Skip to content

Cruise weddings: Everything you need to know about getting hitched at sea

July 28, 2022
15 min read
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Are you considering a cruise wedding? At-sea nuptials have many selling points — including a wedding planner and a built-in honeymoon — especially for couples looking for smaller, more intimate weddings (up to 125 guests). They’re also ideal for elopements. Yet before you decide to get married on a cruise ship, you’ll want to understand all the pros and cons.

Think of cruise ships as floating hotels that can offer all the essentials a wedding venue needs, including food, drinks and overnight accommodations for guests. You’ve got space to host wedding-related events over several days — such as a pre-reception cocktail hour, pre-ceremony spa day with the girls and morning-after brunch. Cruise ship employees are trained in hospitality, with photographers, bakers and DJs already on board. Plus, imagine how gorgeous your wedding photos will be with the wide, open sea as a backdrop!

“This is a type of wedding that can fit anybody. People are ready to sail [again], they’re ready to cruise, and they’ve waited a while to get married,” due to COVID-19, says Liz Bernal, a travel planner who helps couples arrange their cruise weddings on behalf of Celebrity Cruises. “It’s not just couples getting married for the first time, [and] not just second or third marriages.”

Sign up for our daily newsletter

For more cruise news, reviews and tips, sign up for TPG’s cruise newsletter.

If you’re leaning toward swapping wedding vows on a cruise, know that cruise weddings aren’t all "Love Boat"-inspired glamour. You’ll need to make decisions around where to get married (at sea or in port) and understand how those choices affect your guest list, risk of cancellation and the legality of the ceremony. Perhaps the biggest question is whether you want friends and family sailing with you on your honeymoon.

Before you say “I do” to a cruise ship wedding, take some time to school yourself on the fine print and important decisions you’ll need to make.

Should I get married on board or in port?

(Photo by Nadtochiy/Getty Images)

One of the first decisions couples need to make is whether to schedule their nuptials for embarkation day, at sea or in a port of call.

“We find most weddings are celebrated on board during embarkation day. This allows attendees who aren’t sailing with the couple to visit the ship for the ceremony,” says Matt Lupoli, of Carnival Cruise Line media relations. This option allows you to not only invite friends and family to your wedding but also enjoy a private honeymoon — without your mother-in-law or best man tagging along.

Another popular option is to get married while the ship’s at sea. This is a fantastic option because you won’t have the time pressure of embarkation day, nor will you have to give up any fun activities or beach time in port. Princess Cruises reports that 75% of its weddings are at sea.

One drawback of an at-sea wedding is that you may be forced to host events indoors because of high winds, rain or limited deck space, and the hours to rent a specific venue have to mesh with the ship's other programming needs -- including other weddings. Plus, if you want guests at your ceremony, they will need to book and pay for the entire cruise (or you’ll have to pony up for their cabins).

With an at-sea wedding, you can ask the ship’s captain to marry you, a perk only available on a few cruise lines (Princess Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, MSC Cruises, Cunard and Royal Caribbean, for example) when sailing in international waters. Your photos will look amazing, but buyer beware: Unless the captain is also a judge, notary public, justice of the peace or minister, your at-sea nuptials will be a symbolic, not a legal, wedding.

Related: 5 best honeymoon cruises for newlywed bliss

The final option is to get married at a cruise line’s private island or during a port stop in another country. About 5%-10% of Princess Cruises’ weddings are in port. For local flavor, you might be able to weave in reggae music in the background while in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, or gift guests leis in Honolulu. The drawback is that you can’t control all of your surroundings; for example, the ceremony might be on a public beach.

One thing’s for sure: The Caribbean’s sunny ports are as popular as ever for a wedding ceremony.

“We’re starting to see more weddings on the islands, whether their whole group is sailing with them or meeting them there,” says Bernal.

Is getting married on a cruise ship legal?

The short answer is yes, in most cases. But you do need to get your paperwork in order before the wedding day.

If you’re getting married on embarkation day at a domestic port such as Miami, Seattle, New Orleans or Fort Lauderdale, you can bring your own officiant to conduct a legal wedding, the same as you would at any land-based wedding venue. If your ceremony will take place during the cruise, either a local notary public (for ports in the U.S.) or a nondenominational officiant (international ports) will preside over the ceremony, making the wedding legal.

Don’t worry — you don’t have to find an available officiant in Jamaica or the Bahamas. The cruise line’s wedding planners will do it for you. For example, all three of Princess Cruises’ wedding packages include either a legal ceremony by the captain or one performed by a local officiant in port.

