If the sound of wedding bells is clashing with the pinch of your wallet, maybe it’s time to … travel? Donna M. Owens explores the growing world of destination weddings and uncovers some unexpected destinations for an affordable—and romantic—getaway.
While planning their May 2009 nuptials, Shanté Gordon and Anthony Armstrong, Jr., realized that love alone would not pay the cost of a lavish wedding and reception.
“We simply couldn’t afford the average $125 a plate plus alcohol for the reception … we weren’t in a financial position to even consider a wedding until [recently],” says Gordon, a Miami native who met her Baltimore-born husband at a Chicago party years ago, where both graduated from Northwestern University.
“We felt that if we couldn’t afford to have a wedding with minimal help from our parents, then we didn’t need to get married in a traditional way.”
So the couple, who now call New York home, figured they could save money with a destination wedding.
They considered several tropical locales before finally choosing the Dominican Republic, and a sprawling, all-inclusive resort called Sun Village in Puerto Plata. Following a sunset ceremony on the beach, the newlyweds and 45 guests enjoyed a festive reception with a menu that included lobster and beef, plus champagne and wedding cake. A DJ spun tunes, and the celebration lasted well into the evening.
The total cost—including additional on-site events like the rehearsal dinner, luxury accommodations and the honeymoon—was around $13,000. A similar package stateside would have cost twice that amount, the newlyweds say.
“We paid cash and did not accrue any additional debt,” notes Anthony. “We wanted our family and friends with us and because this place was affordable, it was a vacation for everyone. It was a beautiful day.”
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Budgeting for Your Destination Wedding
With summer here, there are countless couples planning to say “I do.” But in these tight economic times, many future brides and grooms are opting to save money while tying the knot.
According to a recent survey by Destination Weddings & Honeymoons, the market for destination weddings will increase to $16 billion this year, up from $13 billion in 2008.
“These past two years we’ve seen an increase in couples having destination weddings—both to have the wedding and honeymoon of their dreams and to save money,” says Nancy Williams, founder and managing director of popular wedding site HoneyLuna.com and founder of TheBigDay.com.
Many international destinations offer free weddings with a honeymoon stay, she adds. “Feeding 60 guests in Mexico is far more affordable than 150 guests if they had the wedding in New York, Los Angeles,” or some other large city.
You can also find a lot of tips with our comprehensive guide to Weddings Away: Travel Trends, Tips, Tricks, and Planning Help For Your Destination Wedding.
There are 2.4 million weddings in the United States each year, according to Williams, and about 16 percent of them are destination weddings with locations in the States and beyond. Typically, about 65 guests will attend.
But there’s no typical profile in terms of those who desire destination weddings, she adds.
“In my experience, both younger and older opt for [these] weddings. They may want to combine a beautiful and special destination—either one that has great meaning for them. Or they want [a day] to remember a lifetime—barefoot on the beach as the sun sets.”
One couple who fit that bill was Pamela Edwards and her new husband, Nigel Christiani. Although Edwards was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, and Christiani’s family hails from Trinidad, they chose to tie the knot in New Orleans. The city holds special memories for them.
“We went there together for the first time about seven years ago for my job, and returned over the years,” says Edwards, a magazine editor based in New York. “That place caught our hearts. … It’s rich in history and happiness and pain but also triumph. After Hurricane Katrina, which was heart-breaking for us, we decided that’s it—we’re getting married there.”
Going to the chapel? Consider a wedding destination in the U.S. or abroad that reflects your personalities and interests, while celebrating the lives you will share.
The following sites are suitable for weddings and/or honeymoon at various price points….
Sun Village, Dominican Republic
Located in Puerto Plata along the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, Sun Village Resort & Bungalows at Cofresi Beach, offers a tropical getaway for couples that won’t break the bank.
Sun Village is a sweeping property filled with palm trees, colorful flora and a wide, sandy beach. Besides 420 rooms, there is a new 120-room luxury expansion called The Bungalows—reminiscent of South Beach-style abodes. The resort also boasts a spa, four themed restaurants with Thai to Italian fare, multiple swimming pools, a theater which hosts live shows, a business center, and more.
Activities here range from water sports, to a beach volleyball court—even an area where pink flamingos frolic. Meanwhile, the resort is also adjacent to Ocean World Adventure Park, Marina and Casino, and positioned within 15 minutes of the Robert Trent Jones golf course, Playa Dorada. If you want to check out the local culture, tours of the neighboring town are also available.
A wedding package starts from $1,400 per couple, which is waived if you book 15 additional guest rooms. Included is an officiant, marriage certificate, decorated ceremony location, wedding cake (serves up to 10 people), bottle of sparking wine, photographer and photo album, and breakfast in bed the next morning. 866-970-3364, www.sunvillagebungalows.com
Forget debauchery, learn about Destination Bachelor Parties: More Class, Less Crass?
