Runaway wedding

Today, many couples opt for ceremonies in remote, exotic locations, rather than the traditional hometown celebration


The bride carried a bouquet of pink roses and got her feet wet during the ceremony.

The sky was blue, tropical breezes fluttered the hem of her gown and the white sand was warm underfoot.

It's a scenario that's becoming the new traditional wedding: An exotic location, a combination wedding and honeymoon, and a celebration which is usually less expensive than one held in the bride's hometown (although that last part is changing).

"It's easier to go away," says Natalie Luna-Beverungen of Tradewinds Travel in Fulton, who five years ago saw where the trend was heading and became a certified destination wedding specialist. Resorts will take care of every detail of the wedding, down to the champagne toast - often for no more than the cost of a week's stay. Getting married away from home can also be economical because fewer guests will travel long distances to attend.

Destination weddings are one of this year's most important marriage trends, according to recent research by the Conde Nast Bridal Group. Their number in the past decade has increased 400 percent. In fact, an astonishing 16 percent of American couples now have a destination wedding. (Credit the Internet for at least part of the reason. It's simply much easier than it used to be

to plan a marriage in another state or country.)

There is so much interest that the wedding Web site the and Travel + Leisure this year began publishing a magazine about destination weddings and honeymoons called Travel + Romance.

Specialized wedding consultants are promoting services in a particular area. If you want to rent a Tuscan villa for your wedding, it's much easier if you have someone who speaks Italian and knows his or her way around the local regulations and vendors.

Companies have even started manufacturing dresses that are destination wedding-specific (cooler, more casual and more flowing for the Caribbean, for instance) and can be packed in a suitcase without wrinkling.

The wedding weekend is here to stay, says Kathleen Murray, deputy editor of The Knot. "A very recent trend is that it's not just a beach location anymore. It could be the Adirondacks or out West. People are looking more at mainland America."

European countries, of course, are always popular and romantic possibilities.

Although interest in other locations is growing, the favorite sites are still the all-inclusive Carib- bean resorts - at least for Marylanders, says Luna-Beverungen. Places like Sandals and Beaches are the best-known ones, but these days every hotel seems to have a wedding coordinator on site.

The Caribbean was where Dawn Kemp (then Jones) of Laurel and her fiance, Dennis, headed six years ago. They had been planning a big wedding locally when they learned that his father had cancer and her father had to have a hip replacement.

"Our priorities changed," she says. The couple decided instead to wed in Jamaica, which would be less expensive, less stressful and could take place sooner. They were married three months later with some family and only two friends in attendance. A reception for extended family and friends was held at home later.

"It was a quick but elegant and nice wedding," Kemp says. "A wedding-and-honeymoon-in-one wedding."

The costs were included as part of their hotel stay - a wedding coordinator, the ceremony, flowers, photography and a Jamaican rum cake iced to look like a traditional wedding cake. All the bride and groom had to do was arrive 24 hours in advance to establish residency (not exactly a hardship) and bring their birth certificates.

The bride carried her wedding gown on the plane, where it hung in the first-class coat closet.

"The stewardesses were so nice," Kemp says. "They treated that gown like my child."

The interest in exotic locations continues to grow because people are getting married later, when they have their own incomes and can pay for part or all of their wedding. It's no longer a matter of the mother of the bride calling the shots, says Julie Raimondi, editor-in-chief of Brides Maryland. "The bride and groom are balking at the idea of a big wedding in their hometown for their parents' business associates."

Demographics have changed, too. The bride and groom often come from different parts of the country to begin with, and where they settle down may not be close to family and friends. Amy Bartholomay and her fiance lived in Towson; but her family is scattered through the Midwest, and she had lived and worked in several states before she moved to Maryland.

"If we're going to ask everyone to travel to Baltimore," Bill, her husband-to-be, told her, "why not invite them to somewhere exciting?"

They decided on the Cayman Islands for their wedding, and ended up having 75 acceptances. Most people stayed for a whole week.

"It was so much better than the usual six-hour meet-and-greet," Bartholomay says. "It gives me chills to think about it."

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