When dreaming about an island destination wedding, many couples envision their ceremonies to take place on a powdery white sand beach with the deep blue ocean behind them, their friends and family in brightly colored outfits, tropical flowers everywhere, and a steel drum band playing as they walk down the aisle.
While this is certainly what many couples have in mind for their weddings, a growing number of them are choosing other options for where they'll take their vows.
Mary Bartolucci, wedding designer at Island Style Weddings on St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, says: "The beach is still a big draw. However, some couples like the idea of a beautiful water backdrop so they can still have an island experience but not with their toes in the sand. Not all brides love the idea of their wedding gown dragging through the sand after all."
This rings especially true when brides are wearing upscale designer gowns like Monique Lhuillier and Vera Wang to their luxury island weddings. They may feel far more comfortable placing their ceremonies on the terrace of an estate house or other locations offering breathtaking views of the beach, ocean and sky.
Tropical islands are often home to historic ruins. They could be old sugar mill ruins, which through the years have eroded into partial walls and no ceilings, constructed of hand-set stones and mortar, and standing tall on an island hill.
"Historic ruins are wonderful for couples who want to add a touch of vintage to their wedding," says Bartolucci. In addition to providing a stunning backdrop to where you'll take your vows, "They also provide amazing photo opportunities during the ceremony, and for group and couple photos after your ceremony. Whether it is a sugar mill or old island plantation house, it adds romance and history," notes Bartolucci.
Plus, the open-air structure of ruins allows for a beautiful purple glow overhead during a sunset ceremony or a starry sky during a nighttime, lantern-lit ceremony.
*Estate or Plantation Houses
Given the history on many tropical islands, estate homes or plantation houses were likely owned by magnates or plantation owners, wealthy families who put great detail into designing their homes and grounds. These historic buildings are often maintained by the resorts on which they sit, offering a "Great Gatsby"-like setting of elegance in the midst of natural tropical splendor. You may find estate homes with large wooden doors opening up to a tropical courtyard where your ceremony or cocktail hour could take place. They may have a stylish bar and seating inside.
"An estate house offers complete privacy as well as elegance and warmth to an island wedding," Bartolucci says. Be aware, though. She warns, "There are sound restrictions in some areas that should be taken into consideration."
In Puerto Rico, one of the most popular wedding ceremony and celebration locations is El Convento in Old San Juan. It was once a convent and now a glam hotel with an elegantly refurbished space that used to be the chapel. Many of the original architectural and design details remain.
On your chosen island, a historic building might be a remodeled church, convent, school or other establishment with a rich history and wedding design team.
"A ceremony aboard a yacht or sailboat is a fun way to be married. Usually the captain will find a pretty cove with a gorgeous backdrop to anchor in," says Bartolucci, speaking of beautiful scenery, calm waters and privacy. "I have performed ceremonies with up to 40 guests. It depends on the layout of the boat as well as the Coast Guard regulations as to how many guests the boat is licensed for. And when choosing a yacht ceremony, consider wearing your hair up and no veil, as it can be quite breezy on the water."
According to Bartolucci, top trends in island wedding ceremonies include:
--"Because island weddings are held in such picturesque locations, I always encourage the brides not to go too trendy with their decor. An understated arbor or aisle of conch shells goes a long way with a drop dead beautiful background."
--Know the island's restrictions. "Because we work within the U.S. Virgin Islands National Park on St. John with many weddings, there are restrictions on which decor items are allowed within the national park. Personally, I feel less is best with a backdrop of the Caribbean Sea. Why alter the view?"
--"It is also important to discuss with your planner what is realistic on an island versus what you have seen in a magazine. You may see a fabulous beach photo which was actually shot in a studio under controlled settings."
--"Ninety-nine percent of our weddings are held outdoors. We have to consider and make plans for the wind, tide, waves, bugs, beach erosion and sun when we plan island wedding ceremonies. This is the reality of island weddings."
--"If your ceremony will be off the beach, you might plan a welcome beach barbecue, which is a great way for the guest to see the beautiful beaches and spend time getting to know the other guests. Most couples want to plan at least one event on the beach, and we work to arrange the plan, since the Virgin Islands National Park does not allow events in the evening. However, many of the resorts are great locations for a cocktail party or rehearsal dinner."