St. Thomas Weddings can be stressful.
BUT HERE’S THE SECRET:
You will sleep easy at night as long as you know a few important details…
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 a lot of $$$ on a Cruise Ship Wedding.)
(Oh, and if St. John is more your cup of tea, check out the St. John Wedding Guide for 2022.)
So here’s the deal:
St. Thomas weddings are my life.
I have spent the the last decade performing and perfecting weddings here in the Virgin Islands. And I’ve seen anything and everything you could imagine after performing thousands of weddings.
A few of the more “suitable for work” things I’ve seen –
-2 groomsmen passed out by the pool, sunburn beyond recognition, in swim trunks 30 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 for that one. Seriously, the best man had to help hold him up through most of the ceremony.)
-a loving couple that didn’t speak the same language (The entire ceremony was translated for them in separate languages – he was Italian and she was Brazilian. Maybe the makings of the perfect marriage.)
-father-in-laws wrestling on the beach (The groom wasn’t good enough for daddy’s little girl maybe?)
-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.
So here are the 13 things you should know when planning your wedding here in St. Thomas:
I often tell my couples that if a hairy dude in a hot pink Speedo walks past you during the ceremony it’s 50 years of happy marriage.
True? Not true?
Avoiding the “speedo man” and other beach characters like:
“crazy, naked toddler”,
“drunk, half-naked college kids” and
“old people with saggy body parts making out in the sand”
is easy to do if you have your beach wedding in the morning or late afternoon.
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 2 pm. So we’ll want to schedule your wedding when those folks aren’t around.
Want another reason to avoid having your wedding mid-day?
The Caribbean sun is no joke.
My ceremonies are by no means long and drawn out (I think my longest clocked in at a lumbering 17 minutes).
But 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.)
On the other hand, if you want those sparkling blue colors in the water and sky, a mid-day wedding works great but pick your beach wisely (some have breezes and shade, others don’t).
*If you want a guide to my favorite beaches, CLICK HERE and shoot me an email.
Finally, please be mindful about choosing a big, heavy dress or a 3-piece suit…I want you to look your best and 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. (Please note that even though sunset might be at 6:45 pm on a particular day, some of the beaches are surrounded by hills and the sun will actually disappear at 6:15 pm. But don’t worry, I’ll help you choose the best time.)
Caribbean mornings are glorious. Shoot for around 9 or 10 am if you can. (Sunrise ceremonies might be my favorite time of day for a wedding. If you don’t mind getting up around 4 am, a sunrise provides perfect conditions at the beach. Seriously, if you can manage it, I highly recommend sunrise.)
Guest lists. Flowers. The Wedding Dress. Rings.
These are all important parts of your wedding day.
But you know what I think is the most important decision you’ll make?
Picking the beach!
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 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 4-5 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 $250 site fee for a wedding ceremony and guests are charged a $5/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. 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.
If you haven’t already, shoot me an email and I’ll send you my beach guide of the best beaches for a wedding in St. Thomas – Contact Me.
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 or less before arriving in St. Thomas…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 please know that I’ve performed thousands of weddings here in St. Thomas and St. John and the courthouse isn’t in the business of losing marriage licenses. So sleep well knowing it will be here waiting for you when you arrive on island (I’m not even knocking on wood when I say this).
A quick story:
After one of my beach weddings the the groom told the photographer that the reason he chose the Virgin Islands to get married was because the marriage wasn’t legal in the United States.
This dude was in for a rude awakening if his wife ever decides to call an attorney.
(Having spent 5 minutes with the guy, I kinda hoped she gets her hands on every one of his assets.)
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). After your ceremony, we’ll take care of filing the license. There’s nothing else you have to do.
(If, and I only share as a point of interest, you were to ever file for divorce, you would file in the county/jurisdiction where you live. You don’t have to file it in the Caribbean!)
As an option, if you really don’t want to file the marriage license down here, you can choose to get legally married in the states and then have a symbolic ceremony in the Virgin Islands. This is relatively common since some people don’t want to have to go to a courthouse while on vacation.
For those couples, we treat their wedding in the islands as the “real wedding”. Which means, ladies, you can actually have 2 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 Costs).
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 the same vendors the resorts and cruise lines hire are available for direct hire for far cheaper.)
