I Took a Cruise to Antarctica and Spontaneously Got Married in the Coldest Place on Earth

A frozen knot is a tight one.

A couple holding up a "just married" sign on a zodiac boat after getting married in Antarctica

Jennifer Billock

When I’m on a cruise, I spend every evening writing out my schedule for the next day. I include everything: which presentations I want to attend, when I'll eat lunch, which excursions I’m going on, and when I should be in the pool. My Viking Expeditions cruise on the new Polaris ship in late October to Antarctica was no different — every day was meticulously planned.

Oct. 30 was a standout among my daily schedules, though. Here’s how it went:

7 a.m.: Phytoplankton project on Zodiac 
9 a.m.: Breakfast
10 a.m.: Snowshoe
12 p.m.: Get married
2 p.m.: Lunch
3 p.m.: Killer Whales Presentation
4 - 6 p.m.: Wildlife Watch and GLOBE Cloud Watch
5:30 p.m.: Daily Briefing
6:30 p.m.: Dinner
8 p.m.: Party in Explorers' Lounge

Instead of visiting a stylist first thing on my wedding day, I was fishing samples of phytoplankton out of the freezing cold Antarctic ocean. That was followed by snowshoeing with my fiancé, Forrest, across Half Moon Island to an Argentine research station. Then, after a quick trip to the ship to freshen up, I arrived at the ceremony on the island sweaty, unshowered, makeup-free, and in my expedition gear. Forrest at least had the good sense to put on a bowtie and button-down shirt first.

To be fair, we hadn’t planned to get married that day. Forrest and I already have a wedding planned. He proposed in an elaborate day-long scavenger hunt that took us to all my favorite places in Chicago and ended with the proposal on the big screen at a White Sox game. It was absolutely perfect.

But as anyone who’s planned a wedding knows, it’s a huge pain. So on Oct. 28, while I was a bit fed up with planning, I had a proposal of my own. Why don’t we get married on the cruise? Our relationship started in a unique way — Forrest moved in the first day we met after a super short courtship on OK Cupid and texts — so why not take it to the next level in a similarly unique way? We spent our lunch researching the idea and in the end, I emailed Viking to see if it was possible and received an enthusiastic “yes!”

I’ll note here that as a general rule, Viking cannot perform legal wedding ceremonies in Antarctica, nor do captain and crew of Viking vessels typically perform weddings at all. This was a special offering, and we took full advantage. However, if you want to elope on a cruise, check with the line in advance to learn their regulations and whether it's possible. A spur-of-the-moment marriage wasn’t part of our plan when we departed to Antarctica, and it’s very possible Viking could have said no. We didn’t have a marriage license with us because, well, we hadn’t planned anything. So, we needed to get it when we returned home.

The Viking bands and elopement ceremony on Half Moon Island in Antarctica

Jennifer Billock

Once we made the plan to elope on Polaris, we decided to exchange vows in a quiet, small ceremony, with a best man and maid of honor picked from among the passengers (shoutout to Nick DeRenzo and Amanda Hollinger). But in the two days Viking had to plan, they took it way further than we could have imagined. They scouted a gorgeous wedding site on Half Moon Island in advance, choosing a stunning location with a rocky outcropping that overlooked the water, next to a hill swarming with a Chinstrap penguin colony. (Already in tuxedos, how sweet!)

A couple sitting on a zodiac boat together while crew hangs a "just married" sign after getting married in Antarctica

Jennifer Billock

Having champagne on a zodiac boat after getting married in Antarctica

Jennifer Billock

We arrived on a private Zodiac to a small crowd of crew and passengers Viking invited secretly. It was a happy shock — we weren’t expecting anything, but the crew stunned us from the start. Up at the rocky altar, we met Captain Olivier Marien, Polaris’ general manager Sujith Mohan, beverage manager Tammy Marshall, and the singer from the evening musical duo.

Captain Marien prepared a full ceremony, complete with a welcome to the penguins and a performance of “The Skye Boat Song,” which we assume was because the exceptional staff noticed an "Outlander" book on my nightstand. Forrest had amazing vows he’d prepared during the breakfast I missed in the name of phytoplankton; mine were a cheeky “rub a dub dub, we’re so in lub!” Through laughter, we exchanged Sea-Bands instead of rings. We waved as we headed out (followed by echoing cheers, applause, and penguin squawks) on a serene private Zodiac ride around the bay with Champagne and macarons.

A couple having their first dance on a Viking ship after getting married in Antarctica and their wedding cake

Jennifer Billock

When we arrived back at Polaris, the crew lined up on either side of a red carpet and cheered for us. We walked through thrown confetti, laughing on the way to the elevator; these are some of my favorite pictures because you can easily see the absolute joy on our faces. One of the crew escorted us up to our stateroom, where housekeeping staff had decorated the door with a “just married” sign and balloons. Inside, we found a trail of hand-cut hearts in all shades of pink and blue. Our towels were folded into kissing swans, and the room was lit with flameless candles, a detail I wish I’d seen before I said, “Why is it so dark in here?” and turned on the light, only to very quickly turn it off again. We had a chilled bottle of Champagne and a gorgeous two-tier wedding cake (a delicious vanilla pound cake with buttercream frosting and gumpaste flowers) by the window, courtesy of the ship’s pastry chef.

"Just Married" sign and towel animals inside a Viking Stateroom after getting married in Antarctica

Jennifer Billock

That night, we took our cake to the Explorers' Lounge with the intention of sharing it with guests and crew. Another surprise waited for us in the lounge. While we were cutting slices of cake for anyone who wanted some, the music duo called us over to the dance floor for a first dance. I can’t remember what song it was. I just remember tripping over my feet and Forrest’s because I was coming apart at the seams with joy and love.

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