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Maybe love can't be bought, but the goods we use to express that love sure can. Some people say it with diamonds, others with 60-inch plasma televisions, and others with big plates of spaghetti. For those who say it on cruise ships, the cruise lines have a whole menu of options for every stage of the courting dance, from "please, baby, please" to "I do."

Romance Packages

While ships are inherently romantic (see "10 Ways to Make a Cruise More Romantic" in this newsletter for reasons why), some cruise lines offer various romance packages with goodies that can close the deal with a little extra oomph. Norwegian Cruise Line, for instance, offers standard and deluxe packages that go for $249 and $329, respectively. The standard package includes:

  • Sparkling wine and strawberries in your cabin at embarkation
  • A traditional pedicure and manicure for one at the spa
  • Two 25-minute, half-body "Seven Seas Massages"
  • Tea service in your cabin on the afternoon of your choice

The deluxe package offers:

  • Sparkling wine and strawberries in your cabin at embarkation
  • Choice of an "Exotic Frangipani Body Nourishing Wrap" or "Exotic Coconut and Milk Ritual Wrap" for one at the spa
  • Two 25-minute, half-body "Seven Seas Massages"
  • Tea service in your cabin on the afternoon of your choice
  • Breakfast in bed on one day of your choice
  • Dinner for two at the continental Le Bistro restaurant, with a complimentary bottle of wine
  • A keepsake formal portrait

At Princess Cruises, romantics with a sense of public drama can propose via the giant, 300-square-foot video screens aboard Caribbean Princess, Grand Princess, Sea Princess, Crown Princess, and Emerald Princess. Called "Engagement Under the Stars," the $695 package includes the secret creation of a personalized proposal video with the ship's videographer as well as champagne and chocolates, an engagement portrait session, a DVD and candid photos of the proposal, an in-room breakfast, dinner for two at one of the ship's specialty restaurants, a framed portrait, a 50-minute couple's massage in the Lotus Spa, 10% off on jewelry in the ship's boutiques, and a $100 credit towards a wedding-at-sea package, if you choose to go that route.

Romantics sailing aboard any Princess ship can have dinner under the stars served by a dedicated waiter on their private balcony, at a table set with a tablecloth, hurricane candle lamp, and champagne. While the waiter is setting everything up, you and your significant other can have a complimentary cocktail in one of the ship's bars. The whole thing costs $50 per person. You can also order breakfast served on the balcony for $25 per couple.

Ultraluxe lines such as Silversea, Seabourn, Regent Seven Seas, SeaDream and Crystal are less involved in these kinds of promotions, but that's because free champagne and canapés, whirlpool baths and five-course dinners served in your cabin are a matter of course with these lines. Something to consider if you're planning a really romantic journey and have the bucks to spare.

Onboard Weddings

A seamless, one-piece wedding/honeymoon can take a lot of forms, from the cheesily cool (Vegas) to the totally extravagant (renting a villa 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 behind in their wake.

In almost all cases a local justice of the peace, notary or minister must officiate; so even if you choose to hold your ceremony aboard ship, it will have to take place while the ship is in port, not at sea. The following ships are all outfitted with dedicated wedding chapels:

  • Princess: Caribbean, Grand, Golden, Star, Crown, Emerald, Diamond, Sapphire, Coral and Island Princess
  • Royal Caribbean: Freedom, Voyager, Explorer, Adventure, Navigator and Mariner of the Seas
  • Carnival: Carnival Spirit, Pride, Legend and Miracle
  • NCL: Norwegian Sun, Star, Dawn, Jewel, Pearl, Gem, Pride of America and Pride of Hawai'i

Other ships hold ceremonies in lounges that are decorated for the occasion.

If you want non-sailing family and friends to attend, you can hold the ceremony and reception at your port of embarkation, before the ship leaves. Guests will be on a special list with port security, and they'll have to bring the requisite ID to board.

Ceremonies can also be arranged at various ports of call. On Caribbean routes, you can tie the knot in ports like Aruba, Barbados, Grand Cayman, St. Thomas, Sint Maarten, San Juan (Puerto Rico), Ocho Rios and Montego Bay (Jamaica), Cozumel (Mexico), Nassau (The Bahamas) and Key West (Florida). Other options include Bermuda and the Alaskan ports of Juneau and Ketchikan. If you've always wanted to be married on a beach or by a tropical waterfall or glacier, this is the way to go. Disney Cruise Line offers the option of taking your vows on its private Bahamian island, Castaway Cay.

