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By B. Ang

Couples’ massages, dinner by candlelight and strolling along in the moonlight – cruise ships are a hotbed in the romance department as more people are opting to get married at sea.
The notion of tying the knot at sea is certainly romantic thanks in part to The Love Boat. This TV series – it ran through the 70s and 80s – showed that love was always in the air once the ship set sail. However, holding a wedding at sea was only possible in the movies and on TV.
In 1998, Princess Cruises was the first in the industry to introduce weddings at sea. Its “Tie the Knot At Sea” program even featured a wedding chapel on board. Today, weddings at sea are gaining in popularity as couples choose to get married by ship captains in waters around the globe.
Compared to land-based traditional weddings, sea-based ceremonies are quite competitively priced. On average, the cost of a North American wedding is approximately US $25,000, excluding a honeymoon. Weddings at sea amount to only about 10 to 15 per cent of that cost. On top of it, the honeymoon is thrown in the mix.
For instance, Carnival Cruise Lines’ “Just for the Bride & Groom” package starts at US $1,195 and includes an official civil ceremony, champagne toast with keepsake flutes, flowers for both bride and groom, wedding cake, a decorated bridal aisle, pre-recorded wedding music, and photographic services. So it is no wonder an increasing number of couples are opting for this relatively cheaper and more scenic approach to saying “I do”. With a dedicated wedding planner (who is part of the cruise staff) on board who will take care of every detail, sea weddings are hassle-free affairs.
The newest kid on the block to cater to this niche market is Cunard Line. For the first time in its 171-year history, Cunard will offer wedding programs on board three of its ships: Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth.
Companies that conduct weddings onboard: Unless otherwise stated, ship captains perform the ceremony on board. Carnival Cruise Lines (presided by a notary public), Celebrity Cruises, Cunard, Holland America Line (HAL)*, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL)* and Princess Cruises.

What’s Involved?

Officiants licensed for the port of call, perform the wedding. Ceremonies feature wedding cake, toast (liquids included), photographic services, flowers and wedding music (often, this comes in the form of pre-recorded music). Cruise lines have dedicated wedding planners on board who can take care of specifics. Alternatively, cruise companies work with suppliers who are specialized in certain destinations.

What’s Popular?

• Couples are holding the wedding ceremony while the ship is in their home port, thus enabling family and friends to attend the celebrations without having to sail on the cruise (Royal Caribbean).
• Destination weddings are on the rise. Many are opting to sail with their guests to a destination, exchange vows on the beach or garden and head back on board for a party (Carnival).
• People are also starting to include more parties along with their weddings. For instance, holding a welcome reception once on board and after the wedding, perhaps a night out and possibly brunch the next day (NCL).
• Increased interest in week-long celebrations (Celebrity).
• Cruise wedding planners noticed that unique dates like 10/11/12 and 12/12/12 have generated some interest (Celebrity, NCL).

What’s Out There?

• Outdoor deck weddings on real grass – a rare setting for a wedding on a cruise ship (Celebrity's Solstice Class ships).
• Having a casual ceremony on the company-owned island, Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas, and exchanging vows in a traditional Bahamian chapel nestled in a garden overlooking the sea. Or saying “I do” on top of an Alaskan glacier (HAL).
• Princess’ newest and largest ships feature an on board wedding chapel decorated in flowers and candlelight for the special day. Every “At Sea” wedding includes live music, champagne, bridal bouquet and groom’s matching boutonniere. Tuxedos can also be rented.
• Holding weddings in unusual settings while on board, like surfing on the Flowrider, on the ice skating rink, or while rock climbing (RCCL).
• Savouring the grandeur and elegance of old-school cruising with traditional, white-gloved afternoon tea; dressing up for evenings and dancing to a live orchestra in the Queens Room, the largest ballroom at sea (Cunard).

The Latest Trends

• “Destination weddings in which the wedding and honeymoon are held at the same location are becoming increasingly popular and any one of these all-inclusive packages provide a unique, cost-effective alternative to traditional land-based ceremonies,” says Gerry Cahill, Carnival’s president and CEO.
• Due to the affordable packages, guests of the wedding couple are taking advantage of the opportunity to sail on the same cruise. This is especially popular with older couples getting married who would probably travel with an entourage consisting of their children and/or grandchildren for a multi-generational family celebration (RCCL).
• Chartering a yacht for a wedding party, and inviting friends and family to a wedding at a destination (Windstar).

* For HAL and NCL, weddings are performed on board only before the ship sets sail on embarkation day or when the ship is in a port of call.

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