What next, zipline weddings? Why, yes, because today many wedding couples want a ceremony that’s unique. Sure, many still tie the knot on a resort beach, but here’s what to suggest for clients who, much like my wife and me when we got hitched, want something different.
Exuma, The Bahamas: The Ultimate Outdoorsy Wedding
Weddings coordinator A Wedding Breeze specializes in off-the-beaten-path events. Recently, for example, a wedding celebration for a reality TV star and his bride included a “Survivor”-like Game Day for 50 guests, deep-sea fishing, a ceremony on a private island, and a trash-the-dress ceremony featuring the newlyweds with sting rays.
The tab for the Chat ‘N’ Chill Wedding Day Experience on the private island starts at $21,000 including transport, F&B, flowers, photographer, etc., and a replication of this 5-day program starts at $40,000. However, Ultimate Breeze’s weddings are truly customized, so couples can pick and choose among these and other options. Ultimate Breeze can also arrange more intimate events.
Where to stay? Grand Isle Resort & Spa, because it’s large enough for any size group, its “villas” (apartments, really) provide private gathering places, and its recreational options please guests whose idea of “Survivor” is to manhandle a golf club. A 1-bedroom Garden View starts at $399 with taxes; 2-bedroom suites start at $439. Group discounts are available, of course. grandisleresort.com
Puerto Rico: Elegance Meets Water Park
Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, occupies a former Rockefeller estate about 40 minutes from San Juan. Unlike other classic luxury resorts, Dorado Beach has an aquatic park. (Of course, this being a Ritz-Carlton Reserve hotel, it has positioned that park beside a historic sugar mill and named it Watermill.) The park is available for weddings at night, it can accommodate up to 500 (the average wedding is 120 to 300), and, of course, U.S. citizens don’t need passports for this Caribbean island, so Dorado Beach is good for upmarket weddings with long guest lists. The banquets range from about $60 to $120 per guest.
“The mill was once part of a plantation, so to immerse guests in its history, cool coconut water is served before the ceremony,” a spokeswoman told me. Dorado Beach can also place a clear walkway over the pool so couples can get married over a pool with a waterfall in the background. Lovely, but I wanted to know one thing: Can guests jump into the water after the nuptials? “We don’t encourage it, but it has happened,” she admitted, “and it adds up to a memorable event!”
Dorado Beach offers nature trails, a long beach with watersports, tennis, fine dining, a top-rated spa, the water park, and rooms no smaller than 941 sq. ft. Rates start at $659 (plus taxes and fees), even for East Beach Plunge Reserve rooms with plunge pools. travelagents.marriott.com/travelagents/signin.mi
Dominican Republic: Stand-up Paddleboard Wedding
Since most pastors don’t try to walk on water, Casa de Campo’s Paddle I Do wedding is not legally binding, but it can be combined with a dry-land ceremony. Up to six members of the wedding party may accompany the couple for the SUP (stand-up paddleboarding) ceremony. How hard is SUP? The first time my wife ever tried it, she did it for 90 minutes without falling, and she was in her 50s.
Accompanied by a photographer, the wedding party (or part of it) and their officiant paddle out to say “I do” while other guests might wait on land for the newlyweds to return for a reception on the beach. This package starts at $10,000 for a minimum of 20 guests.
Casa de Campo is huge, offering every possible diversion: beach, watersports, pools, kids camp, golf, tennis, even an art colony and equestrian sports. Accommodations range from a Pete Dye Golf Course room ($126 in low season) to a 5-bedroom, family-friendly villa with a private pool ($3,260). Contact Betty Medina, wedding sales manager;
(809) 523-8171; casadecampo.com.do
Saint Lucia: Wedding in a Romance Novel
I once watched a wedding within the ruins of barracks built in the 1700s for the Royal Navy. Today those barracks, amid great lawns and white-sand beaches, are part of Pigeon Island National Park. An affable minister and a musician helped make this event memorable, but the key factor was the place itself. The historic barracks, with flowering vines trailing from stone walls, seemed like the setting for a romance novel, and after the ceremony, a reception on a lawn made every guest feel royal.
