Decorating the Beach for your Caribbean Destination Wedding Ceremony

Hi Everybody!

It is an absolutely gorgeous Monday here!  There is a fabulous breeze, for the first time in awhile.  Seems like the skunky hot summer has passed and now we’re headed into the perfect Caribbean fall.  I hope the weather holds for the wedding of Ines Davila to Terance Jenkins this Sunday — they’re getting married on 10-10-10! What a fun wedding date!  Terance has no excuse not to remember that one, right?  Anyway, today’s weather is surprising because they’re calling for three days of heavy rain here before the weather moves north to bother somebody else.  Perhaps it just hasn’t gotten here yet.  I can live with three days of rain as long as it moves on before the festivities begin for Ines and Terance this weekend. Right now, it looks like they’re good to go.  The rain should leave everything looking green and clean and tamp down the dust on the beach roads — a little rain can be a very good thing down here.

I got a wedding request this weekend for a gazebo on the beach, and it got me thinking about beach ceremony decor (hence today’s blog topic).  Wedding magazines are always showing these elaborate beach ceremony setups, and today we’re going to talk about that.

Why did you decide to run away to the Caribbean to get married?  For some people, the “destination” part of the wedding was the most important thing because they didn’t want to get married in either one of their hometowns for some good reason.  Sometimes it’s as simple as the fact that the bride is from a very small town where, usually, everybody in town is invited to participate in the festivities.  And that’s fine if you’re going to do something casual like a BBQ where it won’t cost you the price of a new car to feed all of those people.  But for the bride who wants an elegant or more formal wedding reception, picking up the tab for all the food and booze for 500+ people can be an unmanageable task.  Some brides and grooms don’t want to get married in their hometowns because all of their friends (and most of the people on their guest list) live in the area where they live now.  Sometimes it’s because the brides family is in the northeast and the groom’s family is in the southwest.  A destination wedding is a good compromise that forces everybody to travel and nobody feels like anybody got any favoritism.

Whatever the reason, destination weddings have become very popular.  And getting married on a Caribbean island has become the most fantastic way to do it.  I mean think about it.  It doesn’t cost any more for your guest to fly to San Juan than it does for them to fly to any major city in the United States.  They don’t need a passport to come to Puerto Rico.  And once you get to an island like Vieques or Culebra, hotel rates are usually cheaper than what you’d pay in a city up north.  At the end of the day, a Caribbean wedding is one of the most cost-effective ways to plan a destination wedding.  But I digress… we were talking about ceremony decor.

So once you’ve chosen your destination island, you’ll work closely with a wedding planner to hammer down all the details of your big day.  If you’re getting married on the actual beach, this will include making decisions about how to decorate the beach for your ceremony.

The beach can be the most cost-effective ceremony venue on the planet for some brides.  If you’re having a very small wedding, you don’t even need chairs.  Lots of eloping couples choose to skip music altogether and rely on the wind ruffling the palm trees and the Caribbean Sea lapping the beach as background music.  If you have enough guests to require seating (more than 10, as a general rule), that opens up a whole other world of opportunities for wedding ceremony decor.

The first question is do you want a structure of any sort on the beach?  Arches (whether rounded or rectangular in actual shape) and chuppahs (a Jewish wedding structure that is square with a decorative covering and has become popular with all sorts of brides, not just the Jewish ones) are the most popular.  Depending on how you drape it with fabric and how many flowers you attach, arches and chuppahs can look a million different ways even if the basic structure underneath is basically the same.  The more flowers that you use to adorn the structure, the more expensive it gets.  Fabric and ribbon are far less expensive than lilies and orchids.  Remember this though when choosing fabrics — it must be something that breathes.  Tulle, organza and mesh work fine, as do a number of other very breathable fabrics.  But if you choose something solid and a gust of wind comes up, the entire arch or chuppah may go tumbling over and take you and your fiance with it!

Many couples don’t want an arch or any other structure between them and the sparkling blue waters of the Caribbean, and I can’t say I blame them.  I think my all-time favorite wedding pictures are some of the ones where it’s just the bride and groom and the minister, without any puffery around them.  But done right, some decorative structures can be a lovely addition to your wedding photos.

