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!

Destination Wedding Locations: Australia

If you've always wanted to discover what a "Vegi-Mite" sandwich was or just scuba dive to one of the world's most incredible reefs, Australia might just be the destination wedding and honeymoon site for you.

Wedding Logistics
Australia has no blood test or residency requirement for brides and grooms. There is, however a thirty-one-day filing period for document processing. You can get all the necessary documents from one of the seven Australian consulates in the United States. To get the number of the closest consulate to you, call the Australian embassy in Washington, D.G., at 202-797-3000.
Different states in Australia have varying marriage license requirements. Some states like Victoria and Tasmania require an additional fee if the wedding is over the weekend or in a special venue such as a park or restaurant.

Best Time to Go
Australia's seasons are the reverse of ours here in the States. Hence, the prime summer season runs from December through March. Winter begins in July. The closer to the equator (or further north) you are, the stronger the sun. Of course, there are wide variations in climate from region to region. For example, southern Australia's climate is more temperate, while the northern third of the country is tropical. Temperatures in Sydney average in the low to high 70s, with hotter readings in the summer. By contrast, Queensland in the north has temperatures in the 80s.

Costs, Accommodations, and Getting Around
The best bargains may be the many air/hotel packages that are offered by tour companies. Airfare alone from Los Angeles can run $1200 per person in the high season. Contrast that to package deals that start at $ 1500 for both air and hotel.

For example, a sojourn to the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland at the Kwarra Beach resort runs $1598 per person. That price includes round-trip airfare from Los Angeles, five nights of luxury accommodations with all.breakfasts, cruises to the outer reef, three dinners, and one lunch. This tour, offered by Expanding Horizons (800-421-6416), is a best buy.

Want to take in Sydney, too? A fourteen-day package (offered by Swain Australia Tours, 800-227-9246) to both Sydney and the Great Barrier Reef runs $6300 per couple. That includes five nights- on Hayman Island at the Great Barrier .Reefs, outer reef excursions, four nights in Sydney at the Park Lane Hotel, a Sydney Harbor cruise, three nights at Silky Oaks Lodge in the. rain forests and, if that weren't enough, a rain-forest safari. The price also includes airfare. You can even get married on Hayman Island—the wedding package includes a justice of the peace, live music, and a reception.

What Makes it Special
The tremendous variety of sights and things to do makes Australia a fascinating honeymoon site. From cosmopolitan Sydney to the "garden city of Melbourne" (whose botanic gardens feature exotic plants and nineteenth-century landscaping), you can have a "civilized" trip or go for a little adventure. The island of Tasmania has lots of bed-and-breakfast inns and. rolling pastures and herds of sheep, similar, to pastoral parts of England. The northern territory is rugged and dry, highlighted by the aboriginal paintings and rock formations of Kakadu National Park. Gawler Range Wilderness Safaris (086/802020) offers safaris into South Australia's Gawler Mountain range. There aren't any roads, but lots of wildlife makes the rugged travel worth it.

Insider Travel Tips
The plane ride is a very long seventeen to eighteen hours. You may want to break up the flight with a stay in Los Angeles (if you are travelling from the East Coast) or in Hawaii.

Destination Wedding Locations: Kenya, Africa

Tired of the Caribbean? Looking for something more exotic? How about a safari wedding in Africa? Let's be honest here—a wedding in Kenya is not for everyone. The main appeal will be for wildlife enthusiasts and travel connoisseurs.

Wedding Logistics
Kenya requires a three-business-day residency before you can get your marriage license. Documents needed include a birth certificate and proof of a divorce (if previously married). There are no medical tests, and tour companies such as International Ventures (mentioned below) will arrange for document processing.

Local Bridal Customs
In addition to the standard wedding that comes as a part of International Ventures package, you can also hire a local children's choir ($95) or chukka drummers ($180.) The wedding ceremony can be held in a thatched chapel with a view of Mount Kenya. One interesting local wedding tradition: the bride and groom often have their wrists bound in grass as a symbol of their commitment to each other.

Best Time to Go
The peak season is May through mid August. Another peak season runs from December to January 15. Prices vary a small amount from high to low seasons.

Costs, Accommodations, and Getting Around
International Ventures offers an eleven-day safari wedding package for $2995 per person (low season) or $3245 per person (high season). Included in that price is round-trip airfare from New York, all meals except in Nairobi, game park entrance fees, and assistance in applying for wedding license. The wedding ceremony is held at the plush Mt. Kenya Safari Club resort and includes a wedding cake and complimentary suite upgrade. (Extras include a photographer $230, video $460, string quartet by river $690, horse-drawn carriage $50).

As for the safari, you will be flown over wildlife sanctuaries and driven out to view the African game in the area. The tour company offers different levels of "experience," ranging from "mobile quality tented safaris" (the least expensive) to "classic luxury tented" outings. The most expensive are the "premier lodge safaris," where guests stay in lodges during the outings instead of tents.

What Makes it Special
This is truly a one-of-a-kind experience. Each tour is limited to a small number of participants. In addition, the tour company makes a small donation for each tour to one of several wildlife conservation programs in East Africa. And how many of your friends can say they were married on safari in Africa?

Insider Travel Tips
Be prepared for the lengthy flight—a whopping fifteen hours from New York to Kenya via a direct South African Airways flight.

Destination Wedding Locations: Greece

From ancient ruins to beach resorts, Greece offers a European destination wedding and reception with an added advantage: prices here are comparatively less- than other nearby countries. And the country's relatively lax marriage laws make tying the knot much easier than in, say, France or Italy.

Wedding Logistics
Greece has no residency requirements or waiting-periods to get a marriage license. For a civil ceremony, you apply to the mayor (or "president") of the community where you plan to get married. Greece requires couples desiring a religious ceremony to get a marriage license from the parish priest of that town.

The process of getting a marriage license in Greece is a little complicated—documents like, birth certificates must be translated, notices in Greek must be placed in local newspapers and there is a short "filing period" (processing time). Religious ceremonies have other restrictions and requirements. Despite the red tape, Greece is still easier than other European countries. You may want to seek the help of a professional wedding planner (see the end of this section), however, to wade through all the requirements and rules.

Here's another nice option: for a civil ceremony in Greece, you can actually use a U.S. marriage license to tie the knot in Greece, as long as it is authenticated by a Greek consulate in the United States and translated.

Local Bridal Customs
Witnesses, who also serve as interpreters, are considered "spiritual" relatives to assist the priest in bringing the couple to holy matrimony. In addition, the Unique Tours wedding package we describe below incorporates other Greek wedding traditions into the ceremonies, flowers, music, and so on.

Best Time to Go
Greece has a bewildering series' of high and low seasons, depending on where you are. As you might expect, beach-front resorts have a high season in the summer months (June through August). Meanwhile, Athens and other mainland cities have discounts at those times. Islands also have their own high and low seasons. For example, Petassos Beach Hotel on Mykonos island has a low season from April through mid-May and in October—rates are nearly 40 percent less than high season, which runs mid-June through September. The bottom line: check carefully for the best deals at each location.

Costs, Accommodations, and Getting Around
Unique Tours is the foremost authority on Greek nuptials. Company's wedding and honeymoon packages are priced on an a la carte basis.
For example, a Christian wedding ceremony in Athens runs $555 (the same ceremony on an island is $615). This fee covers processing of all documents for a marriage license, a priest, and two witnesses. Extras include document translations ($7 per page), flowers ($112 for a bride's bouquet and groom's boutonniere), and photography ($343 in Athens, the islands are $375) which yields fifty photographs. Video services run $380 in Athens to $440 on the islands. Add it all up and a basic wedding on a Greek island with flowers, photographer, and video is about $1600.

A ten-day honeymoon package that includes time on two islands plus a stay in Athens runs $2639 per couple in high season or $2228 in low season. That price includes airfare between the islands, but not international airfares. We should note that Unique Tours wedding packages require a ten-day stay.

The company also has other theme tours including an "Early Christian Experience" package, which mirrors travels by the apostles, and a "Cruises with Epirotiki" plan with classical Greek themes plus an excursion to Turkey. One of the more interesting honeymoon accommodations in Greece is a replica of a windmill that is actually a three-story luxury villa overlooking the Mediterranean. Three nights here run $948 per couple.

Overall, we liked the way you can mix and match various destinations and outings instead of being locked into a rigid schedule.

What Makes it Special
Greece offers a wide variety of things to do for a destination wedding and honeymoon: cruises between the islands, sightseeing at ancient ruins, a history that dates back several thousand years, both early Greek and early Christian heritage, museums in Athens, island hopping, and more.

