Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’ wedding in a romantic 15th-century castle in Bracciano, Italy, may have been the highest profile wedding in 2006, but it was hardly trend setting. Destination weddings have been hugely popular for years. In fact, they’ve grown 400 percent over the last 10 years, according to a 2006 survey by The Conde Nast Bridal Group, publishers of Brides, Modern Bride and Elegant Bride. Why? The question should be why not? Destination weddings are typically less expensive, definitely less stressful, and whole lot more fun.
“The reason why these weddings have become so popular is that many people really don’t want to have this big event with 200 people—half of whom they don’t know—that is going to cost a fortune,” says JoAnne Dunn, an award-winning wedding photographer who lives near Naples, Italy. “For about the same amount of money, including flights for everyone, you can have a wonderful weekend with 50 of your closest friends.”
For six years Dunn, a South African, and her Italian husband, Gianni, have been photographing weddings together throughout the Amalfi Coast, where last year alone there were 700 weddings. Fabled vistas from craggy cliffs that plunge to the sea, superb food, and ideal climate make Amalfi a premiere wedding site for couples worldwide. “When couples come here for a wedding everyone is on holiday and in a great mood,” says Dunn, which helps make the wedding party more relaxed and natural, much better for pictures.
Although most of Dunn’s clients are from other countries, she and Gianni have some Italian clients, including Alessandra and Lorenzo, a Roman couple in her award-winning photo accompanying this article. After their wedding in the fourth-century Santi Giovanni e Paolo al Celio church in Rome, the couple sped their car toward the reception at Villa Monte Mario, near St. Peters Square. The bride, Dunn remembers, “was waving at some friends on a balcony above when her veil was swept away. I was at the right place at the right time with the right lens—a 200mm—and captured it.” Dunn’s picture took second place in the transportation category of a recent WPJA competition.
Award winning Washington, USA WPJA member Brian Tsai says half of his clients want destination weddings, a third of which are international locations. Ninety percent take place at resorts. He echoes Dunn’s observation that destination weddings are typically more relaxed. “It’s less stressful because so often resorts offer packages that make it easy for the bride and groom to make arrangements. When the couple arrives at the resort several days or a week before the wedding, by the time I get there they’ve had their vacation. They’re tan and relaxed, ready to get married.”
Last year he spent half the summer jetting to weddings from Paris to the Caribbean. He travels most frequently to Mexico, particularly to the beautiful Yucatan Peninsula. “Because I’m based in Austin, perhaps they think it’s easier for me to get to Mexico,” says Tsai. Typically, a bridal couple pays travel expenses for a photographer to accompany them to their destination. So choosing a photographer in close proximity to the site can be a wise economical decision.
The WPJA web site is a valuable resource for finding photographers all over the world. A couple using the site is very likely to find a photographer living in or near the place where they want to get married, an additional cost savings. “Ninety-nine percent of my clients come from Canada and the U.S.,” says WPJA member Sol Tamargo, who lives in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
A Boston couple found Tamargo on the WPJA web site and booked her for their wedding in Puerto Morelos, a little town in Riviera Maya. One of her pictures from that wedding won 10th place in the ceremony category in WPJA’s 2006 summer competition. “It was an intimate ceremony, only the parents and siblings from both sides were there,” Tamargo remembers. “It was very emotional. Both sets of parents participated in the ceremony. They talked about how happy they were that Sharon and Jeffrey had each other as companions for life and they gave advice on how to have a successful marriage. I have to say, I was moved to tears, too. It’s hard not to be involved in such a strong, beautiful moment.”
Tamargo says she gives couples who want to marry in the Yucatan Peninsula practical advice. “I can provide information about the area and give couples names and contact information for Yucatan wedding planners,” she says. “To get legally married in Mexico, you have to be here at least three days prior to the ceremony in order to complete paperwork (See sidebar If You Go), but you could also have another kind of wedding, a symbolic ceremony or even a Mayan Ritual, conducted by a shaman.” (She and fiancé Matt Adcock—another WPJA member-are planning a Mayan ceremony.)
“When planning a destination wedding, a local wedding planner is always a great idea because they can help with all the details and have the know how to plan the wedding.” Tamargo also has the inside track on interesting sites to see in Yucatan, such as the Mayan ruins and cenotes, underwater caves with spectacular stalactites and stalagmites. “Having the opportunity to shoot in these exotic places is a unique experience.”
Timing a wedding around festivals and other local events can be a bonus for destination wedding couples and their guests. “It’s important when people are selecting places to get married to make sure that their guests will have a good time and not be stuck at the hotel,” says Brian Tsai. Any research regarding upcoming activities/adventures will help maximize the experience for wedding guests.
For JoAnne Dunn, who has photographed weddings all over the world, the most beautiful spot on Earth is Ravello on the Amalfi Coast. She suggests music-loving couples plan their weddings in June and July when the most concerts are performed during the months-long Ravello Music Festival. “You sit in a mountaintop garden that overlooks the coastline with the most amazing view I’ve ever seen and listen to a philharmonic orchestra that seems to be suspended over the sea,” she says. “It’s magical. But not all the music is classical. They have jazz, folk and all types of music.”
Dunn highly recommends Ravello-bound couples have their ceremony at Villa Cimbrone, an exclusive hotel with cultivated public gardens. With its 15th century architecture and panoramic views of the Bay of Salerno, Villa Cimbrone is ideal for weddings, says Dunn, and she’s photographed many there. “It has to be the nicest place in the world to have a wedding,” she says. “It’s built on a mountain and you can get there only by a long walk up many stairs. To give you an idea of it, Villa Cimbrone built its swimming pool using a donkey and helicopter. It’s the most exquisite place.” In fact, Dunn is so taken with Ravello, she and her family are moving there.
Aruba in the Caribbean is Brian Tsai’s favorite spot for a wedding. “Most of my clients choose tropical destinations,” he says, “and Aruba is so beautiful. The color of the water is amazing and the culture and people are lovely.” But Tsai has a very soft spot in his heart for Hawaii, where he and his wife got married. Their destination wedding sparked Tsai’s interest in offering his services to others who want international weddings. Based on his own experience as a groom, Tsai offers two pieces of advice to couples considering destination ceremonies: “I encourage people to plan at least eight months out. Also, be creative. Even if couples are financially constrained, by being creative and smart in their planning they can still have a unique and amazing destination wedding economically.”
It’s very economical to get married at Rivera Maya, says Sol Tamargo, who considers it her favorite wedding location. Prices fluctuate with the seasons, she says, but “there are venues for all budgets. Mexican people are very accommodating and offer great service. The color of the water blows you away. Turquoise and crystal clear, it’s beautiful. If you are looking for more of an adventure, this is the place to go. There are so many things to do: explore the jungle, learn about the Mayan culture and visit tons of archeological sites. It’s an unforgettable experience.”
Joanne Dunn advises couples to keep an eye out for good airfare discounts to Italy. “You can find some incredibly good deals,” she says. “The airlines have really shrunk the world.”
And in this “small” world, you can find a myriad of exquisite settings for your wedding.
—by Lorna Gentry for the Wedding Photojournalist Association