Whether couples opt for the fun and fantasy of magical theme parks or the natural beauty of endless beaches kissed by sun and surf, it’s a slice of amorous paradise that sweeps couples off their feet. From a destination wedding where the attitude is “the more the merrier” to an intimate escape where lovers only have eyes for each other, The Sunshine State is a remarkable getaway where couples can begin their lives together—and where friends and family can jump into the act when invited!
ROMANTIC RESORTS FOR SAYING “I DO”
With 13 miles of pristine beach to comb, the 446-room The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island (ritzcarlton.com) drenches wedding parties in sunshine and Southern hospitality.
Settings include white sand punctuated with sea oats and dunes, oceanfront lawn, and courtyards brimming with manicured gardens. For the grandest of galas, The Ritz-Carlton Ballroom vbrfhuaccommodates up to 800, while three 200-capacity salons are ideal for themed gatherings. Think ficus and palms, twinkling lights, candelabras and roses cascading from trumpet vases.
Capping an $85 million “re-imagination” renovation, Omni Amelia Island Plantation (omnihotels.com) thrives with raw beauty thanks to preservation of the island’s natural treasures. Nuptials make a splash on the beach or in the non-denominational Amelia Island Plantation Chapel. For receptions, the 160-capacity Walker’s Landing unfolds to views of a salt marsh teaming with wildlife. Its Ooh La La honeymoon pampers with deluxe accommodations, sparkling wine, petit fours, French macaroons and daily breakfast.
Whether it’s a regal black-tie affair, intimate candlelit ceremony overlooking the Gulf or casual beach barbecue, Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa (sandestinbeachhilton.com) is a destination wedding dazzler. “With in-house wedding coordinators, caterers, pastry chef and anything you could possibly need under one roof, couples can count on a stress-free celebration that will make their wedding a benchmark,” says Gary Brielmayer, general manager.
Packages include the beachfront Sugar Sand Dreams or Emerald Waters, with both including chairs, flowers, music and all the expected garnishes. The latter also covers a beach reception and wedding night newlywed accommodations, in-room champagne with chocolate-dipped strawberries and $75 spa credit.
“If a dream wedding involves a romantic beach, grand ballroom or an elegant natural setting, Jacksonville is that dream come true for a fraction of the cost of other beachfront destinations,” says Visit Jacksonville’s Patty Jimenez. “As a bonus, our hotels offer attractive wedding packages that may include free honeymoons as part of the fee—a special incentive meant for couples looking to maximize their budgets.”
Northeast Florida’s newest beachfront boutique resort, Jacksonville’s 193-room One Ocean Resort & Spa (oneoceanresort.com) is a contrasting backdrop of artistic sophistication and chic beach style. Nicknamed “Nantucket of the South,” the Atlantic Beach property engages attendees with cobblestone streets lined by an eclectic mix of shops, restaurants and nightlife hotspots.
From elegant nuptials in the grand ballroom to free-spirited receptions with toes in the sand, the resort serves up more than 10,000 sq. ft. of space for up to 500 guests. A romance package wows with luxury accommodations, $200 spa credit, bottle of champagne, chocolate-covered strawberries, breakfast in bed and turndown service.
Glowing with 966 newly renovated guestrooms, Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront (jacksonville.hyatt.com) is anchored on a 4-mile boardwalk near a bevy of area attractions. “Couples can exchange vows outside with a fantastic view of St. Johns River and our Main Street Bridge,” says Theresa Harsh, senior catering manager. “For receptions, our River Terrace rooms have large windows overlooking the river and outdoor space for cocktail hour. Both settings are stunning!” As extra incentive, couples exchanging vows at the property receive up to five complimentary nights at a participating Hyatt resort in the U.S., Mexico or Aruba.
Set within an exquisite St. Augustine landscape of lush tropical gardens and flowing fountains, the majestic Casa Monica Hotel (casamonica.com) is an 1888 landmark that oozes romance. The hotel’s onsite wedding experts will transform ballrooms into an Arabian Nights fantasy or arrange a getaway in a horse-drawn carriage.
Post-ceremony, couples can bask in the Love St. Augustine Style package with luxury accommodations, gourmet breakfast, bottle of champagne, chocolate-covered strawberries, in-room flowers and carriage ride along the historic bayfront.