Insider Travel Tips
If you plan to wed in Greece on a Unique Tours package, all your documents must be to the company's office at least two months prior to departure. As a result, you may need to begin planning a Greek wedding and honeymoon a good three to six months in advance.

Destination Wedding Locations: Turtle Island, Fiji

Winding white beaches, dense jungle foliage, a crescent-shaped cove below black lava cliffs,
coconut groves through which Chinese pheasants run wild, rainbow colored fish in incredibly clear blue water." That's an account of a fictional South Pacific island from a 1906 novel that was later adapted for the 1980 film, "Blue Lagoon," starring Brooke Shields. When Columbia Pictures searched for locations to shoot the movie, the studio considered over a thousand islands and finally decided on the one that best matched the above description: Turtle Island, Fiji.

Wedding Logistics
Quite simple. Basically, the resort takes care of all the details. You bring your birth certificate (or a copy), a passport, and a divorce decree (if divorced). Two types of ceremonies are available on Turtle Island: Roman Catholic and Methodist. For Catholic weddings, the resort recommends that you contact your parish priest in the United States and find out what his requirements are. For example, some diocese require completion of a marriage preparation program, proof of baptism, etc. All this paperwork should be sent to the Catholic priest in Fiji about four months before the wedding. Another additional requirement: Catholic couples must be in Fiji three days prior to the wedding, since the license must be in the hands of the local Fijian priest at least two days before the wedding day.

With Methodist weddings, there is no waiting period or residency requirements. (We should note, however, that the resort recommends you fly in on a weekday at least three days before your wedding day. This time is used to obtain the license, get fitted with the traditional Fiji attire, and plan the wedding feast.) Contrast this to nearby Tahiti, which requires a lengthy forty-day residency period and translations of documents into French.

Local Bridal Customs
Weddings on Turtle Island closely follow Fijian traditions. Held at sunset on the beach, the bride and groom dress in tapa cloth, traditional Fiji wedding attire. "Tapa is made from tree bark and hand-painted with traditional Fijian symbols in tan, brown, and black," the resort's wedding literature explains.

"The trumpeting of conch shells announce the. bride's arrival on the wedding raft (a bill bilx). Drums beat ceremonial rhythms as the bride disembarks and is escorted to her groom by two Fijian attendants. As they approach the archway of the outdoor altar, they are heralded by a robed Fijian choir. After the special kava ceremony (which seals the marriage), the newly-weds are carried on a throne to the wedding lovo, or feast, typically consisting of roast pig, fresh seafood, and other local delicacies."

Best Time to Go
The cheapest air fares from the States are during our summer months—June, July, and August. Since Fiji is in the southern hemisphere, seasons there are the reverse of ours. The Fiji winter (our summer) is the driest time of the year. The rainy season is December through early April, with most of the rain coming during March. Temperatures don't vary much year-round, with lows in the mid 70s and highs in the mid to upper 80s. May through October is marked by slightly cooler temperatures and lower humidity.

Costs, Accommodations, and Getting Around
The wedding package described above runs $1000, plus 10 percent tax. Considering all you get. (minister, choir, apparel, flowers, photography, video, and reception) this is a pretty good deal.
A one-week stay on. Turtle Island runs $6270 per couple. Accommodations are beach front cottages, each of which has a separate sitting room and two bathrooms. The price includes all meals, snacks, beverages, airport transfers, and activities—fishing, scuba diving, r horseback riding, water sports, and sunlight cruises. You can reserve private beaches for private champagne picnic lunches. The only place to spend extra money is the gift shop.

There is no high or low season on Turde—the price stays the same year-round. If those prices are too high, there are several other resorts in Fiji which run $2000 to $3000 per couple per week. Of course, those prices don't include meals or airport transfers.
Airfare to Fiji from Los Angeles runs about $750 per person in low season (summer) and $1050 per person in high season (winter).

What Makes it Special
What impressed us most about the Turde Island wedding/honeymoon package is the all-inclusive package. The ceremony steeped in native traditions, the no-hassle honeymoon that includes all meals, and the spectacular setting makes Turde Island a wonderful destination.
Another plus: the five-hundred-acre resort only-has fourteen cottages and encompasses all of Turtle Island. There are no huge crowds or throngs of tourists on Turde.

Insider Travel Tips
The flight time from Los Angeles is thirteen hours, which includes a stopover in Hawaii. You may want to break up the trip back home with a brief one- or two-night stay in Hawaii.

Destination Wedding Locations: Cancun, Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

One of the best bargains for a destination wedding and honeymoon is Mexico. Compared to the sky-high prices of the Caribbean and Hawaii, Mexico looks darned affordable. And when you compare hotel prices here with a stay in Europe . . . well, it's no contest.

That's not to say that a wedding and honeymoon in Mexico is free. When you factor in airfare, hotel, meals, and shopping during a week's stay at a nice resort, the total tab can run $2000 to $3000. Package options, as we'll discuss later, are the most affordable way to go. A basic wedding will run you about $500, with more elaborate options at $1000 and up.

Perhaps the most difficult decision about planning a far and away wedding in Mexico is which location to choose—each resort area has its own style and character. Here's an overview of what we consider the best places to tie the knot: Cancun/Cozumel, Acapulco, and Puerto Vallarta.

CANCUN/COZUMEL. The best thing about Cancun and Cozumel is that you can get Caribbean water at a Mexican price. The white sand beaches, the plush resorts, a plethora of water sports—you get the idea.

Seasoned travellers tell-us Cancun is a young person's resort. And, as evidenced by the throngs of spring-breakers who flock here once a year, this fact has not gone unnoticed.
A thirty minute flight from Cancun is the island of Gozumel. Here you'll find some of the best scuba diving and snorkeling in the country. The shopping is limited, but the leisurely pace stands in contrast to Cancun.

A few hours away from Cancun are two famous Mayan ruins, including Chichen Itza, which is the largest and most fascinating.

ACAPULCO. On the Pacific coast, Acapulco is famous for its culture and history. The water and beaches aren't as outstanding as Cancun, but the hotels, private homes, and villas are stand-outs. The hustle and bustle here continues well past sunset with a busy nighdife. Great restaurants overlook the harbor and shopping is fantastic.

PUERTO VALLARTA. Further up the coast from Acapulco is Puerto Vallarta, made famous by the 1964 movie, "Night of the Iguana," starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. This resort has a totally different feel than Cancun or Acapulco. Cobblestone streets and outstanding restaurants give the town an international ambience, enhanced by the sporty boutiques and great shopping. Take a day trip into the jungle for a mini-safari. On the down side, Puerto Vallarta has only "average" beaches and water, according to travellers we've interviewed.

Wedding Logistics
Only civil marriages are legal in Mexico. As for requirements and documentation, each federal district (roughly the equivalent of states) of Mexico has its own rules and regulations. Some require blood tests and a medical exam with chest X-rays by a Mexican doctor. Fortunately, most of the tourist areas have relaxed marriage license rules that do not include such extensive medical exams.

There is no residency period, but you must have your birth certificate certified or notarized (unlike other regions of the country, the three destinations we highlight here require no translations). There are a few more paperwork requirements and the bureaucracy in Mexico is famous for its red tape. Hence, we strongly recommend that you use the services of a professional wedding planner or a resort's wedding coordinator to ensure you've complied with all the rules. The bottom line: with all the paperwork and regulations, it takes about three to five days processing time to get a marriage license in Mexico.

Local Bridal Customs
Mexican weddings are full of ethnic traditions and color. From mariachi bands to bridal bouquets of flowing bird-of-paradise flowers, you can pick and choose different options. The most common wedding-cake is a single-layer "tres leche" confection of white cake. At receptions, friends and family circle the bride and groom while they dance their first dance.

Best Time to Go
High season runs from Christmas through April, with prices at their peak. Perhaps the best time to visit is from November 28 through December 15—the weather is quite nice and the premium prices haven't kicked in. Other discounts can be had during the off season in the summer and fall.
As for the weather, the coastal areas boast a tropical climate, with temperatures in the 70s and 80s in winter and 90+ in the summer. Each region of Mexico has a different climate, so you may want to research an area before making plans.

Cost, Accommodations, and Getting Around
Compared to Caribbean destinations, Mexico is one of the most affordable destinations around. You could pay as littie as $140 per night for a standard room in a nice resort in low season, up to $ 185 in high season. Overall, a Mexico hotel stay runs about 30 percent less than a similar room at a resort in the Caribbean or Hawaii. Dinner at a nice restaurant costs about $50. Contrast that with Hawaii, where dinner for two can often run $75 to $100 or more.

