Heading out of the Panama Canal aboard Regent' Seven Seas Mariner, I stood next to Bill in the captain's quarters and said, "I do." I carried a bouquet of fragrant lilies as the photographer and videographer snapped our happy images, and Captain Philippe Fichet Delavault presided in his impressive uniform. Like all couples in love, we pledged our devotion to each other and kissed for the camera. Then we toasted with sparkling cider and cut the low-fat, marzipan-frosted carrot cake the ship's Pastry Chef, David Ho, made to our exact specifications.
Sounds like a destination wedding, doesn't it?
But it wasn't. It was a vow-renewal ceremony -- a trend that is seducing couples of all ages. In fact, it was our fourth vow renewal (and we'd only been married for five years!). We've had encore renewals all over the world; one of our favorites was an authentic Polynesian blessing ceremony, performed on the outdoor deck on South Pacific-based Paul Gauguin as it sailed into Moorea. In my view, vow renewals on ships offer the best of both worlds: the continuing promise of "forever," plus a seven-night commitment. I'm not alone in this trend, as Captain Delavault explained that he usually performs two to three vow renewals on each of Mariner's voyages.
Take it from me: Adding nautical nuptials to your travels can be your passport to more romance; it can also be a spiritual endeavor that fosters deeper appreciation of your partner. Additionally, it's a novel way to celebrate your wedding anniversary, recapture your honeymoon or add sizzle to your intimacy.
Aboard Paul Gauguin, passengers take part in an on-deck group ceremony and a Polynesian blessing performed by Les Gauguines, the native women who work on the ship as cultural hosts. Ours was a heady experience, as Les Gauguines tied us together in a ceremonial blanket, crowned us with a wreath of intoxicating tiare (Tahitian orchid) flowers and sang a Tahitian love song as we sailed into the turquoise waters surrounding Moorea. It was an unforgettable, magical memory for us.
Words to the wise:
- Most lines charge extra, while other higher-end lines offer vow renewals on a complimentary basis.
- Some of the vow renewals are done for groups of couples, not individually. Take advantage of the cruise line's honeymoon package and remember that you don't have to be newlyweds to request it. Many lines also offer distinctive romance and anniversary packages.
- Bring a special outfit for your vow-renewal ceremony, and give thanks that there's an onboard salon where you can get your hair done.
- Use the occasion to foster even more romance with your beloved: Take ballroom-dancing classes, get side-by-side massages in your suite, or request hot fudge sundaes at 10 p.m.
- Follow our example, and ask for a specialty cake in your favorite flavor or a low-fat version so you can indulge without guilt at your ceremony. Afterward, savor a special meal in one of the boutique restaurants. Or, enjoy a specially prepared meal. (Make your request to the chef at least a day in advance.) If a favorite dish was served at your wedding, or both of you love pistachio ice cream, speak up.
- This is the time to book the largest accommodations, such as an Owner's Suite, to celebrate in style. Our spacious Penthouse suite on Mariner, while not an Owner's Suite, measured 449 square feet and featured butler service, a bathtub, a verandah and a walk-in closet.
Here's what's offered by some of the most popular cruise lines:
Azamara Club Cruises
Azamara Club Cruises' vow-renewal packages start at $575. Couples can reserve their space 45 days prior to embarkation day or, at the very latest, three weeks in advance. Ceremonies are performed in a romantic location by a shipboard officiant. The celebration features recorded music, a bottle of sparkling wine, cake for two, a single rose for the bride and matching boutonniere for the groom, photography service (photos purchased separately) and a commemorative certificate.
Carnival Cruise Lines
The "Fun Ships" offer standard vow-renewal packages from $450, which include a ceremony performed by the Captain, a certificate, a sparkling wine toast, a single rose for the bride and a boutonniere for the groom, a two-tier wedding cake with keepsake topper, pre-recorded music, a photographer and one 8x10 photo. (Additional photos are priced separately.) Amenities accommodate eight guests, including the couple, though additional guests can be added for $12 each. The deluxe package, at $850, includes the amenities from the standard package, plus a reception with a one-hour open bar and hot and cold canapes. This package accommodates 20 guests, with additional guests each incurring a $22 additional fee. Floral arrangements may be available at an additional cost. Carnival hosts about 1,000 vow-renewal ceremonies annually.
Vow renewals on Celebrity Cruises cost $475, and several hundred are performed each year. The Aisle to Isle package features Champagne and cake for two, a single rose for the bride and matching boutonniere for the groom (floral upgrades available), one hour of photography service (photos purchased separately) and a personalized certificate. Couples can also opt for the more extravagant Love Knot package for $650, which includes a special nautical renewal ceremony officiated by the Captain, two engraved flutes, gourmet breakfast delivered to the celebrants' stateroom, a petite bouquet for the bride, recorded ceremony music and photography services (including one 8x10 photo of the couple with the captain, signed by the captain, and one 8x10 photograph of the ship). Early booking is encouraged, as packages are limited in number.
On Cunard ships, renewals are conducted on an individual basis and appeal to a wide variety of passengers -- from couples on their honeymoons to those married for more than half a century. The fee is $490, and all couples receive the ceremony and a special commemorative certificate signed by the Captain, plus Champagne and flutes, a cake, a professional photographer, a silver-plated photo frame and photograph, and a bouquet and matching boutonniere (or two of either upon request). If the captain is not available for any reason, a senior representative of the cruise line will perform the ceremony.
