St. Thomas Weddings can be stressful.
BUT HERE’S THE SECRET:
It turns out you can sleep easy at night as long as you know a few important details…
And in this post, I’m going to share with you the most stressful aspects of the process and how to easily avoid all of them.
(If you’re planning a cruise ship wedding you might also want to check out How to Save $1,905 on a Cruise Ship Wedding.)
So here’s the deal:
St. Thomas weddings are my life.
I have spent the the better part of the last decade performing and perfecting weddings here in the Virgin Islands. I’ve seen anything and everything you could imagine after performing hundreds of weddings.
A few of the more “suitable for work” things I’ve seen –
-groomsmen passed out by the pool, sunburn beyond recognition in swim trunks 15 minutes before the wedding
-a rum soaked groom barely able to stand, much less mumble his vows (I only wish they had hired a videographer)
-a loving couple that didn’t speak the same language (the entire ceremony was translated for them in separate languages)
-father-in-laws wrestling on the beach…maybe the groom wasn’t good enough for daddy’s little girl
-a bride getting sick on herself right before she walked down the aisle (she was a good sport and actually posed for selfies with her bridesmaids while hugging the trash can).
I guess some things you just can’t plan for.
But if you are coming to St. Thomas, Virgin Islands for your destination wedding, there are things you should know about and plan for.
I often tell my couples that if a man in a hot pink Speedo with a hairy back walks past you during the ceremony it’s 50 years happy marriage.
True? Not true?
Avoiding the “speedo man” and other beach characters like “crazy, naked-toddler high on sugar”, “drunk sunburn couple” and “old people with saggy body parts in skimpy bathing suits” is easy to do if you have your beach wedding in the morning or late afternoon. Or on a quieter beach.
Thousands of guests travel to the Virgin Islands each week to enjoy the gorgeous beaches. They tend to hit the sand between the hours of 11 am and 3 pm. So we’ll try to schedule your wedding when those folks aren’t around.
Another reason to avoid mid-day…
The Caribbean sun is no joke.
My ceremonies are by no means long and drawn out (I think my longest ever clocked in at 17 minutes). So even if you want my super-beautiful, standard 11-minute ceremony, it won’t take long standing on the beach at mid-day before your face will feel like it’s going to melt.
Also, when you’re in the direct sun at mid-day it’s next to impossible to see without squinting heavily…not the best look for wedding pictures. (Although, when I squint, I look like a young Clint Eastwood.)
If you would like a mid-day wedding (the water and sky look amazing), pick your beach wisely (some have breezes and shade, others don’t).
You can sign up for my beach guide here:
And please be mindful about choosing a big, heavy dress or a 3-piece suit…while I want you to look your best, I also want you to be comfortable on your wedding day.
If you choose a sunset ceremony, check out this sunset calendar for St. Thomas and plan on having the ceremony about an hour before sunset for the best lighting.
Caribbean mornings are glorious. Shoot for around 9 am if you can. (Sunrise ceremonies might be my favorite of all. But be honest with yourself, do you really want to get up at 4 am while on vacation to get ready?)
All very important parts of your wedding day.
But what’s the most important?
Fortunately, choosing a beach for your wedding is a pretty easy decision.
The Virgin Islands had the foresight and good sense to preserve access to all the beaches on the islands for public enjoyment. So, basically, if you find see a stretch of sand anywhere on the island, you can claim a spot for your cooler and beach chair (if the beach sits on private property, and there isn’t land access, access it by water and enjoy the sand just the same as the guy that spent $4 million on the beachfront villa).
In St. Thomas there are dozens and dozens of beaches. Although, not all of them are suitable for weddings, there are about 10 beaches that I tend to recommend.
Two of those beaches are maintained by the local park system: Magens Bay and Lindquist Bay.
The park system conducts daily trash removal, the beaches are manicured, the leaves raked, and there are park employees nearby if needed.
Downside to Magens and Lindquist? There is a $100 site fee for a wedding ceremony and guests are charged a $2/person admission fee. And depending on the time of day and number of cruise ship in, they can get crowded.
Resort beaches are also well maintained. There is no site fee required for most resort beaches, but the downside is the crowds at the resorts and the sounds from the restaurants, watersports shacks, swimming pools, etc.. So if you want to have the ceremony at your resort beach, let’s shoot for early morning around 8 or 9 am or at sunset.
You want my $.02?
In most cases I say pay the little extra and ensure you have a picture perfect stretch of sand for you wedding at Magens or Lindquist.
Then get that license application in!
I suggest filing the application (see my step-by-step guide to the marriage license application) as soon as you are committed to a wedding in the Virgin Islands. You can file it up to 1 year in advance of your arrival.
(It is possible to file the marriage application a week before arriving in St. Thomas, or even the day you arrive…but please don’t make me teach you my secret ways!)
So what’s the sense of urgency?
I’ve worked with hundreds of couples over the years and probably the biggest stressor for many of them is this: the marriage application.