Some of the more interesting packages we discovered include Acapulco's Westin Las Brisas (800-228-3000), which offers rates from $980 per couple for three nights to $2176 per couple for seven nights in the low season (April 18 to December 18). That price includes continental breakfast, one dinner, a rental jeep, and all gratuities.

In Cancun, the Ritz Carlton Cancun (800-241-3333) has a three-night package for $1330 in low season and $1482 in the high season. Extra nights are $247 to $293, respectively. The plan includes a candlelight dinner on a private balcony and a day excursion to the ancient Mayan city of Tulum.

So diving is your passion and Cozumel your ultimate destination? We discovered that the Stouffer Présidente Cozumel hotel (800-HOTELS-l) offers an eight-night package for $1260 per couple in the low season, which includes breakfasts, one dinner, and gratuities.

Puerto Vallarta may be the most affordable of all, with a seven-night package at Fiesta Americana (800-FIESTA-1) costing a mere $920 per couple; this includes breakfast, one dinner, and rental car discounts.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Destination Wedding Locations: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

A friend of ours who is a golf fanatic moved to Myrtle Beach a couple of years ago and thought he had died and gone to heaven. The area's numerous world-class courses, combined with mild
winter weather, was a dream come true. Of course, there's more to this popular resort
than golf—the boardwalk, shops, and carnivals, plus sixteen miles of beaches make
Myrtie Beach one of the country's top destination wedding and honeymoon sites.

Wedding Logistics
Compared to- neighboring states, South Carolina's marriage requirements are a breeze. There is no blood test or medical, exam. While there is a twenty-four-hour waiting period between the time you get a license and when you can be married, this can be waived by applying for a license ahead of time in writing. The cost is $15.

By comparison, Georgia requires a test for venereal disease to get a marriage license, and North Carolina is even worse: brides and grooms must be checked for mental incompetence, tuberculosis, venereal disease, and rubella. No wonder South Carolina looks like a better bet for a destination wedding.

Local Bridal Customs
As with other southern states, you're likely to encounter groom's cakes at wedding receptions in South Carolina. This is a separate chocolate cake that is theoretically for the groom, while a wedding cake is the "bride's" cake.

Best Time to Go
Summer in South Carolina can be a steam bath, with temperatures in the 90s. Cooler temperatures and fewer crowds make April and May (after Easter and before Memorial Day) nice months to visit, as well as September and October.

Costs, Accommodations, and Getting Around
One of the best things about a wedding/honeymoon in Myrtle Beach is the relatively moderate cost. Most resort hotels on the beach are in the $150-per-night range. For example, the Breakers Resort (800-845-0688) offers a three-night package during high season (June 26 though August 15) for $490. You get a one-bedroom suite, flowers, champagne, and breakfast in bed every day. The room has an ocean view, double whirlpool bath, plus a full kitchen. Seven nights runs $1110. In the slower months like April, the same room rents for $331 for three nights and $739 for seven.

What Makes it Special
Myrtle Beach has fifty, that's right, fifty golf courses. A variety of activities, including horseback riding and hiking, will keep you busy. And, unlike other parts of the country, the locals are quite friendly.

Insider Travel Tips
As with other coastal areas along the Atlantic seaboard, hurricane season runs from June through September. Be prepared for rain, especially in the spring and fall.

Destination Wedding Locations: Tahoe

Less than a day's drive from the West Coast is the largest alpine lake in America: Lake Tahoe. Straddling the California/Nevada border, the twenty-of two-mile-long lake offers the best of both worlds: skiing and gambling (on the Nevada side, of course).

Wedding Logistics
As long as you're on the Nevada side of the border, getting a marriage license is relatively easy. There is no waiting period or blood test—-just bring your driver's license and $40 cash. California's more restrictive marriage laws require a medical examination (see the article on getting married in San Diego).

Best Time to Go
Like most ski resorts, the Lake Tahoe area is busiest the week after Christmas and during spring break in March. The ski resorts (most of which are on the California side) are packed during those times. Meanwhile, the Nevada resorts tend to charge lower prices during the winter than the summer. Hence the best time to go depends on what you want to do— gambling, skiing, outdoor hikes, or just relaxing by the pool?

What Makes it Special
Nine area ski resorts (including Squaw Valley and Heavenly) combined with the casinos make Lake Tahoe a unique winter destination. In the summer, a variety of outdoor activities (hiking, river rafting, golfing) is supplemented by several music and theater festivals. Typical events include a microbrewery beer fest, the Kokanee Salmon Festival, Autumn Food and Wine • Jubilee, Oktoberfest, and Snowfest winter carnival. Fans of the "Bonanza" TV show might enjoy a visit to the Ponderosa Ranch, where the show was filmed. Of course, the casinos have another draw besides slot machines and blackjack: big-name entertainers like Bill Cosby regularly come through town.

Insider Travel Tips
The elevation of Lake Tahoe (between 6000 and 8000 feet above sea level) may take some adjusting to—take it easy the first day and drink plenty of fluids.

The north and south shores of Lake Tahoe really have two different atmospheres. The north end of the lake is more quiet and relaxed, with rustic lodges and 1 a calmer pace. Meanwhile, the south side is frenetic and crowded—the many casinos attract a younger and noisier crowd.
The nearest airport is Reno, about an hour's drive away A new carrier, Reno Air, has sparked an airfare war there with bargain-basement air fares. As a side note, American Eagle (the commuter arm of American Airlines) does fly into the South Tahoe airport.

Costs, Accommodations, and Getting Around
Our pick as one of the best places for a destination wedding and honeymoon at Tahoe is the Cal-Neva Lodge in Crystal Bay (702-832-4000, 800-225-6382). Straddling the border of both states on the north shore of Lake Tahoe, the Cal-Neva has a classic hunting-lodge decor with plenty of wood and stuffed animal heads—a decidedly laid-back feel.

The resort/casino boasts a full-time wedding department that helps coordinate all the ceremony and reception details. Three locations are available to tie the knot, including two chapels and a white lattice gazebo overlooking the lake. The cost for the chapels are $250 to $300, while the gazebo is $400—this includes a minister and live music. Apparently the ambience of this place is not lost on brides and grooms—the Gal-Neva last year held over one thousand weddings!

As for the honeymoon, the lodge offers a three-night package that includes dinner for two, a cruise on a paddleboat with dinner and dancing, and two breakfasts. The price runs from $481 for a "premier room" to $841 for the honeymoon chalet in the summer. Winter prices (except for the week after Christmas) are somewhat less, running $416 to $743. Seven-night packages are also available, ranging from $933 to $1696 in the summer, and $1085 to $1924 in the winter.
If you want to stay on the south shore of Lake Tahoe and want to avoid die crowds, try Harvey's resort and casino (800-648-3361). Harrah's and Caesars are more popular but definitely more crowded. The Inn by the Lake in South Tahoe (800-877-1466) near Stateline has a three-night package for $468, five nights for $768 and seven nights for $ 1038; this includes a room with private balcony overlooking the lake and a complimentary show or boat cruise with the five- or seven-night stays.

Many ski resorts offer honeymoon packages as well. For example, the Tahoe Seasons resort (916-541-6010) at Heavenly Valley ski area has a two-night package that is $317 in the winter and summer and $250 in the spring and fall. Accommodations include a suite with fireplace, private spa, and breakfast.

Destination Wedding Locations: Colorado Ski Wedding

Okay, maybe we're biased, but we think getting married in Colorado is a pretty nifty idea. From skiing through waist-deep powder in the winter to gliding down the continental divide on a mountain bike in the summer, the state is fun-o-rama. Let's take a look at the reasons

Wedding Logistics
Colorado is one of the easiest states in the West in which to get a marriage license. There is no blood test, medical exam, or waiting period. Drop by any marriage license office in the state, show some form of ID (you both need to be present), pay $20, and that's it. You've got a marriage license good for thirty days anywhere in the state.

Local Bridal Customs
Colorado prides itself on a laid-back, "Hey, dude" attitude. Weddings are similarly low key. It's not unusual to see a bride in lace-up boots and a Victorian-inspired bridal gown, while a groom dons western garb with bolo tie. Outdoor enthusiasts have been known to marry on skis at the summit of the Continental Divide—on the Fourth of July! After swooshing down the slopes, guests can take a twilight sleigh ride to a reception dinner cook-out (in a heated tent in winter, of course) featuring such delicacies as Buffalo Stew and Elk Steak. While you might see glittery dresses and fur coats in hoity-toity ski resorts like Aspen and Vail, the other 99 percent of Colorado is strictly a blue-jeans land of place.

