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Have Your Wedding on a Cruise Ship
Getting married is an important milestone, and the bride and groom (and their families) have many decisions to make about the event. It's almost like planning a cruise vacation--you need to know when, where, who, and how much. Although many couples still have a traditional wedding at home, many others are combining their wedding and honeymoon with a cruise destination wedding.
Types of Cruise Weddings
Although every cruise line with cruise wedding options has slight differences, there are three basic types of cruise weddings, and many cruise lines offer wedding planning services to assist in the decision making:
- Get Married on a Cruise Ship While at Sea - Captains of a few cruise lines (like Princess, Celebrity, and Azamara Cruises) are allowed to legally marry guests, and the weddings are held in the ship's chapel or another onboard location.
- Get Married on a Cruise Ship While in Port - The advantage of this type of wedding is that non-sailing guests can attend. The ceremony is... held onboard before the ship leaves the dock. Like the wedding at sea, the ceremony is held either in the ship's chapel or one of the other lovely places onboard. After the wedding, the non-sailing guests disembark, and everyone else goes along for the honeymoon.
- Get Married at a Cruise Port of Call - Cruise ships visit many amazing ports of call, and couples can get married ashore in the Caribbean, Hawaii, Alaska, or the Mediterranean. The shoreside locations might be a beach, rooftop, rainforest, or even a glacier.
I attended a Ruby Princess cruise destination wedding of the daughter of a good friend of mine while on a voyage to the eastern Caribbean. The rest of this article describes their St. Thomas beach and Ruby Princess wedding experience and the couple's thoughts and tips for planning the wedding and their big day.Continue to 2 of 3 below.
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Erin and Jason Plan their Wedding
Erin and Jason share their love for each other with their love of art. The young couple are ceramicists whose passion for making pottery led to their meeting. Plus, I think they both appreciated finding someone who didn't mind getting their hands dirty in all that mud! Like many of us, they love cruising and had even worked as resident artists on two Princess Cruises' ships when the company offered pottery-making as an onboard activity a few years ago. Romantics like me can think that sailing on a Princess "Love Boat" cemented their relationship. They hadn't sailed on the Ruby Princess, but its eastern Caribbean itinerary fit in perfectly with Erin's spring break from teaching college art classes. So, when they got engaged at Christmas, they set their wedding date for early March, less than three months later. The first decision had been made--the timing of the wedding.
Since the couple had dated seriously for a few years, their families were not surprised about... the upcoming nuptials, but they were shocked about the short time frame to plan the wedding. Although neither Erin nor Jason had been married before, they wanted to keep the wedding small. So, they decided the only guests who were mandated to attend were his parents and her widowed mother. Of course, mixing a cruise vacation with their children's wedding was a treat for the parents. To keep the costs down, Erin's mom needed a roommate for a week, which is how I got invited. (I think I was also seen as a calming influence since I'm a very experienced cruise traveler.) The newlyweds planned to celebrate their union with friends and family when they got home. The second decision had been made--who's going to attend the wedding. This decision might be very agonizing for many planning a cruise wedding. If the nuptials are planned far enough in advance, family and close friends who really want to attend can save up for the cruise and combine a vacation with attending the wedding. However, most couples will need to accept that they will not be able to have as many people at their wedding and reception as they would at home.
Erin and Jason worked with Princess Cruises' wedding consultants at Tie the Knotsm to plan the wedding specifics. The cruise line has an excellent online guide for planning a wedding with Princess Cruises. This guide answers many of the questions those planning a cruise destination wedding might have, including the cost of the various options. This is another difference from working with a wedding planner in your hometown. All of the conversations and meetings with the wedding consultant are over the telephone, which is a little less personal than face-to-face. Erin said the lack of personal contact did not bother them, but it's certainly a factor to consider. She also noted that the first person she spoke with at Tie the Knotsm was neither as knowledgeable nor as interested in their wedding day as what she had expected. Fortunately, she waited a couple of days, called back, and got a more empathetic consultant, one who seemed experienced and enthusiastically acted like Erin and Jason's wedding was the most important one she'd ever worked on--just as most brides expect.
