Monday, 16 February 2015

The 11 Best Cruise Lines for Weddings

The 11 Best Cruise Lines for Weddings 

We've all seen or heard how intense and frenzied planning a wedding can be. So, what can you do if you want to get married in a beautiful location but don't want to tackle the challenge of putting together a formal sit-down dinner for 300 of your closest friends? Many cruise lines offer a variety of services to help you plan a shipboard or shoreside ceremony, which, of course, will be combined with a romantic cruise honeymoon.

Planning a cruise wedding can be as easy as making one call. Just dial, and poof! In-house wedding coordinators will begin arranging the ceremony, menu, cake, flowers and music. Some will even help you to obtain wedding licenses or provide invitations and thank-you notes. And it's easy to let them handle all the extras -- from tuxedo rentals to hair and spa appointments.

An onboard wedding can be a great value, as well. Prices start around $795 (the sky's the limit) on top of the cost of the cruise. Typically, onboard weddings are held in a ship's chapel (if one exists), a lounge, the library or a boardroom. But larger ships can offer offbeat ceremony spots aboard a carousel or on a rock-climbing wall. While the wedding couple must be passengers on the cruise, most lines with full-service packages include options for wedding guests to come onboard for a few hours for the event.

Married folks can also get in on the fun with onboard vow-renewal ceremonies -- a perfect way to celebrate on an anniversary trip.

These 11 cruise lines offer a variety of ceremony options and price points for anyone looking to plan a cruise wedding. Before you sign on to a wedding at sea, make sure you've read our 9 Things to Know When Planning a Cruise Wedding.

1. Princess Cruises

Why? Princess is a prime choice because, of all the lines offering shipboard wedding options, it provides the best combination of features, services and facilities. Princess' "Tie the Knot" packages are available on all ships, and most ships have dedicated wedding chapels. (The exceptions are Diamond Princess, Sapphire Princess, Dawn Princess, Ocean Princess, Pacific Princess, Sea Princess and Sun Princess.)

Package Details: Princess offers three wedding packages. The "Tie the Knot at Sea" package, for $1,800 plus a $466 license fee, includes use of the onboard wedding chapel, a candlelit ceremony officiated by the captain, a wedding coordinator, live music, two floral arrangements, a rose bouquet for the bride, groom's boutonniere, the services of a photographer and a selection of prints, wedding cake, Champagne and two keepsake flutes, and a keepsake wedding certificate. The "Tie the Knot Harborside" package -- ranging from $1,700 to $2,800 plus licensing fees up to $500, based on the destination -- includes priority check-in and boarding for the couple and guests, an onboard wedding ceremony performed by a nondenominational officiant, a wedding coordinator, recorded music, silk floral arrangements, a rose bouquet and boutonniere, a photographer, wedding cake, Champagne and a keepsake certificate. The "Tie the Knot Ashore" package, ranging from around $2,000 to $4,900, includes a ceremony at a beach or garden (or even at a glacier in Alaska), transportation for the couple, an officiant, a wedding coordinator, a bouquet and boutonniere, a photographer, cake for two, Champagne and a keepsake certificate. Receptions, photography packages and enhanced ceremony options are available at extra cost.

Coolest Quirk: Not only can your ceremony be conducted at sea by the captain, but the line also features state-of-the-art technology that allows you to broadcast the ceremony live, via Webcam, to friends and family on land. Some Princess captains are pretty romantic. On one particular cruise over Valentine's Day, the captain casually announced he'd conduct vow renewals for anyone who wanted them, and about a half-dozen couples showed up.

Caveat: Depending on the destination, licensing fees can add an additional $500 to a "Tie the Knot Ashore" package.

2. Celebrity Cruises

Why? Celebrity captains can perform ceremonies at sea (except on Xpedition). The line's fleet of ships offers a pleasant mix of fun and luxury, leaving the happy couple and their guests with plenty to do before and after the big day. Celebrity also offers such extras (for a fee) as a welcome reception, bridesmaid tea party, and cigar and cognac party to set the tone for the wedding cruise.

