By Rachel Coker
Many women dream of their wedding day and envision walking down the aisle of their hometown church in a Cinderella-style gown before hundreds of guests.
But a growing number of couples are eschewing the trappings of a traditional wedding in favor of a small ceremony in a distant location. Consultants and brides alike say “destination weddings” can be cheaper, less stressful and more fun.
“We tell them that if you are looking for a stress-free way, this is the way to do it,” said Linda Bernstein, owner of A Story Book Wedding in Miami Beach, Fla. “The only thing they have to do is pack their suitcases and come in with a smile.”
Her company regularly plans weddings in places such as Seattle, Boston, Huston and Puerto Rico, in addition to ceremonies in Miami Beach and aboard ships. Other firms make it possible to get married just about anywhere, from Indiana to Italy. And, yes, Las Vegas and Niagara Falls have caught on to the trend.
In terms of location, the only major restrictions are those imposed by a couple’s budget and imagination. While some couples basically elope, others bring along relatives and friends along for a trip that’s part reunion, part vacation.
Many couples opt for a destination wedding after they begin to make arrangements for a traditional ceremony. That’s what happened when Robyn and Todd Pollman began planning their wedding in Oklahoma in 1996.
“Our guest list for the traditional Southern Baptist church wedding had topped 450 guests,” Robyn recalled. “The wedding was quickly spinning out of control — and just wasn’t something that we wanted. We were trying to keep my side of the family happy, but it just got to the point where we were losing ourselves in a wedding we didn’t want to begin with.”
They contacted a hotel in New Orleans where Robyn had stayed on a college vacation, put together the details and held the wedding a mere six weeks later with 35 friends and family members in attendance.
Karen Zaruba and Mark Meier experienced a similar epiphany soon after they were engaged in 1997.
Karen was a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding that involved a big guest list and numerous pre- and post-wedding parties.
“It was an entire weekend of celebrations and gatherings,” Karen said. “It was a lot of fun, and it was perfect for the couple who was getting married. But the morning after the wedding, my fiance and I were at breakfast together and we looked at other and both said, ‘This is not for us.’”
The Michigan couple were married in Charleston, S.C., six months later with 27 guests in attendance. The price tag? Less than $5,000, by Karen’s estimation.
While cost isn’t the main reason couples choose destination weddings, it can certainly be a bonus.
Patti Metzger, president of Weddings on the Move Inc. in West Bend, Wis., said these days couples rarely live in their hometowns by the time they’re getting married. Some guests will have to fly, no matter where the wedding’s held.
And the couple would likely fly to their honeymoon destination, too, so getting married in that place can be a logical development. “Economically, you’re combining your honeymoon with your wedding,” she said.
Factor in the usual costs of a traditional wedding, and it’s clear that even an exotic trip can be less expensive. Metzger’s firm offers a range of packages, but she cited a cost of $3,523 plus hotel and airfare for a wedding in Italy and a price tag of $1,075 plus hotel and airfare for one in Puerto Vallerta.
Robyn said the cost differences were striking in their case. “Our traditional wedding tab was estimated to be between $17,500 and $25,000,” she said. “Our entire wedding and honeymoon ended up costing less than $2,500 — including reception costs and attire.”
Of course, destination weddings aren’t entirely without stress.
For starters, some parents have their hearts set on a traditional wedding for their children.
“My family didn’t take it so well,” Robyn recalled. “They felt like what they were offering to host and pay for wasn’t good enough. That wasn’t the case at all — but it was hard to convince them of that.”
And a small guest list can also be a source of friction.
“It’s not uncommon for huge fights to take place,” said Debra Robinett, owner of A Wedding Dream West in Prunedale, Calif. She specializes in destination weddings on the central California coast and says it’s worth the effort to trim the guest list.
“Once you get over a hundred guests, you’re spending someone else’s money,” Robinett notes. “If you’re spending someone else’s money, they should have a say in where it is and how it’s spent and how it’s done.”
Karen and Glen Rose, Florida residents who married in Las Vegas in 1999, didn’t run into any such trouble. They polled their family and friends before planning the trip and found everyone on their 17-person guest list was happy with the idea.
Like many other couples who have destination weddings, they had a reception at home after they returned from their honeymoon. And Karen said there’s nothing about the traditional wedding she missed.
“Las Vegas is among one of the most fun and exciting places to go,” Karen said, “and the Bellagio Hotel was absolutely breathtaking, better than any hotel I could have had the wedding at at home.”
By Rachel Coker