If you want cold cocktails on a hot beach, try
THE SOMERSET, TURKS AND CAICOS ISLANDS
Southeast of the Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos Islands have gained popularity in recent years because of their pristine white-sand beaches, turquoise waters, and proximity to New York—direct flights to the island of Providenciales take just three hours. The Somerset on Grace Bay Beach, regularly rated the top beach in the Caribbean, can host weddings for groups as intimate as two, or as large as 200. Options include a barefoot ceremony on the beach, or a reception on the manicured croquet lawn, and the resort will handle processing your marriage license. Wedding guests often stay at the moderately priced Sands Resort next door. An added perk for the budget conscious, “most of the accommodations on the island are suites, which means guests don’t have to go out for every meal,” says Lisa Light of Destinationbride.com.
Cost: Small groups start at $2,800.
If architecture and history delight you, try
THE MOUNT, LENOX, MA
“It is simply extraordinary,” says Lee, of the Mount, a 50-acre estate built and designed by author Edith Wharton. The writer’s doomed marriage unraveled at her Berkshires retreat, but the Mount lives on as a prized wedding venue. Celebrations for up to 150 guests begin with cocktails in the gardens, recently restored to their original 1902 glory, then continue with dinner in the classic Revival main house. The more fearless may want to keep an eye out for one of the estate’s many rumored ghosts, just don’t wander out too late (receptions typically wind down by 10 p.m.).
Cost: Rental starts at $5,500 ($2,000 of which is a mandatory contribution) for a four-hour event. Catering is separate and must be provided by an approved vendor.
If you’re addicted to the Nature Channel, try
XCARET ECO PARK, MEXICO
Mexico is beautiful, close, and a real bargain. “I am 100 percent encouraging people to go to Mexico. It has always been a deal for weddings, and now it’s a double deal,” Light says. While nearby Tulum is a trendy spot for yogi types, and Cancun continues to provide all the yard-long bars a coed could ask for, Xcaret Park is a wedding destination with a little more history to recommend it—it’s built on a former Mayan ceremonial site. “Xcaret is a combination zoo, living-history museum, and amusement park,” Light explains. Xcaret is committed to ecotourism, offering family-friendly activities including swimming with dolphins and underwater tours. As for the wedding itself, Light recommends the dramatic cliff-top chapel for a ceremony and the casual beachfront Dos Playas restaurant for the reception
Cost: Packages range from $1,650 for a simple ceremony to $40,000 for a lavish reception.
If dramatic landscapes draw you in, try
GLAMIS CASTLE, SCOTLAND
Because of its lenient matrimonial requirements, Scotland has long been a favorite destination for scoundrels—both real and fictional—eloping with impressionable young women. Nowadays, the tradition lives on, albeit in much less operatic fashion. “Unlike other countries in Europe, Scotland doesn’t require you to be a resident for 30 days before marrying,” Light explains. This makes it one of the only places around where you can legally get married in a castle—there are over 400 of them dotted throughout the country. Dating back to 1372, Glamis Castle is one of the most spectacular and the most steeped in history; it was the setting for Macbeth.
Cost: Considering that it’s a castle, Glamis can be had at a relatively reasonable price. Rental includes a private tour for 10 to 90 guests, and starts at around $4,100. On-site catering by Prestige Scotland is additional, and starts at $180 a head.
If “don’t lift a finger” appeals, try
HALF MOON RESORT, JAMAICA
Half Moon Resort was founded in 1954 by a group of American tycoons and has been a favorite for luminaries like Jackie Onassis, John F. Kennedy, and Clark Gable. Located along a two-mile strip of Montego Bay, the resort has standard hotel rooms, as well as private villas with personal chefs and butler service for families. Half Moon’s vast amenities include an 18-hole golf course, yoga pavilions, and a lagoon with trained dolphins. Despite the luxury accommodations, the resort offers comprehensive wedding packages (they even provide boutonnières) that are a bargain by New York standards, and guests can opt to stay at more moderately priced accommodations nearby.
Cost: Half Moon Resort can accommodate wedding receptions for 200-plus guests and offers an all-inclusive wedding package for up to 50 guests for $20,000.
If you love the grandeur of the Rockies, try
ARRABELLE AT VAIL SQUARE, VAIL, CO
“Vail is one of my favorite places. You can do a gorgeous outdoor wedding in the summer and save a lot, since it’s the off-season,” Light says. She recommends the new Arrabelle at Vail Square; the resort provides a “green wedding” option with locally grown organic food and fuel-efficient transportation. The on-site wedding coordinator can arrange for ceremonies at the top of Vail Mountain—just a gondola ride away—or in the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens. For couples who spend $25,000 or more on their wedding, the Arrabelle will pick up the tab for a four-night stay at one of their affiliate resorts in destinations like St. Lucia, Jackson Hole, and the Dominican Republic.
Cost: Price upon request.
If lush gardens and a quick flight are the ticket, try
VIZCAYA MUSEUM AND GARDENS, MIAMI
“A Miami weekend is an easy flight for most New Yorkers,” Lee says. “Plus you have all the sophistication of New York in terms of vendors, restaurants, and nightlife.” She recommends throwing a reception at the opulent Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. This landmark twenties mansion and park were modeled after a fifteenth-century Italian estate and have a distinctly old-Venetian feel, complete with a waterfront setting, canals, and a collection of paintings and sculptures dating back to the Renaissance. The museum’s gardens, with their shaped topiaries, waterfalls, and wild orchids, are available for small afternoon ceremonies, as well as larger evening receptions.
Cost: Rental fees are $1,000 for an afternoon garden ceremony for 25; $12,500 for evening reception for up to 300. Catering must be brought in.
If you’re a Bertolucci lover, try
IL BORRO, TUSCANY, ITALY
“When luxury resorts aren’t your speed but you’re still looking for a transporting wedding experience, Italy may be a good bet,” says Gregoli, whose Elegant Occasions firm specializes in Italian weddings. “The very best place to go quaint and rustic is Tuscany.” Gregoli is adamant that couples opt for one of the region’s many farmhouses or villas, rather than a hotel. “That way, you can create a small microcosm of your life, and that’s the purpose of a destination wedding,” she says. She encourages couples to seek out guidance from a travel agent or wedding planner before booking. It might cost you a few bucks, but it saves a pre-wedding scouting trip. Wedding planner Sofia Crokos’s favorite is Il Borro, which is more of a village than a villa. Run by the Ferragamo (yes, like the shoes) family, this 1,775-acre estate is at the foot of the Pratomagno mountains. The grounds include four farmhouses, two villas, and a variety of apartments for smaller parties, as well as a tiny church.
Cost: Prices vary depending on accommodations. A single night at the medieval village apartment is about $295 in the off-season, while a high-season one-week rental of the Chioci Alto Villa goes for about $14,700.