Best Time to Go /What Makes it Special
In recent years, Colorado has developed into a year-round destination. Obviously, winter skiing is still the big attraction, with the resorts packed to capacity the week after Christmas through New Year's Day. Spring break and Easter weekend are other crazy times. What if you want to avoid the crowds? Depending on the snow conditions, some resorts open in November and offer discount lodging and lift tickets. January is a "value season" at most resorts, since the crowds thin out after the New Year's holiday. Spring skiing (late February through April, except for spring break) offers good conditions and sparse crowds. The best tip: ski during the week to avoid weekend crowds of local Coloradans who flood the slopes on Saturdays and Sundays.
What about the rest of the year? After the skiing ends, many resorts offer year-round activities like golf, hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. From camping in Rocky Mountain National Park to visiting Dinosaur National Monument (a la Jurassic Park) on the western slope, the list of things to do is endless. We like the many festivals and arts fairs, including the Cherry Creek Arts Festival near the Fourth of July in Denver and the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in June. The best time to visit in the summer is probably June and July (increasingly popular August family vacations makes that month less attractive), Fall brings the changing of the aspen, whose leaves turn in a spectacular show of bright gold. The peak of the fall foliage usually occurs in early to mid September.

No matter what the seasons, Colorado is always blessed with low humidity. Spring and fall are similar with warm days (60s and 70s) and cool nights. In the high country, it can snow in June or July and then warm into the 80s the next day. Sudden summer thunderstorms can knock the temperature down thirty degrees in a matter of minutes. On the eastern plains (Denver and Boulder), summer temperatures can soar into the 90s. Let's not sugar-coat this: the winter in the mountains can be brutally cold, with highs in the 20s and lows near or below zero. Fortunately, the sun often shines, so bring the sunscreen no matter what the sea son.

Insider Travel Tips
Spend the first night or two in Denver to acclimate to the altitude. Drink lots of fluids and limit alcohol to avoid altitude sickness or dehydration. A good place to stay: The Queen Anne Inn (800-443-4667 or 303- 296-6666) is a quaint Victorian inn near downtown Denver that runs $70 to $130 per room. Good spot for dinner: Mexicali Cafe in Larimer Square, where the
Mexican food is authentic and affordable, The best way to save money on ski lift tickets: get
them as part of a package or buy them at discounted prices from grocery stores (King Soopers and Safeway) in Denver.

Another wacky idea: take a day trip to Boulder, twenty-two miles northwest of Denver. This liberal preserve features the University of Colorado, "Mork and Mindy's House" (1619 Pine Street), miles of hike and bike trials, and funky natives who wear Birkenstocks and eat various forms of tofu. Walk the Pearl Street Mall and stare at the hippies in their tie- dyed shirts, talking to their stockbrokers on cellular phones. Sample the Boulder Creek Bike Path that winds its way through the city In the summer, check out Chautauqua Park at the base of Flagstaff Mountain. Best spot for dinner: Flagstaff Restaurant on Flagstaff Mountain (ask for directions) offers the best view, while OJs in the Hotel Boulderado is near the Pearl St. Mall and offers outstanding "creative" cuisine.

Costs, Accommodations, and Getting Around
So which resort do you stay at? First ask yourself some questions: are you there to just ski or do you want a real town with shops, restaurants, and nightiife? How about crowds of celebrities—love 'em or hate 'em?

Each resort has it's own flavor (and price level). At the top are Aspen (800-262-7736) and Vail (800-525-2257). Personally, we like Vail better than Aspen, which can be a wee bit pretentious. Vail's mountain (and its sister resort Beaver Creek) offer a wide variety of slopes, with lots of beginner and intermediate runs. On the other hand, if you're an expert, you'll find plenty of challenge in Vail's back bowls. Aspen itself mostly offers difficult to expert runs, while nearby Snowmass has more easy trails: Both Vail and Aspen attract boatloads of celebrities.
Vail offers several packages, such as a seven-night stay at a one bedroom condo at Vail International, a six-day lift ticket, and airport transfers. Prices range from $1520 per couple in the summer, to $1772 in early December, to $2310 at Christmas, February, and March (high season). The top-of-the-line Lodge at Vail runs $2642 (summer) to $5424 (winter) for the same length of stay.

If this scene isn't for you, you'll like Breckenridge (800-424-8400), which has a real Victorian mining town with more down-to-earth shops and restaurants. Skiing is excellent—in addition to the Breckenridge resort itself, you are within a very short drive of several other resorts like Keystone, Arapahoe Basin, and Copper Mountain.

In fact, Keystone itself has moved aggressively into the "destination wedding" market in recent years. The resort's Denver sales office (800-362-3392) handles seventy weddings a year. You can choose from one of fifteen sites, including the summit of the mountain, the Keystone Ranch, or Ski Tip Lodge. For a reception at one of those facilities, a minimum purchase of $2500 in food and drink is required. Of course, the resort also does quite a few "intimate" weddings, offering discounted lodging, a wedding coordinator, and help in setting up the ceremony. As for the honeymoon, a premium, one-bedroom condo with spa and fireplace goes for $125 per night in the summer. Prices run from $195 to $330 per night in the winter, with discounted lift tickets available.

Destination Wedding Locations: Victoria/Vancouver

We haven't travelled much in Canada, but we were impressed with a weekend visit to Vancouver and Victoria on the west coast of British Columbia. From the cosmopolitan city of Vancouver to the quaint village of Victoria, this destination offers a taste of European charm without the transatlantic airfare and sky-high hotel rates.

Wedding Logistics
British Columbia is one of the easier foreign spots to tie the knot. No blood test or medical exam is needed. The license is $60. The biggest hitch: you need two witnesses over 16 years old. Other than that, it's a snap.

Best Time to Go
The weather varies greatly from the coasts to the interior of the province. We visited in late March and while we found Vancouver to be comfortable, Victoria was damp and cold. The coastal breezes keep summer temperatures moderate.

The best time to visit is April to September, with August being one of the drier months. Pack a sweater even in the summer months, as the temperatures can dip at night.

What Makes it Special
What we liked most about Vancouver was its international flair: about one-third of the city is British, another third is Asian, and the balance is a mix of other nationalities. The place has quite a walking culture, with most of the restaurants, hotels, and shops clustered together on a narrow peninsula that encompasses downtown. Near downtown is Stanley Park with its numerous walking and hiking trails.

Vancouver is Canada's largest seaport, making it a prime spot for salmon fishing and other water sports. The city is also close to many other outdoor activities, like skiing.

A short ferry ride from the city of Vancouver is the island of Vancouver (this is a bit confusing). On the southern tip of the island is the quaint village of Victoria. At the hub of the town stands the classy Empress Hotel, which looks onto the inner harbor. Experiencing "high tea" at the Empress will be a highlight of your trip.

We enjoyed walking around Victoria—its narrow streets, fascinating little shops and unmistakable British ambiance makes it hard to believe you're only a short distance from the United States. Another standout: Butchart Gardens (just outside Victoria) is a fascinating arboretum.

Insider Travel Tips
If you drive from Seattie, expect major delays at the border crossing points. In both directions, we encountered one-hour traffic jams.

While you'll find lots of interesting shops in Vancouver and Victoria, our shopping enthusiasm was dampened by Canada's high value-added tax. When you factor in the exchange rate and the big tax, most items were rather pricey.

Since British Columbia requires a two-day waiting period, you may want to spend a couple days in Vancouver prior to tying the knot in Victoria (or vice versa).

Costs, Accommodations, and Getting Around
Prices for hotel or bed-and-breakfast accommodations in Canada are moderate to expensive. For example, the Four Seasons Vancouver (800-332-3442 or 604-689-9333) has a three-night package that includes a suite room and one breakfast in bed at $900. This rate is good for January through April.

On Victoria, Abigail's Hotel (604-388-5363) has a "romantic fireplace room with goose down comforter, Jacuzzi, champagne, flowers, and breakfast in bed." This small European-style hotel offers a three-night package for $525 per couple. The best deals on airfare may be to fly to Seattie, rent a car and then drive to Vancouver (or take a ferry from Seattle to Victoria). At press time, Reno Air, Mark Air, and America West have a fare war going to Seattle. Sample fares: $180 from Denver and $160 from Los Angeles or San Diego. Those are round-tripl Wow! The drive from Seattle takes about two hours and is rather scenic itself.

A rental car is probably not necessary if you plan to just visit-Victoria. However, sightseeing in and around Vancouver may require one. You can actually drive your car onto the ferry that takes you to Victoria.

Destination Wedding Locations: Saxton's River, Vermont

One of the things that has always amazed us about the bridal business is the cost of getting married in New York City. A basic sit-down dinner can easily run $75 to $100 per guest.
Wow! Even a basic wedding cake runs $410 $6 Per slice. At those astronomical prices, no wonder New York brides are searching for alternatives. One of our readers called in this wonderful suggestion: The Inn at Saxton's River, near the town of Bratdeborough, Vermont, off Route 91. A wedding reception here runs about one-half to one-third of Manhattan prices, but the inn is just a four- to five-hour drive from the Big Apple.

