Saying 'I Do' On A Distant Shore

September 25, 1994|By Holly Selby

If the idea of planning a big wedding makes you shudder or if your in-laws-to-be are insisting that your wedding be arranged their way, try some relaxation techniques:

Close your eyes, picture yourself and your spouse-to-be standing on the sands of a far-away beach. As the palm trees sway overhead, you hear the words, "I now pronounce you . . ."

Hmmm, why not?

While a marriage far from home may not be for everyone, an increasing number of couples are getting married in exotic locales from Jamaica to Jerusalem. Some couples swear that sheer adventure is the draw, while others say weddings away from home are more intimate and less stressful.

"It's a treat. It's fun," says Geri Bain, travel editor of Modern Bride magazine. "Some people say it's second-time marriages where the couple wants to slip away quietly, but I think it's often first-time marriages when the couple is in their 20s and just wants to have fun. It's really romantic."

Based on a survey done by the magazine, Ms. Bain estimates that about 62,500 American couples a year opt for weddings away from home.

Such weddings can be as simple and inexpensive or as complex and expensive as you wish. Many hotels in the most popular wedding destinations, such as Jamaica, the Virgin Islands or Barbados, offer packages with prices that run the gamut, and some resorts offer free wedding ceremonies to clients.

"When both people are working, it may take too much effort to plan a wedding, and having someone take care of it all can be really great," says Ms. Bain.

"It can be expensive, but there are also resorts that arrange it so that you can get married for the price of your honeymoon."

When deciding where to get married, consider which climates, activities and locales each person finds romantic and appealing, she suggests. After all, if your fiance doesn't ski, chances are a wedding at a ski resort won't be his dream.

Next, inquire about the requirements for a wedding license in the location you choose. (Maryland does recognize licenses from different countries.)

A good place to start your quest for wedding information is the tourist information board for your chosen locale; many are situated in New York City.

Travel agents usually can help with arrangements -- or can put you in touch with hotels or wedding consultants in your chosen country.

That's how Mahlon Adams of Baltimore planned his July wedding. His goal? To surprise his fiancee.

And did he ever.

A few weeks before the date he had secretly chosen for his wedding, Mr. Adams contacted the Dominican Republic Tourism Board in New York about requirements for weddings. A travel agent helped with reservations at a hotel in the capital city, Santo Domingo, and with airline reservations.

Mr. Adams secretly filled suitcases with a lace-and-sheer wedding dress for his bride-to-be, and an off-white suit for himself. He also packed the documents necessary for a wedding in the Dominican Republic -- birth certificates and driver's licenses.

Then he told his fiancee that he was taking her on a vacation.

He kept his secret until about one hour before the ceremony began, when he gave her the off-white dress and said, "We're getting married!"

She was thrilled.

"It was in an orchid garden overlooking the sea. They had music, they greeted us with tropical drinks, they had a massive bouquet for me with every type of tropical flowers," says Sandra Adams, who still sounds both dazed and enchanted.

"It was wonderful. It was really wonderful," she adds.

For Mr. Adams, the faraway wedding was both affordable and memorable. "There's no way I could have done something that special here," he says. "I was trying to be original, to be different and get away from all the planning hassles. If I had a chance to do it all over again, I'd do it."

A number of islands in the Caribbean are geared for people who, like Mr. Adams, want a romantic, unusual wedding away from home. Getting married in other locations, however, can involve a tangle of paperwork, and the rules in each place may differ widely.

Many countries have residency requirements -- and insist that couples live in the area they have chosen for a wedding for a certain period of time. In England and Wales, for example, couples must post wedding banns -- and they must live in the country for seven days before the banns go out and for 21 days after.

By contrast, in Scotland and Austria, there is no residency requirement, says Ms. Bain.

Nonetheless, if your heart is set on getting married somewhere far away, but the arrangements seem too complicated, there is hope: Travel agencies are increasingly offering wedding packages aimed at adventuresome couples.

For example, for Jewish couples with a dramatic flair, Sabra Tours of Baltimore offers a traditional wedding held in the Old City of Jerusalem.

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