Package Details: The "Celebrity Weddings" program offers onboard ceremonies and destination weddings. The "Nautical Nuptials at Sea" package begins at $2,500 and includes a captain-led ceremony, an event coordinator's services, live music, one hour of photography (photographs sold separately), cake for two, Champagne, a bouquet and boutonniere, plus additional romantic turndown amenities post-ceremony (see Coolest Quirk). Couples can also arrange shoreside and in-port shipboard weddings, presided over by an officiant instead of the captain. Both in-port shipboard weddings (starting at $2,195) and shoreside weddings (starting at $2,895) include all of the "Nautical Nuptials" features, except for the turndown services. Shoreside ceremonies also include transportation to the ceremony site.

Coolest Quirk: Couples who book the "Nautical Nuptials at Sea" package each get some romantic extras, such as chocolate-covered strawberries, one bottle of Champagne, two Champagne flutes, his-and-hers robes, fresh in-room floral arrangements and rose petals on their bed on their wedding night.

Caveat: Licensing and regulatory fees are not included. (A wedding license is $700, for instance.) Also, the number of wedding ceremonies performed on each sailing is based on the captain's availability. A $100 surcharge is in effect for May, June, September and October weddings. Couples should book their wedding packages in advance to allow time for the processing of marriage licenses and legal documents; all legal documentation should be completed and submitted about 10 weeks prior to sailing.

3. Disney Cruise Line

Why? It's a fun and quirky choice, particularly for second-wedding folks who have young kids, and Disney offers a low-stress, low-hassle package.

Package Details: Disney's "Cruise Collection" wedding package is available on all cruises out of Florida. Packages start at $3,000 and include a bridal bouquet and boutonniere, the services of a wedding coordinator and officiant, a solo musician (typically a pianist), Champagne toast, two-tier wedding cake with keepsake topper, a special wedding gift and commemorative Disney wedding certificate, $100 onboard credit for the wedding couple, in-cabin Champagne and strawberries, and dinner for two at Palo, the line's adults-only alternative restaurant, found on all Disney ships. The package can accommodate eight guests, plus the couple.

Coolest Quirk: Dress-steaming is included in the package price. We also love that you can opt for a ceremony on Castaway Cay, Disney's private island. (Packages start at $4,000.)

Caveat: Beyond the cake and Champagne, Disney's wedding package does not include a reception or other services for wedding guests, though an appetizer/open bar reception is available at an additional cost. You can invite additional guests to your wedding ceremony, but events with more than 10 guests require special permission and incur an extra cost. Note that, if the couple is married onboard, the captain or a ship officer will preside over the ceremony. Disney's wedding packages do not include the marriage license, so the couple is responsible for providing any necessary legal documentation. If the wedding occurs on Castaway Cay, the ceremony will be performed by a Bahamian official, but it is not a legal marriage; the couple will need to already be legally married before the ship departs the U.S. 

4. Carnival Cruise Line

Why? Carnival appeals to younger couples with its spirited ships and more affordable wedding package prices. Carnival Spirit, Carnival Pride, Carnival Legend and Carnival Miracle have onboard chapels, though you can buy Carnival's wedding packages on any of the ships in the fleet.

Package Details: Carnival offers five wedding packages. The "Just You & Me" package accommodates up to eight guests, including the bride and groom, and starts at $1,355. The package includes services of a personal wedding planner, assistance of a wedding coordinator, a private shipboard location, priority check-in, a ceremony performed by a nondenominational officiant, a bouquet for the bride and a boutonniere for the groom, a Champagne toast with keepsake flutes, a tiered wedding cake with keepsake cake topper, recorded wedding music, a decorated bridal aisle and a photographer. (Prints are extra.) The "Time to Celebrate" package accommodates up to 20 guests ($22 fee for each additional person). The cost is from $1,795 and includes all the aforementioned amenities, plus a cocktail hour with an open bar and hot and cold hors d'oeuvres. The "Time to Celebrate...Big!" package starts at $1,975 and includes all of the above, plus a 90-minute open-bar reception and an ice carving, also for 20 guests. The fee for additional guests is $30 each.

