Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Walking down the aisle on a sunny isle

More couples are choosing to leave an Edmonton winter behind when they get married

A picture-perfect conclusion to the ceremony
I looked into the mirror. Two scary brown clown eyes stared back at me.
The dark chestnut eyeshadow, combined with the sullen bags under my eyes, made me look like Ke$ha after a night spent incubating in the trash can of a seedy nightclub.
My eyes went wide. The Mexican woman doing my makeup lowered the mirror and smiled, eyebrows raised, nodding her head expressively. She didn't speak much English, but I understood what she was saying.
"You like?" she asked proudly. My explanation of a natural smoky eye must have got lost in translation. At this rate, I wasn't going to be a beautiful bride melting the heart of my soon-to-be husband as I walked down the aisle. I was on my way to looking like a stripper in a wedding dress.
Suddenly anxious, I could feel a sheen of sweat develop on my palms and under my armpits. There was no starting over. With our ceremony only a couple of hours away, I nodded yes to the makeup artist, lying. Under closed eyelids and between clenched teeth, I said a desperate prayer, hoping she had a plan up her pressed cotton sleeve.
Sitting there in the white esthetics chair, a multitude of brushes sweeping over my face, it finally hit me: This was going to be one of the most important days of my life. Did I, an obsessive perfectionist, make the right decision having a destination wedding in Mexico, knowing there were a million things that could go wrong?
The usual wedding preparations, such as makeup trials, hair trials, cake tasting and venue scouting are absent from the destination-wedding planning process. Up until I glimpsed my raccoon eyes in the mirror, I had been a stress-free bride, happily laissez-faire about the idea of flying the coop to get hitched. My fiancé and I had chosen to hold our nuptials at the Barcelo Maya Beach Resort in the Mayan Riviera for several reasons, one of them being that we could save some money while escaping all the fuss associated with normal weddings. We weren't interested in having our wedding in Edmonton, where pining over catering options, table settings or extravagant decorations would be inevitable.
More importantly, we didn't want our special day to get lost in head-aches over trivial matters, such as whether our flowers were the ivory colour we wanted, or a blasphemous cream shade.
Having grown up with Cinderella fairy tales and an unhealthy attraction to extravagant TLC bridal shows, I knew I would be the type of person to get caught up in wedding drama. A destination wedding gave me the perfect opportunity to let go. For months leading up to our big day, I constantly reminded myself not to lose sight of my goal, which was to spend time with our loved ones in paradise rather than fret about the small things.
In theory, the relaxed planning of a destination wedding sounded glamorous. I even romanticized about how, if anything did blow up in our sunburnt faces, the tropical setting and wonderful company would make up for it.
A destination wedding would be perfect by being completely imperfect.
Before I left, I spoke with Monica Hill, a certified destination-wedding planner for Edmonton's Aisle Plan Your Day, as well as a couple of other Edmonton-based destination brides. I wanted to prepare for any unknowns. In a relaxed manner, of course.
According to Hill, the destination-wedding business has been growing at a rate of 14 per cent per year, and more than half of her clients in 2011 were choosing tropical nuptials. The average wedding in urban Edmonton or urban Alberta now costs $29,000, while an average destination wedding will run you $10,000.
"I think that couples are wanting to be less stressed out," Hill said about destination weddings. "What I find is that more people are wanting to get away, spend less money on their wedding, and have people with them that are actually going to come. It's become a bit more of an intimate affair for them."
However, Hill also noted that nuptials in exotic places weren't always as simple as slathering on sunscreen.
She told me research was key. Looking into document translations, residency requirements, unpredictable weather at various times of the year and reduced hotel service due to high-season crowds were a few unforeseen pitfalls that could complicate a get-away.
But preventable problems aside, Hall said there's a huge plus side to a destination wedding, one that would cancel out all the negatives.
"Everyone will always remember your wedding," she said.
