Thinking about getting married on a cruise? Exchanging vows on the open seas comes with many perks, starting with the fact that a cruise ceremony is basically a destination wedding and honeymoon in one. But, like all destination nuptials, there's some fine print that comes along with the territory—notably, where and when the ceremony can be held so that the wedding (and the all-important marriage license) are legally recognized.
One go-to option: Exchange vows aboard the ship before it sets sail from a U.S. port of departure. Since you're still in U.S. territory at the time of your wedding, protocol for your ceremony and marriage license are the same as if you were getting married on land. An added perk for an embarkment day wedding? A larger guest list, including non-sailing guests. Carnival Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, and Royal Caribbean all offer wedding packages that include ship access for non-sailing guests who wish to be present during your ceremony. "Many couples are thrilled to hear that they can have a ceremony on board before the ship departs for the cruise, which allows them to have additional guests who might not be able to take the cruise still witness the wedding," says Brandon Briggs, Director of Onboard Revenue for Royal Caribbean International.
But a pre-sailing wedding isn't your only option, of course. More than 80% of couples who exchange vows while sailing with Princess Cruises choose to get married at sea, and their ceremony isn't just a symbolic one. Officiated by the ship's captain, all at-sea ceremonies on Princess Cruises are legally recognized—even within international waters. Since each of the 17 ships in the Princess fleet are registered in Bermuda, anyone who ties the knot aboard their ships—no matter where they're technically sailing at the time—will have an official Bermudian marriage certificate, notes Miguel Herrera, a Senior Manager for Princess Cruises within Princess Cruises Wedding Department. The U.S. recognizes marriage certificates from Bermuda as a legal document without any additional paperwork. "We've had so many special moments with our captains and couples getting married," says Herrera. "Many guests return to cruise with us to reunite with the captain that married them."
With 22 of its 26 ships sailing the Caribbean on either a full-time or seasonal basis, Carnival Cruise Line is a perennially popular choice for couples looking to swap vows on a gorgeous stretch of Caribbean beachfront. "We visit some of the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean, including Cozumel, Grand Turk, and Jamaica," notes Keta Burke-Williams, a marketing executive in Carnival Cruise Line's Weddings Department. "We have packages for small groups but have also hosted weddings for more than 200 guests, and we're proud to offer same-sex marriages in some ports of call," says Burke-Williams. "When it comes to planning your dream wedding with us, the sky is the limit!"