The "Let Us Serve You" package starts at $1,595 and includes all the aforementioned ceremony amenities, plus a multicourse sit-down dinner with wine and Champagne, rather than a cocktail reception. It's available for a minimum of eight guests, including the bride and groom. Additional guests incur fees of $34.50 per adult and $17.25 per child (12 and younger). From $1,395, Carnival also offers an on-island ceremony package called "Island Breeze," which is similar to the "Just You & Me" package, but it doesn't include priority check-in. Ceremonies may take place outdoors or at a local courthouse. Transportation for the bride and groom is included, but guests are extra. Prices for packages and marriage licenses, which are extra, vary based on the port in which the ceremonies are performed. Videography services, live music and tuxedo rental are also additional.

Coolest Quirk: We like the free and easy-to-use online gift registry that makes it simple for guests to contribute to a couple's destination wedding. It provides couples with a wedding website, blog, email wizard, photo album and Facebook/Twitter uploaders.

Caveat: Plan ahead, if possible; weddings are available only when in port (including embarkation ports), and there's a limit to how many weddings can take place on the same day. A maximum of 50 non-sailing guests may attend a wedding (fees apply). Surcharges apply for ceremonies during popular seasons, including Thanksgiving, winter holidays, Valentine's week, and all of May and June.

5. Norwegian Cruise Line

Why? Norwegian Cruise Line offers a vast array of options, which can turn basic packages into full-blown extravaganzas, and its ships feature a wide range of restaurants with easily available romantic dining for two.

Package Details: Norwegian offers three wedding packages. Its "Symbolic" ceremony, starting at $1,799, is performed onboard while at sea and officiated by a ship officer or staff member. This package includes a bridal bouquet, boutonniere, 6-inch cake, recorded music, bottle of sparkling wine, chocolate-covered strawberries, canapes, one 8x10 portrait and a keepsake certificate. It also offers the use of a group service coordinator, who can make dinner reservations, organize group seating at shows and otherwise assist the couple and their guests, in addition to overseeing the wedding. Because captains can't legally perform marriage ceremonies on Norwegian ships, you'll need to get married ashore and bring your official marriage certificate with you.

The "Harborside" package, starting at $1,995, allows couples to be married onboard at select ports of call. Packages are available in a wide range of ports in the U.S. (including Alaska and Hawaii), Canada, Mexico, Europe, the Caribbean and Bermuda. This package adds priority embarkation for the couple and their guests (if the wedding is on embarkation day).

The "Destination" weddings start at $2,595 and offer a range of exotic onshore locations to hold nuptials: a glacier in Alaska, a bay in St. Thomas, the sands of Bermuda and more. It adds roundtrip transportation for the bride and groom to the wedding location in port and Champagne instead of sparkling wine.

Marriage licenses are extra in all cases, and prices vary depending on local authorities.
In addition to the basic packages, there is a huge range of a la carte options, including spa and beauty services (not available on embarkation day), flowers (including custom orders), live music, photography and videography, transportation to and from the ship or wedding location, tuxedo rentals and a wide variety of wedding receptions -- from cold hors d'oeuvres with an open bar at $37 per adult to a full sit-down luncheon for a minimum of 25 guests at $52 per person (only on sailings 5 p.m. or later and must commence by 3 p.m.).

Coolest Quirk: Couples can add a conch shell aisle ($250 and up) or fresh rose arch ($700 and up) to shoreside ceremonies.

Caveat: An extra wedding coordinator, at $250, is required for every 25 guests above the first 25.