However, at-sea weddings on lines other than Princess get tricky: When a ship is sailing, it’s in international waters, yet the ship is registered to a particular country. For example, Celebrity Cruises requires you to obtain a marriage license from Malta, as that’s where its ships are registered. A notary public or religious officiant is always provided with any cruise line’s wedding package.

Once you have an officiant, what about marriage licenses? Each country has its own requirements for in-port and at-sea weddings, and the cruise line’s weddings department will assist in obtaining the information and, ultimately, the license. For example, if you want to get married while the ship is in the Bahamas, you need to first obtain a marriage license from that country, a process that can take up to 90 days. To get married in a U.S. port, you only need a marriage license from that state.

How big can a cruise wedding be?

Cruise weddings can range in size, though cruise lines do limit numbers. In many cases, the size of the venue restricts the number of guests allowed. The maximum size for a cruise wedding is about 150 guests.

According to Princess Cruises, two-thirds of its weddings have fewer than 10 people in the group and the average size of larger weddings is 25, with about two weddings each year with 40 or more guests. As the cruise line returned to service after the COVID-19 pandemic began, it reported that smaller, more intimate ceremonies were becoming more popular. Being married at sea by the captain is still, by far, the most sought-after package, says Princess Cruises.

Carnival’s weddings run larger. “The average number of guests is about 40, but we host weddings of all sizes — from only the couples themselves to very large parties,” said Lupoli. Celebrity Cruises has also started to see more larger cruise weddings post-pandemic.

Related: Big vs. small cruise ships: Which will I like better?

Can I invite guests who won’t be sailing with us?

(Photo courtesy of Princess Cruises)

Beyond total guest numbers, each cruise line has strict rules about how many non-sailing guests can attend your embarkation-day wedding. For example, Royal Caribbean allows a maximum of 75 wedding guests (out of 150 total) to be day visitors who come for the shipboard ceremony and then leave before the ship sets sail.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s not as easy for non-sailing guests to come onboard as before. They may need to submit their vaccination card or negative COVID-19 test results. You’ll need to make these rules clear to your attendees and know that they can change between when you book the cruise wedding and the big day itself.

Shoreside ceremonies — in a port of call on the ship’s itinerary — also welcome non-sailing guests but have capacity limits. The available venues can only fit so many people. This option is trickier, however, because you are only in port for one day, most likely. What if your aunt’s flight into the port is delayed? She will miss the wedding altogether.

Even so, Bernal is seeing more of this in the Caribbean. “They’ll jump on the flight to the island and meet the couple and then stay on the island for a few days,” she says. “You can have non-guests in ports of call come on the ship but usually the couple comes off the ship to get married on the beach.”

“The norm [for in-port weddings] is to sail with the whole group,” she says, rather than have guests fly in for the ceremony.

Which cruise lines offer weddings, and which should I pick?

Name a popular cruise line and chances are you can get married on one of its ships. Viking is a notable exception that does not offer weddings.

Your best bet is to choose a ship whose personality and amenities match your preferences. But a few lines stand out for their wedding offerings.

Princess Cruises was the first cruise line to offer legal marriages at sea by the captain.

Princess Cruises’ three packages (At Sea Wedding Cruise, Harborside Wedding Cruise and Ashore Wedding Cruise) fold in all the details for a flat fee and also offer a registry so that guests can help amp up the luxuries on their honeymoon at sea. Guests and friends can gift shore excursion credits, specialty-dining experiences, spa treatments and a private breakfast or dinner on the balcony. Celebrity Cruises also offers legal weddings at sea by the captain.

Royal Caribbean’s and MSC Cruises’ family-friendly onboard amenities, such as waterslides and large kids clubs, are a huge hit for couples planning to invite guests of all ages. Royal Caribbean offers four packages for weddings at sea with sailing guests, embarkation-day ceremonies with sailing and non-sailing guests, portside events around the world and elopements with just the couple or up to 10 guests.

Just like its parks, Disney offers Fairy Tale Weddings on its ships. Disney Cruise Line offers six venues, including indoor and outdoor spots on its ships (accommodating up to 40 guests) and on Castaway Cay (the line’s private island in the Bahamas, which can host up to 100 guests). You can have costumed Mickey and Minnie join you for photos or offer a Dole Whip unity ceremony, as one couple did.

Windstar Cruises’ yacht-style smaller ships entice many couples planning a cruise elopement, with either just them or only a few guests. Many couples like the upscale yet low-key feeling of getting away on their own yacht, where entertainment focuses on fine dining, relaxing on deck and exploring in port, rather than running around to shows, rock climbing walls and other crazy big-ship attractions.

