ANDY SCHIFF AND HIS girlfriend, Melanie Ufema, and two of their friends were mere feet away from emptying their pockets of loose change in the security line at Denver International Airport when Schiff suddenly stopped.
He dropped to one knee, and instead of loose change, pulled a diamond ring out of his pocket. "Melanie, will you marry me?" he asked.
Schiff's buddy had a video camera rolling -- he was in on it, and everyone had agreed they should "document the trip" -- so it was pointed at a stunned but grinning Ufema when she said, "Yes."
Schiff says he wasn't really worried Ufema would say no. "She was going to be on an airplane with me for eight hours, and we were going to Maui for 10 days," he says. "She couldn't say no. It was a foolproof plan."
It took just a few days in Hawaii, with its pristine beaches and warm breezes, for the couple to come up with another plan, one that would involve persuading all of their immediate family members and many of their closest friends to hop on planes a year later for a Maui wedding.
Lucky for Andy, his brother MJ already had paved the way for a destination wedding. The eldest Schiff sibling had been married at Colorado's Beaver Creek Ski Resort five years earlier, and family members were much more amenable to traveling for the big day. But that first time, there had been some resistance.
"Selfishly, my first thought was, 'Well, I don't suppose you expect your family is going to be there,' " the Schiffs' mother, Molly Broeren, says. The family wanted to attend, but her parents were elderly, not in the best of health and lived out of state. The prospect of traveling to Denver and then getting to Beaver Creek was daunting.
"Not to mention the financial aspect," Broeren says. "Being the parents of the groom, we didn't have to worry about the wedding itself, but it would cost to stay there, and we needed to take care of the rehearsal dinner in a place that, let's face it, is not known for being cheap."
Even once those hurdles were managed, a few more presented themselves. For example, guests needed to be transported up the mountain by chairlift for the reception. "I'm afraid of heights, and I'd never been on a chairlift before," Broeren says. "And so were a few other guests, and my parents were not even going to be able to get on the lift. So we had to rent a bus to get them up there."
Adjusting to last-minute problems and unusual circumstances are two important things to consider when planning a destination wedding, says Margi Arnold, whose Denver agency, Creative Travel Adventures, specializes in weddings that take place outside of the United States. "One of the things you should think about right from the start is what would be good for your guests," Arnold says. "A lot of people have that starry-eyed thing in their heads about the perfect wedding, but you have to remember that there will be other people there, too."
According to the Travel Industry Association, 16 percent of American marriages are destination weddings, a growing trend not only because those marrying for the first time are discovering its appeal, but also because those embarking on second or third marriages or renewing their vows find that they want to have smaller gatherings and spend their money on the trip, not just the reception.
"The destination wedding is a win-win, really," Arnold says. "It's a family reunion, a big party, three or four days to enjoy your guests away from the day-to-day stuff. It's a great reason for everyone to go on vacation, not just the people getting married."
In addition, Arnold says that brides and grooms often are surprised to discover that the cost is lower and the planning less intensive than with a wedding held in their hometowns.
"Destination weddings are typically not as stressful as traditional weddings," she says. "There are fewer people, so it's often less expensive. You often do less in terms of the elaborate fussing."
For instance, when getting married in their hometowns, couples are less likely to hire a wedding planner or coordinator, instead feeling that they have to do much of the investigating and booking themselves.
"When you book a wedding at a resort in Mexico or the Caribbean, the wedding planner is usually included," Arnold said. "They can do a lot of the legwork for you, finding the photographer, that kind of thing. And as for flowers, you can wait and pick those when you get there. The places that really have this wired, they have a binder that shows you the choices, and they can get everything there within a day or two. And it's all beautiful stuff, because you're usually talking about tropical locations."
Sarah Pardikes of Arvada, Colo., says her wedding Jan. 24 at the all-inclusive Grand Palladium Riviera Resort and Spa in Riviera Maya, Mexico, was significantly cheaper than anything she and husband Brett Pardikes were looking at closer to home.