The 250-room Ponte Vedra Inn & Club (pontevedra.com) garners a reputation for its distinctive style and storybook charm. From black-tie formal to toes-in-the-sand casual, ceremonies can be held on an oceanfront lawn, fountain courtyard, beachfront or elegant ballroom.
After the formalities, exhausted newlyweds can wallow in a Bed and Breakfast package with oceanfront accommodations, American breakfast, welcome basket and turndown service.
OFF-THE-BEATEN-PATH WEDDING VENUES
Founded in 2000, Amelia River Cruises & Charters (ameliarivercruises.com) welcomes up to 80 for private charters. Couples can tie the knot and then enjoy the reception with live music as they cruise along salt marshes, wilderness beaches and history-rich riverbanks. Nature provides the decor as dolphins, sea turtles, manatees, egrets, herons, spoonbills and osprey mingle amid shrimp boats, luxury yachts and a Civil War era fort.
Situated on Choctawhatchee Bay in South Walton County between Destin and Panama City, Bentley’s on the Bay (baysideweddingevents.com/bentleys-on-the-bay) provides a unique waterfront venue with more than 3,600 sq. ft. of covered and open deck. Hosting a single event a day, it offers couples the flexibility to utilize both areas to create an even more dramatic event.
A luxury B&B in St. Augustine’s historic district, Casa de Solana (casadesolana.com) combines Old World charm with modern comforts. Built in 1763 and one of the city’s oldest residences, it takes its name from the original owner, Don Manuel Lorenzo Solana, a member of one of the city’s first Spanish families. Ceremony packages range from the Special Moments for up to nine guests to a ceremony for up to 50 at the Ximenez-Fatio House Museum that’s just across the street. Receptions can be held at Casa for parties booking the entire inn.
If walls could talk, Jacksonville’s Ribault Club (theribaultclub.com) would set heads spinning from eight decades of decadent gatherings. On the heels of a 4-year historic restoration, the waterfront club and playground for the affluent accommodates 400 on its sprawling lawns. Some 6,000 sq. ft. of indoor event space overlooks the Fort George River and Talbot Island through 36 sets of French doors—24 of which have fanlights above.
At Jacksonville’s In The Garden at Casa Bella Village (inthegardenlandscapeanddesign.com), couples can profess their love with an elegant backdrop of creeping vines, fresh flowers, vaulted ceilings, beautiful chandeliers and artful stone. Ceremonies can be held on a spacious covered patio or in a garden, naturally.
UNIQUE HONEYMOON ESCAPES
A Select Registry Inn and AAA three-diamond property, the 10-room Amelia Island Williams House (williamshouse.com) blends the delightful charm of a historic antebellum B&B with the luxurious amenities of a boutique inn. Its Lover’s Getaway pampers with champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries, picnic basket stuffed with goodies, carriage ride through Fernandina’s Historic District and candlelit dinner.
The Gulf Coast’s premier luxury destination, The WaterColor Inn & Resort (watercolorresort.com) borders a 220-acre dune lake on 499 acres of South Walton sugar-white sand. From soft linens to spa-inspired toiletries, every freshly redecorated beachfront room has been furnished for comfort and bliss. A Romantic Celebration covers beach chairs with umbrella use, $100 dining credit, two 50-minute massages, champagne with strawberries and two rounds of golf.
Celebrating nearly a century of romance in Jacksonville, Casa Marina Hotel (casamarinahotel.com) is gracefully poised on the dunes of the Atlantic Ocean. This Historic Hotels of America property features 25 bedrooms and parlor suites that are individually decorated to represent the changing eras of its rich history. Recommend an oceanview suite with champagne and chocolate-dipped strawberries.
A 1914 Mediterranean revival historic home listed on the National Register of Historic Places, St. Augustine’s Casablanca Inn (casablancainn.com) overlooks the Intracoastal Waterway’s Matanzas Bay. Filled with antiques, its 23 guestrooms are spread out across a Main House, Coach House and Secret Garden.
All packages include breakfast, parking, $15 bar credit and afternoon refreshments. For an additional $250 onto any rate, couples can spruce up their stay with a bottle of champagne, chocolates, dinner for two ($100 value), cruise aboard the Victory II and carriage ride through the Old City.
