Veiled in gauzy silk that flutters like angels’ wings in the tropical breeze, the chupah stands on a wooden bridge at the edge of a sugary beach, overlooking the aqua sea like a sentinel of alluring love. For all the gorgeous cachet of nuptial bliss in such an exotic location, dreaming of a destination wedding is one thing, planning the romantic escapade with all the glorious romance you envision is quite another.
I’ve come to Paradisus Playa del Carmen – a 45-minute drive from Cancun, Mexico – to research the planning that goes into creating the ultimate destination wedding.
I chose Paradisus for several reasons: As part of the Melia Hotels International brand, it has sister resorts scattered in Cancun, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and other global locations. Each resort boasts a “romance concierge” with honed expertise in arranging weddings and celebrations. But, primarily, to see this newest Paradisus’ combination of two distinctly defined resorts: the exclusive, adult-only La Perla, a luxurious retreat for wedding couples as well as discriminating guests, and the family oriented La Esmeralda, an amenable haven for family members and wedding guests. As well, because this resort can transform one of its restaurants to offer kosher cuisine. (It has catered Passover groups in the past.)
Before even seeing the chupah or wedding amenities, I was smitten by the architectural concept and layout that links two resorts to a central common area that features a spa, restaurants, ballroom and convention facilities (suitable for indoor receptions). It presents the seemingly perfect solution for weddings that must cater to an intergenerational group of guests with different budgets.
Stunningly designed with inner streams and evocative sculptures for a Zen-like ambience, La Perla is scattered with several pools, including a couple that “swim up” to luxe suites. La Esmeralda fringes a massive pool designed for joyous play with a pirate ship, slide and jungle animal characters. Each resort includes an exclusive boutique area served by personal concierges and butlers who can be especially helpful on the wedding day to look after youngsters or seniors requiring special assistance.
Strolling through Paradisus Playa del Carmen with Marilyn Cairo, corporate romance manager for all Paradisus in the Americas, and Alain Velazquez, this resort’s romance manager, I’m eager to create a template for easy planning of a destination wedding.
Explaining that most people plan nine months to a year in advance, Cairo recommends that – be it for a simple or elaborate affair – couples should consult their parents before booking to ensure that the important people will attend.
“We can incorporate any traditional or non-denominational customs, but the couple must know this ceremony is a symbolic addition to an official marriage in their home city.”
Some couples reach out to have the local Chabad rabbi perform the service. A Russian couple recently included their home town rabbi among 300 guests in the ballroom overflowing with icy vodka and mauve calla lilies.
Walking me through the resort, Cairo and Velazquez suggest that couples booking any Paradisus resort should consider a “Love at First Site” package that gives them a three-night stay to inspect the resort, see the venues, sample tasting menus and meet décor and entertainment vendors. (The cost is later credited to the wedding.)
The romance gurus note questions every couple should ask:
How many weddings does the resort conduct in a day?
When resorts run several per day, the first bride risks being rushed, the second being late, and there’s a discomforting aura of brides comparing dresses and décor, or feeling dismayed by a lack of privacy in the bridal suite, when time is so precious to share with her mother and close guests.
Paradisus Playa del Carmen allows two weddings per day, at different times and different venues. The most popular venues: the bridge overlooking the sea (for from two to 150 guests) and the elegant wooden A-frame gazebo (up to 100 guests). Decidedly Mexican in architectural design inspired by the iconic pyramids of Chichen Itza, Paradisus Cancun (formerly named the Grand Melia) – where venues include a fanciful white, seaside gazebo, a glass walled restaurant overlooking the beach, golf course and huge convention ballroom – allows one wedding per day.
Velazquez advises against beach receptions: chairs sink into the sand. Playa del Carmen allows beach receptions during the day only between April and November, when turtles hatch their eggs and crawl the beach at night, following the moon to the water. With wider beaches, Cancun allows beach receptions in evenings as well. Whatever the outdoor venue, the couple should feel confident of an interior alternative in case of a rainy day.
For all the advertised charm of wedding packages, can couples personalize the program?
Most brides crave wiggle room to realize their dreams. While some resorts offer wedding packages copyrighted by celebrity planners that allow no deviation, Paradisus encourages creativity. Requests typically come from the bride’s mother: one recently wanted the chupah decorated with silk butterflies. La Perla recently customized a themed wedding for one of the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, and an Indian wedding where the groom appeared on a white horse.
How can couples maximize their budget?
Costs that seem incidental when reaching for the dream can be controlled. Because private receptions incur catering charges – even at all-inclusive resorts – Cairo suggests that couples have guests mingle over cocktails and some meals in the all-inclusive bar and restaurant areas, and participate in complimentary activities including tequila tastings and fitness classes.
How can couples show appreciation to guests for attending?
Prepare welcome packages that include, for example, flip flops for the warm beach and a shawl for cool restaurants. Most of all, embrace their presence, they’ve travelled far to see you grace the chupah and hear the glass smash for Mazel Tov!