Weddings at Sea

Say "I do' to cheaper weddings

By Chris Bunting, Friday, Apr 29, 2005, 12:00 AM

We all know the ingredients of a perfect wedding: Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. But what you might not know is if your choice for something blue is the Caribbean Sea, you can save something green--as in thousands of dollars on wedding costs.

According to Bride's Magazine, the average cost of a wedding ranges between $20,000 and $30,000 depending on your location, and that doesn't include the honeymoon. Of course, there are always cheaper options if you remove all the pomp and circumstance from the picture. Renting a chapel and eloping in Vegas, e.g., can run you as little as a few hundred dollars (only $35 for the license)--but what it may cost you in friends and family relations could be a bit steeper.

There is a happy medium: getting married on a cruise ship. After doing the math, we found that couples can save upwards of $15,000 on their wedding day if they get hitched at sea. Even on a luxury liner, for seven nights and guests included, the total bill is only a fraction of what getting married the old-fashioned way is expected to cost.

But Pat Webb, president of GalaxSea Cruises and Tours, admits shipboard nuptials are not for everyone. "If you're getting married for the second or third time, they're great because you'll invite less people. But first-time wedders, who want all their friends and family there, will end up spending more [than on a conventional wedding] if everyone gets a cruise ticket."

Different cruise lines appeal to different marrying folk. Some are best for privacy seeking twosomes (geared toward the renewers or serial "been there, done that" brides and grooms). Others accommodate entire wedding parties--briefly. Guest come aboard at the ship's embarkation point for a one-day ceremony and leave before the newlyweds set sail. There are even programs for those who wish to renew their vows.

Carnival Cruise Lines

Carnival wants to give lovebirds more, ahem, bang for their buck, offering the cheapest combination wedding and honeymoon getaway deals. 2,200 couples are expected to have partaken in a Carnival wedding on its Glory line by the end of this year. Although it certainly has enough lounge spaces for full-blown receptions, glitzy Carnival (aka the "fun ship") is often more the choice for elopers given its reputation for being a floating Las Vegas.

"Just for the Bride and Groom" runs $750 and includes an official civil ceremony, champagne toasts and flutes, flowers for both newlyweds, a two-tiered wedding cake, music and photo ops. Couples either use Carnival's on-board officiant or bring their own religion-specific clergy along.

Those who want a private reception, more bubbly, more photos, or live music, pay about twice as much.

Total cost? Plan on spending upwards of $2,000 for the deluxe package as Carnival's weeklong Caribbean cruises tend to average about $529. Those who bring guests, let's say 10, still end up paying less than $10,000 in full. Visit carnival.com/ or call 888/CARNIVAL for more info.

Windjammer Barefoot Cruises

Tall, dark, and handsome. I'm talking about Windjammer ships, not the groom, silly. Windjammer has a unique fleet comprised of restored tall-masted schooners (the kind Ahab used to whale hunt). Its boats, often powered by the wind, can sail into hideaway coves the larger cruise ships cannot-these cruisers carry 120 or so total versus thousands on board Carnival or other biggies. It's a more intimate setting that can serve as an ideal venue for a more private alternative to the altar. Here's the deal (cutely named after tropical flora); only Carnival is cheaper.

Windjammer's Hibiscus package is an even $500 per couple and gives future Mr.'s and Mrs.'s a wedding consultant, an officiated wedding, wedding certificate (or vow renewal), cake, bridal bouquet, champagne and dinner at the Captain's table. Drop a few more c-notes for its Jasmine and Orchid packages including more photos and perks.

Tack on these prices to the cost of a $700/per person cruise ticket for six-days and wedders end up spending $3,000 for a nearly week-long wedding. That's about 10 percent of what a one-day wedding could cost. Of course, those who want guests to sail along can easily run that number up: 18 guests for six days and the Orchid deal would be around $15,000. But because of the size of the boat, a ceremony and reception on board isn't an option. Visit windjammer.com or call 800/327-2601 for booking information.

Norwegian Cruise Lines

Unlike Carnival and Windjammer, Norwegian is all about the guests. Many couples bring the hordes of family and friends aboard for a few hours pre-cruise to have the ceremony, then boot them off before they actually set sail. Of course, the more popular you are, the more you'll pay. Here's what Norwegian gives offers:

The $799 "exclusive" package includes an intimate ceremony run by an on-board officiant, recorded music, a marriage certificate, photos, champagne and a 10" cake. Prices for on-board weddings start at $1,100, $1,450 for a land wedding. Flowers, music, transportation and reception cost extra.

Of course, the total amount couples spend depends on how long they sail. Cruises in Nov-Feb range from $499 to $1,000 per person for a weeklong Caribbean cruise, so the most marrying twosomes pay is $4,399 with the most expensive package-a fifth of what a cheaper-end church wedding would cost. For more info go to ncl.com or call 800/392-3472.

Princess Cruises

In the middle of the pack price-wise, Princess's claim to fame is that it's the one cruise line that can actually marry people while it's sailing on international waters (passengers on all other cruiselines have to wed while docked or on an island). Why is this? According to atlastravelweb.com, "The marriages conducted on board will be performed AT SEA by the Captain of the vessel under authority of Liberian Maritime Law and are recognized under the Law of Liberia as valid marriages." Princess is uniquely registered with the Liberian government and the U.S. recognizes legal Liberian marriages (I think I get it).

