If you're planning a destination wedding in some far-off location, you already know some of the challenges. First and foremost, the host country's marriage laws must welcome foreign couples with open arms. You'll scratch some countries off your list because they require long residency periods before issuing a marriage license.
What about cruise ships though? Why do some offer weddings at sea and others don't? That's a good question. The legality of weddings at sea is determined by what country the ship is registered in. The marriage laws of that country apply—even when the ship is in international waters and nowhere near the host country.
So, a ship has to be flagged in an appropriate country or it must lobby its resident country to change its marriage laws. That's basically what happened in the case of Royal Caribbean. Its ships are flagged in the Bahamas and the Commonwealth just granted authority to the cruise line to officiate weddings at sea.
Royal Caribbean's weddings at sea will be recognized by the Bahamas through the newly passed Marriage Act. The act has provisions for marriages taking place onboard ships while in international waters, which is defined as outside the 12-mile limit of the territorial waters of any nation. The actual location of the ship when the marriage takes place is then recorded in the Marriage Record book of the Bahamas.
This change to Bahamas marriage laws is welcome news for couples that wish to roll-up their wedding ceremony and honeymoon in one easy-to-plan getaway.
Royal Caribbean is no stranger to the wedding business and has been performing nuptials in port for many years. Now the line will take that expertise and use it to plan and execute "Royal Romance" weddings and vow renewals at sea.
The Royal Romance at Sea package starts at $3,995 and includes a wedding coordinator, music at the ceremony, the Captain of the ship serving as officiant, a bridal bouquet and groom's boutonniere, a bottle of sparkling wine for the toast, a wedding cake, and photographer as well as extras for the couple, like in-room Moet & Chandon champagne with chocolate-covered strawberries and dinner for two at a specialty restaurant during the sailing.
A wedding at sea could actually end up being quite economical. In fact, couples booking 12 or more staterooms on any 2013 cruise of five nights or longer will receive a free Sweethearts at Sea wedding package. And, complementing the line's wedding packages, the Honeymoon Registry allows the couple's friends and family to contribute to a dinner at a specialty restaurant onboard, spa services, or shore excursion.
Other Wedding at Sea Options
Azamara Club Cruises offers a special "Test the Waters" pre-wedding consultation and tour package. On embarkation day, the couple will meet at the pier with the ship's wedding coordinator who will take them on a tour of wedding and reception sites aboard the ship. A buffet lunch is included.
Celebrity Cruises lets everything about your wedding be customized—from the invitations and favors to the photography and videography to the flowers and entertainment. You can even rent classic eveningwear through Cruiseline Formalwear that will be altered and delivered directly to your stateroom.
Caveat: All of Celebrity's ships except for Xpedition offer weddings at sea.
Cunard offers a White Star bellman to accompany the bride to the wedding ceremony. Wedding receptions take place in a variety of locations but luncheons often take place in Todd English's fantastic restaurant.
Princess Cruises offers some of the most unique receptions that mimic what you'd expect on land. Select a one-hour hors d'oeuvres reception with open bar as well as sumptuous food stations like jumbo shrimp in an ice fountain or a prime rib carving station. Princess can even provide a champagne waterfall over a pyramid of glasses.
Note: Most other cruise lines offer wedding packages in port, but not while at sea.
Photos courtesy of Royal Caribbean.