by Darlene McCarthy Barnfield

A wedding in Bermuda or any other romantic destination for that matter is the stuff of fairy tales. Wedding planner Nikki Begg and her company, Bermuda Bride, have arranged over 900 such events for couples from all over the world.

“Be careful” are her first words of advice. “Only invite the people you really want to be there, because “your guest-list ratio is far greater for destination weddings than it is for weddings at home.” In other words, you can count on most people saying yes to your invitation. It’s a twofer when a guest combines someone’s wedding with a vacation. “It’s a threefer really,” says Begg. “Here’s a perfect way of someone else taking care of some of the experiences and expenses.”

Bermudian event planner Jane West agrees that you should keep the numbers down. “Making it 50 to 75 people makes it much more intimate.” West adds that most brides have the same regret and consistently have the same answer when asked after the wedding about what they would have done differently. “They say, ‘I would have had less people.’”

Having fewer people also means you can spend more money on some of the other things that make a wedding memorable. “If it’s the flowers, then it’s going to be the best flowers or if it’s the food, you might want to have foie gras and caviar,” says West. “Everybody has a budget,” she adds. “Even if you have a million-dollar budget, you [want to] pick and choose what you want to spend your money on.”

Las Vegas hosts 100,000 destination weddings every year. Hawaii has about 25,000. The Caribbean islands and Bermuda have fewer but are still quite popular.

“It’s extraordinarily romantic,” says West. “A lot of these kids want to get married on the beach. That’s very doable here. You’ve got that beautiful blue water and the sand. And it’s an hour and a half away from the States!”

The selection of Bermuda as a wedding site also has as much to do with a bride’s past as it does with her future. “People come down here on holiday,” says West. “They fall in love with Bermuda. They think, oh, we’re going to get married here.”

That is what happened with Linda Mitchell’s daughter. Mitchell, of website Bermuda Travel, began her career as a wedding planner after her daughter, Heather, selected Bermuda for her destination wedding site years after having spent family vacations on the island. “I have had couples choose Bermuda because their family originated from Bermuda or perhaps a family member had been stationed there in the military,” says Mitchell. “I have even had couples that have never been to Bermuda but have heard that the beauty is just so magical they will plan their wedding there without any previsits.”

As for the weddings themselves, according to Mitchell, whether they were grand or simple they were all wonderful and unique. “I have seen grooms surprise their brides with firework extravaganzas…or brides change their looks between the ceremony and reception by changing attire and even their hair length with a haircut.”

Brides who decide on a destination wedding have to plan exactly as they would with a traditional at-home wedding and then some. So they will need a little guidance. “It’s kind of like going on Dancing with the Stars and you don’t know how to dance,” says West. “You’re doing this from afar and when you do something from afar you really have to have someone in situ who knows what’s going on.” Sometimes the expert is a wedding planner and sometimes it is a hotel.

The Fairmont Hamilton Princess hosts over 50 destination weddings a year. “People go away mostly because they want their wedding to be the most memorable experience they can possibly make it,” says Bior Guigni, the events coordinator for the hotel. To mark the 125th anniversary of the hotel, managers held a contest asking participants to describe why they wanted to get married on the island. The winners had an all-expenses-paid wedding at the hotel after managers judged their essay as the best. They wrote, “We fell in love with the island because of the Bermudian culture and people, pink-sand beaches, romantic sunsets, fabulous food and restaurants, and of course the luxurious hotels and hospitality. Bermuda represents past and hopefully future memories of our life together.”

Guigni says there are some important things to consider before deciding on a destination wedding. First, the couple must consider whether guests will be able to reach the destination with ease. “[Will they have] to take multiple modes of transportation and an entire day of traveling?” asks Guigni. “If so, then look for a destination a little bit closer that everyone can enjoy or look into having a very small and intimate celebration at your desired destination and then something closer to home once you return.”

Guigni encourages couples to consider the date carefully. “If you have a family with lots of children who will be attending, having a destination wedding in the middle of the school year may not be the best idea. Look into having your wedding around holidays so you know your guests will have time off and will be able to travel.”

Finally, Guigni suggests, couples must consider their costs and those of their guests. “Do they offer amenities that make up for your travels, such as a complementary night for the bride and groom? A suite upgrade and a honeymoon turndown? Do they offer specialty rates for wedding groups? You may have fallen in love with a beautiful villa in Italy, but where are your guests going to stay and will it cost a small fortune?”

When planning a destination wedding Begg advises focusing on the priority of the day. “Define what it is that would make your world rock.” Her company asks prospective brides to fill out a questionnaire that clarifies exactly what the bride would consider a successful wedding day or weekend to be. “For many different brides, a successful wedding is, Please keep my mother-in-law away from me! Grooms tend to be about music and food, and brides are about being stress free so that everyone is having an amazing time.”

If brides are clear about the kind of wedding they want, they will save valuable time planning the big day. “Take your time,” says Begg. “You waited all these years for the right man. Don’t rush into wedding plans.”

According to Begg, when couples establish their budget, they should allow 10 percent extra for wiggle room, as there are always unexpected expenditures. Begg also advises brides about what she has historically seen as priorities at any wedding. “Photography,” says Begg. “You cannot leave photography out of the budget. Even if you do nothing else, you will have captured that day. Full stop. Because long after friends have gotten divorced, long after the food is consumed, you have the photographs.”

If couples do not have the budget for a videographer, there is an alternative says West. “Go buy a little camcorder and give it to one of your friends. That will cost $250.”

The most over-the-top wedding Begg arranged was held at Tucker’s Point with 130 guests. “Very expensive,” says Begg. “Fabulous. The wines were several hundred dollars a bottle. We had fireworks which had the date, monogrammed accessories, and it was a four-day thing costing about $400, 000.” But she also stresses that weddings don’t have to be extravagant. Many couples are on their second marriages and are a bit older, so their priorities are simpler than those of younger brides.

Some wedding planners believe destination weddings can be less expensive than a traditional wedding at home. One reason is that the couple can combine their wedding and honeymoon. Still, there are costs to consider, including the wedding dress and groom’s suit, outfits for attendants, travel documents, wedding insurance, travel costs, food and beverage, photography, flowers and the cost of a local wedding planner, if used.

“Try to incorporate some of the Bermuda traditions into your wedding,” says Linda Mitchell. “This will make it so much more memorable. The moon gate is a good-luck structure that is also beautiful in photographs. The Bermuda cedar is traditional in planting as a memory of your wedding. The bride and groom cakes are another wonderful tradition. Including delicacies such as Bermuda fish cakes, Bermuda fish chowder, dark and stormies and rum swizzle drinks into your event is suggested.”

“You’ll need a minister to perform the ceremony in Bermuda,” says West, who is often asked by foreign brides if their marriage is legal. “It is,” West assures them.

Although Begg is a wedding planner, she did not hire one for her own big day “because I am a major pain in the neck. I’m controlling. I’ve been married twice.” Perhaps because of that she always imparts the same advice to every bride she works with. “You have to sometimes sit them down and tell them the party is very important, but it’s the ceremony and what you’re about to do that [is most important] and you need to give it a lot of thought,” says Begg. “I don’t know if I have any divorces, but I seem to have a lot of brides who are still happy!”

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