ROMANTIC RESORTS FOR SAYING “I DO”
Perched on sunny Atlantic sands, the 744-room Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort (daytonahilton.com) is a wedding magnet with its enviable address across from Ocean Walk Village—a $400 million entertainment district with ample diversions for attendees of all ages. Couples can make it black-tie classy with a trio of musicians or super laid-back with beach attire.
At Daytona’s AAA four-diamond The Shores Resort & Spa (shoresresort.com), 212 luxurious guestrooms woo with Atlantic and Intracoastal Waterway views. Ceremonies can be followed with a reception on the beach, ocean terrace or opulent ballroom. Couples can also create a personal honeymoon or bridal registry on the resort’s website.
Literally a world unto its own, the 498-room Waldorf Astoria Orlando (waldorfastoriaorlando.com) is tucked within more than 482 pristine Bonnet Creek acres. Elegant and refined, the AAA four-diamond property remains true to its brand roots with unrivaled accommodations and gracious amenities. All guests enjoy motor coach transportation to Walt Disney World theme parks and Downtown Disney. They also have access to the Waldorf Astoria Golf Club, Spa by Guerlain, and legendary bars and restaurants of the NYC original.
Among its most coveted outdoor venues is a 25,000-sq.-ft. island blanketed with lush landscaping. There’s also the chic 8,100-sq.-ft. Grand Ballroom with ample space for hundreds to dine, dance and congratulate the lovebirds in style.
At the 582-room The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes (ritzcarlton.com), knots can be tied in a garden, ballroom or on a lawn. A favorite is the flower-surrounded gazebo overlooking the lake, golf course and headwaters of the Florida Everglades. The bride can make a grand horse-drawn carriage entrance, with the couple retreating into the sunset afterwards for a private champagne toast.
Golf lovers set on Orlando should shoot for Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate (omnihotels.com). With two grand ballrooms and an assortment of beautifully manicured outdoor event locations, the 720-room property delivers all the wedding bells and whistles.
“There’s no other place like Tampa Bay and central-west Florida for destination weddings,” says Doug McClain, vice president of marketing and communications for Tampa Bay & Co. “Not only is the weather always beautiful and the sunsets stunning, but you’ll find a unique blend of arts, culture and history mixed with a vibrant, hip metropolis.”
Among the area’s jewels, Sandpearl Resort Clearwater Beach (sandpearl.com) presents six distinctive indoor and outdoor venues—including several with the Gulf as a backdrop.
“The Sandpearl has it all,” says Jeff Copeland, owner/CEO of Simple Weddings/Florida Wedding Packages. “There’s a beautiful white sand beach, a green grass lawn for those who don’t want their toes in the sand, and gorgeous indoor banquet and reception space.”
The estate-style Safety Harbor Resort & Spa (safetyharborspa.com) delivers 175 spacious guestrooms and suites within 22 gorgeous Tampa Bay acres. “Aside from being a member of the Historic Hotels of America, a main attraction is the healing mineral water springs the resort rests upon,” says Megan Powers, sales manager for Simple Weddings/Florida Wedding Packages. “Many feel this is the ‘Fountain Of Youth’ that makes their spa popular.” Bridal parties can splurge in a spa wedding package that indulges with blissful massage therapies, rejuvenating facials and bevy of salon treatments.
OFF-THE-BEATEN-PATH WEDDING VENUES
Daytona Beach’s historic oceanfront Bandshell (386-671-8250) sits in Oceanfront Park, just north of the famous Boardwalk and fronting Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort. Built of coquina shells in 1937, the outdoor venue handles up to 5,000 for receptions.
For a ceremony that’s nothing short of racy, Daytona International Speedway (daytona500experience.com) lets couples motor through Victory Lane in a race car and say “I do” in the winner’s circle. The banquet room overlooks an interactive show floor with a replica of the speedway’s 31-degree, high-banked track.
In Orlando, it’s all about Universal and Disney fantasy. But couples seeking independent venues that deliver the goods have plenty of other choices.
On famed International Drive, the boutique Holiday Inn Resort Orlando-The Castle (thecastleorlando.com), a Kessler grand theme hotel, combines artistic flair and playful luxury within its renaissance-inspired walls. If the bride literally wants a knight in shining armor, Medieval Times (medievaltimes.com) delivers. Couples can be married by the show’s “King Alfonso” or opt for a traditional ceremony in the Hall of Arms. Its competitor, Arabian Nights (Arabian-nights.com), is a magical venue for up to 500.
