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Weddings Away: Travel Trends and Tips for Planning Your Destination Wedding

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Wedding RingsOK, so he (or she) has popped the question. It’s never too early to start planning!

Here’s the scenario: Fly off with your sweetie to an exotic island paradise with only your closest friends and family, leave all the hassle of wedding planning to someone else—all for the same price, or less, than you would pay for a wedding at home.

Sound too good to be true?

Yes, a destination wedding might seem like an expensive luxury, but when you consider that you’ll drastically cut down on your guest list, you can end up saving a lot of time, money and hassle.

If your families hail from different parts of the world, or you can’t figure out how to uninvite crazy Aunt Suzy, or you simply want your loved ones to enjoy a getaway, a destination wedding may be for you.

Tip: If it’s extremely important to you that certain people come to your wedding, ask each person if attending is feasible for them.

It’s customary for guests to pay their own way to the destination, but you can make things easier by arranging discounted group airfares through a travel agent and inform guests of any special promotions.

Destination Wedding BrideAdditionally, you might consider paying for the rehearsal dinner and one or two thank-you meals, such as a post-wedding day brunch. But it’s worth spending some extra money on those you really want at your wedding (rather than forking over your cash to feed Dad’s fishing buddies), right?

Consider using a travel agency with a certified destination wedding specialist on staff who knows marriage laws and customs worldwide. (Those who have been in the business for a while may even have forged a few dollar-saving relationships.) This type of assistance can help you leap pre-marital hurdles as you plan your wedding abroad.

For instance, Martinique, a beautiful Caribbean island with a French flair, is particularly tricky for would-be spouses because at least one person is required to have lived on the island for a month to get a residency card—and all documents must be translated into French.

Mexico, a popular location for weddings and honeymoons, has fairly strict requirements that vary by state for getting marriage licenses. In some parts of the country, this can include chest X-ray plates and blood tests, both taken in Mexico, and a prenuptial agreement. All test results and documents must be translated in Spanish, which can cost as much as $85-$100 per page. The process can take up to three days.

Tammy Levent is the executive director of Elite Travel Management Group which specializes in destination weddings and coordinated more 400 destination weddings just last year. She advises, “If you want a legal marriage without the hassles, don’t get ‘married’ in a non-English speaking country.”

She recommends that you tie the knot legally in the United States and have a symbolic wedding at the location of your choice. Or, “for simplicity and ease, you can narrow your choices to the hundreds of English-speaking areas of the Caribbean.”

But, if you desperately want to make it legal on your wedding day, we’ve got some of the top destinations for you.

FIJI

Wedding BloomsAccording to Levent, the hot destination for 2009 will be the Poseidon Resort in Fiji, “It is the world’s first underwater resort where you can spend the night 40 feet deep in absolute luxury.” For $30,000 dollars, you and your honey will be flown in for a seven-day holiday during which you’ll spend part of your time in over-water or beachfront island villas, and part of your time in luxurious underwater “pods.”

There are only 24 underwater suites that are accessed by an elevator from the surface. From your room, you can control the lighting on your coral reef view, and even remotely feed neighboring fish.

Guests also have the chance to learn to pilot a mini submarine and dive to 300 meters in a resort submersible. The resort will have the world’s first underwater revolving restaurant, and the first underwater wedding chapel.

Fiji marriage laws will apply, so bring your birth certificate, and if remarrying, a certified copy of a death certificate or divorce papers—there’s no residency requirement, and the license process takes about half an hour. You can make reservations after March 17, 2008. www.poseidonresorts.com

Tip: Pack all your legal documents in your carry-on—you don’t want to lose them!

MEXICO

Wedding DanceThe Tides, located in the Riviera Maya, is tucked away in the jungles of Playa del Carmen. No motorized vehicles or cell phones are allowed on the property, and no artificial lighting interrupts the natural tropical splendor. Guests are personally welcomed upon arrival and led along forest paths to one of 30 villas, which feature natural materials throughout.

At the Tides, you can customize your ceremony or choose from one of their specially designed ceremonies, such as the “Good Wish Maya Ceremony” performed by a local “cofrade.”

The ceremony, performed in Mayan, involves several ancient symbols, objects and rituals promising communion with nature. The bride is dressed in a hand-made Mayan dress, while the groom wears a white guayabera shirt.

Guests will receive a written translation of the speech in English. This ceremony is performed on the beach, but the Tides also has oceanside courtyards for up to 150 guests with gourmet catering available.

If your guests aren’t the “sit-on-the-beach” types, they can spend their free time learning native cooking methods (such as simmering meats and seafood in banana leaves underground) in an ancient Mayan kitchen on the property. Other activities include scuba diving, cenote diving, snorkeling, deep-sea fishing and horseback riding. Wind down the day with one of 800 bottles of wine from the Tides’ cellars. Villa rates start around $585 during hurricane season, June 1-October 31, $700 for spring and summer, and $900 for the high season in December and January. 800- 578-0281, www.tidesrivieramaya.com

Tip: Mexico and Caribbean resorts often offer wedding package deals for all budgets—in fact, the Caribbean’s biggest all-inclusive resort groups have deals that include everything from the marriage license and officiant, to the cake and flowers. If you book your honeymoon and wedding at the same hotel, they will often give you the honeymoon nights for free. If there’s something in your package that you don’t need, ask for credit—you shouldn’t have to pay for something you don’t want.

THE CARIBBEAN

Wedding FlowersLevent’s personal favorite island is St. Lucia, “It’s not the normal island that has gone commercial. It has fewer resorts and hotels, and the beach front remains virtually unspoiled. It has romantic, breathtaking views and plenty of natural activities and things to see and do. Cost aside, this is where I would get married.”

