The idea of a cruise ship captain binding two souls in matrimony, surrounded by the stunning vistas of the ocean, is a very romantic notion and one that’s often been popularised in books and movies.
However, the reality of this idea is a little more complicated. Can ship captains really marry couples onboard their vessels?
The answer isn’t clear-cut, so let’s take a look at it.
Can a Sea Captain Legally Officiate a Wedding?
In most parts of the world, a ship’s captain does not have the right to officiate a wedding by default. However, many ship captains undergo the processes to become ordained to give them the power to do so – although the legality of the weddings can also vary by jurisdiction.
Captains of ships are revered figures, commanding respect and authority. This respect often extends to the belief that they possess the power to officiate weddings. However, this belief largely stems from popular culture and the frequent portrayal of such scenes in movies and television shows.
In reality, most sea captains don’t have the power. But there are some exceptions. Japanese sea captains can perform weddings while at sea, but only between two Japanese citizens.
That means that any ship registered in these countries is able to offer captain-officiated weddings, though not all cruise lines will. After all, the ship’s captain isn’t twiddling his thumbs for the majority of the cruise looking for weddings to officiate – he does have some pretty important work to do!
Certain Cruise Lines Offer Weddings Officiated By The Captain
The cruise lines that offer weddings officiated by the captain include Azamara Cruises, Carnival Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, Cunard Line, Princess Cruises, and Royal Caribbean. Other cruise lines offering weddings will normally use the onboard chaplain to perform the ceremony.
Azamara Cruises Weddings
Azamara’s ships are registered in Malta, and so can offer weddings officiated by the captain. It depends on the package you choose though, so if this is something you want, make sure you’re clear when booking the wedding (source).
Carnival Cruise Weddings
Some of Carnival’s ships are registered in the Bahamas and Malta, and these can offer wedding ceremonies that are officiated by the captain. Other ceremonies will use a local officiant or one of the senior officers onboard (source).
Celebrity Cruises Weddings
Celebrity Cruises’ ships are registered in Malta, which offers two benefits for wedding packages – firstly, the captain is legally allowed to perform the ceremony, and this is included in all packages offered by the cruise line (source).
Secondly, Celebrity Cruises can also offer legal same-sex weddings, as they are legal in Malta (source). If you are a same-sex couple who wants to enjoy thecan idea of a captain performing a wedding at sea, Celebrity Cruises is the best choice.
Cunard transferred the registration of the cruise line and ships to Bermuda in 2011, and because of that the ships’ captains can now perform weddings. They won’t always, though – sometimes a senior officer will take their place, so guests need to discuss their plans with the cruise line when booking (source).
Princess Cruises Weddings
Ship captains for Princess Cruises can officiate weddings as the ships are registered in Bermuda. The cruise line offers three wedding packages, all of which include either an indoor or outdoor ceremony performed by the captain (source).
If you want to have your wedding performed on land during the cruise, then the cruise line can arrange this, but the captain can’t officiate it – it will be conducted by local officiants instead.
The cruise line also offers vow renewal packages, and the captain will officiate those ceremonies, too.
Royal Caribbean Weddings
While the Royal Caribbean wedding brochure only specifies that a “non-denominational wedding officiant” will perform the ceremony, the ship’s captain can perform the ceremony if they are available (source).
How to Get Married By a Ship’s Captain
If you want to have a ship’s captain marry you, here’s what you need to do:
1. Research Your Cruise Line
Cruise lines offer very different experiences, not just for their wedding packages but for the rest of the onboard experience, too. It’s no good choosing a cruise line for their wedding package if you won’t enjoy the rest of the cruise you’re on.
So, start by deciding which of the cruise lines is the best fit for you in terms of the entertainment and dining offered, the typical onboard experience, and the guests that typically cruise with each line.
You can check out all my guides to each of the above cruise lines here:
- Azamara Guides
- Carnival Guides
- Celebrity Cruises Guides
- Cunard Guides
- Princess Cruises Guides
- Royal Caribbean Guides
2. Check Suitable Dates and Itineraries
Once you’ve decided which cruise line you like, you need to pick a cruise. Not all cruises will be suitable for a wedding, so check the cruise lines’ wedding brochures online or read the terms. Usually, you need a 7-day cruise or longer that sails in international waters.
Most people treat the cruise as their wedding and honeymoon combined, so pick a dream vacation spot if you can.
3. Call the Cruise Line to Book
It’s best to book a wedding cruise directly with the cruise line since you need to arrange the wedding package at the same time.
Weddings aren’t always available (if a cruise already has other weddings, for example), so you don’t want to book the cruise independently and then try to add on the wedding package only to be told it isn’t possible.
Your travel agent may be able to arrange your wedding cruise, so you can speak to them if you prefer. But it’s important to make sure you’re clear that you want the captain to marry you – if you don’t mention this crucial detail at this stage, they might book a wedding despite only a senior officer being available.
4. Prepare Documentation
The cruise line will tell you all of the documentation that you’ll need to provide in advance of the wedding, and bring with you on the cruise itself.
This may be a little more in-depth than having a wedding in your home country, so give yourself plenty of time to plan and prepare. No documentation will mean no wedding, unfortunately!
5. Don’t Forget Your Regular Wedding Planning!
While you’re getting caught up in all of the cruise planning – getting the ceremony arranged, working out travel insurance etc., don’t forget about all the regular wedding planning you need to do too, including shopping for dresses and/or suits, writing speeches etc.
You don’t want to be too busy planning your cruise to forget something like the rings, after all!
There is a romantic allure to the idea of getting married at sea, but it’s important to weigh this against the reality of maritime laws. While literature and cinema often portray ship captains marrying couples, the reality is far more complex.
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Jenni Fielding is the founder of Cruise Mummy. She has worked in the cruise industry since 2015 and has taken over 30 cruises. Now, she helps over 1 million people per month to plan their perfect cruise holidays.