Margaret Williams' children had it made when they decided to get married. Williams is a Columbia event planner whose business consists mostly of weddings. She had the local contacts, knew the caterers, the great spots for a ceremony. But both her children opted instead for destination weddings.
Her son got married at a resort in Florida. Her daughter chose Charlottesville, Va., home of the University of Virginia, where she and her fiance went to school.
"For the family, personally, it was much more fun," Williams said. "Because we felt like we were on vacation, too."
An increasing number of brides are spurning traditional weddings and are heading out of town, where they can get married and have a honeymoon at the same time.
Couples are choosing resorts in exotic locations, and also regional destinations that are just a drive away.
Hawaii and Jamaica are the most popular spots for destination weddings, according to Bride's Magazine. But there are plenty of regional options as well.
Maryland's Eastern Shore, the Outer Banks in North Carolina, Nemacolin Woodlands Resort & Spa in southwestern Pennsylvania, Hotel Hershey in Hershey, Pa., are just a few places in the area that offer wedding packages.
According to Yolanda Crous, senior travel editor at Bride's, 8 percent of the 24 million weddings in the United States annually are destination weddings.
One of the biggest attractions for such weddings is cost, Crous said. The average price tag for a traditional wedding is $22,000. A destination wedding can be a lot cheaper.
"Automatically, your guest list shrinks because you don't have to invite your dad's business partner's cousins," Crous explained. "You're only going to be inviting your closest friends and family.
"And often, if you're getting married at a hotel, you're probably going to have a wedding coordinator do a lot of the work for you," she added. "Generally, young women are working these days, and they don't have time to plan every single detail of some huge, extraordinary event."
In addition, she said, many destination weddings are second marriages. "A lot of those people have already done the big old extravaganza wedding thing before, so they're looking for something a little more low-key, a little less stressful."
Weddings at regional resorts have been on the rise since the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, according to an informal survey of wedding planners. Some couples are still uncomfortable about flying and are looking closer to home for a combination wedding and honeymoon.
Avery Harrison, a wedding planner in the Outer Banks, said sentiment often plays a role as well. "Some [couples] get engaged down here and fall in love with it," she said. "And some grow up vacationing here."
Laura and Jim Clark, of Alexandria, Va., fell in love during a getaway weekend to the Nemacolin resort, located about 70 miles south of Pittsburgh. So when they were planning a Labor Day wedding for this year, they knew they wanted the ceremony to take place there.
"They provide everything," Laura said of the resort. "It was like the one-stop shopper."
Nemacolin has two championship golf courses as well as a spa, she explained. "There is something for everyone."
For their wedding ceremony, the Clarks hired a bagpiper, released doves and had rose petals strewn on the walkway. The resort staff made her wedding cake look like a Wedgwood china pattern, with icing to match the color of her bridesmaids' dresses.
The Clarks used the entire holiday weekend for their wedding. They invited 130 guests, who arrived that Friday. The next day, they headed for the spa and golf courses. Laura's husband, a hunter, visited the resort's nearby shooting academy. By the time they got married Sunday morning, she said, "everybody was so relaxed."
Casual to elaborate
Guests at destination weddings usually pay for their own travel, rooms and activities, but sometimes the wedding couple will subsidize the cost or give each guest a gift certificate to use at the resort.
The size of destination weddings varies. Some are casual beach ceremonies planned at the last minute, with only a few people in attendance. Some are more elaborate. Planners at the Outer Banks say one popular practice there is to rent an oceanfront mansion that sleeps up to 30 people and use it for the ceremony and accommodations.
This summer, one bride asked Nemacolin to plan a wedding in three weeks -- food, cake, flowers, everything -- said Deborah Z. Cooke, the resort's wedding planner. The guest list had only eight people on it, Cooke added, but the couple arranged for a horse-and-carriage ride and a private dining room in Lautrec, the resort's French restaurant, instead of the usual ballroom. The chapel was decorated with white roses and candelabra, and a string quartet played during the ceremony and reception. The cost of the wedding was about $8,000.