This is the un-glamorous part of destination weddings. Before saying “I do” on a gorgeous beach, you have to jump through a few hoops.
a. fill out some legal documents that seem confusing and ask questions like, “Are you related to your spouse?”
b. mail the documents to an address in the middle of the ocean
c. wonder whether the courthouse received them
d. wonder if the paperwork was approved
e. wonder if the courthouse even exists.
f. you’ll call the court to ensure everything is in order
g. no one will ever answer the phone (and no one will return your call).
So do yourself a favor, file it immediately, get it off your ‘to-do’ list. And trust me when I say your license will be there waiting for you when you arrive. 🙂
A quick story:
After one of my beach weddings the the groom told the wedding planner I was working with that the reason he chose the Virgin Islands to get married was because the marriage wasn’t really legal in the United States.
This dude was in for a rude awakening if his wife ever decides to call an attorney.
A marriage performed in St. Thomas is in fact a legal marriage. It is recognized in all 50 states (and in over 100 countries with the addition of an Apostille). You don’t have to file your license anywhere other than in St. Thomas. And don’t worry, we’ll take care of filing the license after the ceremony.
(If, and I only share as a point of interest, you were to ever file for divorce, you can file in any county/jurisdiction where you live. You don’t have to file it in the Caribbean!).
If you really don’t want to file the marriage license down here, many of my couples choose to get legally married in the states and then have a symbolic ceremony in the Virgin Islands. For those couples, they treat their wedding in the islands as the “real wedding”. And ladies, you can actually have two anniversaries!
Royal Caribbean. The Wyndam. The Westin. The Marriott or Ritz-Carlton. All big names and all respected brands here in the Virgin Islands. People travel and book with these brands with the hope that each cruise ship and each resort property will live up to the brand’s reputation.
But this is a fact:
If you book your wedding through a big name, you will pay big. (To see some examples of just how expensive, check out St. Thomas Destination Wedding Cost for 2018).
If you are on a budget, consider making far better use of your money by working with vendors separate from the cruise and hotel lines. (The dirty little secret is that all the same vendors the resorts and cruise lines hire, are available for direct hire for far cheaper. For example, some of the resorts will charge you $300+ for me as an officiant. But my rate is only $195.)
The weather in St. Thomas is always glorious. Figure on it being in either the low 80s during winter (November – April) and the mid-to-high 80s in summer (May – September).
The water temperature varies about 6-8 degrees depending on the time of year as well.
That being said, I do have a favorite time of year for having a beach wedding here in the islands:
More specifically, my favorite months are September and October. Hurricane season in the Virgin Islands runs from June 1st through November 30th (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2016_Atlantic_hurricane_season).
But September and October are particularly glorious for a few reasons.
1. The weather has cooled a few degrees. And every degree helps when the bride is in a long wedding own and the groom is in a long sleeve shirt and pants.
2. Less crowded. For families, these are the least traveled months of the year because the kids have all gone back to school. Less crowds means quieter beaches, resorts, etc.
3. Cheaper. September and October are some of the slowest months of the year for cruise lines, resorts and airlines, so they offer discounted rates.
But Mike, what about the hurricanes!?
Oh yes, the hurricanes. In 1995 Hurricane Marilyn stuck our little island. It took several months for everything to return to normal. Now, 22 years later, Hurricane Irma danced across our rugged island. She beat us up good and it took about a 6 weeks to be back up and running for weddings again.
So the reality is that a hurricane can strike. It’s rare, but it can happen. And by my math, we should be good for at least 15 – 20 years until another knocks on our doorstep.
Can I admit something?
The one part of my “job” I’d rather do without is logistics. The vast majority of my weddings are small groups of 2-30 people. That’s easy to orchestrate. But when you have 100 guests staying at 3 different resorts and 4 guests have wheelchairs and 12 get motion sickness…I start to get cold sweats.
Thankfully getting around the island is pretty simple once you know the basics.
First, taxis are the primary mode of movement for most people.
By taxi, I mean:
These behemoths are located at most resorts and at most points of interest. If you are getting off the beaten path a little, grab the card of a taxi driver and they’ll meet you anywhere and anytime to pick you up.
The downside to taxis, they get expensive quickly. Taxis charge on a per person/per route basis.
For example, if your group of 6 wants to go from Mafolie Hotel to Magens Bay Beach, the cost will be around $6/person each way. Total cost for the group is $72 roundtrip.
So if you think you might be getting off the resort more than a couple times, it might be worth renting a car/SUV.
Renting cars down here means you have to adjust to driving on the left and also learning your way around the island (Siri and GPS are decent for getting around but there are still a lot of uncharted locations).
I absolutely love small, intimate weddings. I specialize in weddings that are easy, elegant and simple. But please don’t take that to mean that you should pick a few flowers on the side of the road and show up at the beach in board shorts and a bikini.
I’ve had a few couples in my day that take the adage of “less is more” to the extreme.
And those couples usually regret having a bare bones wedding. There are typically 2 types I meet that fit into this category:
a. the frugal/budget conscious couples (no one wants to waste money, but you chose to have a wedding in paradise…buy some stinking flowers!)
b. the “I’ve been married before and don’t care about this one as much” couples (I get it, you already had the big church wedding before, but it shouldn’t mean you don’t want this wedding to be just as special in its own right.)
