Tropical Destination Weddings
The Romance of a Beach Wedding
Beaches are among the world's most romantic locales for weddings. Imagine exchanging your vows on a beautiful white sand beach with the sun sparkling on the ocean in the background and the blue sky above. If this sounds like your idea of paradise, then a destination wedding to a tropical location may be just perfect for you. This guide to tropical destination weddings covers selecting a destination, choose the wedding attire, beach wedding etiquette, the practical considerations, and much more.
There are many reasons to have your wedding on a gorgeous beach tucked away on a tropical island. There is the breathtaking scenery, the romance of the beach, the relaxed attitude of the islands, and the appeal of a combination wedding/honeymoon. For some brides and grooms, another appealing aspect of a destination wedding is that it allows them to keep their guest list limited to their closest family and friends. In fact, that might be reason enough to run off to an island paradise to say your “I dos”!
Caribbean Destinations areTops
Not all warm weather destinations are the same, and choosing the island destination which is perfect for your celebration takes a bit of research. The most popular islands for U.S. couples are those in the Caribbean. They are easy to get to from most East Coast cities, offer a wide range of local customs and cultures, and of course, have great weather and beautiful beaches. This is an overview of some of the top Caribbean islands for weddings:
It's Better in the Bahamas
As they say, it's better in the Bahamas! Located a mere 45 miles off the coast of Florida, the Bahamas are a very easy hop, skip, and a jump to a tropical wedding. Because they are in the Northern edge of the Caribbean, the islands which make up the Bahamas are among the cooler of the top resort destinations. The high season is mid-December through mid-April, with daytime highs averaging from the upper 70s to low 80s. May – November is the rainy and hurricane season in the region, with warmer temperatures hovering in the mid to upper 80s.
Besides its proximity to the U.S. mainland, there are many things to recommend the Bahamas for a destination wedding. There are the renowned pink and white sand beaches, the warm clear water, and shopping in the straw markets. The Bahamas are a middle class country, and can be a very comfortable place to visit for tourists who seek an island which feels like a paradise, yet is not very exotic. The areas around Nassau and Freeport are where most of the large hotels and resorts are located. The general feeling of the Bahamas is informal, although some of the nicer restaurants may request that men wear jackets.
Getting married there is easy: apply for a marriage license when you arrive and pay a fee and it will be valid the next day. Documents to bring include your passport, birth certificates, and proof of your date of entry to the country. Also required is a death certificate or divorce decree if the bride or groom was previously married, or an official notarized document confirming that the person has not been wed before. Of course, as licensing requirements can change, any couple planning a destination wedding should confirm the latest regulations before hopping on a plane. Also be sure to check with your home state to find out what steps you must taken to make your marital status official in the U.S.
The Cayman Islands Offer Luxury and Convenience
Known for their upscale flavor, the Cayman Islands are a top notch destination for a wedding. If you are seeking a tropical paradise which is cultured (they are a British Overseas Territory), elegant, and safe, look no further. The busiest island in the group is Grand Cayman, which is home to swanky resorts for the bride and groom wishing to have an elegant tropical wedding. This is the location of the capitol, George Town, as well as the pristine Seven Mile Beach. Couples who want to experience fine dining and excellent shopping while on their wedding-moon will enjoy what Grand Cayman has to offer. Be sure to pack elegant resort wear, including a jacket for the groom.
A quick flight from Miami, Grand Cayman's high season is from December – April. It is also a popular stop for cruise lines. Because it is a prosperous country, it is one of the more expensive destinations in the Caribbean. Happily, it is also one of the easiest places for an American couple to be married in paradise, thanks to same-day marriage licenses. Book your celebration in one of the fancy resorts, or venture off to the smaller Cayman islands: Little Cayman and Cayman Brac. Much smaller and less populous than Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac offer more relaxed and intimate settings for exchanging your vows.
