25 January 2017 Posted By : Chantal Eustace, Postmedia News

Say Yes to a Destination Wedding: As Easy as Booking a Relaxing Vacation and Just as Much Fun

Wet sand suctions my feet as I walk towards the setting Puerto Vallarta sun, each step a little nearer to matrimonial bliss.

Elbow to elbow with my dad, we move through a pagoda made of palm fronds and flowers, past two rows of grinning friends and family, and up to greet my deeply sunburned groom.

He’s barefoot, handsome and more than a little salty from a day of surfing with his friends.

The bow-tied officiant stumbles over words, sprinkles in Spanish here and there, but finally we get to say it: “I do.” Like many couples saddled with student loans and Vancouver-sized mortgages, we didn’t want our wedding to break the bank.

We didn’t care much about the details, like a photographer, flower bouquets, place settings or even bridesmaids or groomsmen.

But we did want romance, sunshine and a big party with our loved ones – without fuss or frustration. So we opted to pack up and fly away for the big day.

The result was full of hilarious mishaps as well as heartwarming surprises, from a painful battle with a can of hairspray and a bobby pin attack at a local beauty salon to a surprise champagne reception on the beach. It was perfect and quirky, just right for us. And best of all, the entire week-long adventure cost us less than $3,500 – including the civil ceremony on the beach, our all-inclusive hotel stay and travel.

Our planning mission was simple: We wanted to find an option that was affordable, about $1,000 per person, kid-friendly and close to surf spots, and to entice as many people as we could to our wedding, and make it a fun holiday too – one they actually wanted to attend. And that’s what we got. I spent most of my wedding day in a blur of fruity cocktails resting by the ocean with friends and family, with plenty of trips to the guacamole bar. (Less the ill advised adventure at a beauty salon, an hour that required a bottle of shampoo to undo and left me with a good deal less hair at the base of my skull.)

My husband-to-be and his friends chartered a boat and went surfing, arriving back relaxed and tanned for the ceremony.

We didn’t get involved in the small details of the day, and that’s really key to enjoying a destination wedding because you can’t really control the outcome like you can for a traditional wedding. There just isn’t time.

“If you are a control freak, this might not be the way to do your wedding,” says Catherine Degenais of Bloom Destination Weddings in Vancouver. Since couples only get to their chosen location days before the wedding takes place, there isn’t time to make big changes to things before the event, she says.

Her advice? “You have to be patient.”

Cost varies greatly too, she says, depending on the couple and their plans for the big day, the size of the wedding, the venue and so on.

Like all weddings, things can add up, says Degenais, especially if couples veer away from the offerings listed out by a resort or a hotel.

On the flip side, if you stick to your budget and choose a bare bones option like we did, you can get married for less than the cost of an Ikea couch, and enjoy a fun holiday too.

Just don’t sweat the details. Instead, espouse the idea of being a party-goer at your own wedding, albeit in slightly sharper attire and potentially carrying flowers or wearing a veil.

From the shade of my sun lounger, I watched hotel staff putting up an arched structure on a jetty overlooking the ocean, carrying flowers and potted plants, only to realize they were doing this on our behalf. They also surprised us with things like light boxes on the beach after the wedding, and chilled champagne and cake.

And they went all out on our room, covering it in flowers, and a basket of chocolates, more champagne and a congratulatory note.

The service was entertaining and unusual, kicking off with an unexpected megaphone-blasted bridal march that echoed across the beach.

And no, we didn’t always understand everything our officiant was saying, but we got the gist of it. There was also an enormous amount of fingerprinting involved, where we pressed inky fingers onto documents written in Spanish by candlelight. I even mumbled once: “Are we buying a house here?” And there were some pre-wedding administrative hurdles too.

In the area of Puerto Vallarta we wed, we were required to do a blood test a few days before the nuptials. A nurse came to our hotel so we could get screened for something: maybe to make sure we weren’t related? We didn’t press. (But if you’re squeamish or phobic about needles, ask your wedding planner or travel agent to double-check about details like this.)

We also had to spend an hour in a fascinating certification ceremony of sorts at a local city office – seated along with two other western couples, also ready to wed – to silently watch a short marriage movie, a sort of conjugal ‘how to.’

This handily included tips for best post-wed behaviour, sort of a Telemundo of do’s and don’ts: don’t listen in on each other’s phone calls; do help with chores. And so on. To this day, we still reference “the rules” and laugh.

We have no real wedding photos per se, just a handful of blurry snaps taken by my margarita-soaked friends and family. The whole thing was informal and sometimes, yes, hokey.

But ultimately, a wedding isn’t really about glossy pictures and colour-coordinated flower arrangements or how great your hair looks or whether you are wearing shoes, it’s about celebrating a new start as a couple, surrounded by people you really like.

It should set the tone for a lifetime of honeymoons.

So it can’t hurt that your actual wedding feels like one long honeymoon, right?

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