Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Destination Wedding Locations: Turks and Caicos Islands

About thirty miles southeast of the Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos are a collection of thirty
islands whose laid-back lifestyle and close proximity to the United States makes then an interesting wedding destination site. The islands are a British Grown Colony, similar to Bermuda.

Wedding Logistics
Officially, the Turks and Caicos Islands require a fifteen-day residency requirement. However, a destination wedding planner told us you. can often- get by with just five days. Using a wedding planner is advisable for acquiring a wedding license here.

Costs, Accommodations, and Getting Around
Round-trip airfare from Miami is about $175 to Nassau in the Bahamas. That's the easy part—the trip to the Turks and Caicos, however requires quite a bit of patience. Boats are the most dependable option, but they are definitely slower than air options.

A seven-night package at a nice, higher-end hotel is about $2000 in the winter. Club Med (809-946-4491) has a resort here that charges $2500 per couple for a week which includes meals and drinks. Compared to other Caribbean destinations, these prices are quite reasonable U.S. dollars are legal tender.

What Makes it Special
Great service. Beautiful beaches. That's how we'd up the Turks and Caicos islands, which got the start "farming" salt about a hundred years ago. An interesting touring excursion: Iguana Island. This island, which is just a short boat ride away, has a wide variety of (you guessed it) iguanas. Plan on this vacation being very laid-back and relaxing. While there are plenty of water sports options, this is not a destination with overwhelming nightlife and shopping.

Insider Travel Tips
Due to its farther north latitude, temperatures in the Turks and Caicos can dip into the 60s in winter. On the upside, tropical breezes in summer keep the temperatures from going much above 90°.

Most of the lodging on the Turks is no-frill, with the exception of the splashy Club Med resort on Provo. The shopping is not the attraction here, but the scuba diving is reportedly excellent.
If you want to also take in the nearby Bahamas, the seven-hundred-island chain has some interesting sights. The cities of Nassau and Freeport are more cosmopolitan, with razzle-dazzle shopping and nightlife. Smaller isles (like the Family islands, Abacos, and San Salvador) are more low key and quiet. These islands feature lower room rates than in Nassau. The off-season in the Bahamas runs from mid-April to mid-December— with 33 percent discounts off winter rates.
If you visit Nassau, you probably should avoid Mondays and Thursdays. That's when the cruise ships dock and release throngs of tourists.

Destination Wedding Locations: Necker Island, British Virgin Islands

Did you think the United States had a monopoly on Virgin Islands. No, the British have their version, right next door. In fact, one of the British Virgins caught our attention for sheer uniqueness: Necker Island. If you want privacy, this is probably the ultimate.

Wedding Logistics
The British Virgin Islands have a three-business-day residency requirement before you can get a marriage license. While the documentation and other rules are not as complex as other parts of the Caribbean, it is probably advisable to hire a professional wedding planner (who is independent or part of a resort) to help complete the paperwork. The cost is is about $60.

Costs, Accommodations, and Getting Around
Would you like to rent a Caribbean island just for the two of you? Necker Island is a 74-acre, privately-owned island that can be yours for a mere $5500. Per day. And that's the off-season, which runs from May through November.

Perhaps the best suggestion to make Necker Island slightly more affordable is to take with you 10 of your closest friends. The price for seven to 12 people is $7500, while 13 to 20 guests is $9500 per day. With ten people, the cost would be a bargain at $750 per person per day. Winter rates are higher, as you might guess. From November 14 to May 14, the cost for one to ten persons is $9000 and eleven to twenty guests is $10,900 per day. This place is so private that it counts among its recent visitors the Princess of Wales.

So what do you get for all that money?. Basically, the entire island, which includes two houses with "idyllic views," all meals, pools, two Jacuzzis, water sports equipment and airport transfers. And did we mention the staff of nineteen servants?

If this sounds too expensive, other islands in the British Virgins have more down-to-earth rates. One island in particular offers incredible beaches and top-notch resorts: Virgin Gorda, which, translated, literally means Fat Virgin. Despite this less than glamorous name, Virgin Gorda has powdery white sands and a somewhat rustic feel. Only developed in recent years, the island suffers from slow service, and occasional power and water shortages, even though the main resort has its own water desalination plant.