Saint Lucia’s Awesome Caribbean Weddings, which arranges ceremonies at Pigeon Point and elsewhere, handles every detail. “We can arrange any size wedding from a couple to 300 people,” says Kayt Cooper, one of the owners. “A ceremony at the barracks can accommodate 100 in the main room.” The average Awesome Caribbean Weddings event has 39 attendees, and a wedding at the barracks might cost about $3,300 for a group that size, but, adds Cooper, “Every wedding is completely bespoke.”
Wedding parties who stay at The Landings St. Lucia can enjoy one of the island’s best beaches, watersports, and proximity to Pigeon Point. All units are family-friendly suites with full kitchens, yet a 1-bedroom starts at just $347, a 2-bedroom from $441, and a 3-bedroom, $631.
firstname.lastname@example.org; awesomecaribbeanweddings.com; and landingsstlucia.com
Grand Cayman Island: Underwater Vows
Scuba divers can take the plunge, as it were, with Divetech’s Aqua Vows underwater wedding. A divemaster puts the vows on large, laminated cards, and if friends/family join in on the ceremony, Divetech supplies underwater signs so they can follow along. The Cathy Church Photo Centre takes photographs and videos, and hotels or local wedding planners handle the reception and arrange for a wedding officer to legally seal the deal when the couple is back on land.
If some invitees want to attend yet aren’t certified divers, the Aqua Vows can take place at Stingray City, where people stand on the 4-ft.-deep sandy floor of the bay and just wear snorkeling masks. A half-day charter of the dive boat costs $1,200 and can accommodate up to 10. Equipment rentals are extra, as are decorations, food, or drinks the couple might want aboard the boat.
With its prime position on Seven Mile Beach, stately white exterior, Heavenly beds, and skillful spa staff, the Westin Grand Cayman Resort and Spa is a personal favorite. Rooms start at $304 ($259 plus $45 resort charge). Contact email@example.com and/or firstname.lastname@example.org; and visit westingrandcayman.com
Vieques, Puerto Rico: LGBT Wedding
For LGBT couples, finding the right wedding venue is not just a personal whim; it’s a necessity, and that’s where the W Retreat & Spa – Vieques Island comes in. Puerto Rico is one of the only Caribbean islands that offers legally binding same-sex ceremonies, and the W works with the United States’ top LGBT wedding planner, 14 Stories, which has been planning LGBT weddings since 2004.
Among the location options are two private beaches (and these are not just beaches; they’re Vieques beaches). Guests arriving on the short hop from San Juan can use the W Airport Lounge on Vieques, transfers to the hotel are complimentary, and the wedding couple gets a room upgrade. The W also expertly hosts weddings for couples—mixed sex as well as LGBT—who want to get married without a crowd.
Vieques is an underdeveloped island with wild horses and a bioluminescent bay, and the W itself has a fine beach, tennis courts, gardens, spa, cuisine, and stylish, contemporary decor. The smallest room at this W is 620 sq. ft. (from $342 for SPG members). The 1,000-sq.-ft. Garden Retreat, with its canopy bed, 1 1/2 baths, and living room, starts at $518 for SPG members. Contact email@example.com; starwoodhotels.com
Jamaica: The Grand Entrance
And now, that zipline: Sunset at the Palms’ new Zip Line to Wedded Bliss includes transporting up to 10 guests from this adults-only Negril all-inclusive to Jamwest, an adventure facility whose offerings include ziplining. With the guests assembled at the end of the line, so to speak, the lovebirds swoop down to them on a 2,000-ft. zipline. The ceremony is in a thatched gazebo, and after the Champagne toast and cake-cutting, the guests and newlyweds enjoy a soak in the therapeutic spring.
The package includes all this as well as a classical guitar player, the marriage documents and officiant, dinner reservations at Sunset at the Palms’ a la carte restaurant, flowers, and other accoutrements for up to 10 guests, and it costs $1,999.
Sunset at the Palms lies across the street from a private beach with watersports and beach chairs, etc. It has a pool, spa, and good food amid tree-shaded gardens. The roughly 80 accommodations include 42 Asian-inspired treehouses. At press time a Treetop Deluxe King with white walls, louvered windows, and modern bath started at $401. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org; thepalmsjamaica.com