Tuesday, July 7, 2009

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.

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