Despite of the drawbacks, many visitors are impressed by the Little Dix Bay resort (809-495-5555) on Virgin Gorda. This five-hundred-acre luxury retreat has all the modern comforts and a leisurely pace. The price is |615 per couple per night, with discounts available in the low season (summer and fall). All meals are included in that price. The Bitter End Yacht Club (809-494-2746) has comfortable cottages or you can stay on a yacht in the bay. This boat-focused resort runs $280 to $360 per couple per night, which includes meals. That's the high season rate; lower prices are available in the off season. There isn't much nightlife on Virgin Gorda; the laid-back ambiance is the main draw.

Another interesting island in the British Virgins is Tortola, which is the seat of the islands' government. The stellar resort here is the four-star Long Bay Beach (809-495-4252), which offers an affordable $1650 per couple package for seven nights in the low season. This price includes a private patio, breakfast, and four dinners.

What Makes it Special
Unlike the U.S. Virgin Islands, the British Virgins offer a more authentic Caribbean vacation. Here you won't find the throngs of tourists who just disembarked from giant cruise ships. While the pace is slower, many of the resorts are top-notch. The culture here is "sea-oriented." One travel book author likened the British Virgins to an "Americanized Bermuda, without the perfect packaging and with higher prices."

Insider Travel Tips
The most common way to get to the British Virgins is from Puerto Rico. You can also take a boat from St. Thomas. Insiders tell us you can count on delays and any boat trip should be taken with little or no luggage (it tends to get lost). The best advice: ask the resort for the best.route to get there. U.S. currency is legal tender in the British. Virgins.

Destination Wedding Locations: Jamaica

Sandal's offers all inclusive honeymoon packages at ten resorts in Jamaica, Antigua, St.Lucia, and Barbados. You can also get married at almost any of their resorts (the exception is the Sandal's in Barbados, where a long residency requirement nixes easy nuptials there).

Wedding Logistics
One of the best aspects about a Sandal's wedding is that they handle all the paperwork and hassle of getting a marriage license. At least a month prior to the wedding, the resort requests that you send the following information: a cover letter with the name of the hotel, dates of travel, daytime phone numbers, date and time of the wedding, occupations, and fathers' names (if not stated on birth certificates).

Jamaica has a twenty-four-hour residency requirement (basically, you must be on the island at least one day before you can get married). Documents needed include the bride and groom's birth certificates, divorce decree or former spouse's death certificate (if previously married),, adoption papers or name changes. One plus: you don't have to have originals of those documents—notarized copies will do.

Antigua and St. Lucia require the same documents, except notarized copies won't do—you need the originals. These islands also have a longer residency requirement of seventy-two hours.

Costs, Accommodations, and Getting Around
Sandal's offers what is probably the best deal for intimate (bride and groom only) weddings in the Caribbean: for $500, you can get married at one of their resorts. This price includes champagne, a 5x7 wedding photograph (more photography is available at an extra charge), a-witness, an officiant, wedding cake, flowers for the bride and groom, manicures/pedicures or massages, video, morning or sunset cruise, and a personalized dinner.

Sandal's is currently putting together a full-scale wedding program with more extensive offerings. Possible future packages will include destination weddings with island themes for the bride, groom and guests.

Honeymoon packages are similarly affordable. To stay at a Sandal's resort in Jamaica during high season runs about $2000 to $3000 per week. During low season (April through December), the Sandals Negril runs $2645 per couple. Considering the all-inclusive nature of the packages (see below), this is a pretty good deal.

What Makes it Special
Sandal's is famous for their all-inclusive packages. Besides accommodations, the price also includes all meals, drinks, entertainment, airport transfers, taxes, gratuities, sport activities, and limited instruction for water sports, etc. All rooms have air-conditioning, king size beds and satellite TVs and telephones. Accommodations include beachfront rooms, junior suites and one-bedroom suites.

As for the food, you get three meals a day plus "anytime beach bars and grills" for snacks. Breakfast and lunch are buffet style, while dinner is a la carte. Gourmet restaurants are also available by reservation. Free beverages (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) are available from the bars and cocktail lounges. Activities include equipment and instruction for golf, windsurfing, snorkeling, water skiing and more. If you stay at a Sandals in Jamaica, you can visit other Sandals resorts on the island at no charge. At night, entertainment includes discos, theme parties, and more.