I’m not knocking the resorts, they do a great job making your vacation awesome. But your wedding options are better, easier and much more affordable if you work directly with ‘yours truly’. 😉
*As mentioned in #2 above: no matter where you are staying on island, we can use any beach on the island for your wedding. All beaches are public. For example, if you are staying at The Ritz, we can have your ceremony right on the beach at the resort – you DO NOT need to book it through the resort. If they say otherwise, you tell them Island Mike is coming and I’ll put them in their place!
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. 22 years later, in 2017, Hurricanes Irma and Maria danced across our rugged island. Those ladies beat us up good and it took about a 6 weeks for us to be back up and running for weddings again.
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 years until another knocks on our doorstep.
If you prefer to get married in April, May, June, July or August I always suggest locking in your date yesterday! They are our busiest months and I don’t want your day to get booked!
Final word – if you want to get married on dates like – 2/2/22, 2/22/22 or 3/23/23 it may already be too late!
Can I admit something?
I don’t like big wedding groups.
I draw the line at 80 people otherwise I get a strong urge to day drink.
The vast majority of my weddings are small affairs of 2-40 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.
But 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/minivan.
Renting cars down here means you have to adjust to driving on the left and also learning your way around the island (your phone’s GPS will be decent for getting around, but they aren’t perfect).
UPDATE: A recent couple of mine wanted to share with my readers that having a rum drink helps with getting adjusted to driving on the left.
(FUN FACT – It is legal to drink and drive. Which means you are permitted to drink a beer while driving on island. That being said, drunk driving/impaired driving is not legal! So don’t spend you wedding day in a Caribbean jail by taking advantage of our liberal drinking laws. And please consult current laws as they are subject to change. Also, I’m not trying to offer legal advice. Oh, and you probably should rely on a taxi if you are going to be drinking.)
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 3 types I meet that fit into this category:
a. the “frugal/budget conscious couples that think weddings are a waste of money” couples (and I get it, 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 (fine, you already had the big church wedding before, but it shouldn’t mean you treat this wedding like a red-headed step-child)
c. the “I’m 60 years old which means I can’t enjoy life anymore” couples (I’ve married couples in their 80s and I’ve found that it doesn’t hurt to have a little pomp and circumstance in your life…shouldn’t that matter even more as you are in the twilight of your life?)
Don’t be one of these couples.
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.
The same cell phone that already has 2359 photos and videos stored on the memory card – that you may or may not ever look at again.
This is your wedding. Do you think you’ll be upset later on that you spent a little extra on some professional photos?
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 mementos 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 doesn’t cut it!
So I promise you won’t regret having professional photos of your wedding.
Exception: I had a couple that camped out the entire week on a beach in St. John in a tent. They packed enough trail mix and dried fruit to eat for the entire trip. She wore a dress made of leaves and seaweed. He was naked except for a properly placed conch shell. Instead of photos, they drew each other’s likeness in the sand and made a sand sculpture of me. They made a wedding cake from oatmeal and beef jerky. It was so meaningful and beautiful.
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.
Just about every home on the island nowadays is available for vacation rental. Check out:
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 my favorite spot – rent on AirBnb or VRBO)! 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 9+ 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 once or twice 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, “I’m getting married”. And I don’t think there is any limit to this.*
(*Please do not use this tactic unless it is actually your wedding. It’s too powerful!)
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.
(I can’t say this is true on all airlines, but typically the cabin crew is pretty awesome.)
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 if the wedding dress gets wrinkles during your travel. There are few, 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 Villa Botanica.
And as mentioned before, check out villas that allow weddings and receptions.
You can also check out Blue Venues for other “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.
97% of weddings won’t require a wedding planner.
But there are times when having a wedding planner is the way to go. A planner can be a big expense so it should be considered carefully.
A wedding planner is essential if you want someone to help you design your wedding. For example, you want someone to help you coordinate your wedding colors and theme and flowers and decor.
(My wife Amber is a full-service wedding planner – Blue Sky Ceremony – so I have it on pretty good authority.)
But otherwise, you can pretty much have everything handled smoothly with one of my packages. One of the main reasons is that every wedding vendor on island (music, caterers, florists, bakers, etc.) are world-class and know how to manage everything smoothly having all been a part of hundreds of weddings. And I’ll be sure we line up all the best vendors!
So in some ways a wedding planner just adds another layer of complication instead of making things simpler and more relaxed. Kinda counterintuitive but that has been my experience.
I hope you’ll forgive my candor and self-serving advice. 🙂
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.