More brides are going to sea than ever before.
The wedding business during ocean cruises has increased by as much as 60 percent in the past decade, report the 21 maritime members of Cruise Lines International Association. The attraction, presciently noted years ago in a Royal Caribbean International survey, was that a whopping 95 percent of vacationers rated cruises as "extremely or very romantic," compared with landlubber vacations.
Another reason is convenience. According to the cruise association, almost 35 percent of the group's 16,000 agents say their clients want to combine a wedding with a honeymoon; more than 23 percent say the top reason for a cruise wedding is value.
Today it's a lot easier to tie the knot either at sea or in ports around the globe. More cruise lines now offer shipboard wedding packages, amenities and wedding planning services, including legal marriages performed by ships' captains.
Besides weddings, many lines also offer honeymoon and vow renewal packages, bachelor and bachelorette parties, even programs for "popping the question" — the ultimate engagement party at sea.
Carnival Cruise Lines, which saw a 60 percent increase in wedding packages in the past decade, anticipates that 2,400 couples will marry aboard its "Fun Ships" this year, according to the line's spokesman, Vance Gulliksen.
And options on all lines can read like a vast menu of choices.
Shipboard ceremonies on Carnival, for instance, are available on embarkation day in U.S. ports and many Caribbean destinations. Prices for Carnival's Just for the Bride & Groom package start at $1,195 and include an official civil ceremony, a champagne toast with keepsake flutes, flowers for both bride and groom, a wedding cake with cake topper, prerecorded wedding music, a decorated bridal aisle and photographic services.
Add some guests, an hourlong open bar and hot and cold hors d'oeuvres, a traditional two-tiered wedding cake and coffee service, and the cost increases to $1,635.
Celebrity Cruises' most popular wedding package is the Nautical Nuptials program, featuring a captain-led wedding ceremony at sea offered on all Celebrity ships except Celebrity Xpedition. Brides and grooms on Disney Cruise Line can exchange vows aboard the ship or step ashore for a romantic beachside ceremony on the line's private island paradise, Castaway Cay.
With 300 nuptials per year, Norwegian boasts an array of options to turn the basic wedding into an extravaganza. The line offers two wedding packages — Onboard Aisles and On Shore Aisles — available in ports in the United States, Canada, Europe, the Caribbean, Mexico and Bermuda.
Onboard Aisles packages start at $1,100 per couple (for shipboard weddings held in most Southern U.S., West Coast and Canadian ports) to $1,450 (for Grand Cayman, St. Maarten and northeast U.S. ports). On Shore Aisles ranges from $1,450 in a colonial chapel in New Orleans to $2,450 in various locations in Florence, Rome or Venice, Italy.