Can we have a stealth wedding at sea?
November 19, 2013 5:43 AM   Subscribe

My fiancée and I want to get married at sea on a cruise. Unfortunately, we can't find a cruise line that sails from our nearby ports that offers a wedding package that works for us (all the lines we checked require that everything be done by the book on their schedule with their vows, music, food, etc.). Has anyone ever staged a "stealth wedding" at sea where you bring your own officiant, gather a small number of family and friends together at an agreed-upon time in a quiet corner of the ship, and carry out a short impromptu ceremony? Will the cruise line have a problem with this? Would there be a penalty if we were caught? More importantly, would a marriage license from our state be valid if signed at sea in international waters? If not, what if we handled the paperwork in port? It's just a germ of an idea right now and at this point we really want to know if this is all possible and legal. Any advice for us?
posted by Servo5678 to Law & Government (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Here's my advice. Marry at the courthouse in your home state, have whatever ceremony you want at sea.

If you ask, the cruise line will give you a little gathering place, or you might even be able to use their chapel.

We did a meet-up on a cruise and they provided little snacks and punch.

Why drive yourself nuts over this?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:53 AM on November 19, 2013 [31 favorites]

Seconding Ruthless Bunny's point. It is much easier to split out the paperwork from the ceremony: get officially married in a registry office. Then have your ceremony where you want it. There is no reason why those attending the ceremony should even be aware that you are already legally married and the ceremony need be no different than if you are not. You can then park any worries you might have about the legality of the marriage - and also shield the cruise ship company from any worries that it may have in this regard.

If you are, in fact, already legally married then you could also choose to hold the ceremony partly or wholly on a shore visit: just head to a beach or whatever with your friends.

Beyond this, you may find that failing the mention the W word to the cruise line may help you avoid them attempting to guide you into a $$$ solution.

A post to (or search of) a forum like CruiseCritic might be helpful to you also.
posted by rongorongo at 6:08 AM on November 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

From Cruisecritic: Nine things to know when planning a cruise wedding.
posted by rongorongo at 6:16 AM on November 19, 2013

More importantly, would a marriage license from our state be valid if signed at sea in international waters?

I'm looking at the Florida statutes and they are specific about who can solemnize the marriage, they have nothing to say about where the marriage is solemnized. I am not even close to a lawyer and there certainly might be something implied or dictated elsewhere but not listed in these statutes.
posted by ftm at 6:24 AM on November 19, 2013

I got married on the Atlantic beach-facing lawn of a Ritz-Carlton in Florida, on a Friday morning. Our officiant, parents, sibs, and son wandered out onto the lawn... Then we followed and did the deed. Ten minutes later I was buying everyone brunch in the cafe and a waiter asked "Did I just see you all having a wedding ceremony?" Suddenly there were chocolate-covered strawberries and champagne delivered to our table, and later to our room. They were entirely gracious, although they offer many beach-wedding packages that we did not avail ourselves of. Any high-quality service-oriented business like a cruise outfit would (should?) treat their passengers this way.

(The next day we watched two huge weddings performed using hotel services. I can't imagine how much those people paid - but it's none of my business and I hope they enjoyed it!)

As a lawyer but not your lawyer, I don't think the international-waters nature of a cruise wedding is a hindrance.

Good luck!
posted by easement1 at 7:10 AM on November 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm a justice of the peace. It's not really stated where the marriage ceremony needs to take place if you marry in Vermont which means there is nothing keeping it from being solemnized on a cruise boat or ferry. The big deal is that you have to get the license within 60 days of the ceremony. Some states are more rigid about what they require both in terms of an officiant and in terms of a ceremony so it's worth checking the laws of the state you intend to be married in (probably especially if you are a same sex couple, no one basically gives opposite sex couples a hard time about this sort of thing (except the Howells on Gilligan's Island) but you'll want to be a bit more thorough if you're a same sex couple). If this were my ceremony, I would do it wherever you wanted it and just make sure I signed the marriage certificate someplace that was clearly within the state of Vermont. Documents are usually signed and dealt with after the fact anyhow, so this would be 100% letter-of-the-law legal.
posted by jessamyn at 7:27 AM on November 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Look carefully at state laws--marriage law varies widely by state. In DC, for instance, it's printed right on the license that the marriage must take place within the District, and following the advice to "Marry at the courthouse in your home state" would add a month or more to the process. Time limits, too, are inconsistent--60 days in Vermont, we see, but it's unlimited in DC.

By like token, there might be no particular reason to get married in Florida--check the laws of neighboring states to see if they might suit you better.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:43 AM on November 19, 2013

Several years ago we were witnesses for a wedding in four kayaks in Puget sound. The bride and groom paddled out in separate one seaters and after the ceremony paddled back in a two seater. We threw kelp. I kid you not.
posted by leafwoman at 8:12 AM on November 19, 2013 [21 favorites]

would a marriage license from our state be valid if signed at sea in international waters?

Highly variable. You'll need to check with your local government. Some have no problem with this, some have special rules for cruise ships (you're hardly the first to want to do this), and some won't allow it under any conditions. But you really, really do need to check this out before you make any plans if you want your marriage to be legally solemnized at the ceremony rather than in front of a JP at some other time.
posted by valkyryn at 8:53 AM on November 19, 2013

You should probably just call whoever it is who issues marriage licenses where you live and ask them about the international waters thing. In my state, that's the county auditor's office.
posted by Safiya at 9:01 AM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: FYI on the Marriage License in Florida. We got ours in Broward. BRING A SASE ENVELOPE!

There's also a 3 day waiting period before you can get married, and a 60 day window after that to get married. Here's the skinny.

You can call and ask them about getting married on a Cruise ship, or on an island in the Caribbean.

Also, in Florida, an officient can be a Notary Public. So...there's that.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:04 AM on November 19, 2013

Best answer: My sister did customer service calls for Princess Cruises and her advice to anyone calling in about getting married at sea was to have the legal part done on land before hand.

Different countries have different requirements. Some places require a multi-day stay in the country before you can be married. Even in the US some states require you to be married in the actual state.

She just told people to get it done the week before and then you can do whatever you want on the ship without the legal hassle.
posted by sideshow at 1:07 PM on November 19, 2013

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