(The following is a guest column by Si Liberman, noted travel writer and journalist.)
By Si Liberman
Cruise ship wedding ceremonies are increasing at a surprising rate, according to the Cruise Line International Association, the trade group for 25 major cruise lines. More and more couples, including gay and lesbian ones, are going that route, buying wedding and civil union ceremony packages and getting built-in honeymoons at the same time. Last year Carnival played cupid to more than 2,000 couples who purchased its varied wedding deals and expects a 10 percent increase this year, says the cruise line’s spokesman Vance Gulliksen.
As for gay and lesbian ceremonies, Gulliksen explains, “We follow the legal marriage requirements of the location where the wedding is being performed and would perform same sex weddings so long as they are legally sanctioned in the particular state or territory whose waters the ship is in at the time of the ceremony.”
Same sex marriages are now sanctioned in six states, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and New Hampshire and Washington, D.C., snd come June the state of Washington will be the seventh. They’re also legal in the Netherlands, Spain, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina and South Africa.
In addition to the cruise fare, an onboard marriage or civil ceremony can range from as little as $725 to $2,500, depending on the cruise line and package selected. Examples: The minimum $725 package on the Italian MSC cruise line buys the service of a cruise officer, use of a specially decorated private room, recorded wedding music, a floral bouquet for the bride, a sponge cake decorated with chocolate hearts and names of the bride and groom, a bottle of Asti Spumante, use of a photographer for an hour, 8 by 10 inch photo of the newlyweds and a symbolic wedding certificate.
On Princess vessels, $2,250, which includes the $450 marriage license fee, covers use of a wedding coordinator, a candlelit ceremony officiated by the ship’s captain in the vessel’s wedding chapel, live music, floral arrangements plus a rose bouquet for the bride and the groom‘s boutonniere, a photographer‘s service and selection of his photographs, wedding cake, champagne, two champagne glasses and a keepsake wedding certificate. Aside from their prices, wedding package details to a large extent are similar on Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Carnival, Holland America and Disney ships.
If you’re interested in a ceremony at sea or at one of the foreign ports, shop around. Query cruise line wedding coordinators. And, above all, before sealing the deal with the required advance payment, make sure the at-sea or overseas shore-side wedding is legal and not just a symbolic exercise.
Los Angeles attorney Kelly Chang Rickert, who specializes in family law, says that under California law and in other states a marriage must be properly licensed and solemnized by a person identified in the Family Code, such as a priest, minister, rabbi or judge. “Select a reputable cruise line,” she suggests, “and conduct research on their procedures or to be really safe read up on the Family Code or hire a lawyer to investigate.”
Lewis Kapner, a former Florida circuit court judge whose specialty is marital and family law in West Palm Beach, Fla., put it this way: “I believe that the flag of the ship determines the country, so, for example, if someone got married on a Norwegian ship, it would be governed by Norway law. And if the marriage was under Norwegian law, then it would be valid here. It would be as if the parties got married in Norway.”
Most couples nail down arrangements six months to a year in advance. Most large cruise lines also offer renewal vow ceremonies for married couples. Prices go from Princess’ $205 limited frills deal to Disney’s $1,500 package. Because of legal limitations, only captains of Princess, Celebrity and Azamara cruise lines are allowed to perform wedding ceremonies. It depends on where the vessel is registered whether or not the captain may do the honors. And since Princess’ 17 ships are registered in Bermuda and Celebrity’s and Azamara’s 13 in Malta, their captains are permitted to do it.
At a price, a variety of a la carte options such as an open bar, hors d’oeuvres and sitdown dinners for guests, etc., are also available. On Cunard and smaller luxury lines like Crystal, Silversea and Seabourn, wedding ceremony packages are not offered. However, Mimi Weisband, Crystal’s vice president in charge of communications, is quick to stress that $2,000 shipboard credits and some of this year’s fares for couples include free air transportation from a number of U.S. cities.
Bottom line: Would a cruise wedding be less costly than a traditional one near home? Maybe. To be sure, though, it’ll take a little more research and some math.