How to Plan a Hawaii Wedding
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See what makes each Hawaiian island unique
With visions of sunset vows and fragrant orchid leis dancing in your head, you have a few practical decisions to make. Yes, Hawaii is very far away -- from everywhere. (That's six hours from Los Angeles, 11 hours from Houston, and 10 long hours from New York.) But the good news is that planning a Hawaiian destination wedding is probably easier than you think, thanks to those wedding pros and a wonderfully laid-back, no-worries attitude.
First of all, you can't go wrong. Choosing one of these islands for your wedding is like choosing one gem from a jeweler -- all of them are treasures. If you haven't chosen one particular favorite yet, well, research can be half the fun.
Oahu, is, by most standards, the liveliest of the six main islands of Hawaii, and not merely because that is where the most people live. This is the retro-Hawaii culture of Diamond Head and of that big, pink architectural dream we call the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. It is the home of Honolulu, the state's biggest city, and of Waikiki Beach, home of the islands' biggest entertainment district. If you are expecting lots of people to be traveling from the mainland, Oahu is convenient: it's got the biggest airport and direct flights from the mainland are readily available.
The island of Hawaii is called "The Big Island," in order to avoid confusion. It is, of course, the largest in the chain and as such it offers an incredibly diverse topography. In fact, 11 of the world's 13 climatic zones can be found on the island. (Yes, there is snow. It's on top of the mountains.) If you're into the lava thing (and why wouldn't you be) you can check out live ooze at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, home of the active Kilauea Volcano.
Maui lives fondly in the memories of many travelers as the most romantic Hawaiian island. The island is home to several of the state's most luxurious resort hotels, as well as beaches that are considered to be among the best in the world. Active visitors will want to head for the west coast, known fondly as the "Golf Coast" to those in the know. Finally, the amazing Hana Highway is a jaw-dropping drive along a road that hugs cliffs, overlooks beaches and lush jungle, and contains over 600 twisty bends to make driving fun.
Kauai, or "The Garden Isle" as it is known, is the lush, tropical backdrop you have probably gawked at in movies from Jurassic Park to Six Days Seven Nights. This island moves at a slower pace than Oahu or the Big Island, and most of the activity is outdoorsy and energetic. Mt. Waialeale is the wettest spot on earth (an average of 400 inches a year!), but fear not: the rest of the island is temperate and the south coast is perpetually sunny.
If it's good enough for Bill Gates' wedding, it might be good for yours. Yes, Lanai is where the world's richest man tied the knot. This small, exclusive, little island is known (have you noticed yet that the islands all seem to have nicknames?) as "The Pineapple Island," because it is the home of Dole Pineapple. This is the best choice for couples who really want to just lounge in luxe surroundings -- or for couples who want to ditch their paparazzi.
Molokai, naturally, has a little nickname, too. It's the "Friendly Island," and many locals will explain that it is the "most Hawaiian" of the islands, very much untouched by big hotels and things like golf courses, for example. The mood is mellow, and excitement comes from exploring the beaches and taking part in some of the offbeat tours of the many cultural and ecological sights by horse-drawn wagon, on mules, on foot, or in cars.
When to Go?
It sounds too good to be true, but again, you just can't go wrong. The islands of Hawaii are distinguished for their very consistent weather patterns, thanks very much to the temperate Pacific that regulates the air masses traveling thousands of miles over it to reach the islands. Temperatures year-round are in the 70s and 80s during the day. Summer, from May through October, is warmer and drier than the winter, which runs November through April. The bulk of visitors travel to Hawaii during those winter months, and don't even realize they are in the so-called "wet" season. This is partially due to the fact that if it is raining on your parade, it is likely to be a short shower followed by one of those legendary Hawaiian rainbows.
Still concerned about rain on your party? Hedge your bets by setting your wedding on the southwestern part of whichever island you choose: the trade winds blow in from the northeast, and their cool, moist air flows up the mountains where it turns to rain. So, most of the rain falls in the mountains and on the northeastern sides of the islands.
Hawaii has an amazing range of climatic aberrations, including deserts, rainforests, and snow-capped mountains. Tiny Kauai, for example, is home to the wettest spot on earth but also to dry, arid regions and sunny beaches.
