For some couples, the perfect wedding day means a banquet hall filled to the brim with crystal details, flowers and hundreds of guests, but for others -- those who prioritize intimacy, stunning natural surroundings, impeccable food and a laid-back atmosphere over traditional pageantry -- there's no better place to tie the knot than Antigua.
Located just north of Guadeloupe and east of St. Kitts where the northeastern Caribbean Sea meets the western Atlantic Ocean, the two-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda is part of the Eastern Caribbean's Leeward Islands. The area is renown for its mellow vibes, friendly people and beautiful uncrowded beaches -- the near-perfect weather year-round doesn’t hurt either.
It’s hard to be anything but relaxed in this island paradise -- all the typical stress of wedding planning instantly starts to melt away as you sail in over turquoise waters and touch down amidst lush rolling hills just minutes from the pristine shoreline studded with celebrity vacation homes (Oprah, Richard Branson and Giorgio Armani are among the stars with property here).
The best time to go: With very little rain and temperatures that hover around 25 degrees Celsius year-round, there are few bad times to visit Antigua. However, planning a celebration between May and July (the island's off season) could save you and your guests a bundle on accommodations.
The legal paperwork: Legally tying the knot in Antigua means paying a visit to the Ministry of Justice located in downtown St. John's with your valid passports, completing an application and paying applicable fees. There is a registration fee of US$40 that must be paid at the courthouse in the new government buildings on Queen Elizabeth Highway. The application fee for a special marriage license is US$150, and the marriage officer's fee is US$100. Most hotels will include these fees in their wedding package costs and arrange to help sort out the paperwork.
The venue: Charming boutique hotels abound in Antigua, but none compare to Curtain Bluff. This unpretentious all-inclusive five-star resort on the island’s south coast, a favourite hideaway of rock gods like Keith Richards and Eric Clapton, features flawless ocean views from every room and suite. The property, which is consistently named among the best all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean, has been under the same ownership and management since opening its doors in 1962. The atmosphere is that of a luxurious summer camp for adults that you can visit year-round. And with a full-service spa, gourmet food, top-shelf bar drinks as well as complimentary snorkeling trips, tennis instruction, yoga and pilates classes, water sports, and a location that spans two hammock-lined beachfronts, it’s no surprise that many guests return year after year.
The resort hosts just a handful of destination weddings per year and prides itself on pulling out all the stops for these special celebrations. Curtain Bluff's owner Chelle Hulford even opens the doors of her immaculate private home, The Bluff House, to couples interested in reciting their vows on the sweeping balcony with views across the sea to Montserrat's steaming Soufrière Hills volcano -- a testament to the relaxed atmosphere that defines a stay at this idyllic hideaway.Photo courtesy of Curtain Bluff.
The local customs: Music plays a big part in Antiguan life, particularly Afro-Caribbean percussion including steel and iron band music. Each Sunday an area called Shirley Heights hosts a barbecue party for tourists and locals alike. Tunes are provided by the island's famed Halcyon Steel Orchestra, who can also be booked for wedding celebrations.
The budget: Basic wedding packages at Curtain Bluff start at roughly US$1,300 and include the wedding license, marriage officer's fee, a bridal bouquet, a boutonniere, use of either one of the beaches or the Bluff House for the ceremony, a single-tiered wedding cake and a private gazebo dinner. Expect to pay closer to US$10,000 for a more elaborate celebration that includes hair and makeup at the on-site spa, a photographer and a band. Larger parties are eligible for group rates when it comes time to book rooms.
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