Murmuring 'I do' as island breezes sing of romance

THE BALTIMORE SUN

As children, we believe in fairy tales and happily ever after. As teen-agers, we thrive on spontaneous romantic gestures. It's only as adults that we push our storybook endings into the private world of our daydreams. For many of us, our wedding day is our last adult fantasy holdout.

Michelle Falk, who lives in Florida, made her fantasy come true. "I didn't want to spend a lot of money on a big wedding and please a lot of other people rather than myself. The only thing important to me was to marry the man I loved in a private ceremony on the beach with only the sun, the sea and God present."

Last August, Michelle married Eddie Hill at the Sandal's Ocho Rios Resort on the Caribbean island of Jamaica. "The wedding was all I had ever dreamed of," she said, then added with a chuckle, "except we had to have a minister and witnesses in order to make the marriage legal."

Turning your wedding fantasy into a memory-of-a-lifetime reality is just one reason that island weddings are growing in popularity. Another is cost: Getting married in the islands is downright reasonable when compared to throwing a traditional wedding in the United States, which, according to the Sept. 2 issue of Forbes magazine, averaged a whopping $13,000 -- and that's without the honeymoon. And for those saying "I do" the second or third time around, it's a way to avoid the stress and hassles of planning another wedding.

Most couples who marry in the islands also honeymoon there, and more and more resorts are offering wedding packages. It's not difficult to marry in the islands; it just takes some planning, which is why we've put together the following guide.

Legal marriage ceremonies on foreign soil are recognized in the United States. You can make your own arrangements, work with the resort where you intend to honeymoon or hire a wedding consultant. Be aware that some islands, like Aruba, only allow couples who are already married to renew their vows. Other places, like Cozumel, beg for the services of a wedding planner, as their requirements are so complicated that if you try to complete them on your own, you're more likely to end up with a headache than a honeymoon.

Consultants are especially adept at arranging ceremonies in plantation great houses and private estates, on yachts and at scenic island spots. Two U.S. companies that are pros at organizing island weddings are Far Away Weddings, (800) 882-WEDS, and Weddings Around the World, (800) 648-7000.

Bermuda

Pink-tinged beaches, pastel-painted buildings, rolling hills and impeccable British hospitality welcome couples wishing to marry here. A beribboned, horse-drawn surrey can transport you to your ceremony. Nuptials can take place under a Chinese moon-gate, a Bermudan symbol of unity and lasting, undivided love; in the Botanical Gardens amid roses, oleanders and hibiscus; or at Honeymoon Point, a cliff on the property of the Sonesta Beach Hotel and Spa that overlooks a waterfall and the sea.

Requirements and documentation

* Obtain a "notice of intended marriage" form from the Bermuda Department of Tourism, (800) 223-6106. No health tests are required.

* Send this form, along with a bank draft for $134, made out to the accountant general, to the registrar general's office at the Government Administrations Building, 30 Parliament St., Hamilton HM 12, Bermuda; (809) 295-5151. When this form is received, the notice will be published in the local paper. Assuming there is no formal objection, you will receive your license 14 days later. This license is valid for three months.

* A civil ceremony costs another $134 and is held in the registrar's office. There are more than 100 churches on island. If you want to marry in one of them, contact the Bishop of Hamilton, P.O. Box HM 1191, Hamilton HM EX, Bermuda.

If you prefer to leave the arrangements to others, Bermuda Travel Planners Ltd., (800) 323-2020, offers personalized wedding packages that include the minister or reverend, marriage license and fees, site and transportation, a bottle of champagne, a wedding cake and the services of a photographer. Contact them at least 45 days in advance. Bermuda Wedding Planners, (809) 236-7309, and the Wedding Salon, (809) 292-5677, offer similar on-island services.

The Bahamas

With more than 700 islands, islets and uninhabited cays, the Bahamas abound with white beaches on which to wed. Let the surf caress your bare feet as you exchange vows, while the setting sun streaks the sky with golden blessings. However, the most stunning backdrop for a marriage ceremony is the Versailles Gardens, located on the grounds of the Ocean Club Golf and Tennis Resort on Paradise Island. Designed after the famous gardens of King Louis XIV of France, these seven-tiered grounds are flanked at one end by the majestic stone arches and columns of a reassembled 14th-century Augustinian cloister. Contact Terri Adderley at (809) 363-3000.

