Heading out of the Panama Canal aboard Regent Seven Seas Cruises' 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 growing trend that is seducing couples of all ages. In fact, it was our fourth vow renewal (and we've 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.
Words to the wise:
Some lines charge extra, while others 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 -- 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.
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 -- and that was only the second vow renewal in our career!
Here's how some of the other major cruise lines stack up.
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-stem rose for the bride and matching boutonniere for the groom, photography service (photos may be purchased separately) and a commemorative certificate.
Carnival Cruise Lines
The "Fun Ships" offer standard vow-renewal packages for $385, which include a ceremony performed by the Captain, a certificate, a Champagne toast, two keepsake flutes, a single stem rose for the bride and a boutonniere for the groom, a two-tier wedding cake, pre-recorded music and a photographer -- photos are priced separately. The deluxe package, at $785, includes the amenities from the standard package, plus a reception with a one-hour open bar and hot and cold canapes. All ceremonies include an aisle runner and decorative floral arrangements. 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-stem rose for the bride and matching boutonniere for the groom (floral upgrades available), one hour of photography service (photos may be 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.
Over the course of one voyage, the Cunard ship's Captain performs about three nondenominational vow-renewal ceremonies in the ship's ballroom. The renewal is conducted on an individual basis, which is designed for wide appeal to everyone -- from couples on their honeymoons to those married for more than half a century. The fee is $425, and all couples receive the ceremony and a special commemorative certificate signed by the Captain, plus Champagne and flutes, an iced cake, a silver-plated photo frame and photograph, and a bouquet and matching boutonniere.
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, a special invitation, hors d'oeuvres, Champagne and wine served by the ship's five-star staff, dinner for two in the Pinnacle Grill, a photograph and a photo album. When one of Holland America's ships 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 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. The Affirmation Aisles package costs $550 and includes a ceremony performed by onboard staff, ceremony music, a white wedding cake for two, a bottle of sparkling wine, a certificate and breakfast in bed delivered to the stateroom. Couples must be married for at least one year to say "I Do" all over again.
Vow-renewal packages aboard P&O are priced at £250 and feature a bouquet and matching boutonniere, a bottle of Champagne and a pair of flutes, a single-tier iced cake, a professional photographer, a photo, a silver-plated frame and a certificate. The line usually holds its ceremonies at sea, but if a couple's "special'" date falls while the ship is in port and the Captain isn't needed on duty, he will make every effort to perform the ceremony ashore.
Paul Gauguin Cruises
Paul Gauguin's $500 vow-renewal package features a group ceremony on deck 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 hei (crown of flowers) or lei, and an invitation to dine with the Captain or hotel director.
Two vow-renewal packages are available. For $220, the couple receives the ceremony, an orchid bouquet and boutonniere, a commemorative certificate, a bottle of Champagne, two Princess-engraved Champagne flutes and a framed formal portrait of the ceremony. The Deluxe package, for $495, 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 canapes or petit fours in the stateroom 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 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 cost $595 shipboard and $695 shoreside on Royal Caribbean ships. Couples can select packages that include two hours of planning with a consultant and such goodies as sparkling wine, chocolate-covered strawberries, an elegant bridal bouquet of three ivory roses, a groom's boutonniere and professional photography service. Ceremonies are for individuals, though Royal Caribbean also offers Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve group renewals, starting from $795.
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 $400, is ideal for couples who are traveling with friends and family. This package includes personal invitations and a sunrise breakfast or sunset cocktails and canapes prepared for two to 12 guests. Individual couples without guests can also opt for a sunset renewal package, priced at $350, which includes a Champagne breakfast overlooking the sea at a private table, or the sunrise renewal (same price), which includes Champagne and canapes. Both party-of-two ceremonies feature a Champagne toast with the Captain, a bridal floral arrangement, a cake, Japanese oshi-bori towels (lightly scented, refreshing hand towels) presented by the Thai Spa attendant, a musician duo to accompany the ceremony, a commemorative gift and rose petals scattered on the bed on the night of the encore nuptials.
Private vow renewals are held at no charge and should be requested 90 days in advance. The Captain, cruise director or clergy 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 can be requested and are priced accordingly.
Once, for example, Silversea hosted a vow renewal in the Observation Lounge, which was decorated with flowers, candles and balloons that were specially ordered in advance. Beluga caviar and Dom Perignon Champagne were served. The ceremony was conducted by the Captain and attended by several of the couple's family members. Afterward, everyone dined at a table in the main restaurant, which was specially decorated for them.
Couples who take advantage of the Blessing at Sea package (£185), offered on all four of ' ships, have their weddings announced in the onboard daily newsletter. The package also includes a ceremony performed on the ship's bridge by the Captain with assistance from the social hostess, as well as sparkling wine, a bouquet of roses for the bride, a photo taken by professional photographers and a commemorative certificate. Thomson performs about three ceremonies per seven-night cruise.
Windstar's $164 vow renewal includes the ceremony, cake, Champagne, keepsake flutes and a certificate. Wind Surf, with a capacity of 312, averages about 45 vow renewals per year.