Hot Wedding Bliss

By Ilona Kauremszky

In reality TV shows like, The Bachelor, The Bachelorette and Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?, tropical hot spots work their magical spell on canoodling couples. So is it any wonder that real couples in love decide to take the marital plunge in the sun, sea and sand?

For many, the exhaustive search for the "perfect wedding" has now been made simple by choosing all-inclusive packages to tie the knot. Tour companies and destinations are catering to the growing demand for offshore weddings. Romantic sunsets, white sandy beaches, warm turquoise water, and free on-site wedding coordinators are high on the menu.

Sunquest's newly released Weddings Honeymoons guide is a glossy 130-page book covering 105 resorts in over nine Caribbean destinations. "It's the biggest one ever," says Susan Bowman, senior marketing vice president of My Travel. "Consumer research conducted earlier this year confirms many clients wish to combine weddings and honeymoons in sunny climes. Many resorts are offering wedding packages for first and second marriages and vow renewals," she says and adds, "Resorts like Riu Negril in Jamaica are even constructing second wedding chapels to meet the demand."

While tour companies are actively creating wedding packages, so too now are many Caribbean countries eager to address this bulging market. In May, Mexico released details on the upswing in weddings in a release aptly titled, "Savvy Couples head south for nuptials." Meanwhile this April the first organization dedicated to promoting the advancement of the Caribbean Wedding industry, the Caribbean Wedding Association (www.caribbeanweddingassociation.com) was formed. It predicts the exotic marital phenomenon is now on the rise and will continue to grow. In fact, industry research by CWA confirms a boom of over 200% from the last decade and shows no signs of slowing down.

Why the sudden interest?

Since most of us are marrying later in life or remarrying in an "Encore Wedding," organizing traditional weddings and all the drama that it entails becomes for some just too much trouble. Many modern brides opt for a simpler, more intimate affair.

With wedding packages available from all-inclusive resorts, the stress and strain of a traditional wedding are literally wiped clean. A hotel wedding coordinator can ensure your special day is relatively stress-free. In comparison to some traditional weddings where a second mortgage is needed to pay expenses, destination weddings are priced well under $1,000US and many resorts offer free wedding packages when you book an all-inclusive. In addition, the smaller invitation list makes guests expectations more manageable and gives you incentive to book group discount rates where applicable. Also many resorts can accommodate weddings with less than six months notice.

Along with the non-traditional comes the unconventional. Underwater weddings, barefoot brides, and mariachi bands are becoming a trend. Still there are those who like some tradition (white gowns and minister) in their tropical ceremony.

When Neena and Troy Scott decided to marry this spring, the 34-year-old newlywed surfed the web six months prior to the big day in search of a hassle-free wedding. "We wanted everyone to take a trip with us to make it like a holiday," she says about her May nuptials. With hubby Troy, they flew to Mexico's Mayan Riveria along with 16 eager guests.

What sparked Neena's interest when researching her dream location were the online pictures of the Riu Palace Resort. "It looks like a palace. I thought if this place looks like this it'll be the perfect spot for my dream day. I want to be pampered and feel like royalty." So, with a stroke of a key, her email was sent and the rest is history. While the original resort was booked, she says it turned out for the best as her group was interested in nightly shows which was possible with her second pick, Riu Playacar part of Sunquest's luxury Riu group.

Does she regret it? "Not at all. We still reminisce with family and friends about our great experience," she says and adds, "In this day and age I believe you need a modern wedding. I wouldn't have thought of any other."

Surrounded by swaying palm trees and teekee candles, the white surf lapped as a mariachi troupe seranaded Neena, an East Indian-Canadian girl, who walked a red carpet aisle laid on the white sandy beach.

For those considering an exotic wedding Neena recommends staying in close contact with your wedding coordinator. She says, "I emailed mine daily." Her moderate wedding package was $2,000US.

Sunquest's latest wedding packages at tropical all-inclusive resorts offer an incredible range of destinations. Check out their special wedding bonus. Couples marrying at a Sunquest destination receive a complimentary advanced seat selection, a glass of champagne and chocolates on board your Skyservice flight. For wedding bonus reservations have your hotel wedding confirmation number ready and call 416 482-5949 or toll free 1-877-256-7966.

You will also receive a free bridal and gift registry account enabling you to make your own wedding web page. You can create an e-registry for your Sunquest wedding and honeymoon trip, email friends and family about your special bridal and gift wedding registry page and have guests register online contributions toward the cost of your trip.

Here are some hot spots to tie the knot

MEXICO

A longtime favorite winter holiday destination for Canadians, Mexico is on the nuptial fast track. Each year, more resorts cater to this blissful crowd. Luxury hotel chains such as Neena's top pick Riu resorts, part of Sunquest's Weddings Honeymoons guide, are expanding fast with nine hotels alone in Mexico and more in other Caribbean destinations.