“Universal Orlando (universalorlando.com) is an exceptional place for destination weddings because the resort truly has everything,” says Susan Sunderland, president of Just Marry!. “The hotels are beautiful, the food is creative and delicious, and you have world-class theme parks on site. Everyone is entertained without leaving the resort.” A dedicated planner is a Universal wedding package perk. Ceremony backdrops run the gamut, from iconic NYC skyscrapers and a saucy Latin Quarter to a romantic Mayan courtyard.
For wildlife not confined to the bachelor party, nature lovers can tie the knot north of Orlando at the 110-acre Gatorland (gatorland.com). “The rustic beauty of our park is truly charming,” says Michelle Harris, director of sales and marketing. “And the photo ops are incredible!” Ceremonies and receptions can be held in the wrestling arena, below zipline towers, in Pearl’s Pavilion or at the park’s train station.
The Orlando-Kissimmee area is also plush with museums and historic homes away from the hustle and bustle. Among these is Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens (polasek.org), three lush acres filled with more than 200 classical sculptures and paintings created by or belonging to the late Czech-American sculptor. Up to 350 can share the love as couples exchange vows in the garden, and then join in a reception handled by the venue’s preferred licensed caterers.
And then there’s the wonderful world of water. Suncoast Adventure Center (suncoastadventurecenter.com) sets sail with a fleet of vessels accommodating up to 200. “For those who love being on the water, this is a very romantic way to go,” says owner Peter Hilley. “We can do an intimate sunset vow exchange or have a ceremony and reception on a 100-ft. yacht.”
Simple Weddings’ Copeland is a fan of Dolphin Landing (dolphinlandings.com/vessels.html) on St. Pete Beach and Isla del Sol Yacht & Country Club (isladelsolycc.com/plan-an-event/weddings) on nearby Tierra Verde. “Not only does Isla del Sol have one of the nicest private beaches and reception halls in the area, but it also has an entire marina filled with members’ private yachts. And many will take the bridal party out for a spin.”
“Sunken Gardens (stpete.org/sunken/sghours.asp) is another great St. Pete venue since it has such pleasant places for outdoor ceremonies,” adds Copeland. Meandering walkways wind through this 100-year-old shady oasis that envelopes couples with lush tropical displays, vibrant flowering plants and cascading waterfalls.
UNIQUE HONEYMOON ESCAPES
Once owned by a Florida socialite, The Villa Bed & Breakfast (thevillabb.com) is Daytona Beach’s most elegant and historic Spanish mansion. Newlyweds can decompress with two nights in the antique-adorned King Juan Carlos room with chilled champagne, hors d’oeuvres and chocolate-covered strawberries (one night), fresh flowers, candlelit dinner, continental breakfast and two gift bathrobes.
The Peabody Orlando’s (peabodyorlando.com) Touch of Romance invites couples to escape into a deluxe guestroom with complimentary champagne and welcome cocktails. Enhancing the amorous mood are a $150 dinner credit, breakfast buffet, fitness center access, turndown service and valet parking. For those desiring the ultimate in accommodations, The Peabody Club elevates every indulgent aspect.
At The Villas of Grand Cypress (grandcypress.com), Orlando honeymooners can tee off on 45 holes of Jack Nicklaus-designed golf, tap into top-notch instruction at its academy and dive into endless recreation. A 2-night Love On The Links serves up luxury club suite accommodations, dinner for two, round of golf for two, turndown service and late check-out.
“Orlando has some wonderful places for destination weddings and honeymoons,” says Just Marry!’s Sunderland. “Our beach fans love Loews Royal Pacific Resort (loewshotels.com/Royal-Pacific-Resort) because it looks like the South Pacific for fans of romantic opulence.”
For lovebirds seeking slumber after a hectic wedding and packed agenda at Universal, Loews Royal Pacific offers an idyllic Bed & Breakfast package. Additional benefits at the 1,000-room resort include complimentary onsite transportation, priority seating at select theme park eateries and onsite charging privileges with room key card.
