Weddings, and therefore destination weddings, are ever-evolving, which makes planning the perfect day increasingly difficult. Luxury Travel Advisor has rounded up four properties that should be on your radar, as well as some top tips to make the event seamless and unique.
Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea
You will be the focal point at Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, as they host only one wedding on property per day. From ceremony to reception, the day will be dedicated solely to the couple and their guests. The special events team curates all of the food and beverage for the welcome reception, rehearsal, wedding and day-after brunch. Of course, they also assist with all of the surrounding requests, including guestrooms and group activities for the party.
The resort has numerous spaces where you can hold the ceremony and the reception. For the best views — or for bigger parties — opt for the Oceanfront Lawn, which looks over Wailea beach, the island of Lanai and the Kahalawai Mountains. If your guestlist is looking a little longer than expected, it’s good to know this venue can host up to 500 people in a reception setting. For smaller outdoor weddings, couples can select from the Fountain-View Lawn or Fountain-View Terrace, located in a central lawn and surrounded by tropical gardens, or the Plumeria Gardens or Plumeria Point, offering views of the Four Seasons’ sculpture garden with plumeria trees. These spaces can accommodate from 40 to 100 guests.
Tip: Enquire about ballroom availability in the event of inclement weather.
To get into the local spirit, the wedding party or guests can partake in the resort’s cultural programming, which includes such daily experiences as lei making, hula dancing and an outrigger canoe experience. Parties also enjoy luxury cabanas at the resort’s Serenity Pool.
Of course, spa days and golf are also popular options. Both spa and salon buyouts are available. The spa and wellness center recently launched a new menu; two facials are especially popular for brides and their parties. The Black Diamond Facial uses professional-strength 111SKIN Celestial Black Diamond skincare, which incorporates crushed black diamonds; in addition, this treatment comprises a HydraFacial, integrated LED Light therapy, brightening mask, oxygen therapy, and is completed with a therapeutic face, neck, shoulder, arm and foot massage. The other option is the Cryotherapy Energy Facial, which uses a local cryotherapy unit to improve skin tone and elasticity.
Tip: The resort offers treatments poolside; we’re told this is a popular option for bridal parties.
For couples and wedding parties who are looking to get a little active before (or after) the wedding, they can opt for SUP HIIT (Stand-up Paddleboard High-Intensity Interval Training). The class starts with “Paddleboard 101” techniques and a warm-up before moving into HIIT exercises. Guests go through four exercises focusing on agility, core strength, balance and power before paddling out to an obstacle course: A triangle of buoys where guests test their speed, power and balance through a variety of techniques. A bonus? Sightings of turtles and whales (in season) are common.
A special, couples-only experience you should consider is The Ultimate Dinner. The day prior to the event, guests meet with the chef to personalize the menu to their tastes. The multi-course dinner is set in a private location overlooking the Pacific and neighboring islands.
Accommodation-wise, for the couple that plans to entertain their guests, the best choice is the resort’s Presidential Lokelani Suite, which has an ocean-front private garden. Other couples should consider the Deluxe Ocean View; families may be best suited for the resort’s Ocean Front Suite category, which allow for one- to four-bedroom configurations.
Advisors should contact Katie Cotten ([email protected]), director of catering and special events.
The villas at Fairmont Kea Lani have spacious living rooms with access to private courtyard.
Fairmont Kea Lani Resort
Another Maui option is the Fairmont Kea Lani Resort. John Anderson ([email protected]), catering sales manager – wedding specialist, will help you select the evening’s entertainment (local Hawaiian musicians are always a favorite), floral arrangements, lighting and table settings to bring your vision to life. The resort can also supply professional photographers and videographers to capture every moment of the day, from morning preparations through the last song.
For venues, couples can select from the Pacific Terrace, which offers a picturesque setting for a smaller gathering; the Gazebo, suitable for up to 75 guests and set among lush flora; or the Polo Lawn, hosting up to 300 guests, with Maui’s sister islands and the Wailea coastline framing the scene. Other venues include the Kea Lani Ballroom, the Paeahu or Royal Fountain Terraces, the Lobby Mezzanine and Palm Court, which can accommodate from 60 to 500 guests (in a reception setup).
Good to know: All accommodations here are either a suite or a villa, meaning plenty of space for all your guests. For the couple, we suggest the top suite categories: The Kilohana Suite or the Signature Ocean View Suite. The former, measuring 1,100 square feet, has ocean (and sunset) views, as well as a wrap-around corner lanai (complete with binoculars to observe breaching whales or neighboring islands). The latter suite, totaling 860 square feet, is located on the top two floors in the center of the resort, offering the best ocean views.
Steps from Polo Beach, the villas at Fairmont Kea Lani are ideal for family or multiple couples. The two- and three-bedroom villas have a full kitchen with a dining area, two master bedrooms (each with an oversized Italian marble bathroom), an entertainment system with flat-screen TVs, and a private, furnished courtyard with plunge pool and barbecue grill.
