Cruisin’ about: Weddings on the water


Something old, something new, something borrowed … with a view.

It’s a funky twist to a favourite piece of wedding superstition, and for brides looking for an ambitious take on their something blue, it’s absolutely doable. Courtesy of our beloved Sydney Harbour.

This beautiful blue stretch of saltwater is famous the world over and draws millions of visitors to our shores each year, some keen to dive beneath the waves and others just to admire it from the shore. It’s even ranked No. 1 in the list of Sydney attractions by travel behemoth tripadvisor.

According to Genie Merlino from the Elite Cruise Company, it’s also the perfect backdrop for a wedding.

“Without a doubt, Sydney Harbour is one of the most beautiful harbours in the world,” says Genie, who arranges ceremonies and receptions aboard the 23m long, two-deck Blue Room – Sydney Harbour.

“If you ask anyone who’s travelled, that’s certainly what they’ll tell you. And I have to agree.

“It curves around some of our most iconic attractions and also changes day by day and season by season. You simply couldn’t pick a better backdrop.”

According to Genie, who easily caters for about 200 people seated (maximum is 220 with no dancefloor) and 300-plus standing, the harbour has already staked its claim worldwide as a beautiful host for wedding celebrations.

“You get a lot of overseas weddings,” she says. “Especially people from the UK, who can’t believe what a beautiful spot we have right in our backyard.

“You also find harbour celebrations are popular with Australians who have gone to live and work overseas but want to get married at home.
“After all, if you have guests from all over Australia or internationally coming to be part of the day, it really is the best way to show them what Sydney’s all about.

“It’s a great way to say ‘Welcome to my town’.

Here are some ideas to consider when celebrating your nuptials on the harbour.


Mix and match your day

While you don’t need any extra paperwork to marry at sea, Genie says the ratio of receptions to ceremonies on the water is about 10 to 1.

She says the plethora of wharves and water taxis across the harbour make a mix-and-match celebration a realistic and flexible option.

“People often choose to have a reception on the harbour but will first get married somewhere special, like their own church, in a garden venue, or somewhere else by the water,” she says. Hot spots include the Royal Botanic Gardens or under the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

“From there, the rest of the celebration can unfold pretty easily – everyone just has to head to the wharf for pick-up and then the fun kicks off on the water.”

Couples aren’t limited in their pick-up points either, with some 30 wharves available across the harbour, from the famous Circular Quay, as popularised in the Australian Crawl song Reckless, to upmarket locations such as Walsh’s Bay.

“We can also act as Plan B on the day,” Genie says. “If there’s an outdoor ceremony planned, and the weather is bad, they can get married on the boat, because our roof area has an automatic canopy. We’ve actually done that quite a few times, and it’s good peace of mind for couples knowing it’s available.”

Water taxis also ensure easy access for professionals such as celebrants, photographers and videographers who may not need to stay on board for the whole time.


Natural beauty as the backdrop to ‘I Do’

If you do choose to say ‘I Do’ on board a boat, there’s plenty of stunning backdrops to choose from.

“It’s a matter of working with couples to plan a route through the harbour,” says Genie. “It really comes down to a matter of personal choice, but one especially beautiful spot for ceremonies is Farm Cove.

“It’s a small cove in front of the Royal Botanic Gardens and, as the boat swings around, you have the Opera House right in front to your left and the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the background.

“Not only is it a perfect Sydney backdrop, it’s the perfect spot for guests to watch your vows – and for the photographer to capture them against such a beautiful backdrop.” 

Animal encounters

It may not be something that immediately springs to mind, but a celebration on the water also carries the chance to take a closer look at the animals which call the harbour home.

They could be anything from turtles to dolphins, and it’s not an activity that has to end once the sun drops below the horizon.

“The harbor is actually really beautiful at night, so it’s a great thing to share with couples and their guests,” says Genie.

