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TROPICAL WEDDINGS:
GETTING MARRIED IN THE CARIBBEAN

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A romantic Caribbean wedding is surprisingly easy and inexpensive to arrange. "It was a stress-free way to tie the knot," says Lisa, who married Aron Freeman in Nassau. "We both have very busy schedules and couldn't leave work for long, so we got married on a four-day package to the Caribbean."

Couple kiss after their wedding at a Caribbean all-inclusive resort.
Couple kiss after their wedding at a Caribbean all-inclusive resort.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Megan and Paul Bowan exchanged their vows in St. Thomas. "We picked the Caribbean because it was easier to complete the legal documents there than in other destinations," says Paul.

A third couple, Lori and Tom Smyth, also decided to get married in the Caribbean. "A huge church wedding with lots of pomp and circumstance wasn't our style," says Lori. "In the Caribbean, we could get married and go on our honeymoon right away." The couple's wedding was at an all-inclusive resort. "No one had to open their wallets once they arrived," says Paul. "We picked Barbados because we had been there before and both loved it. Barbados was a safe place for our parents, relatives and friends."

Travel agency brochures reveal several Caribbean islands where couples can marry, including Antigua, Bahamas, Barbados, Cayman Islands, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Maarten, Trinidad & Tobago, Turks & Caicos and the US Virgin Islands.

Caribbean wedding packages

Some resorts offer free wedding packages. (Conditions may specify a minimum length of stay, category of room or specific dates.) Others are a fixed price. Typical packages include the registrar, justice of the peace or minister, witnesses, if necessary, document preparation, flowers, cake and Champagne. A few resorts include a wedding photo and breakfast in bed the following morning. Deluxe packages add special treats like massages, gift baskets, sunset cruises and candlelight dinners.

You can purchase extras (e.g., photography and video packages, catering, decorations and musical groups) to tailor the wedding to your budget and special wishes. "We booked a steel drum-player who played island music and The Wedding March," says Lori. "The Caribbean mood that he created was well worth the extra money."

Rather than book a hotel package, the Bowans used the services of a local wedding planner. "The US Virgin Islands Tourist Office sends callers a list of wedding packages and planners," says Megan. "All we had to do was FAX, e-mail or call the planner with a list of what we wanted. This way, we could stay at one hotel, get married at another, on the other side of the island, and have our wedding meal downtown."

Wedding locations are as varied as the islands. Megan and Paul selected the beach for their wedding. Lisa and Aron were married in a gazebo overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Lori and Tom exchanged vows outdoors in an old sugar mill. Afterward, they signed the register and enjoyed a cake and Champagne reception for 18 relatives and friends under the palm trees. Couples can even get married underwater, in scuba gear, in the Cayman Islands.

Marriage laws in Caribbean islands

It is important to check wedding regulations, with Caribbean tourist boards, before you make any plans or book your trip. Each island has different marriage license rules and laws.

Some islands permit civil marriages only if the couple is already legally married within their own country. Couples can marry the day they arrive in other islands, however, they must first arrange for a marriage officer and apply for a special marriage license for non-residents. Several islands have a minimum residency period.

The Dominican Republic requires all documents to be translated into Spanish. This can be done in advance by the Dominican Republic Consulate or Embassy in the engaged couple's home country. A few Caribbean islands require medical certificates and blood tests. Most islands require notarized parental/guardian consent if the bride or groom is under 18. Religious weddings have additional requirements and fees.

Captain marries a couple in the wedding chapel on a Grand Princess Caribbean cruise.
Captain marries a couple in the wedding chapel on a Grand Princess Caribbean cruise.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Couples can get married, when a cruise ship is in port, at some islands. The Cayman Islands, for example, allows visiting brides and grooms to get married, with no waiting. Easier yet, is getting married on the cruise ship. The Grand Princess, for example, has a wedding chapel where the captain marries couples.

"Barbados has no waiting period," says Lori. "Our package included a driver who brought us to and from the government office in Bridgetown so we could fill out our marriage license application." Tom advises couples to bring appropriate documents. (For most Caribbean countries, they include birth certificates, passports and proof of marital status.) Lori cautions brides not to be surprised about the wording on the Barbados marriage license application. "Even if you are only 18, it refers to you as a 'spinster'!"