Decorating the aisle is another thing that can be done a zillion different ways, and a lot of bride and grooms choose to focus on the aisle decor rather than setting up a structure at the end of the aisle.  By far, the most popular thing to do is sprinkle rose petals down the aisle and puddle them at the end where the couple will stand to get married.  I’m not talking about having the flower girl spread the rose petals — that’s cute too but sometimes results in the sprinkling of approximately 15 petals — I’m talking about having rose petals sprinkled down the aisle like a colorful carpet before your mothers are seated and the wedding party starts their procession.  This can be a little tricky on a breezy day, to be honest.  About 1/3 of the time, we have to wait until right before we start seating the mothers before we put down the petals or they’ll blow away.  And yes, I’ll admit that if the breeze is coming from the left, I spread the petals out heavy on the left side of the aisle because I know good and well they are going to blow across.  My only hope each time is that the aisle looks perfect for the bride.  After that, who cares?  But that shot of her from behind, going down the aisle with rose petals at her feet gives me shivers every time.  White rose petals look gorgeous on a green lawn, but for beach ceremonies, I like to see some color.  Of course, the bride can have whatever she likes — we’ve done some wild multi-colored rose petal aisles for some of our clients.  It’s all about creating a look that reflects the style and taste of that individual couple.

It’s also popular to line the aisle with palm fronds — looks very Caribbean and authentic.  There are two ways to do this.  1) You can use real palm fronds off the local trees (I usually hit up my neighbors — everybody is trimming one week or the other). 2) You can order smaller palm fronds through your flower wholesaler that will look more like fans and you can arrange them down the length of the aisle.  One way it’s just about free, the other way costs money.  It all depends on the look you’re trying to achieve.

We’ve lined the aisle with tiki torches on more than one occasion, but we’ve learned it’s best to make the tiki torch aisle be the area of sand behind where all of the guests are seated because you don’t want the black tiki smoke to be blowing on your guests.  You can tie ribbon or tulle bows on the tiki torches if you want to spice them up.  We’ve even done flowers and trailing ivy on the tiki torches and we were surprised at how cute that looked!

Coconuts can look really cool dispersed among the tiki torches leading up to the seating too, but don’t use too many down the actual aisle.  Remember, people have to be able to get into the rows and you don’t want somebody who isn’t paying attention to trip over a coconut at your wedding.  Would make for a great story later, but probably wouldn’t be funny when it happened.  Especially if it were an older guest.

You can decorate your chairs as well.  You can tie fabric sashes around them, or drape tulle through them across the entire back of the row.  You can hang small bunches of flowers on the chairs in the back row, or along the aisle seats.  You can pretty much do whatever you might do in a church wedding back home if that’s the look and feel that you’re going for.

The only thing you ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY CANNOT DO is have an aisle runner.  Fabric, paper, etc.  None of them will work.  The only way you’d be able to get it to lie flat would be to build a wooden runway down the aisle and then tack the runner to it.  I will never ever forget the bride who insisted on the white paper runner down the sand aisle, and then showed up in stiletto heels.  You really had to be there, but shut your eyes and imagine a beautiful bride walking down the aisle, but every step you hear “pop” and then a dragging sound as she yanked her heel out of the runner.  The runner kinda followed along with her the whole way, despite the mounds of sand the groomsmen had tossed on it to keep it still in the breeze (oh yeah, it was ticky-tacky).  And she really had to lurch her way down the aisle, as you can imagine.  There was nothing smooth about this bride’s entrance.  The icing on the cake — her mother walked her down the aisle and she was wearing stiletto heels too!  Let the record reflect that I came very close to having an actual fight with a bride on this girl’s wedding day as I begged her to take off her shoes to walk down the aisle.  I’d already lost the paper runner war — she brought that with her.  The next day, she told me that if any bride ever ignored my advice on this particular matter again, I should tell them to call her.

You can do whatever you want to make your wedding ceremony decor suit your taste and style.  Listen to your wedding planner if she advises against something (like the paper runner on the beach) because she may be able to share a prior experience with you that will change your mind.  At the end of the day, the goal is to create a romantic, dream wedding ceremony that you and your spouse will remember fondly for the rest of your lives.

Okay, back to work for me now — although I’d rather be headed out to the beach (yes, I’m pouting).

Until next time, happy wedding planning from Weddings in Vieques and Weddings in Culebra!


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