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Can Cruise Ship Captains Marry People?


Destination weddings are becoming more and more popular. According to Travel Bash, they represent 25% of the wedding market, compared to 5% just a few years ago. 

If you're in the beginning stages of wedding planning, first, congratulations! While planning your special day is exciting, considering a destination wedding adds another layer of anticipation. 

Cruise ship weddings are a great option for couples who want to combine their ceremony with a unique travel experience. A cruise line wedding advisor will help you iron out all the details; however, you must first choose between a shoreside and shipboard ceremony. 

Read more: 8 Tips for Getting Married on a Cruise Ship

Can a cruise ship captain legally officiate a wedding?


If you choose a shipboard wedding, you will have to perform your nuptials on a ship registered in one of three countries—Malta, Bermuda, and The Bahamas—as they are the only countries that allow ship captains to marry people. Captains onboard Japanese ships can perform legal marriages at sea, too, but only if the couple had valid Japanese passports. 

In most parts of the world, ship captains do not possess the inherent authority to officiate weddings, so many undergo the ordination process to give them the power to do so, though the legality can vary depending on the jurisdiction. 

Moreover, you'll need to sail with a cruise line that offers weddings officiated by the captain, such as Azamara Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, Cunard Line, Princess Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Royal Caribbean International. While you can still get married on other lines, the onboard chaplain will typically perform the ceremony, rather than the captain. 

Read more: Take a look inside two cruise ship captains' living quarters

While captains can legally marry people at sea, there are certain restrictions. If you have your hopes set on getting married on a cruise, you will have more flexibility if you're open to a ceremony officiated by a senior officer or a symbolic ceremony 


Some cruise lines, like Disney and Holland America Line, do not offer guests the choice of having the ship's captain perform the legal ceremony. According to Disney's wedding website, all wedding packages include an officiant who is not specified to be the captain. 

Similarly, Holland America Line's brochure states that the "Symbolic at Sea" package isn't legal, despite being officiated by the captain. Moreover, while their "Anchors Away" package includes a legal ceremony, it's performed by a non-denominational officiant while the ship is docked. 

Norwegian Cruise Line has certain restrictions in place for captain-officiated weddings, too. According to their website, captains may only perform legal ceremonies at sea on Norwegian Getaway, Escape, Breakaway, Epic, and Bliss.

Here are some tips on planning your perfect wedding at sea. 

Before choosing the cruise line you want to get married on, research the different experiences offered


Do not get ahead of yourself and select a line solely based on the wedding packages offered. While important, you need to choose a line that aligns with the vision of the experience you have for yourself and your guests. 

Celebrity Cruises, for instance, is far more upscale than Carnival. It caters to passengers seeking a sophisticated setting, focusing on quality service, dining options, and unique itineraries. Carnival, on the other hand, is known for its lively atmosphere and relaxed environment. 

Do not book your sailing before consulting with the cruise line's wedding advisors 


If you're hoping to get married on the second day of your 7-night Caribbean cruise, the cruise line will have to check the ship's availability. 

Those who book a sailing before confirming their wedding date may face challenges if their preferred date isn't available. Rather than getting married onboard by the ship's captain, you may have to pivot to a shoreside wedding. 

If you're going to have your travel agent help you, make sure they know the captain officiating your ceremony is a must-have

Celebrity Ascent

Travel agents are a valuable resource, whether you're getting married on your upcoming cruise or not. They can help arrange everything from pre-cruise transfers to shore excursions, book specialty restaurants, and more. 

Before handing over the reins for your wedding, clarify your expectations. Do you want a certain suite? What's your budget? How many people will be in attendance? These are all important things your agent must know to help coordinate with the cruise line. 

If a ceremony officiated by a captain is something you are not willing to compromise on, let them know that, too. Otherwise, they may make arrangements with one of the senior officers instead. 

You need plenty of time to gather all the required documentation 


Typically, cruise lines require more paperwork and documentation than your local jurisdiction. There is usually a deadline far in advance, too, so they have enough time to process and file everything. In other words, obtaining a marriage license at sea is a bit more complicated than visiting your local courthouse. 

Celebrity Cruises, for example, requires all couples to obtain a marriage license from Malta, as that's where the cruise line's ships are registered. 

If you fail to provide the cruise line with all documentation by the specified date, you will not be allowed to get married by the ship's captain on your chosen date.

Read more: Who is Captain Kate McCue?

Amidst all the ceremony planning, don't neglect other pre-wedding responsibilities


Though the cruise line's wedding department will help you finalize all the ceremony's details, they won't assist you in picking out the perfect dress, writing vows, shopping for wedding bands, selecting bridesmaid dresses, etc. Moreover, the ceremony is a small fraction of your time onboard, so you'll have to plan other aspects of the sailing, from dining reservations to shore excursions and other add-ons.

Don't want to spend your honeymoon with your friends and family? A back-to-back cruise will ensure the newlyweds get time to themselves after the festivities. Of course, that means planning another cruise. However, a great travel agent can take care of all the details if you let them know your wishes, leaving you with little to worry about.  

If you decide that an at-sea wedding isn't for you, you can plan a traditional wedding at home, departing shortly after for your dream cruise! Perhaps organizing a wedding on a Greek Isles cruise was too difficult with everyone's varying schedules. No need to fear or give up your fantasy of strolling through the cobblestone streets of Mykonos just because your wedding party cannot take a week off work

Read more: Top 15 reasons to go on a cruise for your honeymoon

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