For many around the world, a destination wedding is a dream. At the top of the list for desired destinations each year is Hawaii. But is it all it's cracked up to be?
I heard the following story from my friend and fellow travel writer Lindsay Taub and felt compelled to share it. The insights gleaned from this Estonian couple's journey to realizing their destination wedding in Hawaii are invaluable, especially if you're planning a Hawaiian wedding from overseas.
When Lindsay's cousins, Mariliis Leek, and future husband Marko Miggur met, they knew instantly they were soul mates. After six years of dating, they got engaged and the wedding planning began. Their dream was to get married in the tropical paradise of Hawaii that for years had captivated their fantasies.
But there was one obstacle. They're Estonian and getting to Hawaii from their tiny town north of the country's capital Tallinn would be no easy feat. Budget would be an issue.
However, it was their dream and they started saving. Seven months later, they embarked on a 23-hour trek to Honolulu to get married on the upcoming weekend.
Although family who had been to Hawaii advised them that perhaps it was worth taking yet another flight to another island such as Kauai, they opted to keep it simple and make Oahu the final destination. Now, dreams are relative and not all Hawaiian wedding dreams are created equal.
Mariliis and Marko's arrival in Honolulu was a bit of a shock. They didn't realize that Honolulu would be such a busy, traffic-heavy, fast food-laden, cosmopolitan city. Yes, there were the fragrant leis, the palm trees swaying in the breeze, the juicy tropical fruits, and the warm waters of the Pacific. But it was hardly what they imagined Hawaii would be like.
Upon arrival, they went to the Department of Health to apply for their marriage license. The lines were long but the process was easy enough. But because Estonia requires all legal documents to have an apostille (akin to a notary), they would have to go back after the wedding and again stand in line to process the paperwork.
Sticking with their budget of $5k (not including flights), the couple found a local company who provided a minister and photographer on Waialae Beach near the Kahala Hotel, five miles east of Waikiki. They were promised an expansive grassy lawn area with palm trees, a picturesque sandy beach, a peninsula that lead out to a small tropical off-shore island, and a panoramic view of Koko Head.
The wedding day came. Mariliis was frantic to put the final touches on her dress (she's an expert seamstress) and exhibited some of the typical nerves of a bride-to-be who wants everything to be perfect. Yet she remained calm.
So too, did the groom, who despite being horrified that they'd found a condom wrapper under the bed in their hotel room the night before (not theirs!), he glowed as he held her hand and they arrived at the ceremony location, which wasn't quite as picturesque as they expected. Nice, yes. But the beautiful beach and palms were set alongside a condominium's boardwalk.
And where was the minister?
It turned out the minister had gone to the wrong park. It would be another 20 minutes before he arrived. The clouds were billowing in. The photographer was worried about not getting the 'dream Hawaii wedding' shots.
If "Saturday Night Live" created a script for a potential wedding disaster, it might have looked something like this day. Everyone around them seemed to notice that the play-by-play was anything but the dream they'd envisioned, yet it didn't seem to faze them.
Eventually the short ceremony was performed, including the traditional blow of the conch shell at the end. Although the minister mispronounced Mariliis' name throughout, to his credit, his spirit was vibrant despite knowing this was not the first or last wedding he'd perform that day.
Were it not for this couple's palpable and ever-present love for one another, the day might have been disastrous. Was it the paradise they thought it would be? Not so much. Nonetheless, the photographs turned out beautifully, capturing a romantic young couple stepping into life together.
Their celebratory dinner took place at the La Mer, the Halekulani's AAA Five-Diamond award-winning restaurant along the shores of Waikiki. Meaning "House Befitting Heaven," Halekulani is a gem of a hotel if large luxury is the objective. Weddings at the property are highly sought-after and booked months in advance at a hefty price (weddings here can cost upwards of $45k).
Based on Lindsay's recommendations, if you're headed to Waikiki, for a wedding or otherwise, the prize properties are the Waikiki Parc for the trendy, younger crowd who will enjoy having Nobu sushi at their fingertips and the Halekulani for its fabulous restaurants, seaside pool, shopping and above all else SpaHalekulani, the first spa anywhere to authentically explore the indigenous healing cultures and practices of Polynesia.
Budget options are somewhat limited, but the Aqua hotel chain has various properties in and around Waikiki that are welcoming and efficient. See it as a place to sleep comfortably but take friends or family up on their invitation to relax at their hotel if staying somewhere such as Halekulani.
The biggest challenge with getting married in Hawaii on a budget is that most are not able to take a trip to the islands ahead of time to scope out the location and plan the details.
If you're the city type, Oahu has much to offer. But if you're the rustic, away-from the-hustle-and-bustle type, take the extra flight and head for the less populated islands, like Maui, Big Island or Kauai, instead.
Most importantly, keep the focus on what matters most -- the love shared and the commitment being made. Mariliis and Marko's Hawaii experience may not have been everything they thought it would be, but beginning their marital journey by realizing a longtime dream made the day momentous despite the mishaps.
Because they had their families in mind that couldn't be there for the wedding, they brought along an extra suitcase to bring home a piece of Hawaii. From leis to tiki torches to flowers and music, they hosted a Hawaiian-themed celebration with friends and family in Estonia upon their return. The spirit of aloha was alive in the Baltics.
The couple recently welcomed their first daughter, Mia, into the world. Aloha, indeed.
Photos below by Lindsay Taub.