Most couples who are planning a destination wedding in Hawaii hire a consulting service to help them out. In fact, it's so difficult to plan a wedding from the mainland that a consultant is virtually essential for all but the most simple affairs. Fortunately, there are several excellent services set up to guide couples through the process, from recommending vendors to completing paperwork, to answering questions. The consultant can find an officiant to perform your service, for example, even if you are from diverse backgrounds and want to be married on the beach. Consultants know all the best "secret" spots for weddings, including public beaches and gardens that tourists have not discovered. You will find that many consultants offer packages that include everything from the reception site to the flowers to the music. For some couples, this is perfect. Others may want more control of the details. Be sure to ask about an "a la carte" menu of services, too.
If you are planning to be married at a hotel or a resort, you will find that there is usually a wedding expert on staff to help you out. This person will become an invaluable resource for your wedding plans.
The state of Hawaii makes it easy to make it legal. To get your license, you need to show up at the proper office (the health department office or marriage agent on each island), with proof of age, like a driver's license or other valid I.D. You also need to have $60 in cash. You fill out the application, and you get your license. It's valid for 30 days. After your wedding, your marriage certificate will be mailed to you.
You can't apply by mail or fax or e-mail, although you can now download and print out copies of the application to save yourselves some time. If you're under 18, you will need further documentation.
And no, there is no blood test. Whew. For more detailed information about marriage licenses, check out the official State of Hawaii website.
Lots of couples come to Hawaii with a handful of loved ones and are married in a simple, romantic beach or garden ceremony. But virtually every option is available; and you may choose a more traditional setting, and marry in one of the islands' intimate chapels or celebrate in one of the very elegant hotel or resort ballrooms. Some Hawaiian weddings take place in ballrooms that could just as easily be in New York or Los Angeles, if it weren't for the stunning views and relaxed attitudes. It's also common for couples to rent a villa or private home, be married there, and have a catered reception to follow. Other couples charter a yacht for the wedding, marry on horseback, or even climb into a helicopter for a ceremony next to remote waterfall or beside a lava flow.
The most important thing is to be certain to place your wedding in the hands of a consultant with experience on your chosen island, and things will go much more smoothly. Attempting to arrange all of the details of your wedding -- finding a florist, researching music options, or scouting locations, for example -- is simply too difficult from thousands of miles away.
You will also need to choose to what extent you want your wedding to include cultural Hawaiian touches. Although almost everyone includes a lei exchange in their wedding ceremonies in Hawaii, you can add other touches, like Hawaiian musicians and Hawaiian foods.
Destination weddings in general, and Hawaiian destination weddings in particular, tend to have fewer guests than those close to home (indeed, this is a benefit for couples intent on having an intimate wedding celebration). It's simply harder for people to make the trip; and there is way less guilt involved in cutting that guest list down. That said, keep in mind that when you invite people to come to a wedding on a stunning Pacific island, they may indeed enthusiastically accept your invitation.
So, what are your obligations to the people who have agreed to travel thousands of miles to your wedding? The bride and groom are not responsible for paying for guests' hotel rooms and/or airfare, although if you have the means to pay for hotel accommodations, it is a wonderful gift to your guests. But you most certainly should help out by recommending hotels (recommending them because you know them and have visited them -- or because you have hired a capable consultant familiar with local resources) in a variety of price ranges. Keep in mind that prices do go down during the off season, which runs roughly from May through November, with the exception of the holiday season. If you are expecting a relatively large number of guests, you may be able to get discounts on things like rental cars and hotel rooms, so be sure to do your homework.
During the days before the wedding, you should plan events and outings to bring your guests together. Let guests pick and choose between things like a golf trip, a surfing lesson, or a trip to visit a volcano. The shared jokes and adventures put everyone at ease, and your wedding itself will be more fun for everyone.
If you're married in Hawaii, where do you go for your honeymoon? Naturally, most couples stay in the islands after their weddings. You may want to travel to a different island, either to explore something new or simply to escape the gathered clan of friends and relatives who have traveled to your wedding. Then again, many couples just stay where they are and enjoy the company of their best-loved pals. Best of all, say couples who have tied the knot in paradise, every anniversary brings a new excuse to consider a trip back to the islands.