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I Now Pronounce You Mon and Wife

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By Andrea Sachs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 27, 2004

"Where have you always dreamed of getting married?"

Andrea Luckoo-Edwards, a wedding coordinator at Beaches Negril resort in Jamaica, is used to asking engaged couples tough, probing questions that only psychoanalysts and mothers-of-the-bride would dare broach.

"You just said the beach," she gently reminds groom Vincent Tobias Bell, 38.

"But we've always said the garden, and now you're saying the beach?" Rhonda Spears, 36, asks her fiance.

Luckoo-Edwards rises from her desk in the cramped Wedding Centre, leans into the D.C. couple facing her and shifts into mediator role. He wants beach, she wants garden -- so they'll wed in a gazebo on the lip of the white-sand beach, but with enough potted plants and floral arrangements to re-create Eden. Now, about that cake. He wants chocolate, she wants vanilla . . .

The Spears/Bell wedding was just one of six held at the Caribbean resort on a recent muggy Saturday -- and that's a normal day. In the past decade, destination weddings have boomed, growing 150 to 200 percent among U.S. couples, according to TheKnot.com, a wedding-planning Web site. For its part, Beaches Negril hosted 606 nuptials in 2003, while 226 brides had already gone down the aisle through May of this year.

Luckoo-Edwards has been the resort's wedding coordinator for five years and, when pressed, can't pin down exactly how many she's organized -- though it's easily in the four digits. Just follow her around for one day and you'll see that after five couples, a quintet of frosted cakes and countless bottles of bubbly, Luckoo-Edwards is the mother of all mother-of-the-brides.

"You have to be very detailed. There's no room for error," says the 28-year-old Jamaican, who can be spotted from early morning to early evening zipping around the resort in a sharp blue suit and heels smudged with grass and sand. "It's not like a vacation. . . . Once you mess up a wedding, they'll remember it for life."

And with numerous back-to-back ceremonies -- for example, following the Spears/Bell 10:30 a.m., Luckoo-Edwards attended to weddings at noon, 1:30, 2:30 and 3 p.m. (another coordinator handled the 11 a.m.) -- it's often hard enough just to remember names. "They keep on calling my daughter Paige," complained a St. Louis bride's mother during a reception in the Safari Room. "Her name is Kristen."

Destination weddings, especially those in the Caribbean, are an escalating craze among couples who no longer want to have their first dance in the same hotel ballroom that just wrapped up the annual meeting of Midwestern podiatrists. Instead, many newlyweds-to-be -- young and middle-aged, first-timers or divorced or widowed, with kids or without -- want a tropical backdrop in their wedding photos, a reggae band at their reception and a honeymoon that starts before the ink has dried on their marriage certificate.

These days, 10 percent of Americans hold their weddings in far-flung locations, according to The-Knot.com. "It's one thing to have your wedding at the Minneapolis Marriott," says Liz Zack, the site's senior online editor. "It's another to have it during sunset in St. Lucia." The Sandals and Beaches Resorts chain, for example, held 11,527 weddings at its 18 properties in Jamaica, Antigua, Bahamas, St. Lucia and Turks and Caicos in 2003.

Besides the patented romantic setting of many exotic locales, all-inclusive resorts like Beaches have the added appeal of ease -- nearly everything needed to build a wedding is on-site, including at least one coordinator -- and smart economics. Beaches, for one, offers free wedding packages (including a cake, reception for four, "Just Married" T-shirts, etc.) to guests staying five nights or longer (for less than five nights, weddings start at $750, plus the nightly rate from $245 per person double). Sandals, its sister property, has a similar deal, though many couples opt to marry at Beaches, which allows families and singles, and then honeymoon at Sandals, which is couples only.


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© 2004 The Washington Post Company


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