Everything you need to know to host your big day in paradise
The historic stone chapel at the Raffles Resort on Canouan Island was brought over from England. (credit: Johansen Krause)
As you might expect, couples with larger guest lists tend to get more elaborate on everything from the rehearsal dinner to gift bags. They're also more interested in customizing details for their ceremony and reception. After all, the more people attending your event, the more incentive you have to put on a show.
For most "gala" brides we spoke to, the number-one priority was having their guests in one place. Accordingly, couples hosting large gatherings gravitate toward larger hotels with more amenities and entertainment options. Take Allison Cohen, who chose the 427-room Ritz-Carlton, Rose Hall, in Jamaica, for their May 19, 2007, wedding. "At the Ritz, everyone was in a central location," says Allison. "During the day everyone hung out at the pool bar; at night after events, we'd go to the lobby bar, which had nightly bands. It was a total party of the best kind. We would have lost that if we'd been at a smaller hotel."
Larger hotels also tend to have onsite wedding coordinators, which helps with planning. Danielle Kubilus, a 26-year-old insurance broker, and Greg Salant, a 30-year-old attorney, both from Dobbs Ferry, New York, hosted 105 guests for their Dec. 8, 2007, wedding. They chose Aruba for its weather and accessibility but went with the Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort & Casino, in part, for the experience of its "romance planner," Tita Iglesias. "She had great ideas," says Danielle. "We wanted a wow factor at our ceremony, and Tita delivered." The onsite planner was able to anticipate issues Danielle never would have foreseen, including retaining an aura of privacy during a sunset ceremony on public Eagle Beach. "Tita hired 10 models, who all dressed in white linen and held palm fronds," recalls Danielle. "They lined the aisle, creating a dramatic effect as I walked down it, and then moved to the outside to form a private perimeter during the service."
Cassie Mancuso and Dan Carver, both 26, from Evanston, Illinois, ensured excellent service for their Dec. 8, 2007, wedding by booking a five-star resort. Relatively small (only 83 rooms), La Samanna on St. Martin caters to a high-end clientele. With help from the resort and a local company called Sint Maarten Marry-Me, Cassie, a marketing and special-events planner, and Dan, a brand manager, were able to customize every element of their 90-guest wedding, from mango martinis at the reception to a fireworks display timed to the cake cutting. The couple also took full advantage of the resort's award-winning 15,000-bottle wine cellar. "The resort's wine director, Thibaut Asso, joined us in the bar each night and acted as our wine guide, taking people down to the cellar to examine bottles and do tastings. Guests said it was one of the coolest experiences they'd ever had," says Cassie.
For the big event, the hotel created an alternate lounge space on the beach adjacent to the reception, complete with white couches, a fire pit and a cigar roller who finished off each creation with the couple's personalized cigar labels. "People think it's hard to plan a wedding when you aren't there, but it couldn't have been easier. I just told everyone what I wanted, and they made it happen."
|Some brides prefer to work with a stateside wedding planner, which can help ease communication as you're often in the same time zone and have similar cultural expectations. Holly Morris, a 36-year-old anchor/reporter for the local Fox station in Washington, D.C., and Thomas Espy, a 35-year-old attorney, had a small guest list -- only 31 attendees -- but great expectations for their July 21, 2007, event. So they turned to JoAnn Gregoli of New York-based Elegant Occasions, who specializes in destination weddings in the Caribbean, Italy and Mexico. Gregoli handled all the details of the four-day fete, from recommending the location (the exclusive Raffles Resort on Canouan Island in the Grenadines) to coordinating guests' travel arrangements and bringing down decor materials from the States. Gregoli worked directly with the resort to coordinate a slate of events, including a welcome dinner, a snorkel sail, a beachfront rehearsal dinner and a departure brunch. |
Holly left most of the details up to Gregoli, so she was as surprised as her guests when they walked into the reception after their 5 p.m. beachfront ceremony: Gregoli had transformed one of the hotel's restaurants into a chic island nightclub. "There was draping, lighting, a dance floor in the middle and tables surrounding it, all with gorgeous centerpieces. On one end there was a couch and candles. The elegant, multi-course dinner was served slowly through the night so everyone could eat and dance all night long," Holly says. "We were overwhelmed." No wonder she and Thomas remember the event as "our fairy-tale wedding."
For some brides, moving venues allows them to show off more of their locale. Monica Baussan, a 29-year-old chemical engineer living in New York, was born and raised in Puerto Rico. When she and Sam Hubbard, a 31-year-old financial advisor, decided to hold their 135-guest wedding there, she wanted to show off her home island. The wedding week centered on the 525-room San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino, located on the beach in the Condado area of San Juan. "We wanted the beach location for our guests to enjoy," says the bride. "But Old San Juan is one of my favorite places, and I wanted to share that with everyone too."
For the rehearsal dinner, the couple brought their guests by bus to the historic Hotel El Convento, located on the winding cobblestone streets of nearby Old San Juan. The guests headed back to Old San Juan the next day for the Catholic ceremony, then returned to the Marriott for an island-inspired reception featuring dishes such as a yucca cream soup with crab and avocado salsa, and a mix of music -- an American-style DJ, a salsa band and a local pleneros band. Monica hired a local wedding planner who coordinated everything along with the Marriott planner.
While brides of all styles take advantage of the chance to show off their locale, gala brides like to take it up a notch, especially with their rehearsal dinners. For instance, Danielle Kubilus' guests in Aruba strolled down the beach to tiki-style MooMba Beach Bar & Restaurant for a barbecue on the beach, while Cassie Mancuso's La Samanna rehearsal dinner started with a cocktail party on the beach and continued with a poolside barbecue. Allison Cohen's rehearsal dinner was even more elaborate: The Ritz-Carlton, Rose Hall, set up a reggae party complete with a jerk stand, rum drinks served in coconuts split on the spot, and a floor show featuring fire and limbo dancers and costumed moko jumbies (traditional Caribbean stilt walkers). The festivities were originally planned for the beach but at the last minute moved to a covered terrace due to rain. The bride says they couldn't have been happier.
Whatever their wedding style, every Caribbean-bound bride we spoke to shared one thing in common: the desire to enjoy her wedding and guests without being overwhelmed by planning. Their common advice: Trust that you're working with good people who will get things done. Be willing to relax and let go. Then, just sit back and enjoy. After all, isn't that what weddings away are all about?
For more information on getting married in the Caribbean, check out our Guide to the World.