Requirements and documentation

* A marriage license must be applied for, in person, at the registrar general's office in Nassau on the island of New Providence, (809) 322-3316 or (809) 322-8038. In Grand Bahama and the Family Islands, apply at the office of the commissioner. If never married, bring a notarized statement attesting to this fact and your birth certificate. If divorced, bring the final decree or a notarized copy. If widowed, bring your spouse's death certificate.

* Request a waiver of the 15-day residency requirement. Now you must wait only three days, after which you can be married anywhere in the Bahamas.

* Written parental consent is required if you are under age 18. No blood test is necessary. The marriage license fee is $40.

* Arrangements, help and wedding witnesses are provided by the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism's complimentary People-to-People program. With advance notice, the office will also arrange religious ceremonies and the services of photographers, florists and musicians. Contact the manager, People-to-People Programme, P.O. Box N-3701, Nassau, Bahamas; (809) 326-5371. or the coordinator, People-to-People Programme, P.O. Box F-251, Freeport, Grand Bahama; (809) 352-8044.

Antigua

Antigua is famous for having 365 beaches -- one for every day of the year. Here the wind carries a mixture of sea salt, warmed sunshine and lilting calypso rhythms. Even with the advent of several upscale shopping malls and legalized gambling, the atmosphere remains low-key, hospitable and under-commercialized.

Popular wedding sites include Nelson's Dockyard, a restored Georgian naval marina, recreational village and national park; and the scenic Shirley Heights, which overlooks coves of white sand backed by green highlands and bordered by turquoise waters. The new all-inclusive Sandals Antigua Resort offers a complete wedding package that includes an on-premise decorated wedding site of your choice, flowers, champagne, wedding cake, video photography and the services of a clergyman for $500; (800) SANDALS. Other resorts with good wedding and honeymoon packages are Pineapple Beach, (800) 966-4737 or (407) 994-5640; St. James Club, (800) 274-0008; and Jumby Bay, (800) 437-0049). For more information, contact the Antigua Tourist Office, (305) 381-6762.

Requirements and documentation

* You need to be on-island three full days before your marriage can occur. No blood tests are required.

* Apply for your license, in person, at the Ministry of Legal Affairs on Redcliffe Street in St. Johns; (809) 462-0017. Bring an affidavit showing you are single, a birth certificate or valid passport, and if applicable, any documents verifying a change of name. If divorced, bring a certified copy of the final decree. If widowed, bring the original marriage certificate as well as your spouse's death certificate.

* After your application is approved, go to the post office to pay stamp duty (about $100) and to receive your license.

* Then take all your documents to the registrar general's office on High Street, (809) 462-0609, and choose a time, date and location of your civil ceremony -- the only type of ceremony valid in Antigua. The marriage certificate costs $10. Except for weekends or holidays, the registrar general will marry you at the location of your choice. His fee varies according to a set scale.

Barbados

You need to be on-island for at least a week before you can wed on Barbados, an island known for its beaches, breezes and British traditions. Since the residency requirement is strict, a number of resorts offer 12-day combination wedding-honeymoon packages. Glitter Bay, (800) 283-9668, and the new, all-inclusive Pineapple Beach Club, (800) 966-4737, also offer guests the services of an on-resort wedding consultant. Popular wedding sites include Flower Forest, with 8 acres of fragrant flowering blooms, and Andromeda Gardens, set into the cliffs overlooking the sea. Sea lovers can tie-the-knot on the deck of a tall-masted yacht, while traditionalists can choose from a number of spire-topped churches.

Requirements and documentation

* You must be in Barbados at least three days before applying for a license, in person, at Marine House, Hastings, Christ Church, which is open Monday through Friday; call Joyce Shepherd at (809) 427-5420. The fee is $50. You also need a special $13 stamp, obtainable at any post office. You must then wait another three days before you can wed.

* Arrangements must be made with a minister of religion or a magistrate before applying for a license.

L * The minimum age to marry is 18. No blood test is required.

* Bring your passport or picture ID, birth certificate and airline tickets. If divorced, bring original decree; if widowed, bring both marriage and spouse's death certificate.

* Caribbean Wedding Centre, (809) 436-3028, and Heather's Bridal Salon and Boutique, (809) 425-7778, both offer personalized wedding services. For more information, contact

the Barbados Board of Tourism, (800) 221-9831.