With Walt Disney World, couples can literally let their imaginations run amok. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge (disneyworld.disney.go.com) is an African-themed resort within a 43-acre wildlife preserve. Guests are swept away with inspired architecture and kraal village landscaping that unfolds to expansive views of the savannah and its animal inhabitants. Thatched ceilings, large beams, hand-carved golden-tone furnishings, authentic artifacts and a vast mud fireplace in the main lobby immerse guests in the inimitable spirit of the continent.
Other Disney options include the Beach Club Resort, Boardwalk Inn, Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, Wilderness Lodge and Yacht Club Resort.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the recently renovated 347-room Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club (vinoyrenaissanceresort.com) is the only historic luxury resort on Florida’s west coast boasting a 72-slip marina. Toss in its 18-hole golf course, 12-court tennis complex and 5,000-sq.-ft. fitness center, and it’s an action-packed honeymoon haven.
“What sets the Vinoy apart is elegance,” says Simple Weddings’ Copeland. “Since it’s not located on Gulf beaches, it doesn’t have to compete as a beach resort. Instead, it’s classy, upscale and elegant. But somehow it manages to pull it off without being snobby.”
With 1920s Mediterranean Revival architecture and lavish amenities, the AAA four-diamond beauty pampers couples with an upgraded luxury bayview room, valet parking, chilled champagne upon arrival and breakfast.
Loews Don CeSar Hotel (loewshotels.com/DonCeSar.com) delivers four-diamond indulgences with its 277 luxurious rooms overlooking the Gulf, powder-white sand and tropical sunsets. Copeland says that couples on a budget might opt to hold their nuptials off-site on a nearby public beach like Pass-a-Grille, and then splurge for a night or two of upscale pampering. “The Don is a beautiful historic property that’s very upscale and classy,” he says. “And it’s also directly on the beach. What more could you ask for?”
ROMANTIC RESORTS FOR SAYING “I DO”
Perched on Fort Lauderdale’s largest private beach, Harbor Beach Marriott Resort & Spa (harborbeachmarriott.com) offers 200,000 sq. ft. of oceanside real estate for ceremonies in the sand. Alternatively, 60,000 sq. ft. of lushly landscaped and beautifully lit terraces are ideal for those who love the ocean sans the sand. Couples can also take the party indoors to the 500-capacity, 10,000-sq.-ft. Ocean Ballroom with floor-to-ceiling windows.
The Fort Lauderdale area is also home to the stylish and sophisticated Atlantic Resort & Spa (atlantichotelfl.com) and Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina (fortlauderdalemarinahotel.com). The latter shines with a 33-slip inlet marina showcasing exquisite yachts that can be rented for intimate ceremonies and receptions on the Intracoastal Waterway.
“When it comes to weddings—from planning the nuptials to the after ‘I do,’—our complimentary LauderLove program is the ultimate wedding planning resource for making the trip down the aisle a smooth one,” says Jessica Taylor, media relations manager for the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It’s all about the love for the “LauderLove Ambassador of Bliss,” who is available to assist in planning the perfect wedding with insider tips and valuable advice.”
On the famous Hollywood Boardwalk, the 229-room Hollywood Beach Marriott (hollywoodbeachmarriott.com) tailors weddings on the beach or in its ballroom. Couples can opt for an indoor ceremony, a beach exchange or a buffet reception with open bar and sumptuous spread.
Overlooking Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve in Bonita Springs, the 454-room Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa (hyattcoconutpoint.com) presents new beginnings options on an environmentally protected private island. Up to 75 guests can enjoy a 20-minute boat ride, with dolphins and bald eagles setting the stage.
Grand weddings and receptions are a century-old tradition at Sanibel Island’s Casa Ybel Resort (casaybelresort.com). Couples can exchange vows on the lushly landscaped lawn, in a lakeside gazebo or on the beach. The Intimate Package for up to 25 guests covers seated ceremony site, arch, 4-course dinner reception and cake.
At Captiva Island’s South Seas Island Resort (southseas.com), a trio of wedding packages includes the Intimate Island plan for up to 30 guests with ceremony, 4-course plated dinner, photographer, officiant and 3-hour open bar.
A $1 billion expansion and renovation has transformed Miami’s 1950s-era resort playground, Fontainebleau Miami Beach (fontainebleau.com) into one of the country’s most desirable beachfront properties.
