One of the special privileges of being an international couple is that you can have a destination wedding and most people will understand your decision. Earlier this month, John and I exchanged vows in an outdoor ceremony on Hamilton Island in Queensland, Australia.
We met almost six years ago in the tiny little town of Plakias, which is located along the southern coast of Crete. I was travelling with a few friends from home and John was our fifth roommate in the hostel dorm we were allocated. To this day we still can’t believe how lucky we were to have found each other there: Plakias was John’s penultimate stop before heading back home to Australia after two and a half years of working and travelling in Europe. I had never heard of the place before and was merely along on a brief beach jaunt before we went to Oktoberfest. I never actually made it to Munich that year. John and I hit it off and decided to take our own little journey to Santorini. He then came to stay with me at my flat in New York City over New Year's. And I joined him in Perth a week or so after that. We’ve been together ever since.
The advantages and disadvantages of a destination wedding are probably about even in number. Most of your family members and friends won’t be able to attend due to time, family, financial or ‘can’t be arsed’ reasons. If you want to have a small wedding as we did, this can be great. We would have loved for everyone that we invited to attend, but were equally happy with our intimate group of 43. If, however, you’ve always dreamed of a big wedding with everyone you and your parents know surrounding you, I wouldn’t suggest getting married away from home. While I’ve encountered a couple of people who had 80+ guests at their destination wedding, this is not the norm.
Planning from a distance can also be a hassle. Hamilton Island Weddings services an average of 500 weddings a year on the island. While we adored our wedding consultant and found her to be a tremendous help to us, it was frustrating at times during the planning process to have to run so many things through one overworked person, and response times from other departments could be very slow. You also do not have the advantage of meeting with vendors in person. We neither saw nor tasted anything we’d ordered for our day until the actual wedding. I’m happy to say that everything went smoothly and pretty much to plan. All of our guests told us repeatedly what a wonderful time they had and we were very happy with all of the goods and services we received. But we weren't sure of such a great outcome in advance.
For travellers like us, getting married in a holiday destination was idyllic. We were able to take a vacation with our closest friends and family who we wouldn’t have ordinarily had the opportunity to travel with. It was nice to be away from our usual surroundings in the days leading up to our wedding. And we didn’t have to knock ourselves out trying to make our wedding unique: it was the only island or destination wedding many of our guests had attended, and the beautiful setting provided so much visual interest that all we had to do was add our own personal touches. We’re naturally casual people, so what better place to have our wedding than in an island paradise where everyone could just relax and enjoy themselves?
Hamilton Island is not the kind of place John and I would normally travel to. It’s the most commercially developed island in the Whitsunday group, full of three, four and five star resorts. Renting a private apartment or house is the best bet for saving money on accommodation. And everything on the island from meals to activities is expensive, even for Australia (think island prices, with a huge markup on almost everything). It does, however, have the largest range of activities and places to stay of any of the other Whitsunday islands as well as its own airport. We thought it would be best for our guests to have a number of holiday options compared to some of the other islands that host weddings. And we enjoyed having a variety of venues to choose from for not only our wedding, but also for the pre- and post-wedding functions we hosted.
If you’re thinking you’ve heard of this place before, you may remember it from the recent and very popular “Best Job in the World” promotion by Tourism Queensland, which was a contest won by Ben Southall last year. The resort has been operating since the early 80’s and is a holiday playground for both Australians and international tourists. The late George Harrison lived here for a time and numerous other celebrities visit the island each year. Service vehicles are the only cars really allowed on the island and everyone gets around using either the public shuttles or golf buggies.
A number of recent refurbishments have begun to modernise the island. Our ceremony and reception, for example, took place at the brand new Hamilton Island Yacht Club, which overlooks the Dent Passage. Adjacent Dent Island is the setting for a new championship golf course, while Qualia resort, a six-star property on the north end, opened in 2007. A few hotels and restaurants have been closed recently for renovations. Our family hired a large holiday house for the week, with John and I moving to the Reef View Hotel on the weekend. I highly recommend renting a house or apartment when visiting Hamilton Island. Alcohol and groceries can be ordered from the mainland for cost-savings, while having a private retreat allows one to escape the crowds.
The day after the wedding, we departed by helicopter for the Paradise Bay Eco Resort, a luxurious retreat on Long Island. This was a stark contrast to Hamilton Island as Long Island is a lush and green national park, with only a few resorts. Paradise Bay offers a personal and special experience for travellers. It actually reminded us of a much more lavish version of the place where we met. Only 20 guests are allowed at the property at any one time (no children) and they are allocated private waterfront bungalows featuring unusually comfortable king-sized beds and luxury bath amenities. The resort is surrounded by natural bush, and we enjoyed the native birds, lizards and wallabies.
What really made Paradise Bay enjoyable for us were the wonderful people we met there. We had a great group of other guests staying at the resort when we were there and the staff went out of their way to give each of us individual attention. During the day we were taken out on one of the resort’s two private boats to explore the nearby Whitsunday islands (or we could just relax or enjoy a hike near the lodge), and at night we all had dinner together. The food was spectacular. A chef prepared three gourmet meals each day (including a picnic lunch if we went out on the boat), and dinners featured canapés and a pairing of Australian wines with each course. We came home a few kilograms heavier, but it was worth it.
This was just a post-wedding mini-break for us. Now that all the nuptial planning and preparations are over, we’re gearing up for our big "honeymoon": a round-the-world trip starting at the end of the year. You can, of course, subscribe to this blog to receive the many, many more travel posts and featured traveller projects that are coming once we hit the road.