Wedding Logistics
Getting married in Vermont is rather easy. There is no blood test or waiting period—you don't even need an ID. The only restriction: out-of-state residents must get a license in the county in which they plan to marry. (Vermont residents must take out a license in. the town in which they live, but can marry anywhere in the state). The cost is very affordable: $16. For more information, call 802-254-454-1.

Best Time to Go
Perhaps the most scenic time to visit Vermont is the peak of the fall foliage season. This occurs in late September and usually runs into early October. The weather at this time is pleasant but cool, with daytime temperatures in the 50s and 60s, while nighttime lows can dip into the 30s.
The summer is certainly another nice time to go, with temperatures in the comfortable 70s and low 80s (although the occasional heat wave with high humidity can make a visit less pleasant). Winters can be downright arctic, with temperatures at night dipping near zero.

Costs, Accommodations, and Getting Around
The Inn at Saxton's River is a hundred-year-old Victorian building that is extraordinarily beautiful, according to our reader. "Most rooms have private balconies and are impeccably decorated in Victorian style. Downstairs, there's a huge covered porch on one side. Inside, three rooms are available for weddings and receptions including a double parlor with fireplace, bay windows, and a grand piano. In another room is an antique Victorian pub bar. Outside, a dance floor area can be set up adjoining the garden (in the summer, of course). The home itself can accommodate eighty guests for a reception, perhaps more in the summer when you count the porch and garden areas.

The inn offers a full buffet reception with a choice of hors d'oeuvres, pasta stations, cheeses, quiche, and roast beef. The price, which includes dessert, runs an affordable $19.95 per guest. Add in 7 percent sales tax and 18 percent gratuity and the total tab is about $25 per person—that sure beats New York prices by a mile.

The Inn at Saxton's River has eighteen guest rooms, which range from $78 for a shared bath to $88 for a private bath. Our bride said she had to put up her guests at several other inns that dot the nearby countryside.

What Makes it Special
In the summer, Vermont offers numerous outdoor activities like hiking, camping, and more. You can also take a cruise on the nearby Connecticut River on the "Belle of Bratdeborough."
What's the number one tourist attraction in Vermont? Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream headquarters in northern Vermont, of course. Stop by and sample some "New York Super Fudge Chunk" for us.

Destination Wedding Locations: San Diego, California

The Hotel Del Coronado is a- 105-year-old living legend. This stately Victorian landmark on Coronado Island (fifteen minutes across the bay from San Diego) is the ultimate in West Coast luxury and class. Combine this with all the tourist attractions in the area and you've got an affordable, yet fun destination wedding and honeymoon.

Wedding Logistics
California is not the easiest or cheapest place to get a marriage license. First of all, the state requires a blood test and medical check-up within thirty days of the wedding. Then, a physician and lab technician must sign the "health certificate." You take this, a valid ID, and $42 to the marriage license bureau and then you're issued your license. There is no waiting period and the license is good for ninety days.

Interestingly enough, California also offers a "confidential" marriage license. These licenses require no health certificate and you and your fiance must be living together. The cost is $48. As you might imagine, this alternative is quite popular, accounting for half of all marriage licenses issued.

For more information, you can call the marriage license bureau at 619-531-3173 or 619-237-0502.

Local Bridal Customs
Oddly enough, the most popular wedding cake flavor in San Diego is a Black Forest cake. Of course, the proximity to Mexico makes Mexican food and entertainment (a mariachi band, for example) key fixtures of San Diego nuptials as well.

Best Time to Go
The busiest tourist season is the summer months. In addition, the Hotel Del told us their busiest conference and convention times run from Labor Day to the middle of December. The slowest time of the year is December and January.

As far as the weather goes, the summer sees temperatures in the 70s and low 80s. Winter can get quite chilly, with temperatures near 60° in the day and as cold as 45° at night. Beware the "June gloom," a period of cloudy and gloomy weather that usually hits after Memorial Day and sometimes lasts until July 4th.

Perhaps the best combination of good weather and sparse crowds would be between Easter and Memorial Day.

Costs, Accommodations, and Getting Around
The Hotel Del has a picturesque white gazebo, surrounded by a lush garden and blooming trees, that is available for ceremonies at a cost of $500. If you're planning a large wedding and reception, several rooms are available, including the spectacular main ballroom with its circular shape and commanding ocean view. Sit-down dinners run from $30 to $65 per guest (plus a 17 percent gratuity.)

As for the honeymoon, the Hotel Del offers several packages for their deluxe and luxury rooms (the latter having a better ocean view). The "Gourmet Delight" includes two night/three-day accommodation, two dinners, breakfast, and spa admission. Price: $514 deluxe and $769 luxury. Additional nights are $159 and $289, respectively.

The Del's "Five Night Romance" package includes one dinner, breakfast, and spa admission as well as tennis and biking activities. This runs $995 for a deluxe room and $ 1415 for a luxury room. Of course, you can stay at the Del and get married at another location on Coronado. The island boasts several Victorian hotels, gazebos, and other spots to tie the knot.

What Makes it Special
Visiting Coronado and the Hotel Del makes you feel like you've stepped onto another planet. The old-world elegance of the Del and the Victorian charm of the surrounding village stands in stark contrast to the rest of California. Coronado Island is a gem.

Insider Travel Tips
Besides Coronado Island, San Diego also boasts several interesting things to do. Visit Old Town with its fun shops and restaurants (don't miss the guacamole at Pico's, a must-stop for dinner). Other attractions include the world-famous San Diego Zoo in lush Balboa Park and, of course, Sea World.

Destination Wedding Locations: Las Vegas

No book on far and away weddings would be complete without at least a brief look at the wedding capital of the world: Las Vegas. In 1931, both gambling and easy marriage became legal and the place hasn't been the same since. Celebrities and non-celebrities alike have flocked here to tie the knot. Recent star nuptials have included such luminaries as Bruce Willis, Axl Rose, and Joan Collins.

Wedding Logistics
As you might expect, getting a marriage license in Vegas is as easy as dropping $20 into a slot machine. Both the bride and groom must apply in person at the Clark County Marriage License Bureau (702-455-3156 or 702-455-4415) at 200 South 3rd Street. The bureau is open Monday through Thursday from 8 am to midnight and continuously from Friday at 8 am to midnight Sunday. There is no blood test required and you just bring a driver's license as identification. The license costs $40 (cash only, no poker chips). There is no waiting period.

Best Time to Go
We actually visited Vegas once in June and can report that it was DAMN HOT. And forget all that stuff about it being "a dry heat." That's bull. When it gets to 110 degrees, it doesn't matter what the humidity is. Consequentiy, the busy seasons in Vegas are in spring and fall. The Christmas/New Year's week can also be incredibly crowded. Winters can be downright cold, with strong winds adding to the misery.

Costs, Accommodations, and Getting Around
The three most popular chapels are Little White Chapel (702-382-5943 or 800-545-8111), Candlelight Wedding Chapel (702-735-4179), and Little Church of the West (702-739-7971). Most chapels charge about $50 to rent and request a "donation" for the minister of at least $40. Almost all take credit cards.

Airlines often have pretty cheap fares to Las Vegas; Southwest Airlines is usually the cheapest. Most hotels are also fairly inexpensive ($50 to $100 per night). The sheer variety of places to stay can boggle the mind. From the fancy Mirage with its white tiger displays and exploding volcanoes to the schmaltzy Circus Circus, Vegas must have more hotel rooms than most third-world countries.

Food is incredibly cheap, as is the booze—the casinos use cheap eats to bait you into gambling. We recommend staying away from the ultra-cheap buffets where most food items are unrecognizable, thanks to a coating of yellow fake cheese sauce.

Do you need a rental car? Probably not. Several shuttle services run from the airport to the casinos. Buses run up and down the strip at frequent intervals.

Even if you want to take an excursion outside of Vegas, many companies offer bus tours to Hoover Dam and Lake Mead that will save you the expense of renting a car.

What Makes it Special
Are you kidding? This is Vegas. Where else in America can you get married by a bad Elvis impersonator crooning an equally bad "Love Me Tender"?

In the age of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, it's comforting to know that a place as sleazy, noisy, and obnoxious as Las Vegas still exists.

On the other hand, Vegas has been trying to clean up its image lately to appeal more to the "family values" crowd. Hence, an indoor amusement park just opened on the strip and casinos are offering more "kid-friendly" shows and concerts. Who knows, maybe Barney (that darn purple dinosaur) may replace the nude dance reviews some day? Nah.

