisle.
Option B (which is the norm on most lines) is to hold your wedding while the ship is in port, with an officiant who's licensed in that state or country presiding. That way you can invite your loved ones aboard for the ceremony and reception and then boot them all off before the ship sails.
Princess offers three different ceremony packages, starting at $1,800 per couple (plus $400 for licensing fees). Depending on which you choose, they include photography, video, music, and salon treatments for the bride. You can also arrange onboard receptions that can be custom-tailored with a variety of options -- hors d'oeuvres, champagne, wedding cake, etc. Non-sailing guests will be on a special list with port security and must show ID to board. Friends and relatives who can't attend can still monitor the wedding courtesy of the ships' chapel web-cams, which broadcast an updated photo every minute or so. (Go to www.princess.com/bridgecams, pick a ship, then click on "wedding chapel" from the drop-down menu.) Don't wait till the last minute if you're considering Princess for your wedding, since there's often a waiting list.
Other cruise lines that offer wedding packages follow the same model as Princess's option B, holding the reception on board either while the ship is at its port of embarkation (Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, New York, Galveston, Honolulu, LA, New Orleans, Vancouver, etc.) or while it's docked at one of its ports of call (Key West, St. Thomas, one of the Jamaican or Bahamian ports, etc.). For these ceremonies, a local justice of the peace, notary, or minister always officiates. In addition to the Princess ships, Royal Caribbean's Voyager-class ships, Carnival's Spirit-class ships, and NCL's Norwegian Sun, Star, Dawn, and Pride of America all have dedicated wedding chapels. Other ships hold ceremonies in lounges that are decorated for the occasion.
For an additional fee, weddings can also be arranged on land in a number of ports of call -- by a waterfall in Jamaica, for instance. In Alaska, you can even arrange to be married on the ice of Juneau's Mendenhall Glacier, flying up by helicopter with an officiant, a photographer, and a couple pairs of big boots. Royal Caribbean (tel. 888/WED-RCCL; www.royalcaribbean.com/allaboutcruising/weddings/home.do) offers this option starting at $2,000 a couple.
Onboard wedding packages generally start around $750, which usually includes the services of an officiant, a bouquet and boutonniere, champagne and keepsake glasses, a wedding cake, and the services of a photographer but not the photos themselves -- those will cost extra, should you choose to buy them. The $750 package offered by Carnival (tel. 800/933-4968; www.carnival.com/CMS/Static_Templates/Weddings/weddings.aspx) accommodates eight people including the bride and groom. Prices go up from there based on the complexity and size of any reception -- from a simple open bar and hors d'oeuvres to a formal meal in the ship's restaurant -- and by port, with the top price being $2,145. Additional guests can be accommodated at a rate of $24 per person.
No matter where you choose to wed, you must arrange for a marriage license from the relevant U.S. or foreign port far in advance of your cruise. Policies vary from country to country, so you'll save a lot of headaches by having the cruise line help with the details. Carnival and Princess have actual wedding departments; other lines handle wedding planning through their guest-relations office or refer you to a wedding consultant with whom they work. Be sure to check with these departments before booking your cruise to be sure wedding space is available on the date you have in mind.
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