Price: Wedding packages generally start around $850 for intimate shipboard ceremonies for the bride and groom only. That price usually includes the services of an officiant (though you can bring your own if you prefer), 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. Adding a reception for eight guests will bring the price up. The basic wedding/reception package offered by Carnival goes for $1,125. Prices go up from there based on the complexity and size of your reception (from a simple open bar and hors d'oeuvres to a formal meal in the ship's restaurant), by region and port, and to some degree by the fanciness of the cruise line. At Holland America, wedding packages start at $1,295 for North America and Caribbean sailings and $1,900 for Europe sailings. Ceremonies performed off-ship, in port, also go for higher prices. Carnival, for example, offers a ceremony for the bride and groom only in a gazebo or waterfall setting in Jamaica for $1,150, while a ceremony at Cozumel's Sol Cabanas Del Caribe resort goes for $1,450. Disney's Castaway Cay weddings combine the wedding and cruise price, starting at $3,698 per couple for a three-night cruise, $3,798 for a four-night cruise, and $4,298 for a seven-night cruise.

The Legal Details: No matter where you choose to wed, you must arrange for a marriage license from the 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 you with the details. Carnival and Princess have actual wedding departments to help you with these matters (see contacts list below); 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.

Having the Captain Officiate: Princess Cruises is currently the only line where the captain himself does the honors, performing several civil ceremonies a week aboard Caribbean, Grand, Golden, Star, Crown, Emerald, Diamond, Sapphire, Coral and Island Princess, whose charming wedding chapels are adorned for the occasion with fresh flower arrangements. They can accommodate approximately 32 guests, and assistant pursers in dress-blue uniforms are available to escort a bride down the short aisle. The line offers three different ceremony packages, starting at $1,800 per couple (plus $450 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, and so on. Friends and relatives who aren't sailing can even monitor the wedding courtesy of the ships' chapel web cams, which broadcast an updated photo every minute or so. (Look at the very bottom of the Princess website home page for "Bridge Cams." 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, as there's often a waiting list.

Honeymoon Packages

Besides their inherent romantic qualities, cruises are a good honeymoon choice for the practical reason that many depart on Sundays, so couples that marry on Saturday can leave the next day. Some lines offer honeymooner freebies such as a special cake in the dining room one night, or an invitation to a private cocktail party. Couples celebrating anniversaries are often invited as well. To get your share of freebies, be sure to tell your travel agent or the cruise line reservation agent that you'll be celebrating on the cruise.

Beyond the freebies, the mainstream cruise lines aren't shy about selling a variety of honeymoon/anniversary packages. You'll get a pamphlet describing the available packages when you receive your cruise tickets in the mail. NCL's honeymoon packages, for instance, come in two flavors, basic ($79) and deluxe ($229). The basic includes:

  • Sparkling wine and strawberries in your cabin at embarkation
  • Canapés delivered to your cabin one evening
  • Complimentary sparkling wine and cake
  • A keepsake photograph
  • A dinner for two in Le Bistro, with a complimentary bottle of wine

The deluxe package includes all the above, plus breakfast in bed on one day of your choice and two 25-minute half-body massages in the spa.

All the mainstream lines offer similar deals, with packages in the $300 to $500 range generally piling on more spa treatments, champagne, shore excursions, canapés, chocolate-covered strawberries, and the like. These packages must be ordered before the cruise.

Vow-Renewal Packages

Some lines offer vow-renewal packages for couples who'd like to celebrate their marriage all over again. Holland America, for example, offers a $129 package in which couples can renew their vows at a special group ceremony at sea, catered with drinks and cold hors d'oeuvres. The package includes a floral arrangement in your cabin, a photo and photo album, a certificate presented by the captain, and dinner for two at the Pinnacle alternative restaurant.

Princess offers souped-up vow-renewal packages for $205 and $485 per couple. The former includes the ceremony, an orchid bouquet and boutonniere, a bottle of champagne and souvenir champagne glasses, a framed formal portrait of the ceremony, a commemorative certificate signed by the captain, and a framed photo of the ceremony. The more expensive option adds a champagne breakfast in bed, two terry-cloth robes, a visit to the spa for half-hour massages or facials, canapés or petit fours in your stateroom every evening, and a personalized invitation from the captain to visit the bridge while in port. These are fairly representative of what's offered by the other mainstream lines.

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