Destination Wedding Locations: Walt Disney World

Did you ever dream of spending the first few moments of married life to your "Prince Charming" in Cinderella's crystal coach driving off to your reception? Or having an Alice in Wonderland bridal luncheon with the Mad Hatter and the White Rabbit as guests?

Yes, it's possible, with help from the folks at Walt Disney World in Orlando. They received so many inquires from brides and grooms about tying the knot in their theme park that they recently set up the Fairy Tale Wedding department.

Okay, let's say you don't want Goofy as your best man. You can still pick from one of Disney's numerous resorts to tie the knot, including the spectacular Grand Floridian. We visited the resort recently to get a firsthand look at Disney weddings.

Wedding Logistics
The Disney wedding is not as difficult as you might think—there is no blood test or waiting period to get a marriage license in Orlando. It takes about thirty minutes to fill out an application and another thirty minutes for processing. It ain't cheap, however: the cost of a marriage license is $63.50 in cash.

Best Time to Go
This is a tricky question. Basically, all the attractions in Florida have two peak seasons—the first runs from Christmas to Easter and the other runs from mid-June to August. Any holiday weekend (Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, etc.) finds the parks jam-packed as well. The crowds are most sparse in the fall from September to mid-December. Late spring (after Easter to mid-June) is also slower than the frenetic winter peak season.

How about the weather? Anyone who's visited Florida in the summer will attest to the brutal heat and humidity. While late fall is cooler, the weather is also slightly more rainy. If you're looking for the best combination of good weather and sparse crowds, you might want to try early December. Disney staffers told us most brides and grooms avoid summer weddings. Spring and fall are the most popular times.

Costs, Accommodations, and Getting Around
We were impressed by Disney's large variety of packages and options for all types of weddings. For example, if you're interested in an "intimate" wedding (bride and groom only), Disney offers an affordable package that includes the ceremony, flowers, four nights accommodation at one of five resorts, five days admission to the parks, breakfast every day and one dinner. Cost: $1894 per couple.

What if you want to invite fifty of your closest friends and have a big bash? Well, first the ceremony setup costs run $3 to $5 per guest, with a $100 minimum. For the reception, Disney has a $3500 minimum for food and beverage. Sample menus we previewed ranged from $13.50 per person for a cocktail hors d'oeuvre reception to $42.50 per person for a sit-down dinner. An open bar ranges from $8 to $16.50 per guest per hour, depending on the liquor served. The gratuity runs 18 percent on all food and beverage. A $500 deposit is required to hold the date and Disney can book weddings up to twelve months in advance.

Disney offers all kinds of interesting options to personalize your wedding. How about specially-designed wedding invitations with Disney characters like Cinderella or the Little Mermaid? The price runs $5 to $12.50 each—not the cheapest option but certainly unique.

Flowers, entertainment, and transportation options round out Disney's offers. Their full-service floral department can create a bridal bouquet starting at $125. You can opt for traditional music options (DJs start at $650, while a four-piece band is $1775), or have "themed" musicians such as the Toon Town Trio at $700.

How much does Cinderella's crystal coach run? Try $1200. If that's too pricey, you can have a vintage 1929 Cadillac for $350.

And what does it cost to have Goofy as your best man? Walt Disney characters are available for $395 for one character up to $775 for three.

If your guests want to extend their stay into a full-fledged vacation, Disney does offer discounted rates. Two- to ten-night plans are available, ranging from $371 to $1277 per person. Because the resorts book up quickly, Disney recommends your guests make reservations about four to six months in advance— they'll even provide reservation forms you can send out to guests early.

As for the best place to stay, our pick is the Grand Floridian Beach resort. Its Victorian-era design is highlighted by a five-story Grand Lobby, lush grounds, and gingerbread detailing. The "white and bright" decor makes it a perfect bridal setting.

One popular ceremony spot is a grassy knoll that overlooks the Cinderella Castle and a private cove. Near the Grand Floridian, a brick veranda with boat dock has a nice view of midnight fireworks. A favorite spot for intimate weddings is a bluff near the Polynesian resort. A future gazebo is planned here and Disney is considering building a nondenominational chapel at some point. If we had one complaint about Disney weddings it would have to be the ceremony sites—currently all are outdoors, although indoor backup sites are available in case of rain. The future chapel may remedy this problem.

For a large reception, we were impressed with the Grand Floridian's ballroom. Decorated in light hues, the room has an adjoining brick veranda that is a popular spot for cocktails.

What Makes it Special
If you or your fiance have children, what better place to tie the knot than the Magic Kingdom? The combination wedding and family vacation may the best way to start a new family. Even if you don't have children, Disney is still an intriguing place to get married. Besides all the attractions and parks, Disney's resorts offer service, food, and activities that rival the best destinations in the world.

Insider Travel Tips
The best advice to planning a wedding at Disney is to make at least one or two pre-wedding visits. The first visit will concentrate on site selections—touring all the possible places to tie the knot can take awhile. Especially for larger weddings, a second visit might concentrate on logistics (choosing flowers, menu planning, etc.).

The good news on airfare is that many air carriers (especially charters) offer cheap flights to Orlando. Consult your travel agent for the best deals.

As for advice on tackling all the parks and attractions, we highly recommend The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World and EPCOT (by Bob Sehlinger, published by Prentice Hall Press) as a great source book for visiting the huge Walt Disney World complex in Orlando. This book offers smart tips on how to see the parks without getting bogged down in the crowds. It also talks about accommodations and transportation. The book includes EPCOT, Disney-MGM Studios, and Universal Studios. For more reading, you can also check out the official Walt Disney-sanctioned guide: Steve Birnbaum's Official Guide to Walt Disney World. Both books are available in bookstores across, the country.

More Information, Please
Disney's Fairy Tale Weddings department can be reached at 407-363-6333.
The following attractions, shows, components, entities, and such mentioned or discussed in the above section are registered trademarks of Walt Disney Productions, Inc.: EPCOT, Walt Disney, Walt Disney World, Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Cinderella, The Littie Mermaid.

Destination Wedding Locations: Maui, Hawaii

One of the best things about a destination wedding or honeymoon in Hawaii is the "no muss/no fuss" nature of this location. There are no passports to worry about, and no currency exchanges or calculations needed to convert silver Bug-a-Boos into dollars.

That is not to say that Hawaii, which is technically part of the United States, is in any way a sane and rational place. Any place that derives 113 percent of its income from tourism can be expected to be a little on the looney side. And we definitely discovered this when we visited the fiftieth state to scout out sites for this book.

First, we offer a run-down of the different islands and why we think Maui is the best. Hawaii is comprised of six islands, each with its own "spirit," as the travel brochures delicately put it. Let's take stock.

OAHU: TOO CROWDED. Home to Honolulu and Waikiki, this island was probably a nice place to visit about fifty years ago. If we want to see urban sprawl, we could stay at home.

KAUAI: RECENTLY BLOWN AWAY BY HURRICANE. While the tourist hotels are in the process of being rebuilt (as of this writing), Kauai still has one fatal flaw—its dinky size and lack of amenities limited night life) makes a visit any longer than a day or two seem too long.

HAWAII, MOLOKAI, AND LANAI: TOO RUSTIC. The drive-through volcanoes on the big island of Hawaii are spectacular and both Molokai and Lanai offer nice scenery, but this brings us to the biggest disadvantage of a Hawaiian vacation: too many islands, too little time.

While the idea of cramming as many islands into your trip sounds intriguing, the reality of plane hopping is less exciting. True, the average flight time between islands is just fifteen to thirty minutes, but the wait at the car rental place can be twice that.

As we mentioned earlier, the whole state of Hawaii has a somewhat loopy disposition. We noticed this on our arrival at the Maui airport. As some kind of sick Polynesian joke, the natives have decided not to put any signs at the airport to direct you, the tourist, to such popular hang-outs as the beach and the hotels. We discovered this oversight when we took a wrong turn and ended up in a top-secret naval base with the cryptic name "U.S.S. O.O.P.S."

Fortunately, the island of Maui is only forty-five miles wide. So, if you take a wrong turn, you run into that friendly directional locator called the Pacific Ocean. Despite this quirk, Maui offers the best scenery and activities for destination brides and grooms. For variety, Maui also has a couple of 10,000-foot dormant volcanoes. From secluded black sand beaches to bustling tourist towns, Maui is our pick as one of the best places to plan a destination wedding and honeymoon.