Romance crescendos at the 1,504-room resort’s event venues that include an elegant ballroom, Glimmer Terrace, chic Oasis pool deck, ocean lawn and beach. One package option covers cocktail reception, plated dinner with open bar, wine service, signature wedding cake and complimentary suite for the couple on their wedding night.
A new threshold of luxury, the sophisticated 313-room JW Marriott Marquis Miami (marriott.com) lures couples with its 20,000-sq-ft. ballroom and certified planner leading a team of experts. As icing on the cake, newlyweds can earn up to 150,000 Marriott Rewards points since the property honors destination weddings.
Other uber romantic Miami properties for over-the-top destination weddings include the 148-room Viceroy Miami (viceroyhotelsandresorts.com), the 424-room Miami Beach Resort & Spa (miamibeachresortandspa.com), the 221-room Four Seasons Miami (fourseasons.com) and the 790-room Loews Miami Beach Hotel (loewshotels.com). And freshest among Miami’s crop is the recently recreated and rebranded 409-room James Royal Palm (jameshotels.com), formerly known as Royal Palm Miami Beach.
Also check out Boca Raton Resort & Club, A Waldorf Astoria Resort (bocaresort.com/Rooms-Suites). Couples can exchange vows with the Signature Barefoot wedding on the sandy shores at Boca Beach Club or the sophisticated surroundings of the Yacht Club and Marina.
Embodying the most exquisite of European and Caribbean worlds, the 540-room Breakers Palm Beach (thebreakers.com) exudes AAA five-diamond appeal on 140 oceanfront acres. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it’s a true destination where guests never have to venture away.
“People once thought of destination weddings as extravagant,” says Joan Bever, director of catering and banquet operations, Breakers Palm Beach. “But with no hometown base and families spread across the globe, it has become a highly anticipated opportunity to convene everyone together.”
With its own distinctive flavor of European Old World charm, Brazilian Court Hotel & Beach Club (thebraziliancourt.com) has been a discreet enclave of the rich and famous since the 1920s. The 80-year-old hotel’s iconic courtyard offers a magical setting for intimate ceremonies and receptions for up to 140 guests. Afterwards, honeymooners can dive into an exquisite 1-bedroom suite and enjoy chocolate-dipped strawberries, champagne, rose-petal turndown and concierge service.
In the laid-back Florida Keys, couples are gifted with a slew of options stretching from Key Largo to Key West.
“Weddings in The Keys are different than other destinations because everything is right here at their fingertips,” says Jennifer Levering, director of weddings at We’ve Got The Keys. “With Key West being such a small island—two miles by four miles—they can have a great adventurous day out on the water, learn a little bit about history by visiting our museums and enjoy exciting nightlife.”
Key Largo Marriott (marriottkeylargo.com) and Hilton Key Largo (keylargoresort.com) each brim with action keeping attendees occupied around the clock. Fresh from a $12 million renovation, the former offers a combination of ballroom and beach settings for up to 220 guests. The latter shines with the 250-capacity Largo Ballroom, 200-capacity Bay View Ballroom and 120-capacity Cypress Ballroom. Couples can opt for a 4-course/5-hour Evening of Elegance reception.
On Islamorada, Cheeca Lodge (cheeca.com) features a ceremony package with nuptial necessities, newlywed breakfast in bed the morning after, couple’s massage and bottle of champagne. Diversions include tennis, golf, a lavish spa and fishing off the end of a 525-ft. pier.
And intimate 16-suite Casa Morada’s (casamorada.com) Sunset Elopement celebrates the bride and groom with two nights in the honeymoon suite, in-room breakfast, wedding cake for two, image DVD, plus post-ceremony champagne toast with fruit and cheese platter.
Other Florida Keys favorites include Tranquility Bay (tranquilitybay.com) with its beach house accommodations in Marathon and Little Palm Island (littlepalmisland.com) that’s accessible via seaplane or boat in the Lower Keys.
Spanning more than 1,100 ft. of private beach, Casa Marina has been a hideaway for business tycoons, artists, dignitaries and wedding groups since the 1920s.
Marco Island and Naples are also multi-sensory feasts for destination weddings, with the AAA four-diamond Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort & Spa (hilton.com), AAA four-diamond Marco Beach Ocean Resort (marcoresort.com), Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club (naplesbeachhotel.com) on a 7-mile stretch of white sand beach and AAA five-diamond The Ritz-Carlton, Naples (ritzcarlton.com/naples).
