Picture you and your new husband cuddling on your private balcony on an oceangoing ship, the warm breeze tossing your hair, the black sky dotted with hundreds of stars, and all is silent but for music wafting in from a distant deck and the whooshing of the ship as it cuts through the sea.
When it comes to honeymoons, cruises have a lot going for them, not the least of which is the pure romance of being at sea.
And with cruises now leaving from ports all over the Eastern seaboard, it’s easier than ever to take a cruise. In the mid-Atlantic region, cruises depart from the New York City area, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Norfolk. If you’re willing to drive a little farther, you can add Charleston and Boston as well.
The choices of destination from local ports are also pleasantly varied: New England and Canada, Bermuda, Bahamas, Eastern Caribbean and Southern Caribbean. Princess and Norwegian even offer transatlantic cruises from New York to the British Isles and mainland Europe. If you have barely any time for a honeymoon, try one of Carnival’s two-night cruises to nowhere.
Dedicated cruisers Jennifer and Kevin McPherson of Milford have embarked at mid-Atlantic cruise ports for five of the six cruises they’ve taken. “I just feel like when you have to fly to get to the cruise port, you spend more time traveling and less time on your vacation,” Jennifer says. Leaving from a local port also eliminates the expense of airfare.
When Jennifer and Kevin got engaged, they agreed that they wanted a wedding that was out of the ordinary, and because they love cruising, they planned a destination wedding and honeymoon cruise all in one, with 16 family members and friends accompanying them.
Jennifer says her parents were skeptical at first, but everyone had a terrific time and agreed that it was a memorable wedding. Cindy McCabe, owner of Bethany Travel/Dream Vacations in Milford, made all the reservations, collected the money and handled all the questions, relieving Jennifer and Kevin of the burden.
The whole crew took a van to the Norwegian Cruise terminal in New York City to embark on a 10-day Caribbean cruise. Jennifer worked with a wedding planner to arrange a beach wedding in St. Thomas, the ship’s first stop.
“It was so different and so romantic,” Jennifer says. “That night the cruise line transferred us from an inside cabin to a balcony room, and they had decorated the bed with towel swans and rose petals.” Norwegian made special arrangements that night for the newlyweds and their 16 guests to be seated together for dinner—a reception already covered by the cost of the cruise.
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Princess, which has cruises leaving from New York City, offers the option of being married on the ship while at sea, with the captain officiating. It had long been a common misconception that any ship captain could marry a couple. Princess made it reality by working with legal authorities in Bermuda.
Princess and other lines also will help couples arrange a portside or shipboard wedding before the ship leaves its home port, so family and friends can attend the wedding before the couple sails off on their honeymoon.
When planning a honeymoon cruise, it’s important to think about what sort of atmosphere and entertainment you want onboard, as well as what sorts of things you want to do in port. Contrary to what some novice travelers imagine, not all islands have great beaches, so if beach time is important to you, you’ll need to shop around. Some islands have old forts or ruins or other historical sights to see. Others are geared toward shopping. Some have ecotourism options, but little in the way of restaurants and shops.
Many cruise passengers make the mistake of congregating in the immediate vicinity of the port with their fellow passengers instead of venturing out to explore. If it makes you feel more comfortable, you can sign up for a pre-planned shore excursion, but it’s also possible, and desirable, to strike out on your own. Research the islands ahead of time and come up with your own itinerary, or get a cab driver to take you on a brief island tour, then pick a place where you’d like to spend more time. Cab drivers can tell you about secluded beaches or beautiful waterfalls and places where the locals eat.
A travel agent who specializes in cruises can help you find the right itinerary and the cruise ship that best matches what you want for your honeymoon. It does not cost extra to book through a travel agent instead of through the cruise line or online, and you have the benefit of the travel agent’s expertise and help with details.
“Different lines, different ships all have their own feel to them,” McCabe says. “We try to get honeymooners on the right ship for them.” One, for example, that does not have a lot of little kids.
While most cruise ships have reserved areas such as an adults-only pool and hot tub area, not all do. McCabe recommends finding a ship that has a nice spa where honeymooners can get couples treatments.
Cruises that leave from mid-Atlantic ports often must spend several days at sea to get to their first destination, so Sue Braderman of All About Cruises and Travel in Wilmington likes to send clients on large cruise ships that have lots of dining and entertainment options. One of her favorites is Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas, which leaves from Cape Liberty, New Jersey, for cruises to Bermuda, the Caribbean or New England, and Canada. In addition to the standard dining choices and entertainment, the Explorer has several a la carte restaurants, an ice-skating rink, a rock-climbing wall, and a Royal Promenade with bars, shops and strolling entertainers.
Whether you arrange your honeymoon cruise through a travel agent or directly with the cruise line, be sure to let them know you are honeymooners, because you can sometimes get special consideration such as a table for two at dinner or an upgraded room. Also ask if the cruise line has a honeymoon registry where friends and relatives can buy gift certificates for spa treatments, a la carte meals or other indulgences.
“A cruise is a great choice for a honeymoon,” Braderman says. “It’s romantic. It’s hassle-free. You unpack once and still get to go to numerous destinations. You can do a lot or nothing at all.”