And in the end I think those couples that have chosen to shun all of the traditional trappings of a wedding have regretted it. One of the surest signs a couple is going down this dangerous path is when they tell me they just want a few wedding pictures taken with their cell phone.
I’m not here to make anyone do anything they don’t want, but if you’ve traveled all the way down to the Caribbean for a beach wedding, the one thing you should absolutely do is have a photographer!
They aren’t cheap. But neither was the airfare to get to St. Thomas, the hotel you’re staying at or all the restaurants you’re eating at while in the islands.
One of the only reminders and momentos you’ll have from your wedding day will be your pictures. Please don’t cut corners here. Taking a handful of pictures and a few selfies on a phone don’t count!
Exception: I had a couple that camped out the entire week on a beach and packed enough trail mix and dried fruit to eat for the entire trip. Instead of pictures, they drew each other’s likeness in the sand. It was so meaningful and beautiful. (Ok, maybe I made some of that up.)
I love hotels. There’s something about being on a big, monstrous resort with 5 restaurants, 3 pools and 8 bars. But if you are traveling down to St. Thomas for your wedding, a resort isn’t your only option.
Why not do something epic?
Imagine renting a monstrous, 6-bedroom villa to share with your family and friends. A villa with a private pool, reading rooms, insanely large kitchen, wrap around porch, private beach and views to die for.
Many of the villas even allow events, so you can have the wedding and reception right there. Making it far cheaper, more beautiful and more fun than an over-priced, crowded resort.
And if it’s just the 2 of you or maybe a couple friends, check out a spacious condo with a kitchen on a beach (Sapphire Beach Resort is a great spot)! Or sitting on your private balcony overlooking the British Virgin Islands at Point Pleasant. Or enjoying a tranquil beach just 100 feet from your room at Secret Harbor.
I just wanted you to give you a few ideas to play with.
As previously discussed, there is never a bad time to have a destination wedding in St. Thomas. The weather is almost always perfect, but rain is a way of life in the Caribbean. If you look at any 7-day weather forecast for St. Thomas, you will inevitably see rain on the horizon.
But guess what:
In fact, as of the writing of this article, I have never had a single wedding rained out in 7+ years.
The picture with the couple in the distance under an umbrella was from a rainy day wedding. The light drizzle lasted for about 30 minutes so the couple decided to have the ceremony in the rain. (I didn’t mind getting a little wet as you can see from the photo I took of my waterlogged shoes.) 🙂
Every beach has cover, so we can wait out any sudden downpours. Once it clears up we can carry on with the show. In the crazy event the rain doesn’t let up (this happens a couple times a year), we can either reschedule, have the ceremony under the cover or go ahead and get wet!
Now I’ve never tried this before, but I have it on good authority that if you tell airline personnel you’re on the way to your wedding, they will basically fall over themselves to accommodate you.
If I had to guess – an airplane might actually turn around mid-flight if they learned you forgot your wedding dress at the gate.
I’ve heard of hotels upgrading couples to the “Rain Man” suite, people you’ve just met will buy you dinner, drinks, or just about anything else you want…all if you tell them, “it’s my wedding day”. And I don’t think there is any limit to this.*
(*Please do not use this unless it is actually your wedding. It is too much power to wield!)
That being said, one of the most often asked questions I get is how to transport a wedding dress to St. Thomas.
The answer? It’s super easy.
Just let the gate agent or flight attendant know and they will literally create a new boarding Zone that will let your dress board before First Class, the elderly, babies and even the airplane’s Captain. They may actually bump passengers to find your dress its own seat.
Make sure to have it covered and secure on the hangar and leave the rest up to the airline folks. They’ll take good care of your bridal gown. Promise.
A 2nd often asked question is the availability of a steamer. There are few, if any, steamers available on the island. But the easy answer is to hang your dress in the bathroom while you take a shower. The steam/humidity in the bathroom will work out any wrinkles. Taadaa!
Call me Captain Obvious. But you don’t have to get married at a beach. If the thought of your toes in the sand, doesn’t excite you, you might want to check out Pretty Klip Point at Sapphire Beach which is a hard-packed jetty next to a beach. It extends out into the water and waves crash around you at the rocks below.
There are botanical gardens such as – St. Peter’s Greathouse & Botanical Gardens. Or check out Villa Botanica.
You can also check out Blue Venues for the many “non-beach” venues.
You came all the way to the island. You’ve said your vows. The hard part is done. Now soak up all the memories you can. Do something adventurous!
Take a boat trip to a quiet island and have pizza delivered to your boat from a floating pizzeria!
Spend the day in the British Virgin Islands on the island of Jost Van Dyke.
Grab a cooler of beer and snacks and spend the day cruising the island on an open air safari taxi (my personal favorite).
I will see to it that your wedding day is perfect, so make sure the rest of your trip is unforgettable.
And that’s it! All the important things you need to know for a St. Thomas Wedding.
If you still have questions about getting married in the Virgin Islands, please give me a call: 340-201-6069 or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.