One Love, One Heart: Jamaican Destination Weddings
Couples who want to have their wedding on an ultra-laid back island will find what they seek in Jamaica. The third largest Caribbean island, Jamaica has a lush and varied landscape featuring sandy beaches, rainforests, and mountains. The climate is tropical, with warm and humid weather all year round. December to March is high season in Jamaica, with June – September being peak hurricane season. Jamaica has been hit by a number of serious hurricanes over the years, so couples would be wise to take hurricane season seriously and book their Jamaican wedding well outside of the danger zone.
Jamaica is best known for its unique and warm culture. Your destination wedding there can feature reggae music, jerk barbeque, rum punch, and Red Stripe, the local beer. Definitely plan to embrace the local flavor of Jamaica if that is your chosen destination. The majority of the top resorts are located around Negril and Montego Bay. The cities offer busy clubs and bars, but for a more relaxed pace, choose to stay in one of the islands luxurious all-inclusive resorts. Unlike the Cayman Islands, Jamaica is not a place where an American will necessarily feel safe wandering outside the gates of their hotel compound. However, within those gates you may find a true paradise, and at a lower price than similar accommodations on Grand Cayman. The South Coast of Jamaica offers a quieter scene for brides and grooms who prefer something a bit off the beaten path.
U.S. Virgin Islands: Something for Every Couple
With three different islands within the chain, the U.S. Virgin Islands has a lot of possibilities for planning your ideal wedding. St. Thomas is the busiest of the three, with its bustling harbor filled with visiting cruise ships, big hotels, and immensely popular shopping areas. This is definitely not the destination to choose if you are looking for a secluded island paradise for your nuptials, but if you like a vacation spot that combines pretty beaches with lots of activity, St. Thomas fits the bill.
St. John is the quietest of the U.S.V.I.. Two-thirds of the island is unspoiled parkland, so if the idea of a pristine and tranquil setting is what you imagine for your destination wedding, put St. John on your list. It is decidedly more low-key than St. Thomas; you will pay a premium, as most things on St. John will cost more than on her sister islands. Of course, many brides and grooms feel it is well worth the higher cost of hotels and meals on St. John for the chance to enjoy the more easy-going island vibe it has to offer. Put another way: if you want to “get away from it all”, opt for St. John, and if you want to be right in the middle of all the action, choose St. Thomas.
There is a third U.S. Virgin Island, which is St. Croix. As far as activity level, it is somewhere between St. Thomas and St. John. The special appeal of St. Croix is the historic towns and old plantations. Couples who enjoy history will especially like St. Croix. And let's not forget the fantastic beaches and ocean view! For all the U.S.V.I., peak season is December – April, and hurricane season runs from June – November.
Non-Caribbean Tropical Wedding Destinations
Beyond the Caribbean, there are some other magnificent locales for tropical weddings. Traditional playgrounds of the rich and famous such as Fiji and Bali are currently considered to be politically unstable, but for equally breathtaking scenery, consider a wedding in the 50th state, Hawaii. One of the many advantages of a Hawaiian destination wedding is that the peak season on the Pacific island chain is May – September, which also happens to be the top wedding season. For brides and grooms who want a summer wedding without the hurricane worries of the Caribbean, Hawaii is perfect.
Saying "I Do" in the Aloha State
Another reason to choose Hawaii as a destination wedding site is the ease of getting married there. For U.S. citizens, it is no different than getting married in any other state (check the state website for up-to-date marriage license requirements), which can make the wedding planning process much simpler. And for brides and grooms who want to get married sooner rather than later, another benefit of Hawaii is that you don't need to get a passport to travel there.
Of course, the main reason to have your destination wedding in Hawaii is that it is gorgeous! It boasts luxury hotels, world class restaurants, incredible white and black sand beaches, snorkling, surfing, and more. The Big Island, as its name suggests, is the largest of the Hawaiian island chain. In addition to the pristine beaches and great swimming, while there you can visit a volcano, splash in misty waterfalls, hike, and spend romantic evenings stargazing with your beloved. A fantastic way to take in the picturesque scenery is by helicopter ride around the island.