OFF-THE-BEATEN-PATH WEDDING VENUES
A barrier island at the southern mouth of Tampa Bay, laid-back Anna Maria (annamariaisland.com) encompasses the cities of Bradenton Beach, Anna Maria and Holmes Beach. Its Sandbar Restaurant Pavilion (sandbar.groupersandwich.com) is a stand-alone, open-air venue seating up to 160 guests.
From a simple ceremony to an elegant reception, Fort Myers’ Edison & Ford Winter Estates (edisonfordwinterestates.org) presents 20 acres of historic homes and romantic gardens with spectacular river views. Packages cover a rehearsal, photography, tour, ceremony and onsite coordinator.
As expected, the Miami area is endowed with off-the-beaten-path venues. Among the most unique are the gardens and chapel of the Ancient Spanish Monastery (spanishmonastery.com), Angler’s Boutique Resort (theanglersresort.com), Deering Estate at Cutler (deeringestate.com), Vizcaya Museum & Gardens (vizcayamuseum.org), Douglas Entrance (douglasentrance.com) and The Bath Club (thebathclub.com).
The latter is the only Miami venue with a private beach available for events. More than 26,000 sq. ft. of space can be divided to host weddings and seated receptions for up to 350, while the 50,000-sq.-ft. beach can accommodate up to 1,000.
“In Fort Lauderdale, your options don’t end where the sand does,” says Jessica Taylor, media relations director for the Greater Fort Lauderdale CVB. “Couples can set sail on a yacht, get back to nature in a butterfly garden or in the exotic Everglades, or be artfully wed in a museum or historical house.”
A National Historic Landmark since 1968, Key West’s Hemingway Home & Museum (hemingwayhome.com) is as steeped in history as it is with romantic ceremony settings. Couples can host a marvelous event reminiscent of Ernest and Pauline’s soirees when entertaining Waldo Pierce, Archibald McLeish and F. Scott Fitzgerald. A basic Simple Twilight Ceremony covers officiant, wedding coordinator, flowers, toast, chairs, garden use for photography and more goodies.
In Naples, a couple of clubs have couples swinging and sailing into their futures. Cypress Woods Golf & Country Club (cypresswoodsgolf.com) offers settings for 175 that range from a beautiful wood-paneled bar to a dining room overlooking natural wetland. And the private Tarpon Cove Yacht & Racquet Club (tarponcoveclub.com) can accommodate a luau ceremony to a formal affair with gloved servers.
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens (ansg.org) near downtown West Palm Beach provides a natural backdrop with a collection of 300 species of tropical palms. The grounds accommodate up to 150 for ceremonies, while the home handles 45 for a sit down dinner or up to 75 for a cocktail reception.
Couples should also consider other Palm Beach venues like the colorful Mounts Botanical Gardens (mounts.org), the 1925 Mediterranean Revival Casa Grandview (casagrandview.com), four-star boutique Chesterfield Palm Beach (chesterfieldpb.com), National Historic Landmark Flagler Museum (flaglermuseum.us) and Delray Yacht Cruises’ (ladyatlantic.com) Lady Atlantic and Lady Delray that sail through the Intracoastal Waterway with up to 150.
UNIQUE HONEYMOON ESCAPES
In a destination plush with romantic havens, W Fort Lauderdale (wfortlauderdalehotel.com) lets couples put some fabulous into their “just married” status. The resort’s “Whatever/Whenever” staff is on call for every post-wedding whim—from bottles of bubbly to in-room spa treatments. Honeymooners have complimentary access to an exclusive concierge who assists with the escape of their dreams. Friends and family can contribute to the celebration via an onsite registry.
Other top choices in this “yachting capital of the world” include The Westin Beach Resort & Spa, Fort Lauderdale (westinftlauderdalebeach.com), Hyatt Regency Pier 66 (pier66.hyatt.com) and The Pillars Hotel (pillarshotel.com).
Located on 85 waterfront acres at the tip of Fort Myers, Sanibel Harbour Marriott Resort & Spa (marriott.com) indulges couples with luxurious Revive bedding and daily breakfast. The resort also has an exclusive 100-ft. yacht for sunset cruises that leave newlyweds breathless.