Insider Travel Tips
According to travel industry insiders we interviewed, the biggest advantage to Sandals is their all-inclusive packages, which include meals and alcoholic drinks. On the down side, no children are allowed. While the accommodations are nice, they're not high-end or particularly plush. Insiders tell us the resorts appeal to a younger crowd (mid to late twenties) who are somewhat less-traveled. Sandals are "very American," said a recent visitor to one of the Jamaican resorts. If you're looking for ethnic ambiance, you may want to look elsewhere.

The wedding package, while very affordable, is what others have described as "spartan." Typical flowers for the bride include a small nosegay of chrysanthemums and carnations—if you're expecting a flowing bouquet of roses and orchids you may be disappointed. Another criticism: the wedding package is very 'American," with little island or ethnic flavor.

On the upside, where else can you get married and spend a week in the Caribbean for under $4000? The ability to visit different resorts (even on other islands) and still know that all your meals and activities are included certainly relieves some of the stress that goes with any vacation.

Destination Wedding Locations: St. Thomas, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands

The Virgin Islands have been a virtual revolving-door of colonial powers, who have continually swapped the islands in a geopolitical gin rummy. "Discovered" in 1493 by Christopher ("Hey, I think we're near China") Columbus, the Virgins were first ruled by the English. In 1650, the English were kicked out by the Spanish, who were then thrown out on their butts by the French. Later, in 1653, Malta (that dinky island nation in the Mediterranean) came to rule the Virgin Islands, but nobody is sure why. When the Maltese needed money for a pizza expedition to Italy, they sold the island back to the French. Next came the Danish in 1666, who took control of the islands in order to ensure safe passage of pastries to the New World.

During World War I, the United States purchased the Virgins from Denmark for $25 million, ostensibly to protect shipping traffic passing through the newly minted Panama Canal. However, recent documents unearthed in federal archives revealed that the Virgin Islands were actually coveted by President Woodrow Wilson's cabinet, who mistakenly thought the islands were home to thousands of wild women.

Nevertheless, the Virgin Islands (where some wild partying is said-to still occur) are one of the easiest locations in the Caribbean to visit and get married. After all, they belong to the United States, so they speak English, use our money, and don't require any passports or other travel documents.

Wedding Logistics
The U.S. Virgins require a completed marriage application form from both the bride and groom. It must be typed and notarized. There is no blood test or physical exam. The applications must be forwarded to the Territorial Court of the U.S. Virgin Islands (809-774-7325) in advance—at least two weeks before you plan to arrive.

Once received, the application takes eight days for processing. During this time, the application is posted for public inspection. After that the license can be issued but you must pick it up in person (unless your wedding planner has been authorized by the court to pick it up for you). There is a $50 fee. Fortunately, there is no residency requirement.

Costs, Accommodations, and Getting Around
Debra Filkins of Touches of Romance Paradise Weddings (809-774-8232) plans weddings on St. Thomas (the main island in the U.S. Virgin Islands). We spoke to her recently about what it costs to get married there. She has four different packages that range from $300 to $2700.
All packages include choice of site, transportation to and from the wedding, choice of clergy, marriage license fee, witnesses, a written copy of the wedding ceremony, a bridal bouquet and matching bouton-niere, wedding cake, and commemorative wedding photo album. The most expensive package, for $2700, also includes a bottle of Dom Perignon with keepsake champagne flutes, over seventy photos and a ceremony videotape, limo service, live music, and a helicopter ride to a secluded beach followed by a private picnic. Debra requires a 50 percent deposit to book the date with the balance to be paid at the wedding. The deposit is refundable up to fifteen days prior to the wedding. Debra told us many folks stop off in St. Thomas from a cruise, marry here, and then continue on with the rest of the cruise.

If you plan to stay in the Virgins, hotel packages range from $1700 to $3800 per couple for a seven-night stay. For example, we've heard raves about the Ganeel Bay resort (800-223-7637 or 809-776-6111) on St. John. This 170-acre resort has seven beaches that ring a peninsula. The 171 guest rooms have views of a garden courtyard or the sea. Honeymoon packages run $1495 to $2580 per couple for seven nights in low season (May 1 to November 6), $1630 to $2890 in the shoulder season (April and November 7 to December 19) and $2330 to $3800 in high season January through March). Three-night packages in the off and shoulder seasons run $650 to $1250. Included in the price are activities and a beach barbecue. Other plans include an "island hopper" package, tennis, scuba diving, and land/sail options.

