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Personal Finance
Destination: anywhere
May 11, 2001: 8:14 a.m. ET

Destination weddings offer couples a more personal, exotic ceremony
By Staff Writer Alexandra Twin
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NEW YORK (CNNfn) - When Dan and Nidia decided to get married, they knew their parents were going to be ecstatic. Nidia's parents had been saving for her wedding since she was 3 years old and Dan's parents were just as traditional. The families would immediately begin planning a to-the-hilt conventional wedding.

The college students knew their parents meant well, but somehow the thought of all those doilies, pastries and distant cousins felt just too distant.

They wanted something more personal, and as much as they loved their families, they wanted their Big Day to be about the two of them.

So they decided to tie the knot in a hot air balloon, flying over stunning Sonoma County, near Santa Rosa, Calif.

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A couple marries in a hot air balloon. Photo by Clark Crouse (Courtesy: Beverly Clark's Weddings: A Celebration)
Mike Kijak, owner of Up and Away Ballooning company took them and Nidia's roommate (as witness) up for the ride and married them in the clouds.

Licensed to marry, Kijak's pronouncements follow standard wedding protocol, "except I'll add a little aviation theme or talk about how the winds of love have brought the couple together."

For $550, you receive transportation to and from the airport, a balloon ride for two, the wedding ceremony itself, and a homemade brunch after you land that includes champagne, chocolate-dipped strawberries and a wedding cake, all prepared by Kijak and his wife.

If getting hitched hot air balloon-style strikes your fancy, thre are a few things you should know.

For starters, you'll want to come armed with a marriage license, bring a jacket for the ride and wear sturdy shoes. Also, be flexible. If the wind is too testy, you may have to get married on a different day. But once you finally get up there, the experience will be worth it.

"It was stunning," Nidia said, "so quiet and serene and spiritual, with nothing to focus on but the two of us."

Disneyland or bust

For a growing number of engaged couples, the idea of a wedding that is personalized, intimate and really about them, rather than a huge production number, has become appealing. The more exotic the locale, the better.

Once considered eloping, "destination weddings" have grown in guest list and popularity, said Lori Seto, travel editor of TheKnot.com, noting that such events corner 10 percent of the wedding market today.

The reason, Seto said, is that couples are getting married older these days and are looking for something a bit unique. There are also a growing number of second marriages, where a traditional white steeple church ceremony might be considered less appropriate. Many of those couples heading back down the aisle for a second time have children to incorporate into the wedding, so they plan for a more family-friendly event.

Whatever the reasons, hotels and tourist bureaus are catching on. Many hotels provide the wedding reception for free if you are bringing guests to the resort. St. Martin's recently revised its marriage policy to require engaged couples to be on the island for a shorter period of time before they can marry.

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And while the small size of a hot air balloon may limit your guest list, there are a whole host of possibilities that can accommodate more.

The latest trend is towards expanding guest lists, said Seto.

Some tips to get more people to show:

 
  • Send out a pre-invitation a good six months earlier than the wedding invitation. This gives would-be guests enough time to plan.
  • Plan several days of activity before the wedding. Para-sailing, fishing, golf, swimming, a bonfire, and luau are just a few options.
  • Encourage people to view the wedding as an opportunity for them to take a vacation in whatever exotic locale you've picked.
Some of the top spots include Hawaii, Fiji, the Caribbean, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Italy, Scotland, Greece and *Quebec's ice hotel. (For TheKnot.com's list of top destination wedding locations, pricing and marriage license requirements, click here.)

And although Seto estimates that 80 percent of destination weddings are held outside the continental United States, don't forget the lure of California, Disney World or good, old Las Vegas.

Plan, plan, plan

Beverly Clark is the author of several books as well as producer of two Web sites, Wedding Location and Beverly Clark Travel. She and her husband Nelson Clark have been wedding specialists for 16 years. They began their business inadvertently when Beverly did such a good job planning their wedding.

  graphic NELSON CLARK'S TOP PREPARATION TIPS:  
   
  • do research online
  • work with a wedding planner or hotel coordinator in your location
  • in a different country? check the local customs bureau for info on permits and licenses
  • some places don't make wedding cakes or flower arrangements, so be prepared and be flexible
  •    
    About 175,000 weddings a year are classified as destination weddings, Nelson Clark estimates. The popularity can be attributed to families being more spread out, men and women marrying older, second weddings surging, and people seeking to have more casual ceremonies.

    Although not as many people can attend a destination wedding, a number of resorts and chapels provide Web cams so people who can't attend can watch at home.

    "Get all your contracts in writing before you go," Clark advises. "Know the local weather perils -- you don't want to go to the Caribbean during hurricane season."

    As for price? Ask about special group rates. Try going during the off-season. Marry on a weekday. When you're in Aruba, who cares if it's Wednesday? An average wedding can range between $23,000 and $40,000, Clark said. Depending on the number of people, a destination wedding can be as low as $3,000 to $5,000.

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    A couple marries on the beach in Aruba. (Photo: By Durango Steele, Courtesy: Beverly Clark Weddings: A Celebration)
    Make the wedding specific to the location, Clark advises. At Half-Moon Bay in Jamaica, there is a gazebo in the water considered to be good luck. If you kiss beneath the moon gate in Bermuda, it is believed you will be together forever. You can rent a villa in Italy, Spain or Greece, wed in a castle in Tuscany or England.

    Staci and Mark McCarthy were married at the family-run Tango Mar resort in Costa Rica, a trip booked through Beverly Clark Travel. Their 36 guests arrived one week in advance. They had cocktail parties on the beach, chartered a boat and took guests snorkeling, went horseback riding by a waterfall and took people deep-sea diving.