On Blue Room, in keeping with the name, they use a blue light, which shines through the water below. “You can see the fish and the jellyfish around the boat and it creates a really beautiful ambience,” she says.

“That’s definitely something you won’t see on dry land.”

Make a grand entrance

There’s not a lot of places to hide on a boat, but with a bit of ingenuity a bride – and groom – can still make a grand entrance on their big day.

This could take the form of an arrival by water taxi, speedboat or jetski, or something a little more cunning.

“If they’re having the ceremony on board, and the bride doesn’t want to be seen in advance, what we can do is pick her up before we leave from our home base at Jones Bay, and then let the groom get on later with the guests. While they’re all boarding she can wait downstairs and then make her big entrance,” Genie says.

“If it’s just the reception on board, what we generally do is pick everyone up and, while we’re serving drinks and canapés, we let the bride and groom freshen up in what we call the green room. Then, when they’re ready, we officially announce them and they make their arrival as husband and wife.”


Tantalising menus

By virtue of its surrounds, a harbour wedding cries out for seafood. Think mouthwatering catches of the day such as fresh fish straight from the markets, oysters served au naturel or Kilpatrick, or even a decadent lobster course.

That said, not everyone is a fan, so you need to factor in wider tastes when planning your menu. “We’re influenced by what’s in fashion at the moment and try not to make it too complicated, but still give it a beautiful twist,” says Genie, whose executive chefs cook everything on board.

Options range from a Symphony of Sydney Seafood including steamed ocean trout, carpaccio of smoked salmon, king prawn and mesclun salad, to pan-seared queen scallops with salsa verde served on an oriental spoon.

“The best bit is, when you have chefs preparing food onboard, you can smell the aromas wafting up through the boat, which helps to get guests excited about what’s to come,” she says.

The cake is another area where you can really go to town, using decorative effects to capture the spirit of the harbour, from enticing blue ‘waves’ of icing rolling across the top to a simple topper made from a collection of shells.

Making memories

There’s so many beautiful ways to photograph or video a wedding on the water. If you’ll be passing by any recognisable landmarks that have played a role in your courtship, make sure you incorporate them into the backdrop of your pics. And how romantic and beautiful would a shot be of the two of you arm in arm lit from behind by the moon on the water at night.  As for favours for your guests, you could think something fun, like a gingerbread anchor, or do something meaningful, such as making a donation to a marine habitat rescue group.

Sticking to a theme

If you want to make the water your theme, as well as your setting, there are plenty of beautiful ideas to tie it in. You could dress your wedding party in beautiful shades of teal or green, line the aisle with jute balls, use mini anchors as place cards, hire a celebrant who will dress up as a captain, or even decorate your boat with a nautical theme, from navy and white striped table linens to centrepieces made from a fish bowl filled with shells. The trick is to not go overboard and to remember you are already surrounded by the most beautiful decorative element of them all – the ocean.

What to do about seasickness?

It’s a question you have to consider when planning a celebration on water but, according to Genie, it’s not a big issue at all, as vessels designed for the harbour are built not to rock. “Everyone feels it for the first couple of minutes when they get on board, then they get their sea legs and forget they’re on a boat,” she says.

“Being busy also helps, as they don’t have time to stop and think about feeling sick. However, if people do start to feel unwell, some of the best things we recommend for them are ginger tea or fresh air.” And, if that doesn’t work, remember, a water taxi is only a phone call away.

“The harbour really is a terrific place for a wedding ceremony and reception, and it’s somewhere you can feel proud to bring your guests,” says Genie, who points to facilities such as marble bathrooms.

“Time on the water is a wonderful gift, not only to yourselves but also to your guests.

“They can be talking, look away for a minute and when they look back there’s a new view and new backdrop to grab their attention.

“Then at night, when the sun sets and you have a backdrop of city lights, it’s simply exquisite.”

Find suppliers

Use Easy Weddings to connect with your dream wedding suppliers.
Browse the directory and start planning today!