Hotel Biba, West Palm Beach, Florida
It’s hard to imagine that the hip Hotel Biba in West Palm Beach was once an early motor lodge, but this 20th-century landmark has been transformed into a fun boutique hotel. You and your sweetheart will find a place as comfy as home, but with a funky edge. There’s historic architecture, avant garde décor, and 43 rooms that feature such touches as Italian bedding, quirky headboards and handcrafted mirrors.
If you want to sip cocktails and chill, there’s a champagne and wine bar inside a cozy lounge with mood music. If you want to meditate, a serene Asian-styled garden beckons. And for those who prefer to lie by the pool (not Olympic sized but cute), it’s mere paces away from some of the rooms. Located just south of downtown West Palm Beach and near ritzy Palm Beach, the hotel is a quick drive to the impressive Norton Museum of Art and City Place, where there’s great shopping, eateries and more.
Hotel Biba features personalized wedding service that is as hands-on or hands-off as the bride and groom prefer. Packages include access to the Asian courtyard, Biba bar, grassy courtyard, and poolside areas for five hours; all staffing; set up and cleanup services; valet parking; and a suite for one night. The rate, inclusive of all taxes and gratuities, is $800 between May and November, and $1,600 from December through April. The hotel also offers the package above plus 35 guest rooms for the rate of $3,000 per night, including all taxes and gratuities. 561-832-0094, www.hotelbiba.com
The island of Barbados is a Caribbean gem: rich history, culture and remarkable landscapes—many of them incredibly romantic. Accommodations here range from plantation houses to bed and breakfasts to award-winning five-star resorts. The latter includes The Crane in St. Phillips parish, which overlooks the stunning Crane beach. For all-inclusive digs, Mango Bay in St. James also fronts the beach, and has a laid-back, easy vibe, with mongoose, egrets and monkeys roaming the grounds.
For foodie couples, there is an amazing array of cuisine on the island. Barbados is the first and only Zagat-rated Caribbean island with internationally renowned chefs.
Higher-end establishments include the Mews (international), the Restaurant at Southsea (gourmet seafood and ocean views), and Zen (excellent Thai and Japanese, superb service). For local delicacies and traditional cuisine, try the casual Brown Sugar restaurants or Oistins, an open-air fish fry that draws locals and visitors for food, music and dancing.
The island also recently launched what’s been dubbed the Trails of Barbados—a series of self-guided tours that encompass various themes. On the Romance Trail, four categories offer couples a “road map” that include sunset cruises, hot restaurants, romantic settings, and secluded beaches.
A wedding package at Mango Bay starts at $1,000, on top of the all-inclusive room rates and includes: a wedding coordinator and officiant; marriage license fees; roundtrip transfers to obtain the license; decorated wedding arch; a bottle of champagne; and a 12-inch, one-tier wedding cake. www.mangobaybarbados.com
The Crane Hotel’s Romantic Escape Package begins at $490, not including room rates, and includes: a welcome bottle of wine and fresh flowers; a free upgrade to one-bedroom ocean view with private plunge pool; dinner for two at Zen or L’Azure restaurants; in-room couples massage; and a private island tour. 246-423-6220, www.thecrane.com
Couples looking for an extra-special experience need only to travel up a winding hill to Hunte’s Gardens, a jungle oasis developed by horticulturist Anthony Hunte. The property, which has an intimate dining area, would make for a gorgeous and memorable wedding. Packages vary based on the time of year and number of guests. 246-433-5312, huntesgardensbarbados.com
Allegria Hotel & Spa, Long Beach, New York
For couples who are in a New York state of mind, consider Allegria, an oceanfront property slated to open in mid-August in Long Beach. Located less than 30 miles from Manhattan, it offers views of both the Atlantic Ocean and New York City skyline. And with 143 rooms, a restaurant and lounge, ballroom for 200, a roof-top spa and pool, the setting calls out for a wedding or honeymoon.
Chef Todd Jacobs (of Atlantica and Tierra Mar in the Hamptons) oversees the restaurant and lounge, plus catering for bridal events, focusing on creating menus with sophisticated American cuisine made from organic and locally grown ingredients.
Additionally, New York spa impresario Joseph Christopher provides brides-to-be and her pals and family with beauty essentials for the big day, ranging from full-service hair color and styling, to soothing massages and treatments at the rooftop spa and salon.
Last but not least, an on-site wedding coordinator can assist with planning the ceremony and reception.
Wedding catering rates can be pricey, starting at $150 per head for the weekend/$140 for the weekday, but that’s far below a comparable Manhattan property.
Couples can choose one first-course dish, three second-course dishes (guests’ choice of one), beginning with cocktail hour including eight passed hors d’oeuvres and ending with dessert. 888-662-3224, www.allegriahotel.com
By Donna M. Owens for PeterGreenberg.com. Donna is an award-winning journalist based in Baltimore who reports for print, broadcast, and Internet outlets nationwide.