What Makes it Special
In the winter, humpbacked whales mate in the nearby waters. Isn't that romantic? The Virgins have a wide variety of beaches, shopping and, of course, water sports. Access to other nearby islands for more rustic and/or private vacations makes the Virgins a common jumping-off point. Since it is a U.S. territory, you don't have to exchange your money for some exotic currency.

Insider Travel Tips
Many people (especially seasoned travelers) find that St. Thomas is very touristy and crowded. Recent crime sprees have given parts of this island a less than stellar reputation. Our advice: get married here and then quickly leave for a more exciting island. For example, nearby St. John's (the smallest of the three U.S. Virgin Islands) is stunning. Two thirds of this laid-back island is a national park.

If you want to stay on St. Thomas, be aware that crime along the waterfront between the town and marina makes wandering around outside of well-traveled routes in less-busy hours ill-advised. The hills are home to the some of the island's best restaurants—but the drive at night makes some people nervous. Best bet: take a taxi. A car is rather essential to get around on St. Thomas or St. John. Thanks to the Danish, drivers drive on the left (or wrong) side of the road.

While you don't need a passport to visit the Virgins, you do need proof of U.S. citizenship to leave. This can be a passport, driver's license, birth certificate, voter registration card, etc.

Destination Wedding Locations: Aruba, Jamaica, Caribbean

As we write this section, we're listening to some Jimmy Buffett music. We strongly recommend a dose of Buffett to get a good feel for the Caribbean. All those tourists covered with oil. That frozen concoction that helps me hang on. Searching for my lost shaker of salt. You get the idea. A destination wedding and honeymoon in the Caribbean could be just what the doctor ordered. But choose carefully.

First, understand that all islands are not created equal in the eyes of the Wedding Gods. Each of the islands has its own rules—some are minimal, others require you to be on the island for, say, forty days and forty nights before you can tie the knot. In this section, we review a selection of islands that are the easiest (and most attractive) sites for a wedding.

Second, the islands vary greatly in character and class. Some are seedy while others are charming. A few are warm and inviting, while others can be rather snobby. Before you chart your course for the Caribbean, do some research. Talk with others who have visited the destination. Get advice from a travel agent. Read those travel guide books (our personal favorite: The Fielding Guide to the Caribbean by Margaret Zellers. Her refreshingly candid comments are indispensable). What follows is a brief primer to what we think are the best places to get married in the Caribbean.

Best Time to Go
Everyone wants to escape the cold winter in the United States, so Caribbean rates are highest then. In the summer (roughly from mid-April to mid-December), you can save as much as 40 percent off the winter high-season prices. The best bargains: shoulder season rates in late April and again in November.

What's the weather like? What do you expect? Steady trade winds modify the climate, keeping it from getting too hot in the summer. The rainy season, usually in the fall, has quick and heavy showers that may occur late at night or early in the morning. Hence, they don't usually affect your plans. Hurricanes, on the other hand, are no fun at all. The hurricane season is June through November. While only a few storms may form a year, they're unpredictable and are prone to travel wherever they darn well please.

Destination Wedding Locations: Switzerland

If you've skied all the domestic ski resorts and are looking for a little international flavor, check out the incredible slopes of Switzerland. And getting married here is easier than you think. From towns with glitzy nightlife and shopping like St. Moritz to ski resorts like Grindelwald, Switzerland offers a wide variety of things to do.

Wedding Logistics
Grindelwald and St. Moritz require no residency or waiting period. However, planners we interviewed suggested arriving three days early to get a marriage license and do any last-minute document processing. Start planning anywhere from three to six months ahead—you need that time to do the paperwork and fulfill the filing requirements. Switzerland recognizes only civil ceremonies.

Local Bridal Customs
The Swiss blend both French and German customs in their weddings. A horse-drawn carriage is a romantic way to get the ceremony, while a yodel choir is often the perfect musical accompaniment to a Swiss wedding.

Best Time to Go
Obviously, the skiing is the big attraction. The resorts have both high and low seasons in winter and summer. For example, December 18 through January 6 is high season at many hotels in St. Moritz. Meanwhile, low winter season is January 6 through February 5. In the summer, most of July is the low season, while August is high. This may be due to the fact that most Europeans take vacations in August.