Getting married on St. Lucia is relatively easy—you can either stay on the island for two days and then have a local solicitor apply for a marriage license on your behalf, or pay an extra fee for a special license that doesn’t require any residency period (as long as you come with the necessary legal documents). Most resorts will even handle this for you if you send them the documents in advance.

The Jalousie Plantation is built over the ruins of an 18th century Sugar Mill Estate, which has been integrated into the resort. In the midst of 192 acres of rainforest, guest stay in private cottages built into the side of the mountain overlooking the valley of the Pitons over a quarter mile below. There are a variety of activities such as windsurfing, sailing, snorkeling, scuba diving, tennis, volleyball, and a new Children’s Program—all of which you’ll appreciate when you want to burn off calories from the elaborate buffets by the sea.

Their minimum wedding package includes legal fees and transportation costs, bridal bouquet and boutonniere, sparkling wine, breakfast in bed, hand embroidered bed linens, a decorated arch at the ceremony location of your choice, a single-tier wedding cake, and the service of their wedding specialist. You get this package for free if you stay for seven nights, otherwise it’s $599 (not including hotel stay). Jalousie only does one or two weddings a day, whereas some of the larger resorts can do up to 10. Villas start at $520 per night. 758-456-8000, www.thejalousieplantation.com

Tip: Watch out for hurricane season. From June 1 to November 30, the Caribbean islands and parts of Mexico are susceptible to hurricanes. August to October are peak months. The chances of a major storm hitting your island are slim, but one could still disrupt weather patterns for miles around. Most major resort chains such as Sandals, Grand Lido Resorts, SuperClubs and Wyndham Resorts offer hurricane protection. You might also look into the islands below the hurricane belt: Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao. Check out www.allsafetravel.com for important information on health and weather factors in your destination.

Tensing Pen Resort in Negril, Jamaica is close enough to enjoy the nightlife of Negril, but still offers beauty and seclusion in one of 28 thatched, wood and stone cottages. Each cottage features simple, but elegant, interiors crafted by local artisans from indigenous materials. Relaxing is the number one pastime of guests, or they can snorkel among bright corals or ride horses (which can be arranged at the front desk), among other activities.

Cottages range from $178 to around $500 depending on season and room. For $900, their basic wedding package includes a wedding coordinator who will work with you to design a menu and beverage selection, minister’s fees and all official paperwork, decorated location, bride’s bouquet, fresh flower wedding cake, and sparkling wine. The wedding dinner with cake is $46 per person.

To get married in Jamaica, you must be on the island for 24 hours prior to the ceremony, and fax required documents to Tensing Pen 3 weeks prior to arrival (a copy of your passport and driver’s license, father’s full name, profession/occupation, current marital status, and birth certificate). No night weddings on this island—all weddings must be performed before sunset. 800-957-0387, www.tensingpen.com

Tip: What if you don’t want to spend your wedding AND your honeymoon with your guests clamoring for your attention? You can’t rely on the hotel’s “Do Not Disturb” sign forever, but some hotel companies, like Sandals, SuperClubs and Wyndham, have sister resorts nearby that you might be able to combine in a single package.

Levent’s tips for choosing a destination wedding planner:

  • Search wedding forums (that are not owned by travel agencies) to find out who the experts are—even though some [resorts] don’t allow professionals, other brides will give you recommendations on who is good. Just because a Web site is titled ‘Destination Weddings’ doesn’t mean they’re good or know what they’re doing.
  • When you find a planner you might want to hire, find out about his or her experience, and references. Ask what resorts s/he has relationships with and why. Don’t just ask them about one destination—ask about multiple ones and see if they can answer your questions on the spot (or do they have to do the same research you have to?).
  • Find someone that will be there for you 24 hours a day (I had a bride call me at midnight last night).”
  • Questions your planner should ask you are: How many guests? Where are you coming from? Have you been looking at locations? Are kids coming; what ages? What is your budget for the wedding? What is your budget for your guests? Do larger or smaller properties appeal to you?

TRANSPORTING “THE DRESS”

This is one of the trickier aspects of a destination wedding, unless you want to be wed in a white swimsuit on the beach. But if you’d rather be Cinderella than the Little Mermaid, here are your options:

  • Check it. Not! It’s too risky, so don’t even bother.
  • Ship it. Ask your bridal salon to provide a box and acid-free tissue for your dress, wrap the box in plastic and bubble wrap, and then put it in the package provided by an overnight carrier, such as UPS, FedEx or a luggage shipping service such as Luggage Forward. Make sure your package is insured.
  • Buy an extra seat. If you love the dress and your wedding would be ruined if it were lost, make sure it gets there by never taking your eyes off of it. An expensive option, but how much did you pay for that dress again?
  • Hang it up. Ask your airline if there’s a coat closet that’s big enough to accommodate your dress. This works better for fairly lightweight dresses. You can also try asking the flight attendant if there’s room to hang it up in the area reserved for strollers and wheelchairs, or try to fit it into the overhead compartment.

Kinda makes the white swimsuit sound tempting, doesn’t it?

By Lauren Van Mullem for PeterGreenberg.com.

Planning a wedding? Take a look at Destination Bachelor Parties: More Class, Less Crass.

Looking for a romantic getaway? Don’t miss Sexy Hotel Getaways and Romance Advice for the Road.

Previously by Lauren Van Mullem:

Unexpected Foodie Destinations

Voyage de Fromage: Destinations for Cheese-Lovers

Global Gourmet: Food Gifts from Around the World

Photography Tours, Hit Me With Your Best Shot

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