Puerto Rico

A festive Latin flavor and simple marriage laws welcome couples who wish to wed in this American commonwealth. Pronupcias en Puerto Rico, (809) 750-0742, an on-island wedding service company, offers personalized wedding packages that range from a simple civil ceremony in town to a large celebration in a private hacienda to an elopement amid the tropical splendor of the El Yunque Rainforest. A number of resorts have wedding specialists on staff, such as the Mediterranean-styled Horned Dorset Primavera, (809) 823-4030, an all-suite mansion-turned-hotel on the island's unspoiled west coast; and the Hyatt Regency Cerromar, (809) 796-1234, where weddings are often held beneath a flower-entwined arch set among the waterfalls, grottoes and bridges of the hotel's famous 1,800-foot river pool.

Requirements and documentation

* You both need to be age 21 or over. A VDRL (syphilis) blood test must be done no more than 10 days before your wedding. This test can be done on-island.

* Bring your passport or a photo ID. If applicable, also bring your divorce papers or spouse's death certificate.

* The license costs $2. Pick it up at any Department of Health. Or request by mail from: Demographic Register's Office, P.O.B. 9342, 26 Fernandez Juncos, San Juan, Puerto Rico 00910; (809) 728-7980.

* Before you can marry, the marriage license and blood results must be certified by a Puerto Rican physician. For more information, contact the Puerto Rico Tourist Board, (800) 223-6530.

Jamaica

Jamaica's famous slogan, "no problem," can also be applied to its marriage requirements. Getting married on this verdant island is simple: All you need to do is make reservations, as almost every major resort will do the rest.

Weddings at the new, all-inclusive Enchanted Garden Resort, (800) 654-1FDR or (516) 223-1786, are set amid a backdrop of chirping tropical birds, lush botanical gardens and 14 waterfalls. Its wedding package is free to all guests and includes a two-tiered cake, champagne, flowers for the bridal party and the minister's fee. Couples, Grand Lido and Jamaica-Jamaica also offer "weddings on the house" to their guests; call SuperClubs, (800) 858-8009. Sandals, (800) SANDALS, whose six popular honeymoon resorts feature gazebos overlooking the sea, sun-washed terraces and alcove gardens, offers a wedding package that includes everything you need, plus a video of the nuptials for $250.

Requirements and documentation

* Bring notarized copies of your birth certificates, divorce decrees (if applicable) and parental consent if under age 21. If widowed, also bring a notarized copy of your spouse's death certificate.

* You must be on-island for 24 hours before applying for a license, which costs $10 at the Ministry of National Security and Justice, Block 4, Ocean Boulevard, Kingston; (809) 922-0080, or through appointed registrars in each town. For a list, contact either the Jamaica Tourist Board in the United States, (800) JAMAICA, or the nearest on-island tourist office.

U.S.V.I.

These three unincorporated territories of the United States share our language, our currency, our laws and our penchant for wedding ceremonies that range from the simple to the outrageous. Here couples have the outrageous. Here couples have said "I do" in settings that range from beneath the sea in a submarine to aboard a yacht named True Love to hovering high above the clouds in a helicopter. The latest trend is to book a cruise and marry while in port at St. Thomas.

The top on-island wedding consultants are Leisure Enterprises, (800) 843-3566; Creative Weddings and Honeymoon Experts, (809) 778-5933; and Weddings the Island Way, (809) 776-4455.

Many resorts also offer wedding packages. On St. Thomas, look into the Weddings in Paradise program at Frenchman's Reef, (800) FOR-LOVE, where unions take place in a Victorian trade-wind-cooled gazebo overlooking the sea; Bolongo Beach Resorts, (800) 524-4746, also offers personalized wedding packages at their three resorts, with suggestions that include a barefoot and black-tie beach ceremony. On St. Croix, the 300-acre golf and beach resort, the Buccaneer, offers an Elope to Paradise package, (800) 223-1108.

Requirements and documentation

* No physical exam or blood test is required. Minimum age without parental consent is 18.

* In advance, obtain an application for marriage from the U.S.V.I. Division of Tourism, 1270 Avenue of the Americas, New York, N.Y. 10020; (212) 582-4520. Fill it out, have it notarized, and bring or mail it, along with a $25 fee, to the Territorial Court of the Virgin Islands, P.O.B. 70, St. Thomas, U.S.V.I. 00801; (809) 774-7325.

* If you were married before, also mail or bring a notarized divorce decree or spouse's death certificate.

* An eight-day waiting period must pass before your license is issued; however, visitors already on-island can request a waiver of this waiting period.

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