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Dropping Anchor: How to Get Married on a Cruise Ship

If you'd like to have your marriage and honeymoon all in one, you can legally get hitched on many cruises, either aboard ship or at one of your ports of call. Here's what you must plan for.

If you'd like to have your marriage and honeymoon all in one, you can legally get hitched on many cruises, either aboard ship or at one of your ports of call.

Practically all the mainstream lines have wedding packages, with Carnival, Princess, and Royal Caribbean being the romance leaders, followed by NCL, Celebrity, Disney, Holland America, and Costa. 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. Princess's Grand-, Diamond-, and Coral-class ships have wedding chapels on board, as do Royal Caribbean's Freedom-, Voyager-, and Oasis-class ships, Carnival's Spirit-class ships, and NCL's Norwegian Sun, Star, Dawn, Jewel, Pearl, Gem, Jade, and Pride of America. 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 such as 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 Ketchikan and Juneau (at the latter, you can get married atop Mendenhall Glacier, flying in by helicopter). If contemplating marriage in a port of call, remember that your cruise itinerary limits how far afield you can go, because ships generally stay in port only a limited number of hours.

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 is $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) and by port. Additional guests can be accommodated for an additional per-person charge. Ceremonies can also be performed off-ship in port, at higher prices.

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's wedding department or consultant help you with the details. Be sure to check with these folks before booking your cruise to be sure wedding space is available on the date you have in mind.

Having the Captain Officiate

Among all the lines covers, only Princess, Celebrity, and Azamara allow you to get married by the captain. At Princess, the Grand-, Diamond-, and Coral-class ships all offer charming wedding chapels that seat about three dozen and are adorned with stained glass and fresh flower arrangements. Assistant pursers in dress-blue uniforms are available to escort a bride down the short aisle. Three different ceremony packages are offered, starting at $1,800 per couple (plus $450 for licensing fees). Depending on which you choose, they can include photography, video, music, and salon treatments for the bride. Onboard receptions can be custom-tailored with various 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 from the "Wedding Cams" drop-down menu.) At Celebrity and Azamara, weddings are performed in one of the ship's public rooms. A variety of packages are available that mix and match everything from cake and champagne to private receptions in the ship's specialty restaurant. Basic captain-performed wedding packages at both lines begin around $2,500.

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