Many airlines slash their air fares to Europe in the winter. This savings may far outweigh higher hotel prices. The cheapest destinations usually are London or Amsterdam. You can then get a connecting flight to Switzerland. One example: Singapore Airlines last year offered super-low winter fares from New York to Frankfurt—just $328 per person. Check with your travel agent for the latest deals.

Costs, Accommodations, and Getting Around
While the airfare to Switzerland is cheap(er) in the winter, once you get there you should expect to shell out the big bucks. Thanks to a weak dollar, Switzerland is quite expensive.
For example, even a simple wedding with flowers, cake, and photographer in Europe runs about $2000, according to our sources. In Switzerland, some of this cost is for the license—about $325 plus additional money for document translations.

In Grindelwald, rates at various hotels range from $129 to $592 per couple per night. Summer packages are more affordable, at $695 to $1835 per couple for seven nights.
A stay in St. Moritz isn't any less expensive. The Badrutt's Palace Hotel (082-2-11-01) runs an astounding $828 per night in the winter. Summer is $690. Meals are also expensive; expect a $26 tab for a continental breakfast, while dinner for two can top $150.

What Makes it Special
Grindelwald boasts some of the best powder in Europe, as well as a resort town with fifty restaurants. In the summer, check out the Alpine Cheese Excursion festival. Glacier Gorge and Blue Ice Cave are nearby, and the highest railway station in Europe is accessible via a Cogwheel Railway.

Destination Wedding Locations: Scotland

Great Britain is quite a popular honeymoon destination for couples looking for a bit of ancient history, pomp, and circumstance plus (as an added bonus) natives who speak a reasonably intelligible version of English. Scotland offers a different ambience for those not interested in the big-city life in London or the ultra-touristy haunts of England like Stratford or Bath. Instead, you can opt for a little Highland fun with bagpipes, kilts, and haunted castles—it's even possible to get married in such a location.

Wedding Logistics
Scotland doesn't have a residency requirement, but complex rules and regulations make hiring a professional destination wedding planner a must. There is a filing period which averages six weeks for document processing. The cost of a license is 26 pounds (about $45 dollars).

Local Bridal Customs
From kilts to bagpipe music, many couples incorporate local traditions when they marry in Scotland. Lute players often provide soft ceremony music while tapestries provide unique backgrounds for wedding photos.

Best Time to Go
The best time to visit Scotland is in the late spring or summer. While it is always rainy year round, the winter can be much worse. It can even snow in the high altitudes of Scotiand and the damp, cold weather is not much fun. By comparison, the driest and warmest weather is June, July, and August, which also corresponds to the high tourist season.

Costs, Accommodations, and Getting Around
Europe ain't a cheap place to tie the knot and Scotland is no exception. Expect to pay $2000 for
a simple ceremony, cake, flowers, and an on-site coordinator.

For the honeymoon, you can stay in a castle for about $400 a night, while an inn runs about $200. In the western highlands, Inverlochy Castle (01.1-44-397-702177) has sixteen guest rooms; prices start at $384 per couple in the high season and include a full break-
fast. Inverlochy apparently has a famous afternoon tea that is the highlight of the stay.
A less expensive alternative is Creggan's Inn (011- 44-369-86279) at $256 per night, which includes breakfast and dinner.

What Makes it Special
Since the Scots invented it, golf is no doubt one of the biggest attractions in Scotland—diehard fans will find the many courses quite challenging. Other outdoor sports such as hiking and camping are also popular.

History buffs will be enchanted with the many castles and ruins to visit. These include Balmoral Gasde (Queen Elizabeth's vacation home), the grounds, of which are open to the public from May to July (except when the royal family is in residence).

Of the dozens of other castles open to visitors, Drum Castle in Drumoak is. certainly worth a stop. The castle actually has one of the rings of Mary, Queen of Scots on display as well as various other artifacts. Graigievar Castle, a seventeenth-century structure near Lumphanan, has quite a collection of weaponry, family portraits^ a dungeon, and a few ghosts as well.
Don't forget to visit Scodand's most famous inhabitant: the Loch Ness Monster. In fact, Scotland has quite a few lakes and streams with excellent fishing— just don't catch Nessie!