"I never planned to get married on a cruise ship. In fact, I never planned to get married at all." That was the opening line of my article on getting hitched at sea, which I wrote for this newspaper back in 2004. Now, there I was about to do it all again – and to the same man! Not a full-blown wedding this time, although I was just as nervous. Instead, we had decided to renew our vows – on a ship, of course. It seemed only right to continue the nautical theme.
During the various lockdowns, my husband Mark and I had spent more time together than we had for the preceding 18 years since we tied the knot. Being thrown together could have been a disaster, but we sailed through it and emerged with a stronger bond than before. It was time to celebrate.
This time, we went upmarket, sailing with luxury line Regent Seven Seas Cruises and repeating our vows on Seven Seas Explorer, the vessel that starred in the television show The Most Expensive Ship in the World. It is certainly none too shabby, with its celebrated £9,500-a-night Regent Suite, free champagne, and butlers.
We didn’t go quite that extravagant, but we were very content with our suite. It was a lovely size and reminiscent of Chicago’s art deco-style Pendry hotel, with a large balcony, a marble bathroom (with his and hers basins) and such a big bed you could lose each other under the duvet.
And, anyway, we didn’t need a butler because we had Melanie, who kept our minibar stocked with fizz, and Rachel, the ship’s social hostess, who planned our impending re-nuptials. Good thing, too, as we were seriously unprepared – despite having done it before.
Rachel had booked Captain Rosario (“Call me Captain Saro”) to conduct the ceremony, chosen a venue, lined up a red carpet, ordered a bouquet for me and a boutonniere for Mark, and had the galley on standby to bake a cake. She also gave us a choice of vows (non-religious, please) and the option to say a few words of our own once we had done the “till death us do part” stuff.
We had picked this cruise for the itinerary – 12 nights sailing from Istanbul to Piraeus (Athens), visiting a different port every day as we zigzagged between Turkey and Greece, with a quick diversion to Cyprus.
The Greek islands of Rhodes, Santorini and Crete are old favourites, so we planned to do our own thing in each, and say our vows while moored beside the Turkish town of Kusadasi. But Kavala in Greece, and Alanya, Antalya and Marmaris in Turkey, were new to us, so we signed up for excursions. Regent’s are mostly included, as are tips, transfers and just about everything else you can think of – and they are a great introduction to a new place.
As the ceremony wasn’t until late afternoon, I treated myself to a makeover in the spa – not cheap (my bill came to £220 for three treatments). But as I see it, it is only, er, twice that you do this marriage thing – to the same person at any rate. Beauty therapist Ivy spent almost an hour applying lotions, potions and peels to my face, and though they failed to roll back the years, I looked very shiny as I embarked on part three of my makeover. “This will be a challenge,” I warned hairstylist Daryl. He thought I was joking, but 40 minutes later admitted defeat. I gave him full marks for persevering.
The big day
Rather than worrying about what to wear when renewing one’s vows, I decided to opt for the dress I got hitched in, while Mark was in the same suit. It was a neat bit of recycling, and I was more than a little proud that, 18 years on, my dress still fitted as well as on the day I bought it.
Rachel rang our suite doorbell as she arrived to escort us to the atrium, which was standing in as a chapel. A surreptitious phone call alerted pianist Ed that we were approaching, and Pachelbel’s hauntingly beautiful Canon in D Major struck up as we walked down the grand staircase, turned towards the red carpet and… Oh my goodness.
When Rachel said some officers were attending as stand-in guests, we expected two or three, but there were 10 or more, all in full uniform. “Never again,” my rather daunted husband whispered as we walked the red carpet. And then we were off. Cruise director Dru spoke about love, Captain Saro took our vows, we read the words we had penned (Mark excelled with references to storms and anchors) and the deed was done.
We ended the big day in Prime 7, a restaurant where everything is big, including the shrimps, steak and, for one night only, our “wedding” cake. It was wheeled out on a trolley by singing waiters, and could have fed the five thousand. Yes, the celebration was extravagant – over the top, even – but also perfect. Just as I would expect from the world’s most expensive ship.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises (023 8082 1390; rssc.com) has a 10-night history, culture and cuisine voyage from Piraeus (Athens) to Barcelona on sister ship Seven Seas Splendor, departing on April 29 2023. Fares start at £6,709 per person including flights, transfers, excursions, all dining, Wi-Fi, drinks, tips and laundry.
The renewal of vows package costs £400 and includes the ceremony, a posy of flowers, a letter of congratulation from the captain, a Veuve Clicquot champagne reception, a cake and a box of Leonidas chocolates.
Spa facials cost from £144 for 50 minutes. Book three treatments to get 10 per cent off the first, 15 per cent off the second, 20 per cent off the third.
For full details of entry requirements and Covid rules for your favourite destinations, see telegraph.co.uk/tt-travelrules. Refer to your cruise line for further travel information.
Cruises to reignite romance
Light of my life
One Traveller’s 13-day In Search of the Northern Lights cruise potters gracefully up the Norwegian coastline, gliding past snowcapped mountains and pretty fishing villages while you snuggle up beside your loved one and drink in the views. There are husky rides, Tromso’s Arctic Cathedral and the incredible Saltstraumen maelstrom, but nothing compares to the spectacular finale of the aurora borealis.
How to do it: From £5,490 per person, including all meals and entertainment, onboard drinks package, a shore excursion in each port and all onboard gratuities. Departs from Tilbury on February 11 2023 (01760 722011; onetraveller.co.uk)
The blue Danube
If you are after fairy-tale romance, you can’t go wrong with Viking River Cruises’ ever-popular Romantic Danube voyage. It spends a glorious eight days making its way from Budapest to Regensburg in Germany, via elegant, historic Vienna, Krems (the jewel of Austria’s Wachau Valley) and peaceful, gothic Passau.
How to do it: From £1,945 per person, including return flights, beer, wine and soft drinks with onboard lunch and dinner, ground transfers and onboard gratuities. Departs from Budapest on dates throughout 2023 (0800 319 6660; vikingrivercruises.co.uk)
Down the isles
Celestyal Cruises’ 14-night Idyllic Aegean and Steps of Paul sailing lets you take in some of the region’s most awe-inspiring sights side by side – from the tranquil beaches of Milos and the mosaic-paved streets of Ephesus to the emerald waters of the Cyclades and the magnificent Hagia Sophia mosque.
How to do it: From £1,433 per person, including complimentary dining, classic drinks, onboard entertainment, all port fees and gratuities. Departing from Athens on October 7 2023 (0800 411 8038; celestyal.com)