Naomi Bodnar, 26, got married in the Dominican Republic in February 2011. She didn't want to plan a big wedding, or pay for one, either.
Instead, she had 27 people attend her wedding in Punta Cana, all of whom got to know each other over the course of the week.
"We had a week with our friends and family and people we don't always see," Bodnar said. "Even from that, it made everything now in our life a bit easier, because everybody knows everybody, whereas they would've sat at their own table and not socialized at a normal wedding."
She was also really impressed with the wedding planner at the Majestic Colonial Resort, who went out of her way to decorate her beach wedding beyond her expectations and solve last-minute blunders.
"I forgot to order the bridesmaid bouquets," Bodnar says. "On the day of the wedding I called the wedding planner, and she was like, 'OK I'll have them there for you.' They had them made right there. I'm pretty sure if you did that to a florist in Edmonton, they'd be like, 'No way.' "
To avoid any document translations, blood tests or residency requirements (some countries require you to be in the country a certain length of time before they marry you), she had a small, no-frills legal wedding in Edmonton and opted for a grander symbolic ceremony in Punta Cana.
The only glitches revolved around organizing guests. Timing flights from different locales through her travel agent was a huge challenge. She also wasn't able to get everyone's hotel rooms in the same resort location, but Bodnar says that didn't matter once everyone was having fun.
Danielle Butkovic, 26, also had a destination wedding. She and her husband wed in Turks and Caicos in November 2011.
"When we asked both of our moms for their list of people who to invite, they were massive," Butkovic said. "We were like, 'This is not going to be in our budget at all.' So we kind of decided to look at other ways to have our wedding."
After deciding on a destination wedding, which would relieve some guest-list pressure, Butkovic looked into resorts that offered weddings in a more secluded place so old men in Speedos wouldn't photo-bomb her wedding snapshots.
In the end, the Beaches Sandals Resort in Turks and Caicos blocked off a section for her party with security keeping people away, and her day ended up so perfect it was "magical."
"A con, though, was that I didn't think it was going to be that expensive," Butkovic noted, explaining how her destination wedding was just as pricey as having one at home. "The resort was a lot more expensive than we thought."
She also said her wedding co-ordinator, who helped pre-plan the wedding, was frustrating in terms of timely correspondence. The co-ordinator also failed to clearly communicate the documents required before getting legally married in Turks and Caicos. It wasn't a fun experience for Butkovic to get a call from the resort two days before they left, saying they were still missing papers that needed to be filled out by a lawyer.
Thankfully, everything worked itself out. As it always does.
"At the end of the day, we were re-ally happy," Butkovic said.
I took comfort in Hall's, Bodnar's and Butkovic's words as I sat help-less in that Mexican makeup chair. I told myself that no wedding goes as planned, destination or not. One isn't better than the other. Each has stereotypical problems. There are things you can control, and there are things you cannot.
And as hard as you try to avoid stressing out about trivial things, you will ultimately find something to freak out about.
Still, it was harsh to experience those lessons first-hand.
Before the wedding, we were plagued with a less-than-impressive travel agent.
At for the resort, the service was a bit sluggish and restaurants were booked up due to high season.
And on Jan. 7, during our beach wedding, there was no escaping the gawkers. A snorkeller can be seen bobbing in the ocean on our wedding video. And having been too lax about the ceremony music, I let my planner choose the song to be played during the signing of our certificate.
That song ended up being the cringeworthy My Heart Will Go On.
"Things happen," one of my good friends told me after the wedding.
We sat down in one of the resort bars and laughed about the Titanic love song making an unexpected appearance. By that point, I didn't care about any of the slip-ups. All I cared about was spending time with those who took the time and money to join us.
I couldn't have asked for a more special wedding.
Having a destination wedding was much less expensive for my fiance, Steve Lobkowicz, and me - we spent about $14,000, with $4,000 of that being the cost of our trip - and were able to invite everyone we wanted. Those closest to us happily made the trek to the land of sand and salsa.