Erin and Jason discussed their options with the wedding consultant and decided to get married ashore on the beach in St. Thomas. The online photos of the destination and how the setting would look in the wedding photos were the biggest selling points. The enthusiastic wedding consultant at Tie the Knotsm worked out the details with them over the phone, but she would not be present onboard the ship or at the wedding. An onboard Princess representative would meet Erin and Jason on the ship, and a local St. Thomas wedding consultant would take care of the details ashore.
Our group of six used a local travel agent in Jason's hometown to book the eastern Caribbean cruise. Jason's parents had never cruised before, and it was nice for them to have someone to consult with about cabin selection and all those other questions cruise newbies have.
The cruise destination wedding plans were done, and we all set off for Fort Lauderdale to board the Ruby Princess. Erin and Jason's wedding day was midway through our eastern Caribbean cruise, and it was a glorious day for us all, but especially for this delightful young couple.Continue to 3 of 3 below.
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Erin and Jason's Destination Wedding Day
Erin and Jason's wedding day on St. Thomas was spectacular and one they will cherish forever. The mother of the bride (Maggie) and I ordered room service breakfast for three the night before, and Erin came to our room about 6:30 am to do her hair and makeup and get dressed for a 9:15 am pick-up by the onboard wedding coordinator. Maggie had treated her daughter to a manicure and pedicure the day before the wedding, and the spa personnel made the bride-to-be feel even more Princess-like.
When I asked Erin about the one thing that concerned her most about the wedding planning process, she said dealing with four different people was a little nerve-wracking. She spoke with two wedding planners on the phone ashore at Tie the Knotsm, the coordinator on the Ruby Princess, and finally the St. Thomas local wedding consultant who picked them up, took them to get the marriage license and then to the beach for the wedding. She's the one who really pulled the thing together, and Erin never... spoke with her before she met them on the dock. I know most brides would prefer to just have one person, but that's not feasible unless you take them on the cruise! As noted on the previous page, Erin thought the first person she worked with at Tie the Knotsm was not very knowledgeable and didn't seem to have any excitement about the upcoming wedding. However, the bride-to-be was smart enough to try again with another consultant and was well-pleased with everyone else they dealt with. The onboard Princess staff treated the entire bridal party like they were special the entire week.
After getting Erin dressed, Maggie went downstairs with her and the Princess wedding coordinator to meet Jason. A Princess representative had thoughtfully tied a blindfold around Jason's eyes so he wouldn't see his bride the day of the wedding until she walked down the sandy "aisle". Poor guy. He had that blindfold on for over an hour, only removing it to sign the marriage license at City Hall, while Erin hid in the hall outside! Touches like these are special and memorable. Kudos to Princess and Tie the Knotsm for remembering this wedding tradition.
Maggie came back up to the cabin, and we gathered up all the stuff Erin had given us to take to the wedding--colorful parasols for the three women, bubbles, funny sunglasses (for photos), and a bagful of other things Erin and Jason had brought along. Erin had made corsages from silk flowers for us also. Very sweet. We met Jason's parents downstairs at 9:45 and rode in a large taxi/SUV over to St. Thomas' Bolongo Bay for the beach wedding. We arrived at 10:15, and the wedding consultant, Erin, and Jason were there about 10 minutes later. Maggie whisked Erin away to hide for a few minutes so Jason could take off the blindfold.
The minister was a very nice woman who had been on St. Thomas for 20 years and a Unitarian minister for 18 years. She does about five weddings a week, so stays busy. Maggie and Erin stayed hidden while Jason got the video camera tripod set up and the wedding consultant gave out the instructions for everyone who had a part. Since we didn't have a "wedding rehearsal", this was important. My instructions were to stay out of the way of the professional photographer. I readily agreed since I didn't want to ruin any of his photos while snapping my own.