The island of Maui is a wonderful locale for brides and grooms seeking an upscale tropical paradise with a relaxed vibe. Slightly dressier in style than the Big Island, Maui is the place to be for world class dining, gorgeous beaches, and killer surf. If you want to combine your wedding with a honeymoon spent windsurfing, kiteboarding, and surfing, Maui is your place. The Hawaiian island of Oahu is the home of Honolulu, which has both terrific shopping and a fun nightlife. Not far from this big city are still more perfect beaches. Check out the classic surf culture on the North Shore while enjoying Hawaii's enviable weather: 75 – 85 degrees year round.
Culture and Value Await on the Mayan Riviera
Mexico is another popular spot for destination weddings. The Mayan Riviera is a stretch of beach which runs along the Caribbean coast near Cancun. It is near to the excitement of Cancun, yet features resorts which feel like they are secluded and private. Mexico is a great destination for brides and grooms who want to have their wedding in a luxury resort at a bargain price; your money will go a lot farther in Mexico than on Caribbean islands like Grand Cayman. Of course, you will have the chance to get married on a beautiful beach in gorgeous weather (around 80 degrees year round), but don't forget the unique Mayan culture to explore while in Mexico after your wedding. Take a day trip to see the Mayan ruins at Tulum or Coba before returning to your resort for a romantic dinner. Diving and snorkling are other favorite activities.
The best time to have your destination wedding in Mexico is December – March. June through November is hurricane season along the Mayan Riviera and late March and April can be overrun with spring break revelers; neither is particularly appealing. It is crucial to have local help to get you through the red tape involved in being legally wed in Mexico. Some of the requirements for a marriage license include appearing in person at least three business days before the ceremony to apply, producing a birth certificate with a Spanish translation, and bringing a medical certificate issued within 15 days. Suffice it to say that the services of your resort event coordinator will be needed to get the ceremony up and running. Nonetheless, the legal hassle can be well worth the wonderful weather, culture, food, and scenery of a destination wedding in Mexico.
Tips on Planning the Perfect Destination Wedding
Whatever location you ultimately select for your tropical wedding, there are a few things to keep in mind. Chief among them is to embrace the culture and special aspects of the island which you have chosen. If you are getting married in Hawaii, by all means enchant your guests with the true spirit of Aloha. Have a luau reception, complete with hula dancers, tiki torches, and a pig roast. Greet them with leis when they arrive at the wedding ceremony to welcome them properly. And what would a Jamaican marriage celebration be without steel drums, jerk chicken, and rum drinks? How can you have a Mexican wedding without a mariachi band? The point is to give yourself over to the spirit of your island paradise, rather than to try to recreate a traditional formal American wedding on the beach.
Wedding attire which suits the relaxed spirit of the islands is the most appropriate. While the groom need not wear a Hawaiian shirt or Bermuda shorts, nor should he show up in a tuxedo. For the bride, a flowing chiffon or organza wedding gown is better than a satin ballgown on the beach any day. Add some beach wedding jewelry, a bouquet of lush tropical flowers and you will be ready for your wedding in paradise. A barefoot bridal party is optional.
Extra Planning = An Extra Wonderful Tropical Wedding!
Finally, keep in mind that a destination wedding has its own special etiquette. The main concern is the added time and expense for the guests involved in attending an event far from home. While the bride and groom need not pay for the airfare for their attendants, it is appropriate for them to cover the cost of their hotel rooms. The rest of the wedding guests are expected to pay their own way, but the bride and groom can make it a little easier by booking a block of hotel rooms at a group rate. Given the lead time needed to schedule a vacation and make airline arrangements, most couples will give their guests as much notice as possible by sending out save-the-date cards many months before the wedding date. Planning a wedding long distance takes a bit of extra effort for both the bride and groom and their guests, but when it comes to a destination wedding to an island paradise, everyone will agree that it is well worth it!