Wedding Logistics
It's pretty easy to tie the knot on Maui—Hawaii has no waiting period or residency rules for marriage licenses. As a result, nearly three thousand couples tied the knot there last year. There is a rubella blood test required for the bride if she has not been immunized for this disease (the test can be performed anywhere in the United States or Canada). If you have been immunized, Hawaii will accept a certificate from a U.S. or Canadian doctor as proof. (As a side note, the test is waived for brides who are beyond child-bearing age).
No health tests are required for the groom. You must apply for a license in person from a "marriage license agent." Call the Department of Health (808-243-5313) for the latest list of agents. The cost for a license is $16.

Local Bridal Customs
The traditional Hawaiian wedding gown is a holoku, a white gown which the bride accents with a crown of orchids. A red sash is the most remarkable part of a groom's attire, which is usually a white long-sleeve shirt and pants. Another tradition: the groom arrives at the ceremony site in a canoe—neat touch.

Best Time to Go
While Maui has really become a year-round destination, high season is still December, January, and February. Hotels and beaches are most crowded then. The crowds taper off after high season, hence, a nice time to visit is late April to June. October and November (before Thanksgiving) are also low seasons.

As for the weather, the "rainy" season is in the winter, especially January and February. Even so, the western part of Maui (where most of the resorts are) only sees about fifteen inches of rain a year. A stray shower can hit at just about any time, but usually the weather is nice—summer temperatures in the 80s, and 70s in the winter. Hurricane season, as those in Kauai found out recently, runs from June through November, though storms usually seem to veer away from the islands.

Costs, Accommodations, and Getting Around
The best deals on Maui are the package deals that many hotels, resorts, and condos offer. Most include a three- to seven-night stay, car rental, and even a "romantic dinner for two" in some packages.

' We found the best deal was to rent a "condo—the luxury of having a kitchen gives you the option of avoiding sky-high prices for meals if you wish. Most condos have the same amenities as hotels, including housekeeping, a concierge, and more. We stayed at the Ka'anapali Alii (800-642-6284) condo complex where we could even order room service from the hotel next door.

We stayed at the condo for four nights (five days) for about $ 1100 per couple, including car rental. At the Grand Hyatt at Wailea (800-233-1234) down the coast, a three-night package runs $1200. The hotel has a world-famous swimming pool and a stained-glass wedding chapel that hosts at least two weddings a day. As far as other packages went, most condos on Maui seemed to start at $1000 for seven days. Hotel packages, especially for the prime resorts, were slightly higher.

Airfare fluctuates with the whims of the major airlines. Check to see if it's cheaper to fly to San Francisco first, stay the night and then fly on to Maui. We found this to be more reasonable than a nonstop flight from the center of the United States, since many of the airlines offer super-low fares from California to Hawaii.

The food on Maui (as- on the rest of Hawaii) is incredibly expensive—about 30 percent more than the mainland. Expect to shell out $25 for breakfast for two, $40 for lunch, and $75 to $100 for dinner. On the upside, the Pacific Rim cuisine is absolutely incredible—be sure to ask your concierge for recommendations on the latest "hot" eateries.

What Makes it Special
The beaches are the stars here, of course. But if you want to venture beyond the surf, there are several interesting day trips. The road to Hana, a fifty-five-mile drive that will take you a very long three hours, is a favorite for seeing waterfalls and sheer cliffs that drop to the ocean. A helicopter ride (about $100 to $200 per person) is a fantastic way to take in remote waterfalls and the Haleakala crater (a dormant volcano that rises 10,000 feet above sea-level). A quick warning: look out for hucksters on the street offering "discount" coupons for helicopter rides, scuba diving, etc. What's the catch? You must attend a several hour "sales presentation" for a time share or condo deal.

Insider Travel Tips
The six-hour plane ride from Los Angeles will tire you out, so expect to spend much of the first day recuperating and acclimating to the time change. If you want to explore the more rustic parts of the island, rent a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Also, you'll need reservations to get into most of the popular restaurants—we relied on our concierge for recommendations and were never disappointed. Ka'anapali and Lahaina (resorts on the northwest side of the island) have a younger feel than Wailea, which had an older, more sedate atmosphere. The locals are generally friendly, if not a little bit wacky

Friday, July 3, 2009

Destination Wedding Locations: 15 Money Saving Tips

As you might have guessed, getting married in a foreign country is not the world's easiest feat. You can't just pop down to your local marriage license bureau, buy a license, hop on a plane, and tie the knot on some tropical beach. Why not? Let's take a brief look at why the foreign marriage scene is so nuts.You can trace the origin of foreign marriage license gymnastics to the year 1789. That's the year the Founding Fathers drafted the U.S. Constitution and, in some fit of insanity, reserved the whole business of marriage and divorce to the states. That's why there is no Federal Department of Marriage.

What the heck does this have to do with anything, you might ask? Ah, it has a lot to do with getting married in a foreign country—this constitutional quirk means no federal officials can perform marriages—federal officials such as embassy officers, ambassadors, and various other friendly U.S. government employees you might see in a foreign country. As a result, if you want to get married in a foreign country, you have to follow the local rules and regulations. And if you think the individual states in this country have funky marriage license rules, you haven't seen anything yet.

Take Italy, for example. How about tying the knot in a lovely villa in Milan? Sounds romantic, yes? Well, first you need your birth certificates. And not just any ordinary copy of your birth certificate—you need one that is certified and exemplified. We haven't the foggiest idea what exemplification is, we just know that only the secretary of state (of the state in which you were born, naturally) can work this magic trick.

Next, the secretary of state needs to affix an "apostil" to the document (don't ask—we've never seen an apostil, but it sounds vaguely religious.) After you've got your birth certificates certified, exemplified, and apostilized, you need to get them translated into Italian. Then, go to your nearest Italian consulate with four (not three, but four!) witnesses, and finally, get your marriage license.

Ha! Just kidding—you don't get a marriage license. You just get a certificate that you take to the American consulate in Milan. Then, you trade in this certificate for another one and take this piece of paper to two different city offices in Milan. Then you get a marriage license. So you're all ready for your civil wedding in Milan. How about a romantic sunset ceremony? Wrong. Civil ceremonies in Milan must be performed between 10 am and 11 am. No kidding. (If you'd like to hear more about what can go wrong with an Italian wedding, check out David Shaw's article, "The Wedding March" in the March 1990 issue of Conde Nast Traveller Magazine.)

Beyond bureaucracies from hell, there is another roadblock to marriages in many countries: residency requirements. Some countries require you to be in the country for several days (or weeks) prior the wedding. France, for example, has a whopping forty-day residency requirement. And many Caribbean islands that were former French colonies have similar rules. In this section, we will give you some general information on how easy or how difficult it is to tie the knot in certain foreign destinations.

How do you find out the rules and requirements for different countries? Here are some possibilities:

The Federal Government
As you might guess, the federal government handles questions about marriage in foreign countries about as efficiently as it moves the mail. We discovered that there are five sections within the U.S. State Department Office of Citizen's Consular that are supposed to help you with this information. Each section has information on a different part of the world:
East Asia and Pacific: 202-647-3675 Europe and Canada: 202-647-3445 Central America, South America, and the Caribbean: 202-647-3712 Near Eastern/South Asia: 202-647-3926 Africa: 202-647-4994

We called each of the above numbers and the response of the bureaucrats on the phone varied widely. A couple never returned our messages. One was very helpful, even faxing us detailed information on getting married in Mexico.

Unfortunately, the information is so general that it's not very useful. For example, we got information on getting married in Mexico City—not exactly a top tourist destination. Think this is the same as Cancun? Nope— Mexico has thirty two federal districts (roughly the equivalent of states), each with their own arcane rules.

This is not to say that the information is totally useless—we learned, for example, that the only legal marriages in predominantly Catholic Mexico are (you guessed it) civil ones! Hence, this information is helpful, but more as a starting point.

Local Consulates
Many countries have consulates and/or tourist bureaus in major U.S. cities. According to travel industry insiders we interviewed, however, the information from these sources is helpful but not wholly reliable. In the last section of this book, we list some consulates and tourist bureaus for popular destinations.

Professional Planners and Tour Companies
Perhaps the best person to ask about getting married in a particular country is someone who's already planned a wedding there. Both professional planners (reviewed in Chapter 6) and tour companies that specialize in booking wedding and honeymoon packages in certain countries are good sources. Of course, you have to pay for this advice; a professional planner may charge a fee that runs into the hundreds of dollars. Tour companies will give you marriage license information, if you book a package with them.

Obviously, the more experience a planner has with a location, the better. For example, if either the bride and groom has been previously divorced, you'll want to ask the planner if they've ever handled a similar wedding. You may have to get divorce decrees specially certified, for example.
The concierge at local hotels or resorts

A concierge at a hotel or resort that does a fair number of weddings may be a good resource for marriage license information.