Good to know: Villa guests receive premium amenities, including complimentary valet parking, daily buffet breakfast and a welcome basket filled with tropical fruits, Hawaiian jams, freshly baked banana bread, cream, milk, butter, snacks and Ocean Vodka.
To set the mood, consider booking a Hoku Lani Private Dining Experience. The four-course “Dining Under the Stars” dinner is served oceanfront on the Pacific Terrace, complete with tiki torches and private servers. Better yet: The Hoku Lani Dinner includes a complimentary 45-minute photo session with the resort’s photography partner, Pacific Dream Photography. Your photo session will take place on the grounds of the resort and Polo Beach concluding at your private dinner location.
Another option is the Romantic Twilight Dinner Experience, which includes four courses, select wines and personalized keepsake menus. Situated at the picturesque pool, the dinner is served in a private cabana under hanging lanterns.
For group activities, some experiences that the resort has arranged for wedding parties include group scuba dive and snorkel excursions, farm tours, fishing trips, private winery and distillery tours, hikes, golf and more. For group spa days, pre-blocking appointments is highly recommended for groups larger than 15 people; private receptions in the Hui Suite and spa parties may be arranged for small groups.
Elsewher, in Mexico’s Riviera Maya, a pair of luxury, adults-only all-inclusives offer a number of options for VIPs looking to tie the knot.
The Náay Spa at El Dorado Royale, A Spa Resort, by Karisma offers locally inspired treatments, including a special experience designed to calm wedding-day jitters. //Photography: Karisma
El Dorado Royale, A Spa Resort, by Karisma
At the El Dorado Royale, A Spa Resort by Karisma, clients can book a special, private block of accommodations for their wedding party with the Private Enclave Wedding Experience at the Casitas package. This offering allows couples to choose from 17 to 34 suites that are solely for the wedding group, and it also includes a number of special perks and events, such as a wine and cheese celebration and a group dinner at the resort’s D’Italia restaurant before the big day. The experience also includes a private Memorable Moments Bridal Floor Spa Suite on the day itself, plus a private Mexican Beach Fiesta, the ceremony and the reception, including a chef-inspired reception dinner.
For the couple, we hear that the Honeymoon Private Pool Swim-Up Casita Suite is the best bet in terms of accommodations. Not only do these private retreats have their own plunge pools leading into the resort’s lazy river, they also have the property’s signature “Aguas del Amor” — roofless, romantic, outdoor showers.
As for the ceremony itself, venue options run the gamut from rooftop sky terraces to beachfront gazebos, or indoor options such as grand ballrooms and traditional chapels. Guests can also opt for a ceremony on a sunset cruise. A Signature Wedding Designer can assist the couple with planning based on their needs, as well as the style and type of wedding they would like to have. Additionally, couples will be able to pick from the resort’s Memorable Moments Signature Wedding Collection, which is a customizable décor collection that allows the wedding party to choose their own linens, plates, floral design, photography and entertainment options. For food, clients can pick from a number of chef-inspired menus, complete with wine pairings.
Beyond the wedding day, a number of special amenities and activities can help set a romantic mood. Couples can opt for a candlelight dinner from 6 – 10 p.m., or a selection of relaxing massages: The Beachfront Sky Massage sees couples laying side-by-side in an open-air palapa on the beach, while the Sunrise Massage includes a special wake-up mimosa. For a special nighttime experience, the Moonlight Massage comes with a bottle of champagne.
These activities extend to the resort’s Náay Spa, which has a full-service beauty salon, a specialized bridal suite, and an entire Bridal Floor that treats brides and grooms alike to a set of exclusive treatments. Brides can opt for soothing massages, facials and milk baths, plus what are described as “soul- and spirit-cleansing services,” while grooms can enjoy a comprehensive, holistic ritual that’s aimed at revitalizing the spirit — plus calming any pre-wedding nerves!
Insider Tip: After the big day, couples can opt for a change of scenery at the neighboring El Dorado Maroma by Karisma, which is home to the brand’s popular Palafitos Overwater Bungalows. Available through the Memorable Moments Honeymoon and Anniversary Package, these accommodations brought the over-the-water concept to the Mexico market. They offer ocean views, direct ladder access to the ocean, a private infinity pool and the aforementioned outdoor showers, not to mention glass-bottom floors that offer a peek into the sea below. There is also an indoor Jacuzzi for two.
For special requests, advisors should reach out to Marilyn Cairo ([email protected]; 011-305-445-1077 Ext 9744), wedding manager, or Faith Wishnie ([email protected]; 011-305-445-1077 Ext 5589), senior director of groups and wedding services.