Mexico's Mecca for romance,Cancun is part of the exotic Mayan Riveria. This well-healed resort destination has all the amenities in place. Faith Wishnie, a representative for El Dorado Royale, says weddings in the Mayan Riviera have grown enormously in the past five years. "It's a great way to combine a vacation with a celebration," she says. As a wedding planner, Faith's biggest advice is "Go for it. This is one of the most romantic beautiful locations in the world." The El Dorado Royale part of Sunquest's Weddings Honeymoons features a free wedding package for couples staying in the Casita Suite for 7 nights or longer.

Sunquest's El Pueblito Beach Resort offers wedding packages from $705US and includes all legal fees, justice of the peace, marriage license and marriage certificate issued in Spanish, snacks for 6-12 people, champagne and more. Cancun's only resort with a wedding and ceremony chapel, El Pueblito is sure to entrance newlyweds with its Mexican atmosphere and five cascading pools.

Cozumel/Playa del Carmen is popular for snorkelers and is a more laid back destination than nearby Cancun. When John Trigiani and his new bride Teresa Batista married here in August the couple never dreamed of getting hitched during hurricane season, but did. Luckily they managed to avoid a big storm and have no regrets. For the two busy urban professionals, John, a photographer and dot-com owner, and Teresa, a graphic designer, the place was paradise.

For preparations, the web guru decided four months earlier that an exotic wedding was in the cards. The newlyweds based their decision on this locale after a trip two years earlier when they stayed at the same resort. Overlooking the calm azure sea, the swinging city strip appeared closely in the horizon. Trigiani and his bride were convinced this was the ideal setting.

"We wanted a place that specialized in weddings. Our first choice was completely booked," explains Trigiani. "Yet it worked out for the best." During the first week, the couple spent time bonding with their small wedding party of nine. For week two, the couple changed resorts for their "honeymoon" and went on a shopping spree purchasing lots of silver and handicrafts along Playa del Carmen's mini "Fifth Avenue."

For anyone considering this route, Trigiani advises to avoid the hurricane season and March Break. "Do a lot of research. This is where the Internet comes handy," he chuckles and adds he tracked web resort reviews and suggests the 5-star hotels for adults-only is the way to go. "This way you don't walk around with a yellow band around your wrist all day."

Lately, Cozumel has become a haven for underwater weddings. Grand Cozumel by Occidental has a Grand Underwater Wedding package from $2800US and includes a two-tank boat dive for up to four people, the ceremony, all documents arrangements, judge fees and more.

Blessed with perfect sunsets and flanked by the rugged Sierra Madre Mountains, Acapulco is known as the "Pearl of the Pacific." A ribbon of four and five-star seaside resorts over the years has been a magnet for celebrity couples like Elizabeth Taylor and Mike Todd who wed here and the Camelot couple, John F. Kennedy and Jackie who honeymooned here in 1953, and has been a favorite nuptial destination ever since. Currently the 5-star Hyatt Regency from Sunquest offers a wedding package from $1000US with special kosher options from December 15, 2004 until February 28, 2005.

Aruba North of Venezuala this wee-island slightly larger than Washington DC with scant vegetation and 68.5 km of coastline lies outside the Caribbean hurricane belt. This former Dutch colony boasts a multicultural patois of Papiamento, Dutch and Spanish dialects. English is widely spoken. Only recently did Aruba pass a law allowing foreigners to wed. Aruba's primary tourism attractions are the sundrenched beaches. Another attraction is bouldering at Ayo and Casibari Rock Formations and climbing Aruba's most outstanding landmark known as the Haystack, a wind sculpted boulder where 582 steps whisk you to the top.

Resort Examples: For best all-inclusive value, Holiday Inn Sunspree offers a wedding package from $425US and includes a priest, Aruba marriage certificate, theme setting and decorations, champagne, cake, bridal bouquet and boutonniere along with a wedding coordinator. Popular wedding venues include the white powdery Palm Beach or the tropical Gazebo Garden. A perfect backdrop to the "I do's" is the Radisson Aruba which boasts a recent $55US-million investment transforming the 14-acred lush oceanfront property into a private Eden equipped with lagoons and tropical gardens. The wedding package from $1599US includes limousine transfers, marriage license, legal fees and registrar, roses bouquet and boutonniere, professional photographer and more.