Caribbean wedding planners

"The on-site coordinator at our all-inclusive resort took care of all the details from booking the minister to ordering the flowers," says Lori. Megan agrees that the services of a wedding planner help everything proceed like clockwork. "Because this was a second marriage for both of us, all we had to do was send in the notarized divorce papers, fill out the forms and she did the rest. Our wedding planner even arranged a limo to pick us up at our hotel, bring us to City Hall to sign the papers, and drive us to the other side of the island for the ceremony."

Both couples recommend planning your destination wedding in advance. "You also have to think of your guests, if you are inviting people to a resort," says Lori. "If it is not an all-inclusive, additional costs can add up. For example, because we had singles and children on our guest list, we couldn't pick a couples-only resort. We also wanted a property that was wheelchair-accessible for one of our parents."

Lori wanted a beauty salon at the resort. "Before the wedding, our mothers, my maid-of-honour and I had our hair done. I also had a manicure and pedicure."

Her husband Tom adds: "Resorts that accept children may still have rules that prohibit children in certain restaurants. We couldn't use one restaurant in the all-inclusive for our wedding dinner for this reason. It's also important to check if the restaurant is open-air or air-conditioned. An outdoor restaurant can be too hot for some guests."

Although most wedding packages include a bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine, Lori suggests bringing your own bubbly for the reception. "We bought some good quality French Champagne for a reasonable price at the duty-free shop to serve our guests," she says.

Tom recommends asking about availability and use of audio equipment. "We recorded our favorite music before we left home and asked the resort to play it during our reception."

Wedding gowns and tuxedos are hot

The Bowans picked the US Virgin Islands because "they are hot, sunny and have great beaches." They advise potential brides and grooms to dress for the heat, however. "I wore a sleeveless silk crepe dress, but it wasn't cool enough," says Megan. "My suit was definitely too hot," adds Paul. "As soon as they pronounced us man and wife, we ran into the sea, clothes and all!"

The trend to getting married in the Caribbean is growing exponentially. It's not just for older couples or people having second weddings. Many young people travel to the Caribbean to tie the knot. Sometimes, they decide on a Caribbean wedding because it's cheaper. Often, it is because of family circumstances, like divorced parents, or relatives living too far away to come to a wedding. Usually, the couples travel by themselves or with a small group of friends or relatives.

Caribbean weddings are best suited for couples who are happy to be married by a justice of the peace. It is possible, of course, to be married by a minister, priest or rabbi, but it may take extra time to research and arrange. "I checked the Internet and found a rabbi in the neighboring island of Freeport, who was willing to marry us in Nassau," says Lisa. "We paid for his flight to New Providence Island (where Nassau is located). He brought the canopy and wine, which are used for Jewish ceremonies. Four resort guests held the canopy during the ceremony. The hotel recommended a photographer and videographer. We were pleasantly surprised with the price and quality of their work."

Tips for planning a Caribbean wedding

Newlyweds enjoy a buffet dinner after their wedding at a Caribbean all-inclusive resort.
Newlyweds enjoy a buffet dinner after their wedding at a Caribbean all-inclusive resort.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

If you plan to bring down a traditional bridal gown and veil, ask your travel agent to arrange for special handling on the plane. A hockey bag or large duffel bag is often the most practical way to pack it and carry it on board. Couples should give serious thought to the date and time of the ceremony. Valentine's Day is the busiest day for weddings, so be prepared to see several other wedding parties if you pick this day at a popular resort. Sunset is the most popular time, so book early if that is when you want to get married.

Lisa and Aron were married at sunset. "It was wonderful and absolutely free of stress," recalls Lisa. "We were on the beach until four o'clock, when we went back into the hotel to shower, change and pose for some photos. The ceremony, by the water at sunset, was beautiful. Afterwards, we had a nice dinner in the hotel restaurant."

If they could do it again, would they get married in the Caribbean? The answer is a resounding "yes" from all three couples. For Lori and Tom, the experience "created memories that we'll never forget." Lisa adds: "Aron and I would recommend a destination wedding to anyone. We would renew our vows in the Caribbean as well." And the Bowans? "Just go down and enjoy it," they advise, "because the Caribbean is a great place to get married."


More information on destination weddings:

Destination Wedding Planning

More information on Caribbean destinations:

Travel to the Caribbean