Stunning sunsets, turquoise waves and exotic destinations – no wonder cruising makes such a great honeymoon. But why not do the whole thing at sea? Factor in the finest food, five-star service, luxury accommodation and helpful crew, all rolled into one unique venue – plus a big saving over land-based alternatives – and it’s easy to see why cruise-ship weddings are taking off.

However, before you take the plunge, there are a few questions to answer. Which lines do it best? What do you need to know before you book? And will your marriage be legally valid? Read on for all the dos and don’ts of saying ‘I do’ at sea…

Cruise weddings: how to get married at sea
There’s arguably nothing more romantic than getting married at sea

Which lines do cruise weddings best?

Many cruise companies now offer wedding ceremonies at sea, be they legal or symbolic, but some lines stand out from the crowd.

Perhaps the biggest name in nautical nuptials is Princess Cruises, some of whose ships have their very own wedding chapels. The California-based line offers three types of ‘Tie the Knot’ wedding package – at sea, harbourside and onshore. Happy couples who choose the ‘at sea’ option can get married in the ship’s chapel or any other onboard venue of their choice.

Celebrity Cruises is another big player in this market, and in 2017 it became the first cruise line to offer legal same-sex weddings at sea. Celebrity’s captains can conduct both legal and symbolic ceremonies, and the line offers ‘celebratory packages’ including the ceremony, planning, venue and a host of food and drink options.

For couples in search of a more traditional at-sea wedding, British cruise line Cunard is a great option. But the range of possibilities is huge, with Norwegian Cruise Line, P&O, Disney Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean all now offering nuptial packages on the ocean waves.

Cruise wedding: how to get married at sea
On many lines, including Princess Cruises, the ship’s captain can make you man and wife

But is it actually legal to get married at sea?

Before you tie the knot on your favourite cruise line, you need to be sure that you’ll be legally married. Under British law, weddings must be held in a public space, and a cruise ship doesn’t count – so on a vessel whose port of registration is in the UK, only symbolic ceremonies can take place. But most cruise ships are registered in countries where the law does allow marriages on board, and these will be legally recognised in the UK. That gives you the option of P&O, Cunard and Princess ships (registered in Bermuda), plus Celebrity (Malta) and Royal Caribbean (Bahamas).

How much will a cruise wedding cost?

According to wedding website hitched.co.uk, the average cost of a UK wedding in 2019 was a staggering £31,970. But if you get hitched on a cruise ship, you can do the whole thing – ceremony, celebration and honeymoon – for a fraction of that. You will need to buy a wedding package on top of your cruise fare, but prices are not likely to give the bride’s father cold feet. Princess Cruises’ ‘Tie the Knot at Sea’ package starts at $2,500, plus a $498 licence fee, with flowers, cake, venue, appetisers and bar all included, while Celebrity’s ‘Nautical Nuptials’ comes in at $2,995, which includes the captain conducting the ceremony.

Elsewhere, Norwegian’s legal weddings on Breakaway, Epic, Escape and Getaway start at $3,099, while P&O offers packages from £1,200. Royal Caribbean will charge from $1,950, and if you’re looking for a more traditional affair, bridal packages cost just $2,800 aboard Cunard’s legendary Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth.

Of course, whichever line you sail with, your guests will have to pay for their cruise. But they get to have a holiday too, so what’s not to love?

Cruise wedding: how to get married at sea
A celebrity wedding can be yours for as little as US$2,995

What’s included?

Today’s cruise ships are designed to cater for their guests’ every whim, so when you book a wedding package you can be confident that pretty much everything, from food to flowers, will be taken care of. One of the most comprehensive packages is Cunard’s, which includes the bride being escorted by a White Star bellman to the captain-led ceremony, a bespoke floral arrangement and live music (a pianist, harpist or even a string quartet is available for a fee). Champagne, invitations and the services of a wedding coordinator are also included.

Princess – the line with its own wedding chapels – has it covered too, with packages including a photographer, wedding co-ordinator, two floral arrangements and a bouquet, live music, a wedding cake and a bottle of champagne, along with other perks including dinner for the bride and groom in a speciality restaurant. The happy couple can even create an onboard gift register, so guests can give them spa treatments, excursions and meals.

Other leading packages include Celebrity’s offering (a captain-led ceremony, event co-ordinator, live music, photographer, cake, champagne and bouquets), and Royal Caribbean’s, which includes a wedding officiant, planner and coordinator, champagne, music, two-tier wedding cake, photographer, specially decorated stateroom and dinner at a speciality restaurant.

Cruise wedding: how to get married at sea
Cunard offers all the traditional trimmings

What will I need to bring?

With all the big-ticket items taken care of, you’re free to concentrate on what to wear for the ceremony. And a bit of advice on this – make sure you try everything on before you go, and remember to double-check that you’ve packed everything in your suitcase – you can’t go back once you’ve set sail. That said, pick a no-fly cruise and there will be no luggage restrictions to worry about, so you can bring plenty of outfits plus your own decorations, as well as personal touches like photographs and party favours. Finally, remind your guests to bring their outfits, and you’re all set to go.

Is there anything else I need to know?

As anyone who has planned a wedding on land can tell you, every aspect of the big day must be booked many months in advance. Onboard weddings are no different because only a limited number can take place on each cruise (Cunard, for example, hosts just one wedding per ship per day). If you want to tie the knot with Royal Caribbean, you’ll need to book at least 90 days prior to the sailing – though further in advance is advised – while on Celebrity, all couples are required to submit their legal documentation no later than 10 weeks before the sailing. So to make sure you get the nautical wedding of your dreams, it’s best to start planning at least a year before the event – and don’t forget to remind your guests to book their own cruises well in advance, too.

Cruise wedding: how to get married at sea
Phil and Nicola got married aboard Royal Princess

We got married at sea…

Phil and Nicola Smith from Padiham, Lancashire, married aboard Royal Princess in the Caribbean

“We took ten guests and we had an amazing time. Princess couldn’t do enough for us – we got a wedding cake, champagne, celebration glasses, fancy evening meal, wedding breakfast, congratulations from all the staff, and lovely little touches like rose petals on the bed.

“At the planning stage we looked into a lot of alternatives, and we chose this because it’s not only more cost-effective, it’s more unusual, too. Plus, doing it in the Caribbean means the weather is pretty much guaranteed. Having the captain perform the ceremony was lovely, and it meant we were officially married under Bermudan law.

“If you’re thinking of doing the same, speak to the cruise line – they have wedding directors who can tell you everything you need to know, they hold your hand through all the paperwork, discuss all the options and the budget, and they organise everything. All you need to do is turn up with your wedding dress, suit and rings.”