Related: The 5 best cruise lines for romance

What are examples of cruise wedding packages?

Exact wedding package inclusions depend on the cruise line you’re sailing, whether you’re getting married at sea or in port, and the level of package you choose.

Wedding coordinators and event managers for cruise lines — included with all packages — make the decision-making easy. They’ll help you nail down specifics in advance so you can have a relaxing time on board. There are also third-party travel planners specializing in cruise weddings, such as The Wedding Experience, the exclusive wedding service provider for Celebrity Cruises, Windstar Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises.

To give you a general idea, most cruise wedding packages are going to include a dedicated, private venue for the ceremony, a photographer, floral arrangements and a private space for the reception, whether it’s a simple cake-cutting event or a plated meal. Some will also include Champagne to toast the couple.

Examples of extra-fee add-ons include videography, photography or live entertainment at the ceremony or reception (Carnival Cruises charges $150-plus for some tunes to accompany your celebration).

“We start with a package and design your ceremony to be just for you,” says Bernal. “There’s so many possibilities.”

Bernal says one couple arranged a fireworks show off the coast of Puerto Rico and worked with Celebrity Cruises to stop the ship in the middle of the ocean for the best view. It’s becoming more popular for couples to host a series of events on board the ship during the wedding week, says Bernal. Previously, couples have organized a whiskey tasting for the guys; afternoon tea for the girls; bachelorette parties at a ship’s bar, club or lounge; or a private dinner in an onboard restaurant for guests the day after the wedding. All of these can be arranged by the ship staff.

How much does a cruise wedding cost?

(Photo courtesy of Princess Cruises)

The average price for a cruise wedding falls between $7,000 and $20,000, according to GroupTravel.org, a sliver of what a land wedding normally costs (an average of $30,000). Your specific cost will depend on which cruise wedding package you choose and which inclusions and add-ons you select.

On the more casual and festive end, Carnival Cruise Line weddings start at $1,499; MSC Cruises’ weddings cost roughly the same. On the luxe end, Cunard’s Royal Ceremony at Sea package starts at $3,300. Of course, you will still need to pay for your own cruise fare, on top of the wedding package rates, as do your guests.

The good news is that with these all-inclusive packages, you know exactly how much your at-sea wedding will cost from the beginning.

Related: 7 reasons you should splurge for a suite on a cruise

How far out should I book my wedding date?

If your goal is to make guests happy, the further out you book, the better access they have to cabin categories and locations, as well as flights. This also goes for pricing. Sailings and flights booked months out are often cheaper. Use those save-the-date mailings to your guests wisely and provide them with as much information as possible.

Plus, cruise ships have limited spots for weddings each week. For example, as of July, Royal Caribbean is fully sold-out for 2022 weddings and is not accepting bookings for additional nuptials this year.

The caveat, however, is that the further in advance you book, you run a risk of change or cancellation as ships are known to swap itineraries or take ships out of service. In other words, don’t play up Aruba or a specific ship — all your guests need to know early on is that it’s a Caribbean sailing.

Related: When is the best time to book a cruise?

Bottom line

If you don’t like being the center of attention, then a cruise wedding may not be for you. Everyone on board and in port is going to ooh and aah at you as you sashay by in your wedding finery. This type of ceremony is also not ideal for couples who want to invite hundreds of guests or want the flexibility to select the perfect caterer, photographer, cake, florist or musicians.

On the other hand, if you want to plan a simple, stress-free wedding, it doesn’t get much easier than this. Cruise weddings are ideal for couples who want a small event and love the one-stop shopping of having all the event details taken care of by the cruise line.

Which brings us to the honeymoon. Many couples use the sailing as their honeymoon — yet another aspect of the wedding you won’t need to plan. But if your guests are joining the sailing, your romantic getaway may not be very private. If you want family and friends to attend your at-sea wedding, consider whether you can sneak away when needed without hurting anyone’s feelings.

If you can’t stand the thought of sharing a romantic vacation with your extended family, consider an embarkation-day wedding and bid your guests goodbye after the reception. The trade-off is your pierside event might not be as scenic as an onboard ceremony with expansive sea views.

Ultimately, if you’re a person who wants a hassle-free wedding, with a one-stop shop for planning and a built-in honeymoon, then swapping vows ashore, in port or at sea might just be your dream affair.

Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:

Featured image by Getty Images/iStockphoto
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

TPG featured card

Best starter travel card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

1 - 3X points
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases

Intro offer

Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points60,000 points
For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

Annual Fee

$95

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent, Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases
Best starter travel card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

    Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points
    60,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $95
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent, Good

Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases