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Exploring Land vs. Sea - LGBTQ Destination Weddings

You’ve popped the question and are now discussing where to do your wedding with your fiancee. If the topic of a destination wedding has come up, you’re probably trying to figure out if it should be at a resort or on a cruise ship.

As an LGBTQ couple, the decision for a destination wedding is more complex than those hosting a hetero-wedding.

If you’re unsure where to start or are weighing options for which is right for you, keep reading because we’ll be exploring the most important things to consider for your LGBTQ Destination Wedding.

Choosing the Destination of your LGBTQ Destination Wedding

Lesbian Couple walking down stairs

For LGBTQ couples, choosing a destination isn’t always as easy as it is for our straight counterparts. We need to consider the laws of the destination and if they’ll even allow our wedding to take place. Luckily, the countries that haven’t legalized same-sex marriage are not countries that I’d recommend for our community in the first place.

Another thing to consider about the destination is how far away it is from most of your guest list. If you have people spread out across the country, there will be more logistics to getting them to your wedding than if most are in your immediate geographical location.

The Caribbean and Mexico are great options for those on the East Coast, the Midwest, or the South. For those on the Western side of the country, Hawaii and Mexico make great options while minimizing the time spent traveling. Cruises are typically great options for people throughout the country as flights to Southern Florida are plentiful, and home ports are spread across the coastline in many states.

Length of time with friends and family

Gay couple on the beach

When you get married at home, you have a whirlwind day with your family and friends with most arriving an hour or so before the ceremony is scheduled. If you have a large family or one that’s full of drama, this may be the ideal way to limit the stresses involved in spending an extended period of time with them.

Destination weddings typically involve spending more time with your guests as they’ll be at the resort or on the cruise with you.

For land-based destination weddings, your guests can arrive on their own schedule, often a day or two before the wedding. While on a cruise, everyone joins the ship the same day.

Regardless of which type of destination wedding you choose, I always recommend my couples upgrade to a suite. This provides them more space to spread out and, in many cases, escape from the other party members, specifically AFTER the wedding ceremony and reception.

Legal vs. Symbolic Ceremonies

Two brides holding hands

One of the first topics that comes up when a couple approaches me for help with their destination wedding is if they should have it be a legal wedding. My suggestion for all couples doing a destination wedding (whether it’s domestic, international, or at sea) is to have a legal ceremony at the courthouse back home and then do a symbolic ceremony with their guests.

The driving reason behind this suggestion is that having the paperwork done at home makes for a smoother experience overall. You don’t have to worry about waiting periods imposed by the destination (some requiring you to stay in-country a few nights to a week before you tie the knot). Plus, having the paperwork filed with your local court makes things easier, given you’ll have much faster access to them if the need arises.

This also helps keep down the overall cost of the wedding down. For example, a legal wedding at sea on Celebrity Cruises requires paperwork to be filed in Malta (the ship’s registered country). Beyond the six-month turnaround time, it’s $700 to file for the license, compared to the much lower prices at most local courthouses.

When choosing a destination, some require a legal wedding to be completed. This is a way for the country to generate revenue, as it leads to additional nights at your resort and fees for processing paperwork.

Passport Requirements

A stack of passports

When considering a destination wedding, your guest list is an important consideration. Beyond figuring out who you want to invite and where to have your wedding, you want to consider whether your invitees will have valid passports.

Ideally, when planning your destination wedding, you’ll start having the conversation 12 to 16 months before your big day. This not only gives you the opportunity to choose from a wider array of venue choices, but it gives your guests time to apply and receive their passports if they don’t already have one.

For those with family members who don’t have a passport and there isn’t enough time to secure one, you still have options with a domestic destination wedding or a wedding on a cruise.

Domestic weddings are a tried and true destination wedding, taking place on beaches, resorts, and other places around the country every day.

Cruise weddings have become more popular than ever, and for most cruise lines, when they’re a “closed-loop” cruise, no passport is required (although it’s strongly recommended). These closed-loop cruises start and stop at the same US port, meaning your guests only need a copy of their government-issued birth certificate and valid government-issued photo ID.

Cost of your wedding

Wedding ceremony set up on the beach

Weddings are expensive, with the average US wedding in 2023 costing as much as $29,000. Surprisingly, the average cost is about the same whether you’re planning a wedding in your hometown or a destination wedding.

When planning a destination wedding, you want to consider the cost of air travel, the resort or cruise cost, the actual wedding package (vow ceremony, reception, etc.), planning outings with your wedding party, and of course, what you’ll wear.

When planning a destination wedding, you’ll also want to consider how much of your guests’ expenses you’ll pay for them. Some couples pay for the rooms for their parents or wedding party, while others ask them to pay their way. Both options are viable - it will ultimately come down to your personal budget.

Much like what you’ll find with a wedding at home, the ceremony and reception for a destination wedding are split into separate costs. The ceremony is usually a few thousand dollars, while the reception will be variable based on the type of party you want to throw. Depending on your destination, a reception may be required. For destinations that give you a choice for a reception, they will often require that any formal group events happening on your wedding day be handled by their wedding coordinator.


Wedding party having drinks together

The last major consideration for a destination wedding is if you’ll be doing a weddingmoon or having a separate honeymoon after the wedding.

A weddingmoon combines the elements of the wedding and the honeymoon into one trip. These are often more cost-effective because you only have one set of travel expenses. But, you may have less time alone as your guests will still be around.

This is especially true for cruises when the guests will disembark at the same time as you, but even on land, they can extend their stay at the resort beyond the wedding.

To give you more privacy, I’ll echo my comment from earlier that upgrading your room to a suite is a great way to be alone with your new spouse after the wedding while still having the option to spend time with your guests. On most cruise lines, a suite entitles you to areas of the ship reserved for suite guests, basically giving you your own space to decompress after the big day. On land, some suites have their own private plug pools, or an over-the-water bungalow is an ideal way to spend the rest of your honeymoon.

Conversely, taking a traditional honeymoon after the destination wedding will give you quality time to spend in or out of the room as much as you’d like, without the pressures of feeling like you need to be present with the rest of your guests.

Gay couple talking in their Retreat Loft on Celebrity

Whether you choose a land or sea destination wedding, you’ll have an amazing time full of memories and adventure. I know it sounds like you’ll need to juggle many moving parts, but working with the right partners will ensure that it’s as stress-free as possible. As your travel advisor, I make sure that your guests have what they need to get to the wedding, and I partner with the on-site wedding coordinator to ensure you're the only thing getting hitched.

Not sure where you should start and want to talk more about what your destination wedding could look like? Schedule a consultation with me, I’d love to hear what your thoughts are, and we’ll talk about the possibilities to help you narrow down options.

Rainbow Getaways proudly help travelers of the LGBTQ community (and our allies) research, plan, and book incredible vacations where you feel confident and comfortable enjoying and exploring your destination. We plan each vacation to meet your specific needs, so you'll have an experience just as unique as you.


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