    They spent the same amount for the week that someone else would have spent on one day and 300 guests.

    "It wasn't over in the blink of an eye," Staci said. "It was special, it was personal to us and we had a whole week to relax and have fun before the wedding."

    Fairy Tales

    But what if you've always fantasized about getting married and celebrating with a room full of friends, family and mice?

    Mickey and Minnie Mouse, to be specific.

    Then consider a Disney wedding. At Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida, and Disneyland Resorts, Anaheim, California, more than 15,000 couples have done just that since 1991.

    Pick up a valid Florida marriage license before the big day. Choose from a wide variety of themes and two basic pricing options coordinated by your wedding sales manager.

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    A couple wed at Disney World in April. (Courtesy: Walt Disney World)
    An "intimate wedding" covers a wedding and honeymoon package including a ceremony with cake and champagne, a meal at a Walt Disney World restaurant, lodging at a Disney World hotel and tickets to the theme park. Arrangements can be made to include up to eight guests. Prices vary, but start at $3,869. You need to book at least seven days in advance.

    With a "custom wedding," bride and groom can design their own wedding ceremony and private reception. The prices vary, but the minimum is $7,500 for weddings held Monday through Thursday, and $10,000 for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday weddings. There are also certain food and beverage and room night minimums. The number of guest is open. You need to book at least 30 days in advance.

    Please be forewarned: Mickey Mouse can not be your best man. Disney characters are not available to replace humans in your wedding party, only to entertain at the reception.

    A good day for a white wedding

    Have you always dreamed of a white wedding? How about a white wedding in subzero temperatures? Not sure? Well, 20 couples from all over the world are already planning just that for next year.

    At Quebec's Ice Hotel, you can be married in an ice chapel, sleep in an ice suite and generally get in touch with the arctic experience.

    "Rather than celebrating your nuptials with champagne on the rocks, you can have champagne in the rocks," quips Francois Leonard, Vice President of Communications and marketing.

    But he's not kidding. There are *ice champagne glasses available.

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    Quebec's Ice Hotel. (Courtesy: Ice Hotel)
    In the hotel that Conde Nast Traveler recently awarded the dubious distinction of "most odd," room temperature is always kept at around -6 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent your surroundings from melting.

    A bride must unfortunately wear a heavy winter jacket over her wedding gown. As for the big wedding night? Some might argue that it is hard to get romantic when you are sleeping in an arctic sleeping bag, in your clothes, which the hotel insists you do to stay warm.

    Although other than that, Leonard insists it is just like a regular wedding.

    The "White Wedding" package includes nuptials with a priest or other officiator, a bottle of champagne, ice cups, access to the Ice Hotel for the couple, their witness and their parents, (8 people maximum altogether including bride and groom), and lodging, meals, drinks and activities for the newlyweds depending on which version of the package is chosen.

    Prices vary depending on season and number of people in your group. (To check on pricing, click here.) Book early. There are only 31 rooms and they tend to fill up fast.

    Viva Las Vegas

    Glitzy and over-the-top, Las Vegas is a wedding haven if you're in a pinch and need to get married fast, get inspired while you're there or really want to have Captain Kirk, Elvis and Priscilla at your wedding.

    Nevada makes things easy for you. A marriage license is just $35. There are no blood tests or waiting periods necessary and the legal age is 18 for men and women.

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    Members of a Star Trek wedding. (Courtesy: Las Vegas Hilton)
    At the Las Vegas Hilton's Star Trek: The Experience, a collaboration between the Hilton and Paramount Studios, you can be "beamed up" through a transporter, then escorted by Starfleet officials through a corridor onto the bridge, where you will be married on board the USS Enterprise.

    The Captain's Wedding is $2,000. The Admiral's Wedding is $3,000. Both are limited to 30 guests. For more information, call 702-697-8750.

    At the Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel, you can choose from a whole slew of theme weddings. Owned by Vegas area performer Ron DeCar, themes include Gangster, Gothic, Camelot, Disco, Victorian and of course, Elvis.

    Weddings are performed by the characters (played by DeCar and local Vegas performers) while a minister witnesses and formally pronounces the wedding after the ceremony. DeCar estimates he does more than 300 weddings a month.

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    Ron DeCar as Elvis, marries a happy couple. (Courtesy: VLV Wedding Chapel)
    If you choose Gothic, the grim reaper will marry you, if you choose Disco, John Travolta will marry you, if you choose Blue Hawaii, the King will marry you and perform three songs. Most common requests? "Can't Help Falling in Love," "Love Me Tender" and of course, "Viva Las Vegas."

    Prices range from $600 to $800 depending on the package, and generally include the chapel and minister's fee, video of ceremony, basic flower and photo package, a limo to and from the chapel -- but don't forget to tip the driver.

    If the 15-minute ceremony is not enough for you, expand upon your experience by staying in one of the themed rooms in the hotel DeCar owns located behind the chapel.

    "People who do this don't want the traditional thing that their parents did, they want something more entertaining and specific," DeCar said.

    The same could be said for destination weddings as a whole. graphic

      RELATED SITES

    Wedding Location.com

    Beverly Clark Travel

    Tango Mar

    Ice Hotel Quebec

    Wedding Circle

    A Lovely Affair

    The Knot

    A Wedding For You, Inc.

    World Bridal

    The Destination Wedding Webring

    Up & Away Ballooning

    Las Vegas Wedding

    Star Trek: The Experience

    Star Trek Wedding

    The Elvis Wedding Chapel

    Las Vegas Weddings - Elvis

    Las Vegas Wedding Chapels

    Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel

    Disney Weddings

    Half Moon Golf, Tennis & Beach Club


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    Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2018 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2018. All rights reserved. Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2018 and/or its affiliates.