Like a passionate new courtship, destination weddings in exotic locations have sparked something big. “Destination weddings have exploded in recent years,” says Rik Blyth, general manager of Caneel Bay, A Rosewood Resort (www.rosewoodhotels.com). In the past two years, the St. John resort has instituted a dedicated wedding coordinator, Vera Payne (340-776-6111, ext. 7450), to customize weddings.
What’s to love? Only 166 rooms set on 177 acres, set inside Virgin Islands National Park. Caneel Bay, with more than 700 types of trees and flowering shrubs (all identified and labeled) “is like being in a botanical garden. Yesterday I saw a buck, doe and two fawns,” says Blyth. The most popular wedding spot is Turtle Point, surrounded by the Caribbean, at the far end of the property. The Rosewood resort, created by the late Laurance Rockefeller, only hosts one wedding per day. Most newlyweds stay in
Cottage 7 ($1,000 per night)—Rockefeller’s previous home—set on a private beach, with plenty of space for bridal gown storage.
The resort’s fabulous new venue is the “Ruins Lounge,” the cleaned-up remains of an old plantation. Low couches and beds can be covered in fabrics of your choice, accented by tiki torches and up-lighting in various colors to set the cocktail-reception mood.
At The Halekulani (www.halekulani.com), an elegant oasis on Oahu’s Waikiki Beach, brides can take advantage of several surprising services: An in-house florist, dry cleaner, print shop, and chocolatier provide a one-stop wedding shop. Translation: Everything from custom-printed menus, special flowers, even chocolate favors, can be created on the premises. The Halekulani’s stellar service starts with private check-in for all hotel guests, whose rooms are filled with complimentary boxed chocolates, fruit bowls, and, at nightly turndown, shells or flowers. The lavish new Vera Wang suite provides an unprecedented experience, with a gorgeous view of Diamond Head. The one-bedroom suite ($4,000 per night), decorated by the famed clothing designer, features a 700-square-foot lanai that holds up to 15 guests for wedding ceremonies.
Otherwise, most couples exchange vows at the hotel’s Garden Courtyard. Rehearsal dinners can be hosted in the private dining room of La Mer, Hawaii’s only five-star restaurant. (Try the award-winning Mai Tais.) The Halekulani—whose name means “house befitting Heaven”—has fulfilled all sorts of bridal requests, from fireworks displays to rose petal-filled bubblebaths, to secret hula-dancing lessons for the bride (so she can surprise the groom).
To entertain their guests, couples can schedule a private French or Hawaii Regional Cuisine cooking lesson with the chef, or, at SpaHalekulani, select The Full Monty of massages and manicures right there, or in the Bridal Suite that holds up to five people. (Contact Spa Director Tony Young, 808-931-5011.)
For even more fun, Waikiki Beach beckons with five-dollar outrigger canoe rides and surfing lessons.
For large weddings, Bermuda’s Fairmont Southampton (www.fairmont.com) has just the thing: Couples can rent its entire Whaler Inn restaurant, which holds 90 to 100 guests, for about $18,000 in high season or about $9,000 in the off-season. The resort also has the only AAA Five-Diamond restaurant in Bermuda and the Caribbean, its Newport Room, which serves “moderne French” with touches of local and American flavor. The Fairmont Southampton and Fairmont Hamilton Princess have reciprocal privileges, so everything is twice-as-nice. For example, brides can use Southampton’s Willow Stream Spa or Hamilton’s brand-new Inverurie Day Spa.
The Hamilton property features ceremonies at their Bermuda moongate, with champagne reception aboard a Ladyboat Charters yacht. Dana Becker, one of Hamilton’s wedding coordinators (441-298-5715) suggests receptions in the Gazebo Room, with its panoramic views; “The Tides Table Dining,” which is private dinner-for-two in a poolside pagoda; or even afternoon high tea featuring local specialties such as smoked duck on Blackseal Rum raisin bread. For music Becker recommends a steel-pan trio or Bermudian Shine Hayward, a saxophone player whom Becker describes as “fabulous.”
Couples should stay in Hamilton’s presidential Harborview Suite ($1,400 per night) or a room on Southampton’s Fairmont Gold floor, with special food presentations and dedicated concierge ($500 per night). Mark next January on your calendar: The Hamilton property will host its second bridal expo, showcasing Fairmont’s preferred wedding vendors.
This year, along with local couples, 12 jet-setting couples planning their destination wedding came ahead of time to sample before they made their final selections. In the meantime, Fairmont’s new “Engaging Proposals” program (866-ON-1-KNEE) offers jaw-dropping ways to pop the question at their properties, including the “Engaging Martini” in Bermuda. The Ketel vodka cocktail is garnished with a one-carat diamond ring in a platinum setting.
A one-bedroom suite and butlered private dinner-for-two are included. The general manager here is Norman Mastalir; director of the Willow Stream spa is Paul Hawco.
In Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, the alluring Esperanza, an Auberge Resort (www.esperanzaresort.com), arranges VIP weddings faster than you can say “fiesta.” Wedding Coordinator Renata Mohar (011-52-145-6405) typically arranges ceremonies on Esperanza’s spectacular terrace perched on the bluffs on Punta Ballena, with panoramic views of Baja’s Sea of Cortes. The terrace, which holds 60 guests, is usually decorated with a small gazebo, huppah, floral arch, or, for a sunset ceremony, tiki torches. The boutique resort can seduce couples with two-minute fireworks displays ($1,700); “Salsa Night” Latin parties as welcome receptions; a Margarita Bar with six selections from custom menus; even signature cocktails—named by the couple—in their favorite colors.
For more intimacy, some clients have booked the entire property, with its 53 guest rooms, bar, restaurant, and amazing spa. Couples should stay in any of the three beachfront Luxury Suites featuring butler service, complimentary airport transportation, Frette linens, and plunge pools. The spa, famous for its complimentary, indigenous “Aguas Frescas”—fresh fruit-and-vegetable drinks in flavors such as the fat-burning grapefruit/aloe vera/prickly pear—features a Couples Clay Bake ($520 for 2 hours) in a private treatment room. The sensuous coconut exfoliation feels like a feather-duster caress and smells like an Almond Joy candy bar. (Ask for Mirna.)
Brides can book a Luxury Suite for a spa day for themselves and their bridal party, where they’ll be pampered with the spa’s signature Baja Lime products. Esperanza’s pastry chef creates sumptuous wedding cakes, and once even crafted tiny, two-layer cakes for 22 wedding guests. But the most delectable dessert, says Mohar, is the decadent and warm dark-chocolate cake filled with coconut cream. If that’s not an aphrodisiac, there’s no telling what is!