Here are ten questions to ask about getting married in another country.

DOES YOUR RESORT HAVE A WEDDING PLANNER OR DEPARTMENT? Will someone be available to help you handle any red tape? What are the fees for this sender?

WHAT ARE THE RESIDENCY REQUIREMENTS? How long must you wait after you arrive before you can tie the knot? And is this actual days or business days?

WHAT DOCUMENTATION IS NECESSARY? Requirements can vary tremendously. You'll need, at the very least, some form of identification, most commonly a birth certificate. But does it need to be an original, a certified copy, or notarized? Must it be translated? Are there any fees for translations? Must the translation be done in a specific way?

ARE THERE ANY REQUIRED MEDICAL TESTS? A blood test? X-rays? A doctor's certification of certain immunizations or health status? Can the certifying doctor be here in the United States?

IS THERE A FILING PERIOD OR PROCESSING TIME? Do the actual documents need to be sent ahead of time?

IS THERE A WAITING PERIOD? This is the period of time between when you get the license until you can marry. Can you get the license through the mail ahead of time?

SHOULD WE ARRIVE EARLY TO HANDLE ANY LAST-MINUTE PAPERWORK? While the resort may handle all the paperwork, some will request that you arrive early. This allows you to do any last-minute license tasks, to plan the wedding, or whatever.

ARE THERE ANY SPECIAL REQUIREMENTS FOR PROOF OF DIVORCE? In some countries, the divorce decree must be translated or certified. Check to see if there are waiting periods after your divorce is finalized before you can remarry. If one of you is a widower, confirm the requirements to prove this—usually you'll need to show a death certificate.

HOW MANY WITNESSES ARE NEEDED, IF ANY? Must the witnesses be citizens of that country? Should they also serve as interpreters?

CIVIL VS. RELIGIOUS CEREMONIES: WHAT IS ALLOWED? Some countries only recognize civil ceremonies. Others are exactly the opposite, requiring a certain religious ceremony.
Destination Wedding Locations 145

After all this talk about medical tests and translated birth certificates, you may be wondering "Am I crazy? The killer residency requirement is ridiculous! Should I forget this idea of a destination wedding?"

Of course not. Here's a solution: consider a "secret ceremony." Just before you get on the plane for that tropical getaway, you drop by the justice of the peace. In a very private ceremony, you tie the knot. Then, hop on the plane and have the wedding you've imagined on that white sand beach. If you've invited a small number of friends and family, they'll never know that you're already married and this is just for show.

The "secret ceremony option" is a wonderful way to have your cake and eat it, too. What does it matter that you were technically married hours earlier? You don't have to worry about translations, residency periods, foreign bureaucracies, and other red tape. Only you and your fiance know the truth. The important part is you're getting married. And this is going to be one hell of a vacation.

CAUTION: Use a credit card to for travel deposits or payments.
The travel industry is populated with hundreds of tour operators and "consolidators" who offer tremendous savings on airfares and hotels. Unfortunately, some are scam artists who take in huge amounts of money from travellers, only to go out of business before the trips are ever taken.

How do you know that a tour company (or a travel agent, for that matter) is reputable? The honest truth is it is very hard—scam artists can hide their trail of unhappy customers, or a seemingly reputable travel company can hit tough financial straits and go bankrupt overnight.

The only way to protect yourself is to use a credit card to pay for deposits or trip payments. Charges to your card have special federal consumer protection-—if you don't receive what you paid for or if the services or goods were inferior, you can dispute the charge on your card. The merchant has to prove that it didn't defraud you.

We've seen this work time and time again to protect consumers. When a travel tour company based right here in Boulder, Colorado, cancelled its European trips because of financial problems, the only consumers who got "refunds" were those who charged the deposits to credit cards. They just contacted their credit card companies and had the charges removed from their bill. Those who paid with cash or check lost as much as $3,000 each.

One quirk to this law: credit card issuers require you dispute the charge within sixty or ninety days after the "purchase," according to the fine print on the back of credit card statements. But you have to place deposits down six months in advance, right? How can you be protected?
Remember that a deposit is not actually a purchase. You have not yet received the goods or services (that is, the wedding or honeymoon trip). This loophole has enabled consumers to get credit even if months have elapsed since the deposit was made.

Another tip: follow the advice of a travel agent when selecting tour packages. The agents know who is reputable, which company fulfills their promises, and so on. Are travel agents foolproof? No, of course not. They can go out of business, too. And they might not steer you to the best deals (or even be aware of them). Nonetheless, we still find a reputable, experienced travel agent to be a valuable asset in planning your trip.

15 Money Saving Tips on Destination Wedding and Honeymoons

SAVE 50 PERCENT OR MORE BY GOING "OFF SEASON." California's Napa Valley is a bar-gain in spring. Ski resorts slash their rates in the summer and still offer fun festivals, hiking, mountain biking, and more. In the fall, the Caribbean has great deals before Christmas. Winter sees some of the lowest air fares to Europe. A good travel agent can help you find the best off-season bargains.

PICK UP CONDE NAST'S TRAVELLER MAGAZINE. We like this publication's honest and frank critiques of destinations and resorts. Forget the bridal magazines—their breathless chatter gives no real information. Another hot tip: travel guides for students (like the "Let's Go" series) offer great money-saving ideas.

CONSIDER THE "SHOULDER SEASONS" between high and low season. Not all destinations have super-saver bargains during shoulder times. But in the Caribbean, for example, the shoulder rates in late November or in late April are fantastic. One resort we found in the Virgin Islands has a shoulder season that offers big discounts. Go at the end of March (high season) and you'll pay $2330 per couple for seven nights. Wait one week (after April 1) and the price drops to $1630—a whopping savings of$700, which might be enough to pay for one airfare!

EXCHANGE MONEY AT A BANK. See if your local bank can exchange money before you leave, or find a bank at the location where you're heading. Hotel exchange rates could break you.

GET A CONDO OR SUITE WITH A KITCHEN and buy inexpensive breakfasts (like bagels, toast or frozen waffles). The savings over eating breakfast out each day will be significant—then you can go "whole hog" at dinner. Better yet, take full advantage of any complimentary breakfast offered by the hotel or resort.

CONSIDER A NICE THREE-NIGHT PACKAGE if seven nights will break the bank. Some resorts also have four- and five-night packages that are not as widely promoted as the seven-night variety.

PACKAGES THAT INCLUDE AIRFARE AND HOTEL OFFER THE BEST BARGAINS. Super deals include breakfasts, dinner(s), car rentals, and other goodies. Book early to get the best rates.

NEVER ORDER ROOM SERVICE. Surcharges and gratuities make this very expensive. Also, never even look at the minibar—that little refrigerator in your room stocked with $15 cans of peanuts. It may be tempting, but you'll pay the price later. Always check your final bill. We frequently have been charged for items in the minibar that we never touched.

PACK LOTS OF ESSENTIAL TOILETRIES, including shampoos and suntan lotion. Most hotels and resorts charge a premium price for such items.

PACK LITTLE PACKETS OF DETERGENT and hand wash any dirty clothes. We once used a hotel laundry service for two outfits and got a bill for $50.

GET A TRAVEL AGENT. They'll save you more money than you can imagine. We like ones who have actually visited the locations or hotels they've recommended—or have sent clients there recently and got good reports.

AVOID TAXIS AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE. Try to walk or ride the bus, since taxis are darned expensive.

SEE IF THE RATES FOR A ROOM WITH LESS OF A VIEW ARE SIGNIFICANTLY LESS EXPENSIVE. If you're right next to the beach, you don't have to look at it twenty-four hours a day. With the savings from a "garden view" room, you might be able to afford another day or two of vacation.

CHECK YOUR CAR INSURANCE COVERAGE FOR CAR RENTAL COVERAGE IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY. Don't buy expensive extra collision coverage if you don't need it. Some credit cards also offer tins perk if you use them to pay for the rental.

TAKE ADVANTAGE OF ANY STUDENT DISCOUNTS. Many airlines and even hotels offer discounted rates to college students. Typically, such fares require you to be under a certain age and/or have a college ID. Discounts on both domestic and international travel can be significant.

WARNING: Marriage license requirements can change at any time.
In the following section, we review various destinations and give you general information on getting married there. While we have thoroughly researched this material, omissions and mistakes may exist.

Therefore, we urge you to consult the services of a professional wedding planner (whether he or she works independently or for a resort or hotel) to obtain, a marriage license in a foreign country. In addition, requirements and rules at home or abroad may change at any time. Before departing, be sure to confirm all documentation, residency periods, and other rules.