Planning a cruise wedding is less taxing than a traditional wedding because the cruise line handles details such as catering, cake, decorations and flowers. However, each sailing accommodates a set number of weddings, and cruise lines require couples to book the cruise before reserving a wedding package. You increase your chances of getting the trip you want within your budget by planning early -- at least one year prior to your wedding date, according to GroupTravel.org. Early planning also gives your guests time to make their own travel arrangements, using group rates that you negotiate.
Wedding Wish List
Before you begin cruise shopping, prepare a wish list that defines your vision for the ceremony and reception. Your guest list may narrow your options, depending on the type of wedding package you need -- one that accommodates friends and relatives who won't accompany you at sea, those sailing with you, or guests gathering at a port of call for the event. If your must-haves include exchanging vows in a chapel or having the captain officiate, you can eliminate some ships. Decide if you want to marry at sea, a port-of-call or on the ship prior to sailing as wedding packages for each setting differ. Keep in mind that ship itineraries may limit the time you have for an on-shore ceremony and reception.
When and Where to Sail
Settling on a destination, date and cruise length may require some compromise. Some cruises only sail during certain months. Going on a cruise during popular holidays such as Valentine's Day, or at a time when most travelers vacation -- the high season -- increases your cost and limits availability, while traveling during what GroupTravel.org calls the "shoulder months," at the beginning and end of these peak travel periods offers lower prices and less-crowded ships. Also consider guest travel time and cost. A cruise lasting more than seven days may be out of reach for many people.
Setting a Budget
According to GroupTravel.org, cruise weddings cost a fraction of traditional weddings -- $7,000 on average for both the cruise and the wedding package. Your budget should include transportation to and from the ship, hotel accommodations before and after the cruise and money for food, alcoholic drinks, shopping and excursions. Remember to include any cruise costs for guests you are sponsoring and the fees for your marriage license.
Choosing a Package
Armed with a date, a destination and budget, you can focus on cruise lines that cater to your preferences. Choose your cruise, then negotiate group rates as needed. When you're ready to book your wedding package, the company's wedding coordinator or consultant will present packages based on your criteria. She also oversees all details surrounding your ceremony and reception, but you pay for her services. Some couples seek the advice of a cruise travel agent before finalizing their wedding package to allocate their money wisely; those having a large wedding often hire an outside wedding planner. Although a sit-down meal or reception following the ceremony usually costs extra, basic wedding packages typically include: • Officiant • Bridal bouquet and groom’s boutonnière • Photography • Champagne reception • Wedding cake • Music • Keepsake wedding certificate
Making It Legal
As soon as you know where your wedding ceremony will take place legally, you can begin the process of obtaining a marriage license for that location. iExplore.com recommends you confirm that your home state recognizes the license as legally binding, easily done by contacting your county clerk's office. You may have to apply in person or meet a residency requirement. Obtaining the license is your responsibility, but your wedding coordinator may be able to assist you for an additional fee.