St. Lucia

"Secluded and sexy" is how the Modern Bride Magazine describes St. Lucia and names the island the fifth Best Honeymoon Destination in the World in its June 2004 issue. In fact, last year 30% of St. Lucia's visitors arrived for weddings. Boasting clear azure waters, year round tropical climate and a gentle Creole hospitality, this heavenly isle is one of the Windward Islands of the West Indies' Lesser Antilles, which has been dubbed, the "Helen of the West Indies." It has enchanted lovers for centuries. Sunquest's Weddings Honeymoons makes it easy for couples to marry with all-inclusive packages and many offering free weddings. Resort Examples: Le Sport, a 5-star adults only all-inclusive resort pampers couples health, wellbeing, body and soul. All-inclusive prices from $2549CDN. Over at the Rendezvous, situated along two miles of Malabar Beach, couples get a free wedding and receive a special honeymoon massage. Prices from $2259CDN. JAMAICA Steeped in history, rushing rivers, reggae music, the Caribbean's third largest island is a tropical mountain paradise. Once a favorite haunt of Errol Flynn, Laurence Olivier, and Noel Coward, Jamaica is now capturing a new set of hearts as a leader on the wedding front.

Resort Examples: Through Sandals and SuperClubs couples receive a free wedding and renewal of vow ceremony when booking their dream holiday at one of the all-inclusive resorts listed in Sunquest's Weddings/Honeymoons guide.

The luxurious Sans Souci Resort & Spa was the nuptial setting for singers Chante Moore and Kenny Lattimore who got married on New Years Day two years ago. The 5-star all-inclusive adults only resort nestled on a private beach near Ocho Rios offers free weddings and a honeymoon and anniversary package from $2499US.

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

This Spanish-speaking republic was once called, "Quisqueya" "Mother Earth" by the Indians. It is better known today for its export of star baseball players like Pedro Martinez, Alex Rodriguez, and Manny Ramirez. The soft sandy beaches of Puerto Plata, La Romana and Punta Cana are popular wedding and tourist destinations. Lisa Jamieson, sales rep for Transcanada Pipelines, and hubby Mark De Abreu wed last fall at Punta Cana's Melia Caribe Tropical. "We wanted a place that did lots of weddings where there were wedding coordinators and advertising," recalls Lisa about her top choice. Surrounded by surf and sand and a gazebo adorned in native flowers floating in a pool, it was the perfect backdrop to the special occasion celebrated with 50 guests.

Lisa's special tips for the soon-to-be-bride:
1. Be patient when in a foreign country. "They tend to do things on island time. Understand this and you'll be much better off."
2. Take advice from people who previously visited the property.
3. Unlike other countries, DR doesn't require blood testing.

Resort Examples: In Puerta Plata, the luxury Hilton chain, Marien Coral has an upscale grand setting for the special nuptials. This 4-plus all-inclusive resort also has the bonus of great shopping in the nearby town and is close to extraordinary dive sites. The wedding package includes a welcome gift, wedding ceremony, marriage license, wedding certificate and all registration fees, wedding coordinator, champagne, cake and a 30-minute massage and spa manicure for the bride and groom and more. Price: $825US. When booking your wedding package, you'll also be showered by a complimentary honeymoon bonus.

* Hotel accommodations are priced separately from wedding packages unless otherwise noted.

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photo: Sunquest


WEDDING DO'S CHECKLIST

We consulted with leading destination-wedding planners on the ins-and-outs for successful exotic weddings. So, before you say your "I dos," here's a quick Wedding Do's check list:

Natalie John, Founder of www.dreamyweddings.com recommends:

* Once you select the destination, decide on location, preferred dates and number in your wedding party.
* Ask your travel agent for your destination rep's email so that you become familiar before you visit.
* Have a budget.
* When researching your location, ask for photos to be emailed so that you and your fiancée can view them in the comfort of your home.
* Always have a backup plan even in the Caribbean it rains.
* Ensure you have all the legal marriage requirements in place.
* Find out how far the wedding venue is from your hotel and ask about any additional transportation costs for your guests.
* Ask about video editing if you require the services of a videographer.
* No wedding is complete without the island vibe of Caribbean music, steel band, local folk group or a local artist.
* Ask about tipping and service charges.
* Ask for catering details for your small reception after the ceremony.
* And finally if any member of the bridal party has any disabilities or special needs, inform your hotel in advance.

Rebecca Grinnals, destination wedding industry expert and creator of www.caribbeanweddingassociation.com suggests:

* Make a list of all of the attributes of your dream destination
* Research, Research, Research by surfing the net, reading magazines (travel & bridal), talking with friends (and friends of friends) and consulting travel professionals.
* Send out Save the Date Announcements to gauge interest of your guests and give them plenty of notice to make travel plans,
* Negotiate a group rate for your guests to make it cost effective - remember that it is not their 'trip of a lifetime' so make it appealing to them to make the journey with you.
* Select wedding service providers that are members of professional organizations that are credible and committed to quality
* Use email to plan long distance, save on costly international phone calls and document all communication.
* Infuse your wedding with some local traditions and culture of the destination.
* Clip and scan photos of dream cakes, flowers, décor, etc. and send them to your wedding planner on-site. This avoids disappointment and interpretation from verbal descriptions. Most professionals can beautifully re-create these important elements from images.
* Enjoy! The biggest advantage to planning a wedding in an exotic location is that once you arrive on island - you leave the worries and stress back home and relax!


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