The British wedding season is in full swing. And with all the costs, headaches over seating plans and worries about the weather in the build-up to their big day, many couples have moments when they wish they had simply eloped. The good news is that running away to sea is an option.
The average bill for a wedding at home is £22,000 (according to a survey by You and Your Wedding magazine). With a romantic ceremony conducted by the ship’s captain starting at less than £3,000 (marriage licence, flowers, music, photos, champagne, cake and honeymoon, all included) it’s little surprise that marrying at sea is becoming more popular. Princess Cruises (0845 075 0031; princesscruises.co.uk) has married nearly 6,000 couples since 2004 (from $1,800/£1,200 per couple). Last year, 500 weddings took place across the P&O (0843 3740111; pocruises.com) fleet. Marriage packages start at £1,150.
But saving money isn’t the only attraction. With no cars to hire and the benefit of having hair and beauty salon, photographer, florist, caterer and honeymoon all in one place, it is temptingly hassle-free too.
Even more economical is a blessing of the union or “renewal of vows”. This is the only option available to gay and lesbian couples, because same-sex marriages are not permitted in any of the countries where the majority of cruise ships are registered: Bermuda, the Bahamas, Malta and Panama. P&O will renew vows for £295
Under UK law, marriages cannot be conducted at sea. Accordingly, Cunard (0843 374 2224; cunard.co.uk) started to cash in on the lucrative wedding business only last year after switching its ships’ registration from the UK to Bermuda. Mid-ocean, aboard Queen Mary 2 between Southampton and New York is a top choice for weddings (starting at $3,075/£2,050) and renewals of vows (from $490/£327) with Cunard.
An exotic day to remember is offered on luxury French yacht, Paul Gauguin (020-7399 7691; pgcruises.com), sailing in the South Pacific. Big ships can offer a variety of locations, some quite quirky, such as saying your vows hundreds of feet above the waves on the rock climbing wall or on skates in the ice-rink aboard Royal Caribbean’s (0844 493 4005; royalcaribbean.co.uk) Freedom of the Seas sailing from Port Canaveral in Florida (wedding from $2,695/£1,797, renewal of vows $595/£397).
Weddings need to be arranged two to three months in advance to give time for completion of legal paperwork. Renewals of vows can booked at short notice, but the sooner the better for the best choice of times and venues.