Any hoo, because of its newer ships and consequently heftier price tags, Princess' weddings are more appropriate for couples going solo or those renewing their vows. For $2,998/couple, we found a complete (meaning cruise included) 10-day wedding/honeymoon cruise for two with a Mexican Riviera Itinerary. It includes a a candle-lit ceremony at the Hearts and Minds on-board chapel (while sailing), floral arrangements, a wedding coordinator, roses, a boutonniere, a photographer to fill a complimentary photo album, live piano music, champagne, flutes to keep, a sculpted cake for two, and a certificate. Multiple that price by five to get anything close to that at a regular wedding. Check out theweddingexperience.com, to book, or call 877/580-3556.

Divorce rates are over 50 percent so married-folk still working at it should be rewarded. Princess' "Renewal of vows" lets couples do it all over again. For $205 per duo, couples get a ceremony (usually in a group of other couples), an orchid bouquet, a certificate of renewal, a portrait of the ceremony, and champagne with flutes. Packages including robes and facials cost more.

Add it to a weeklong cruise averaging from $399 to $599/person between Dec. and Feb. for a cost of about $1,700 total. Visit princess.com for more info.

Land ahoy!

Maybe seasickness and wedding cake aren't a good combination. Or maybe the idea of getting married on a docked boat sounds just plain boring. Couples aren't limited to getting married on the ship: many cruise lines offer onshore ceremonies as well. However, there are strict time limits on these ceremonies (based on the ship's itinerary) and they tend to be much more expensive.

Holland America

Holland, an upscale line that attracts a slightly older clientele, has the highest prices, although rates for these "destination packages" include transportation, flowers, wedding cake, photos and champagne. Please note that the prices below are in addition to cruise fares (we'll add up everything at the end):

Jamaica: $1,695 to get married at Ocho Rios' Paradise Cove or pay $1,995 at the Sunset Beach Resort.

St. Thomas: For $1,650, choose to exchange vows overlooking the British Virgin Isles or the gardens at the Marriott Hotel Frenchman's Reef resort.

Grand Cayman: Couples can get married at a mansion built nearly a century ago. Choose a beach or gazebo ceremony for prices between $1,595-$2,300.

Half Moon Cay: Couples can get married at Holland America's private island, either on the beach or in the island chapel for $1,950.

Alaska: For $1,450, couples can get married in the Rainforest Glacier Gardens in Vancouver, or go for a pricier option: $2,595 to be married atop the Herbert Glacier in Juneau, via helicopter.

Many islands have residency requirements, blood tests, fees and other headaches couples may want to deal with ahead of time (e.g. the Cayman's requires a $200 fee for a marriage license while Jamaica has a 24-hour residency wait and charges $54 in fees). Contact Royal Ocean Events at 888/47-5511 or royalwed.com for more information.Celebrity Cruises

Which to pick--Aruba, Barbados, Cozumel, Ocho Rios, Grand Cayman, Juneau, Ketchikan, Key West, or San Juan? Planning a wedding with Celebrity (renowned for its cuisine) is a smorgasbord of options as it offers more island destinations for cheaper prices. Starting from $700 (the cheapest for land-based wedding packages), not including cruise fares, bride and groom duos can get hitched on one of 14 tropical locales. Marriage packages includes wedding officiant, bottle of bubbly, wedding cake for eight, bouquet, boutonniere and wedding certificate. A videographer and invitations are extra.

Celebrity offers high-season Caribbean cruises for around $850 per person for seven nights. Adding together the cost of two cruise tickets, the wedding package, and a sit-down reception for 20 guests(before departure), the grand total is $3,000. If those 20 guests come along for the cruise, the price jumps to $15,000 all together (about half of the cost of a conventional wedding ceremony). For more info go to celebrity.com or call 866/595-2352.

Royal Caribbean International

Were you jealous of Prince Charles and Lady Di's posh matrimony? You, too, can have a 'Royal Wedding' (hopefully it'll turn out better)-but prepare to pay the price.

Royal Caribbean is offering a few on-shore island wedding deals directed toward those leaving friends and family back home. It's asking about twice the price of Celebrity but not as much as Holland:

The "Duet" package (without cruise fare) includes a wedding officiant, recorded music, bridal bouquet, boutonniere for the groom, champagne-toasted ceremony, photos, cake and a wedding certificate. It's $1395/couple for a port-wedding in Juneau, Nassau, Barbados, Bermuda, Hawaii, Jamaica, Cabo, Cozumel, and St. Lucia. It's $100 more in Grand Grayman and St. Maarten. For a seven-night cruise in high season, expect to pay between $450 and $500 per person in cruise fare. Total cost of the wedding is under $2,500. Adding extra champagne and more polaroid memories will run you more.

Royal, like Princess, offers a fare-ly cheap vow renewal package at $400 for an onboard ceremony, lovey dovey music on cassette, flowers, wedding cake, champagne, photos and a certificate. Guests are welcome to rent tuxes, get live music, and have personalized wedding announcements made up for additional moola. To book any of these deals call 888/933-7225 or go to royalcaribbean.com. Note: a $100 surcharge will be tacked on to package deals if the wedding is held in May, June, September and October.