UNICO 20º87º offers a number of décor options. Shown here is the Cueva Siete restaurant set for a reception. // Photo courtesy of AIC Hotel Group
UNICO 20º87º Riviera Maya
For a hipper, younger-skewing option — events like mixology classes and live demonstrations from painters set the tone here — the UNICO 20º87º Riviera Maya, which just opened in 2017, offers a number of Experiential Wedding Ceremony Packages for prospective couples, all of which have their own décor options and different inclusions. In addition to a number of options for the ceremony itself, as well as the cocktail hour and reception, the 20°87° Experiential Wedding Package includes a “getting ready room” to provide a space to gear up for the main event.
For outdoor ceremonies, couples can opt for a wooden wedding gazebo or a classic wedding on the beach, as well as outdoor and “hidden” terraces. For an indoor event, the resort has an 11,600-square-foot ballroom.
The Estancia Suite is one of the top rooms to request here. It has a large terrace looking out over the ocean with an outdoor hydro spa tub, perfect for stargazing, plus a large living area separate from the bedroom.
Another option is the hacienda-inspired Oceanfront Villa, which, in addition to ocean views, has two master bedrooms, a full kitchen, dining room, living room and powder room, plus a complete bar and a large terrace with two outdoor hydro spa tubs.
Good to know: Both of these rooms, as well as the rest of the resort, are decorated with artwork curated from local, up-and-coming Mexican artists, and these can be more than just decorations. For a unique memento of their wedding day, guests can purchase these artworks both in-room and throughout the property.
Also, be sure to ask the couple for their favorite cocktails, as the in-room minibar can be stocked with the appropriate fixings, according to their preference. For another personalized touch, guests can head to the Esencia Beauty Bar, set in the Esencia Wellness area, where they can choose from a number of oils, lotions and bath salts to mix with Mayan herbal extracts to produce bespoke bath and beauty products based on a guest’s own personalized blend.
At the spa, all treatments are included in the resort's all-inclusive rate for a 25 percent service fee. Nine beauty salon treatments are also included. Groups can also head farther afield with a selection of 11 included local tours, or unlimited golf at two nearby golf courses. Six additional signature tours are also available for an additional fee.
For all of these experiences, guests can take advantage of the resort’s local host service, which is billed as an updated spin on traditional butler service. These hosts can provide assistance with a number of activities, including packing / unpacking and check-in / check-out; but, most importantly, they are meant to serve as a guide to the local scene, offering tips on the best hidden gems to check out, plus help with those hard-to-get reservations.
UNICO 20º87º Riviera Maya is a member of The Leading Hotels of the World. For special requests, advisors should reach out to Yesenia Lopez ([email protected]; 011-855-762-5255, option 2), wedding sales coordinator.
Susan Moynihan, The Honeymoonist, Inc., an affiliate of Largay Travel, shares her wedding tips with us.
What are some new trends you’re seeing?
Untraditional is the new traditional. Gone are the days of matching bridesmaids’ dresses, and a matching set of six guys and six gals on each side of the aisle. A wedding party is a party, and it can be any gender combo or any age combo. Same goes with fashion — think complementary colors, not matching patterns. For decor, the more a resort can offer unexpected decor ideas —pops of color, photogenic food stations like a taco station that looks like a street vendor, ceremony backdrops with a unique sense of place — the more they will appeal. Build those Instagram moments into your proposal, because your couples are all thinking of how everything will look in shareable photos, as well as traditional wedding shots.
What’s something you like to do for the couple to make the trip special?
Couples are recognizing that time is the biggest luxury out there, so anything they can do to foster quality time is worth it. Extend your event or room block on either end so guests can make it a vacation, and tailor to their own schedules. Forget about overdone welcome bags and put that budget toward a shared experience that you offer instead or do something as simple as a good bottle of wine and a handwritten note that feels simple and meaningful. Lastly, offer a way for your wedding to have social impact, with a donation or an opportunity to give back directly to the community, be it spending an hour volunteering, planting a tree or gathering school supplies you’ll be donating before you leave the destination or sending along after everyone gets home.
What other general tips would you offer (to advisors or to couples) when planning a destination wedding?
For advisors, know the policies of the hotel you’re working with, and how they work via OTAs. Some wedding guests will look to book outside the room block, so you need a partner that values the advisor relationship and will give you a solid rate or offer to price match or give amenities if an OTA suddenly drops lower than your rate. Personally, I will not work with partners who don’t have my back; it’s not worth the stress or frustration it gives to the couple, when their guests are competing over pricing and who-beat-who instead of focusing on the occasion.
For couples, think the unexpected. You may believe Mexico is all about beaches but look to an inland hacienda for something completely different. Hawaii is exotic with so many different isles and backdrops, but also part of the U.S., so it’s a great option for couples with a sense of adventure but guests without passports. Also, think quality over quantity. It’s better to have fewer guests at a quality resort where everyone will enjoy the experience, than more people at a “bargain” option where half the crowd has complaints about food quality or service.