I was pretty excited when I received an invitation in the mail to a wedding. I opened it in anticipation of what I might find inside and was completely stunned when I realized the wedding was in the Caribbean; Jamaica in fact. The concept was awesome, but certainly required some thinking and planning. I looked at the date and was pleased it was in the winter months, when an escape from the extreme cold and snowy weather of Port Perry would be welcome.
Destination weddings are not for everyone and the three I have been to have all turned out very well, both for me, as well as the brides and grooms. When I say they are not for everyone, I mean they usually end up costing more than a present, however, they always include a great vacation, usually not planned or on your bucket list. That in itself is what makes the prospect exciting.
In most cases the people who attend destination weddings are family or very close friends to the wedding party, which brings an air of comfort and familiarity to the occasion. One of the destinations I went to was Barcelona, which in itself is an amazing trip, as it has to be one of Western Europe's most exciting cities. Another was to Quebec in the middle of winter for a traditional Québécois winter carnival event and the third was the Caribbean.
I was flattered at being asked to attend, and although I had been to Jamaica thirty years earlier, the prospect was still pretty exciting. My earlier trip had been to Ocho Rios so this adventure would be new, as the wedding was to take place in Negril. Not having read up on Jamaica's recent history or culture my visions of Negril dated back to the 1960's, complete with Hedonism 1, but alas, times have changed and it is now purely a tourist destination complete with swimsuits and Ganja-free.
I had several months before the trip and finding airfare was not that difficult. Getting a decent rate for a flight, however, was a bit of a challenge. It seems I was not the only Canadian who wanted to venture south a few weeks before Christmas. Through good use of a travel agent I overcame the challenge, so another hurdle was behind me.
The bride had arranged for a decent rate at a resort, and rooms were available, so there was no need to worry about accommodation. It was an all-inclusive resort, which meant meals and drinks were included, so another challenge checked off my list. When it got right down to it my total involvement was to appear at a few cocktail receptions and the wedding itself, which was on the beach so I didn't have to pack my suit. A simple jacket, pants and boat shoes did the trick.
My next step was to arrange my own entertainment. Sitting on a beach Is fun, but I get pretty antsy after a little while. Exploring is always on my agenda and for me Jamaica was a great place. I managed to go parasailing, snorkeling, swimming with dolphins and stingrays and a few adventures, such as cliff diving at the world famous Rick's cafe. (If Negril is in in your future be sure to book a reservation at Rick's well in advance).
All these activities were exciting, but they also meant I would miss a number of included meals at the resort. This is the main reason I never do all inclusive, but, hey, that's me. Several guests had arranged to join a cruise to continue their trip and end in Miami or Puerto Rico. One couple had arranged their trip with a cruise company which, would be docking in Jamaica at the exact time of the wedding.
A couple of do's and don'ts for destination weddings include bringing enough clothes for several parties as well as the ceremony. Sand flies can be an issue in the Caribbean, especially if you are wearing a lot of clothes, so bring some repellant. Of course sun screen is a must, but keep in mind that sometimes you can't just get up and leave, so be prepared. Hats are another necessity, as most ceremonies and photo sessions are on the beach. The ceremonies tend to be less than 45 minutes, but the photo sessions can last much longer, especially if Aunt Tilly wanders off somewhere when it is her turn to be in the shot.
European destination weddings tend to be different; as most North Americans will stay longer than a few days (my Jamaican stay was only three days). If you are into sightseeing try and book something organized through a reputable travel agent. For people who do not travel much, visiting Europe on your own can have challenges. Although English is spoken in most centres, language barriers may arise in smaller towns. Currency conversion is not as much an issue with the Euro, however there are still countries who do not use it (Scandinavia and Britain are good examples). Getting around can be a tough, as traffic rules use international symbols, most of which at not used in Canada. During my travels I often see people who have ventured on their own and most of their time is spent getting information, arguing about directions and finding affordable hotels.
Most hotels offer local tour connections and if you plan to visit a single city you will be able to get around. Travelling to a number of countries can be much more challenging, especially with tourist crime (pick pockets and con artistry) on the rise. Travel agents can arrange small tours or even cruises, but If you insist on doing it yourself consider a Euro rail pass and stay away from car rentals.
All in all, destination weddings can be a blast and something unique and different to cherish. If you have the opportunity to open your mailbox and receive an invitation to a destination wedding, give it careful consideration, as you will probably cherish the spontaneity of the event.
Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel TV show can be watched on RogersTV and YouTube. To follow Jonathan’s travel adventures visit photosNtravel.com