6. Royal Caribbean International

wedding-photo-bride-groomWhy? Royal Caribbean offers a wide range of wedding packages, including an option to get married at sea, with your ship's captain or first officer officiating a ceremony that includes special nautical vows.

Package Details: The line's "Royal Romance" program offers three avenues to tie the knot. The "Paradise Shipboard" option starts around $3,195. 

It's the most basic and includes priority check-in for you and your guests, a wedding coordinator, onboard ceremony with an officiant, a photographer and 20 prints, recorded music, a bouquet and boutonniere, chocolate-covered strawberries and sparkling wine. The "Paradise Destination" option, from $3,495, lets the couple get married onboard the ship or at a number of exotic locales -- such as on a glacier in Alaska, alongside a waterfall in Hawaii or among ancient ruins in Greece -- while the ship is in port. This package allows for a few more extras, including a wedding cake for the couple, nicer flowers in the bride's bouquet and taxi transportation to and from the ceremony. A photographer is included, but images are not. "Royal Romance at Sea" allows the couple to get married while the ship is sailing, with the captain or first mate conducting the ceremony. The package, starting at $3,995, includes upgrades like an eight-inch wedding cake for the couple, one dozen long-stemmed white roses, a bottle of Champagne, breakfast in bed and dinner for two in a specialty restaurant.

Receptions are not included in the price of the ceremonies, but several options are available. They include a formal wedding lunch at $48 per person, a buffet with bar service for $48 per person or hot and cold hors d'oeuvres and bar service for $32 per person. There's a 25-person minimum for the lunch or buffet and a minimum of 16 and maximum of 50 guests for hors d'oeuvres. Other add-ons include entertainment, cake and ice carvings.

Coolest Quirk: Shoreside ceremonies run the gamut from simply scenic (a beach in San Juan, Puerto Rico) and funky (a winery in Santorini, Greece) to exotic (a ceremony atop a glacier in Juneau, Alaska).

Caveat: Watch out for a la carte charges that can add up. For instance, couples who want to plan a Royal Romance wedding less than 45 days from sailing pay a fee that varies based on package. You'll need to pay for a wedding coordinator if you have an onboard reception, and wedding parties of more than 25 guests require an additional wedding coordinator for an additional fee. Weddings on Voyager-class, Freedom-class and Oasis-class ships (which have chapels) have become so popular that there's also a surcharge for shipboard wedding ceremonies on those vessels. Beyond that, an additional surcharge applies to weddings and vow renewals scheduled in May, June, September and October. Holidays -- such as New Year's Day, Valentine's Day, Easter, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Eve -- are also subject to higher rates.

7. P&O Cruises

Why? Not all of P&O's ships cater to the same clientele; knowing who you're sailing with comes in handy when planning an event as important as your wedding. Adonia, Arcadia and Oriana are child-free (nobody younger than 18 allowed onboard), while Aurora, Azura, Brittania, Oceana and Ventura allow children.

Package Details: Beginning at £1,200 (depending on the region), the "Weddings at Sea" package includes the ceremony venue, ceremony conducted by the ship's captain (a civil service legally recognized under Bermudian law), floral arrangements for the ceremony, music, a commemorative certificate, Champagne, an onboard wedding coordinator, invitations and thank-you notes.

Coolest Quirk: In wedding parties of 16 or more, the bridal couple will receive £200 onboard credit, each couple within the party will receive £100 onboard credit, and up to three complimentary cabins may be provided (one for every 20 booked).

Caveat: Other services -- like the cake, professional photographer, wedding album, Champagne breakfast in bed, reception parties/dinner, videography, and spa and salon services -- are not included. Pricing is available upon request.

8. Holland America

Why? Holland America offers a variety of ships and itineraries worldwide, extra amenities when a minimum number of staterooms is booked and cool in-port offerings like on-site ceremonies at a glacier in Juneau. The line caters to a mature, sophisticated clientele, making it attractive to older couples looking to wed. Almost all of Holland America's ships have dedicated chapels.

