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.

No Holland America weddings are performed on the Panama Canal, coastal or holiday cruises, or the first or last cruise of the season. The couple must have a marriage license issued in the state, territory (U.S. Virgin Islands) or province (British Columbia) where the wedding is to take place.

During their honeymoon cruise aboard Holland America, the couple receives a bottle of champagne in the cabin; an official reception with a ship's officer present, and several informal get-togethers; and complimentary photos with the captain and the hotel manager (the officer who runs the hotel on the ship).

Royal Caribbean Cruise Line has on-board wedding packages available for some sailings, mainly out of Miami. Ceremonies can only be performed aboard by prior RCCL approval for a couple sailing the same day of the wedding, and they must supply their own minister or justice of the peace. Requests for a ceremony and/or reception must be made more than one month before sailing, and guest lists must be submitted at least three weeks before sailing.

A two-hour reception aboard ship is available for $75 per person, including open bar, a champagne toast, hot and cold buffet and gratuities. It does not include decorations, music, flowers or wedding cake. Large weddings may book a private room on board.

In Miami, Dolphin Cruise Line offers a wedding package aboard its Dolphin IV, SeaBreeze and Ocean Breeze for $275. That price includes the services of a notary and witnesses, a souvenir certificate, and cake and domestic champagne for the newlyweds. For $375, the package is upgraded to include flowers for bride and groom and imported champagne.

Catering menus for wedding guests on board range from $10 to $27.50 per person for cocktails and hors d'oeuvres, with a special wedding lunch at $30 per person.

Majesty Cruise Line's upscale Royal Majesty offers similar Miami wedding arrangements for couples without guests (packages are $375 and $475), cocktail receptions from $12 to $25 per person or a wedding lunch for $35 per person. Music, flowers, wedding cakes and special photography are add-ons.

The "Love Boat" people at Princess Cruises have some romantic wedding packages for passengers who want to get married aboard the Crown Princess, Regal Princess and Star Princess in St. Thomas during their Caribbean cruise October through April. Location choices include a beach, a garden or a hillside, and options range from a $270 basic package with transportation, choice of clergy, marriage license and two witnesses, to a gala package with limousine service, Dom Perignon champagne, flowers, wedding cake, live music, photo album, videotape and helicopter transportation to a private island for a picnic lunch for $2,700.

Shannon Manno, wedding coordinator for Windjammer Barefoot Cruises, says couples on Caribbean cruises can get married aboard the tall ship Flying Cloud by a magistrate who comes on board from Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. The license and paperwork cost $100 (paid in cash only), and the local registrar is paid $50. The couple have to go ashore in the morning to make arrangements, but the two Tortola offices are in walking distance of each other. (A legal wedding in the British Virgin Islands is recognized in the United States.)

The Flying Cloud limits weddings to three a week, so arrangements should be made well in advance, Manno says. Bride and groom must have passports along, as well as documentation of any previous divorce. The ship throws a complimentary wedding party, with champagne and flowers, for the couple and their 70 or so fellow passengers. A six-night cruise on the Flying Cloud costs $1,550 per couple during winter season, and a honeymoon suite for $2,050 per couple is available but usually booked a year or more in advance.

A similar wedding arrangement can be made aboard Windjammer's Fantome when that ship is sailing in the Bahamas. The Windjammer cruises are very casual, although Manno remembers one groom who came attired in black tie and tails, albeit with bare feet.

To find out more about weddings at sea, ask a travel agent or contact American Hawaii Cruises' special services coordinator, (800) 765- 7000; Holland America Line's wedding coordinator Michelle Chomos, (800) 541-1576; Princess Cruises' "Touches of Romance" coordinator, (809) 774-8232, and Windjammer Barefoot Cruises' Shannon Manno, (305) 672-6453. Other lines mentioned above prefer that travel agents make all arrangements.

GUIDEBOOK

Choosing a Honeymoon Cruise

Honeymoons at sea are tremendously popular because they are easy to arrange, with one price covering everything from meals to entertainment. The only extra expenses are bar bills, tips, shore excursions, shopping and incidentals.

In planning a honeymoon at sea, it's best to cover these points with the travel agent or cruise line:

* An air/sea package that includes all transportation and transfers simplifies getting from home to the ship. It may also lower air fares since the cruise line can negotiate less expensive group rates.

* Double or king-sized beds, common on new ships, are at a premium on vintage vessels and should be specified when booking. It may be worthwhile to book an upper category cabin or mini-suite to get extra space and amenities.

* Tables for two are not always guaranteed. Some cruise lines seat most or all passengers at tables of six to eight. Have your travel agent request a table for two if that is your preference.

* While most newlyweds enjoy being singled out for congratulations and celebrations on board, others may prefer to be left alone. When booking, the travel agent can make requests for a special cake, flowers, champagne, even a serenade from the waiters, and honeymooners booking a cruise may find complimentary champagne, fruit or flowers waiting in their cabins, or a special reception hosted by the captain. Couples preferring anonymity should say so in advance.

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