Fresh from opening its new 41-slip marina, Pink Shell Beach Resort & Marina (pinkshell.com) in Fort Myers whisks couples away with a 2-night Romantic Retreat. They’ll celebrate with in-room champagne and strawberries, 50-minute Two-getherness massage and sunset dinner on the beach.
With a pair of golf courses, beautiful lakes and scenic exercise trails built within an exclusive 300-acre tropical Aventura playground, Turnberry Isle Miami Autograph Collection (turnberryislemiami.com) satisfies actives with its All The Best package. Couples enjoy a daily buffet breakfast, $50 resort credit per night, valet parking, spa admission, Beach Club privileges and shuttle service.
Other hot Miami retreats include the new four-star boutique Hotel Breakwater (breakwatersouthbeach.com) in the heart of South Beach’s Art Deco District, Setai South Beach (thesetaihotel.com) that’s a balance between the sizzling South Beach scene and a serene tropical hideout and The Ritz-Carlton, South Beach (ritzcarlton.com) that’s just steps from the enviable Lincoln Road pedestrian esplanade.
And for those preferring a less urban pulse, the 450-room The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne, Miami (ritzcarlton.com) blends adventure and relaxation on a 7-mile barrier island with its beautiful nature preserves, charming shopping villages and golden Miami beaches. Honeymooners can unwind with a Bed & Breakfast package.
The Sanctuary Package at the 727-room Marco Island Marriott (marcoislandmarriott.com) covers a partial Gulf view room and spa pass so couples begin their new life together with a little more TLC. Links lovers score a bonus with the recent opening of the 18-hole Hammock Bay Golf & Country Club.
LaPlaya Beach & Spa Resort (laplayaresort.com) in Naples tempts honeymooners to rest, relax and rejuvenate with the SpaTerre package covering deluxe accommodations, $100 daily spa credit, valet parking and resort fee. They’re guaranteed to bliss out when lounging in a white cabana, supping on fine cuisine at BALEEN and teeing off on the Bob Cupp-designed golf course.
Other over-the-top South Florida favorites include Waldorf Astoria Naples (waldorfastorianaples.com) with its Golden Door Spa, Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa (marriott.com) with its 192 luxury condo suites, the boutique Seagate Hotel & Spa (theseagatehotel.com) in Delray Beach and AAA four-diamond Casa Grandview (casagrandview.com) in West Palm Beach.
SAVORY FOODIE EVENTS
Academy Award-winning film “Babette’s Feast” has nothing on the myriad foodie events that take place throughout the state of Florida. Whether it’s the all-out fabulous shindig in Miami, the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival presented by FOOD & WINE (Feb. 21-24, 2013)—a star-studded event that has become one of America’s most prestigious gourmet gatherings with chefs, culinary personalities, and wine and spirit producers—or the equally delicious A Taste of the Beach (November) in northwest Florida—which gathers the area’s best chefs to showcase the destination’s culinary bounty—food and wine connoisseurs have their fill of appetizing options.
During Miami Spice (Aug. 1-Sept. 30, 2013), Miami’s top restaurants show off their culinary muscles offering 3-course meals that feature signature dishes created by world-renowned chefs. The celebrated Epcot International Food and Wine Festival (Fall 2013), meanwhile, features nearly 30 international food and beverage marketplaces; signature dining experiences with celebrated chefs; culinary demonstrations and wine seminars; and The Eat to the Beat concert series, featuring nightly musical performances. Over in Sarasota, the Florida Wine & Balloon Festival (April 4-7, 2013) includes everything from winemaker dinners and upscale BBQ-themed parties, to cigar bars complemented by port and brandy, gourmet food trucks, and, of course, hot air balloons dotting the Sarasota sky.
The upscale Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival (December) showcases a wealth of epicurean talent with award-winning chefs, culinary personalities, winemakers, and mixologists, all there to show off their talents during specialty cocktail and hors d’oeuvre receptions, 5-course sit-down dinners complemented with premium wine pairings, and cooking competitions. Far south in Key West, the Key West Food & Wine Festival (January) puts the city’s quirky vibe on display with events such as Kick Off Your Flip-Flops Barefoot Beach Party and Duval Uncorked, a mile-long tasting extravaganza along famed Duval Street.