The setting was gorgeous--a sandy beach on Bolongo Bay with palm trees and a nice gazebo. The ocean in the background was perfect. Jason's folks escorted him down the aisle to recorded music pre-selected by Erin and Jason. (The wedding consultant brought along a CD player for the recorded music.) Then Maggie walked Erin down the sandy aisle, Jason's dad did a prayer, Maggie read a poem written by her mother (Erin's grandmother) for Maggie and Larkin's wedding in 1973, vows were recited, rings exchanged, and the minister said a few words and did a prayer. All the while, Jason's dad had the video recorder running on a tripod, and the professional photographer and I were taking photos. Marla, the wedding coordinator, ran the music, kept Erin's dress straightened, held the bouquet when needed, and even ran onto the beach to keep a guy from walking behind the wedding set and spoiling the photos. We could tell she's done a few of these events! Erin was slightly disappointed that the bouquet did not have the ribbon streamers she requested, but it was still lovely. Since she didn't see it until less than an hour before the wedding, it was too late to make a change, but it's another thing to consider. Just like marriage--brides and grooms have to be flexible about any destination wedding specifics that aren't exactly as expected.
As the end of the wedding neared, the sky got very dark and the wind picked up. My parasol broke and the tripod and video camera tumbled over. (Later, Jason and Erin watched the unedited video and said that while it was lying in the sand, the camera got a great shot up his mom's dress!) Jason quickly kissed the bride, and we all tried to use the soap bubble dispensers for bubbles to float in the air while they dashed by; however, it was way too windy so that part didn't work out too well. What a great, fun wedding!
The storm chased us into nearby Iggy's, a beach bar located only about 20 yards away from the wedding set. Maggie and Martha (Jason's mom) signed the paperwork as witnesses, and we all snapped some more photos as a typical Caribbean shower poured down outside. Erin and Jason cut the small cake, which was a delicious carrot cake, but they couldn't take back it to the ship. They did allow Erin to take her bridal bouquet back onto the ship. The background was very nice for the photographer with the ocean and the palm trees. Soon the rain stopped and we all gathered on the beach for more pictures.
The wedding set was rented for just an hour 10:30-11:30, but we ran over a little due to the rain delay. However, I think everyone was ecstatic about the whole event. Our driver took us to the ship by driving through downtown, and we were back on the Ruby Princess by 1:00 pm.
Erin and Jason spent the afternoon roaming around the ship with their families and having joyous photos of them made in many of the gorgeous indoor and outdoor locales. Erin commented that she felt like both a princess and a celebrity since everywhere they went people applauded and cheered. She had already announced plans to wear her dress all day, and she did look gorgeous. While they were gone, my "assignment" was to pick out some photos from the ones I made to put on facebook for their friends to see. (Note: the photographer's pictures were uploaded to Erin's "wedding page" on the Internet, where they viewed them for about 4-6 weeks and decided which ones to purchase.) I think touring the ship in their wedding attire was a big plus for the young couple. A hometown wedding celebration lasts just a few hours; this one went on from early morning until far into the evening. The six of us had dinner in the main restaurant, and the waiters sang "happy honeymoon" to the couple while the diners all cheered. After dinner, the newlyweds moved from lounge to lounge to enjoy the music and dancing. The old folks (parents and I) went to bed--we were all exhausted after this glorious day.
Planning and experiencing a wedding day can be both stressful and fun. However, once a cruise destination wedding is adequately planned, the bride and groom can certainly enjoy THEIR day. The casual style of a lush Caribbean island can ease anyone's worries, and the wedding was certainly more fun than most I've attended in a traditional church setting. Erin and Jason will have memories and photos of a gorgeous wedding and a fantastic Princess cruise vacation with their parents. (Don't worry . . . they had plenty of time to be alone on their honeymoon.) And, they get to relive the wedding (via video) with all their friends and family back home. Plus, as a bonus, Jason's parents are already planning their next cruise.