Package Details: Weddings for couples only (no guests) start at $795 for a simple onboard ceremony for two on North America and Caribbean sailings. That price includes priority check-in for the bride and groom, an on-site wedding coordinator, an officiant and a keepsake wedding certificate. The line also has three additional wedding packages with increasingly stepped-up amenities. The "Anchors Away Shipboard Wedding" package, starting at $1,395, adds a bridal bouquet and matching boutonniere, a single-tier wedding cake, an elegant table with flowers and linens, a bottle of Champagne, photography services, one 8x10 photo, a commemorative photo album and recorded music. Shipboard weddings take place on the day of sailing, prior to departure in Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Key West, Halifax, New York, San Diego, Seattle and Vancouver. In Key West and Halifax, the price is $1,695; in New York, the price goes up to $2,495. The "Rembrandt Shipboard Package" ($1,895) -- available in Fort Lauderdale, San Diego, Seattle and Vancouver -- offers all the amenities of the "Anchors Away" package, but it adds 10 5x7 photos and transportation for the bridal couple via chauffeured limo to the pier the morning of the wedding (within a 10-mile radius of the port). And, the line's "Royal Dutch Deluxe Package" for $2,595 ups the offerings of the Rembrandt package with a more elaborate bridal bouquet, a bottle of premium Champagne, an additional 20 5x7 photos, an in-cabin floral arrangement, chocolate-dipped strawberries and a bottle of Champagne at turndown, and a 30-minute massage for two. The package is available in Fort Lauderdale, Seattle and Vancouver.

For those who want to wed on Holland America's private island in the Bahamas, Half Moon Cay, the $1,900 package includes a Bahamian wedding officiant, the marriage license fee, a copy of the marriage license, a tropical bridal bouquet and matching groom boutonniere, chocolate-dipped strawberries set up on a table with linens and fresh flowers, a bottle of Champagne, recorded ceremony music, a photographer, one 8x10 photograph, a commemorative wedding album and a keepsake wedding certificate.

The line also offers packages for destination-based weddings in various ports of call, including a two-hour event on Cockle Shell Beach in St. Kitts, starting at $2,150, or one atop a Juneau glacier for $2,975.

Coolest Quirk: The line offers special wedding extras when at least eight staterooms are booked for a destination wedding through its Group Advantage Program. The bride and groom get a free stateroom upgrade and a commemorative wedding cake for 16 guests. The entire group gets lunch at Pinnacle Grill (Holland America's upscale alternative restaurant), a private wine tasting and chocolate-covered strawberries, plus a bottle of in-room Champagne. We also love the destination wedding options with packages for events atop a glacier in Juneau or among lush tropical foliage on a sacred pond in Hawaii.

Caveat: If more than eight non-sailing guests attend the onboard wedding, some form of reception must be booked. Weddings in Half Moon Cay are not available from September to mid-November. The line levies a $150 surcharge on package prices for sailings from December 24 to January 4 and February 11 to February 18. There's a $100 surcharge for weddings in May and June.

9. Cunard Line

Why? Cunard can offer you a "Royal Wedding at Sea" onboard any of its ships. Now that ships are registered in Bermuda, Cunard's captains can conduct wedding ceremonies at sea. Couples are drawn to the line's historic charm, formality and British influence, which all make for a timeless experience.

Package Details: The wedding package starts at $2,800 and includes a wedding license, an onboard wedding coordinator, two floral arrangements for the ceremony, traditional wedding music (recorded, although live music such as a pianist, harpist or string quartet is available for a fee), commemorative wedding certificate, wedding invitations and thank-you cards, White Star Bellman to escort the bride to the ceremonial room and pressing service for bridal outfits.

Coolest Quirk: Cunard busts open the bubbly for the happy couple. Its package includes a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Champagne and a bride and groom's Champagne breakfast in bed. You can even upgrade to a Champagne and caviar breakfast in bed.

Caveat: Weddings can only take place on sea days and on cruises lasting at least seven days. Additional cake, flowers, photography and reception services are available for a fee.

10. Crystal Cruises

Why? Crystal has partnered with Imagine VIP global event planners to offer upscale, customized wedding packages both onboard the ship and in port. This luxury cruise line sails to exotic destinations throughout the world, so you can tie the knot pretty much anywhere your heart desires (and get a legal license).

Package Details: Crystal offers two base wedding ceremony packages, along with a number of add-ons and upgrades. Rates for a ceremony aboard the ship start at $3,500 and include pre-planning with an event consultant, a wedding website, a wedding registry, 25 custom save-the-date cards, services of a wedding coordinator, special cabin decor, services of a local officiant, live ceremony music, ceremony decorations (including a monogrammed aisle runner), bridal bouquet and groom's boutonniere, a specialty cake for two, keepsake Champagne flutes, a bottle of Champagne, one hour of photography services, an 8x10 print, a commemorative certificate, turn-down gift, dinner reservations at a specialty restaurant for the bride and groom, and a 20 percent discount at the ship's spa. To be married ashore, rates start at $4,295, and include pre-planning with an event consultant, a wedding website, a wedding registry, local wedding venue and officiant, commemorative certificate, on-site coordinator and your choice of amenities from a set list. These options are organized into tiers, and you can choose two items from Tier 1 (photography services, live music, flowers, etc.), three items from Tier 2 (in-port transportation, wedding cake, aisle decor, Champagne) or four items from Tier 3 (wedding invitations, and flower girl and ring bearer accessories). Rates vary accordingly.

Caribbean Princess Wedding
Coolest Quirk: If you choose to get married onboard, Crystal offers four equally classy themed reception decor packages, including a sleek and modern black-and-white option, a tea party-inspired option, a beachy option and a traditional white wedding option.

Caveat: Ceremony rates do not include any reception options. However, there are many available. These are billed per person, with rates starting at $95 for a lunch buffet and topping out at $132 per person for a sit-down dinner. Plus, if you have invited any non-sailing guests, they will incur an additional $12 per-person beverage charge. Photo prints are not included in any of the in-port wedding options, but you may choose to purchase them separately. Crystal can arrange for your legal marriage license in most ports, but additional local fees do apply.

11. MSC Cruises

Why? Unlike many cruise lines, MSC allows couples to legally tie the knot onboard or ashore with its wedding packages. Couples aren't required to be married before the sailing, nor do they have to worry about bringing legal documents onboard.

Package Details: MSC offers two packages: onboard weddings and shoreside weddings. The onboard option includes a pre-cruise wedding consultant, priority check-in for the couple and guests, pier-to-cabin escort service for the couple, a wedding coordinator, a nondenominational officiant, recorded music, a bridal bouquet with matching boutonniere, cake for two, a bottle of sparkling wine and one hour of photography coverage. Prices start at $1,600 for a shipboard wedding.

Shoreside weddings allow couples to marry in destinations such as Barbados, Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Jamaica, San Juan, Nassau, St. Thomas and St. Maarten. Couples also have the option to marry on embarkation day in Miami or New York. Similarly, the package includes a pre-cruise consultant and wedding day coordinator, a nondenominational officiant, a bridal bouquet with matching boutonniere, cake for two, a bottle of sparking wine and one hour of photography. The couple also will receive taxi transportation to and from the ceremony location. Prices start at $2,200 for a destination wedding.

Couples can customize either package by upgrading with photography and videography services, music, fresh flowers, food and beverages, specialty items such as favors and aisle runners, 
transportation for shoreside events, and personalized stationary for announcements and invitations.

Coolest Quirk: Couples who book at least 13 cabins receive a complimentary balcony cabin. Similarly, at least 30 cabins get you a complimentary suite and 50-plus a complimentary Yacht Club cabin.

Caveat: MSC Divina is the cruise line's only ship to offer wedding packages.