My wedding planner, Lillian, was absolutely amazing. And I also got to spend time with my closest family and friends for a week.
I danced until morning with my bridesmaids from Vancouver and Toronto, chatted poolside with my aunt from Phoenix, and did tequila shots with relatives from Winnipeg I hadn't seen in 10 years.
And in terms of my makeup, it wasn't until I took a step back and looked at the bigger picture that I realized what the artist had done.
Staring at myself up close in that mirror, I got caught up in the outlines and creases of my eyeshadow, which come across raunchy and caked-on when your nose is shoved against the glass.
But looking at my wedding photos after the fact, my eyes looked amazing. The dark, dramatic makeup was fantastic, allowing my peepers to stand out from my sparkling dress and setting sun.
A week after we got back from Mexico, my mom called me.
"You know, I was thinking about your wedding. I can't stop thinking about it. It was just so perfect," she said, going on about how much fun she had spending time with Steve and me and our guests.
I remembered the epic pool volleyball tournaments, the snorkelling trips and the days spent swinging on a hammock talking to my friends and family about everything and nothing.
I smiled.
"It was perfect, wasn't it?" I re-plied.
planning tips
Destination weddings may be fun and stress-free, but you've still got to put some work in if you want your beach bash to be a blast. Here are a few tips to remember when planning your trip:
- Create a free account on TheKnot. com. The Knot allows you to keep track of absolutely everything, from guests to wedding budgets. It's also a hefty source of information and inspiration for weddings, whether destination or local.
- Research the weather in your destination. The last thing you want to do is book your wedding during rainy season, or in a month when you have to wear a sweatshirt to the beach.
- If you opt to get legally married in another country, research what documents are needed before you travel, and if they need to be translated. Also look into how long you're required to be in the country before getting married, and whether you need to have blood tests done.
- If you have friends or family who you absolutely want to come to your wedding, get an idea of what months work best for them and narrow down possible wedding dates from there.
- Find a good travel agent. Booking and organizing guests will be the most time-consuming part of a destination wedding. Find an agent who is experienced in booking destination weddings and is comfortable co-ordinating a large group of guests. Don't be afraid to get quotes from a few agents. Make your decision based on their service, as well as their pricing.
- Give your guests time. Send out invitations as far in advance as possible. The longer people have to plan and save up for your wedding, the bigger the turnout will be.
- The more affordable the resort, the more guests will be able to attend.
- Research wedding packages offered by various resorts. Remember to choose a resort that suits both your vacation needs and your wedding needs.
what to pack
You truly will have a million things to remember as you pack for your destination wedding. As well as your dress, shoes, garter and hair accessories, there are a few other things to bring along to ensure your wedding week runs as smooth as possible.
- Bring welcome bags for your guests to show your appreciation for their spending the time and money to attend your wedding. Throw in little necessities, such as hand sanitizer, travel sunblock and washcloths they can use for sandy feet and hands at the beach.
- Give your guests an itinerary for the week. Use them to include when and where certain events will take place, such as the stag/stagette, the rehearsal dinner and the wedding.
- Organize a meet-and-greet. Have everyone meet at a central location so guests can get to know each other.
- If you're having your reception on the beach, bring a basket of shawls to put out in case it gets breezy, or re-mind your guests to bring a sweater. Also bring a few bottles of bug spray for your guests in case sand bugs decide to come out and play.
- If you choose to play your own music during the dance, bring CDs, iPods and even your computer just in case one isn't compatible with your resort's equipment.
- Bring along pictures of the makeup and hairstyle you wish to have done on your wedding day.
- Bring along waterproof or sweat-proof makeup for touch-ups.
- If wearing a strapless wedding gown, pack a strapless bathing suit or a halter bathing suit you feel comfortable untying when in the sun. Otherwise you might end up with funky tan lines around your neck on your wedding day.
Direct link to article: http://www.edmontonjournal.com/life/Walking+down+aisle+sunny+isle/6066413/story.html