Holland America Line
A fee of $129 per couple is charged when the renewal is booked in advance through the Ship Services department. This package includes a corsage for the bride, special invitations for any guests attending, dinner for two in the Pinnacle Grill and a photograph with a photo album, as well as a party with hors d'oeuvres, Champagne and wine served by the ship's five-star staff. When a Holland America ship docks at Half Moon Cay, the vow renewal can be performed ashore in a private chapel on the island. One group ceremony is usually held per voyage, and it's a more casual affair than the onboard celebration. Champagne and cake are served after the ceremony, and each couple is photographed on the island. They also each receive a keepsake photo in a souvenir frame. Packages are $49 per couple, plus $12.50 per guest.
Norwegian Cruise Line
Norwegian performs about 300 vow renewals a year. For $499, the vow renewal package includes a private ceremony performed by a ship officer, ceremony music, a single rose, a Champagne toast, a couple's cake, a commemorative certificate, an 8x10 portrait in an engraved frame, and in-cabin sparkling wine, canapes and chocolate-covered strawberries.
Vow-renewal packages aboard P&O are priced at £450 and feature a ceremony performed by the Captain in a private venue onboard the ship, a bouquet and matching boutonniere, a bottle of Champagne and a pair of flutes, a single-tier cake, a professional photographer, a photo, a silver-plated frame and a certificate. You can choose from three types of ceremonies: religious, civil ceremony or civil partnership.
Paul Gauguin Cruises
Paul Gauguin's $315 vow-renewal package features a group ceremony on deck, hosted by the cruise director, and a Polynesian blessing performed by Les Gauguines, the native women who work on the ship as cultural hosts. Other perks include a congratulatory letter from the captain, a bottle of Champagne, an 8x10 photo, a cake, a box of chocolates, a heis (crown of flowers) for the couple, a deluxe flower arrangement and an invitation to a sailaway party on the bridge.
Two vow-renewal packages are available. For $225.99, the couple receives a ceremony, floral bouquet and boutonniere, a commemorative certificate, a bottle of Champagne, chocolate-dipped strawberries, two Princess-engraved Champagne flutes, Godiva chocolates and a framed formal portrait of the ceremony. A massage or facial can be added for an additional $117.99 per couple. The Deluxe package, for $499.99, includes the ceremony, plus breakfast in bed with a half-bottle of French Champagne, two waffle robes to take home, a 25-minute massage or facial per person, choice of in-cabin canapes or petit fours on a select evening and a personalized invitation from the captain to visit the bridge while in port. Ceremonies are usually performed in groups, but that may vary depending on the ship and number of participants.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Each renewal with Regent Seven Seas costs $470 and includes Veuve Clicquot Champagne, a reception cake, a box of Leonidas chocolates, a posy of flowers and a celebratory letter from the captain. The renewal ceremony is led by the captain and cruise director and can be performed at sea or in port, depending on the ship's working schedule. Requests should be made 90 days in advance of the voyage.
Royal Caribbean International
Vow renewals are available either onboard or ashore on one of Royal Caribbean's private beaches. Rates start at $1,195 and include an elegant bridal bouquet of three ivory roses, a groom's boutonniere and professional photography service with 20 prints and a keepsake certificate. Upgrades, including sparkling wine, additional flowers and enhanced photo packages, are also available. Couples must be married at least one year prior to renewal and are required to present their marriage license to a cruise line representative prior to sailing.
Rather than offer packages, Seabourn custom-creates parties and events for individuals and groups based on special requests, and each vow renewal is different. In many cases, there wouldn't even be a fee for the vow renewal. While the staff will help you tailor an event to your liking, the captain is not available to perform vow renewals.
SeaDream Yacht Club
This line's vow-renewal program was added after many inquiries from would-be SeaDream passengers. One choice, priced at $1,000, is ideal for couples who are traveling with friends and family. This package includes personal invitations and a Champagne reception with canapes prepared for up to 12 guests, a bouquet and boutonniere, a flower arrangement, a bottle of Champagne for the couple's cabin and a reception cake. Individual couples without guests can also opt for a sunset renewal package, priced at $750, which includes the ceremony, a Champagne toast with the captain and a cake. Both ceremonies include music by the onboard guitarist and planning services from the Hotel Manager.
Private vow renewals are held at no charge on Silversea cruises and should be requested 90 days in advance. The captain or cruise director will officiate. Cake and Champagne are served, and each couple receives a certificate to commemorate the event. With enough advance notice, all kinds of special arrangements and decorations can be requested and are priced accordingly.
Thomson's Blessings at Sea package (£185) includes a ceremony conducted by the captain or a senior officer, a sparkling wine toast, a bouquet, a photograph, a cake, Champagne and canapes, plus dinner with the captain. Thomson performs about three ceremonies per seven-night cruise.
Windstar's $179 vow renewal includes the ceremony, a custom cake, a bottle of Champagne and a certificate. Additional amenities including special treats for the bride and groom, and receptions that include dinner and dancing can be arranged. Wind Surf, with a capacity of 312, averages about 45 vow renewals per year.
--By Debbi Karpowicz-Kickham, Cruise Critic Contributor; updated by Shayne Rodriguez Thompson, Cruise Critic Contributor