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Sign Draped From Stern of Ship: 'Just Married' : Some lines now offer the option of conducting a wedding while the vessel is in dock or at sea.


While the popularity of honeymoons at sea has been increasing steadily for the past five years, some cruise lines now offer the additional option of getting married aboard ship. Then the bride and groom can sail away on their honeymoon cruise with--or without--other members of the wedding party.

Couples on a budget like the convenience and romance of a wedding aboard ship, where they can have a smaller ceremony with only a few guests. By marrying at sea instead of having a big wedding ashore, they might even save enough for a honeymoon cruise.

Contrary to popular belief, a ship's captain is not empowered to conduct a wedding ceremony, "at least not one that will last longer than the cruise"--or so goes the captain's standard joking reply.

But couples may get married on the ship while it's in port, using either an officiate provided by the cruise line or a minister, priest or rabbi they bring themselves. Since most U.S. cruise passengers sail from Florida ports, principally Miami, the most popular places for shipboard weddings are in that state, where notaries public are empowered to perform weddings. Other cruise ports where lines are currently offering wedding packages include Honolulu, Hilo, Kona and several other ports in Hawaii (American Hawaii Cruises); St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands (Princess Cruises); Vancouver, B.C., and Juneau, Alaska (Holland America Line), and Road Town, Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands (Windjammer).

While no standard wedding packages are currently offered in Los Angeles, a Carnival spokesman says that passengers booked on the L.A.-based Jubilee may schedule a shipboard wedding ceremony there if they bring their own officiate and have their travel agent make arrangements for the ceremony through Carnival's Courtesy Order Department. The wedding and any reception must be completed before the ship sails.

Carnival is one line that also will arrange a wedding at sea--just after the ship sails from Miami (U.S. law requires that the cere mony be conducted within three miles of land to be valid). The company also will arrange for a notary to perform the ceremony and disembark at the next port, but his or her travel arrangements must be paid by bride and groom, which could cost $500 or more.

More often, couples sailing with Carnival prefer to pronounce their vows in the port of Miami before the ship sails on their honeymoon cruise. A basic wedding package, including transportation from the airport to the ship (with a stopoff at the marriage license office, if necessary), a shipboard civil ceremony, and a champagne toast and cake for the bride and groom costs $400. More elaborate options include an hourlong champagne reception on board for $6.25 per person, or a cocktail party with open bar and hors d'oeuvres for 20 to 100 guests at $15.50 each.

American Hawaii Cruises can schedule a wedding in Hawaii aboard the Constitution or Independence on the captain's wing bridge, with the couple's choice of a tropical island port of call--Honolulu, Oahu; Hilo and Kona, the Big Island; Kahului, Maui, and Nawiliwili, Kauai--in the background.

Included are the services of a minister or judge, a Hawaiian lei and bouquet for the bride, and matching lei and boutonniere for the groom, a chilled bottle of champagne, 24 photos in a keepsake album, live music performed by Hawaiian musicians and a wedding cake for two (baked aboard ship). The $495 package must be purchased along with a cruise, the cost of which ranges from $1,195 to $3,895 per person, double occupancy, for a seven-day sailing.

Guests not sailing on the cruise may also attend the wedding ceremony, and a cocktail reception can be arranged for an additional fee.

At Holland America Line, shipboard weddings are limited to two per sailing, so wedding coordinator Michelle Chomos suggests that a couple planning a wedding have their travel agent check the availability of the proposed date before confirming the cruise booking. Ceremonies this summer may be scheduled in either Vancouver or Juneau, or next winter in Ft. Lauderdale, Tampa or Key West, Fla., and St. Thomas in the Caribbean, according to Chomos.

Chomos has worked with couples of all ages, including one where the bride was 75 and the groom 82. The service fee of $100 includes arranging for the officiate. In addition, the bride and groom agree to purchase a cake cutting and champagne toast "celebration" (from $51 up), wedding flowers (from $50) and a reception. Cocktail receptions with open bar cost $15 an hour per person for a minimum of 10 guests, and a buffet luncheon with hot and cold dishes is available for $30 per person. Chomos can also arrange special flowers for the bride, music or entertainment.

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