Destination Weddings in Florida - Top Venues in the Sunshine State

    By Sarah Elder

    Florida is a hot spot for couples planning destination weddings, the leading such state in the continental United States.

    More than 100 guests, seated in white chairs under an evening sky, looked on as Lauren walked toward her groom, Jesse. He waited under a sparkling arch, the ocean just a romantic stroll away. It was New Year’s Eve 2011 at the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, and before the ball dropped at midnight, Lauren and Jesse would become Mr. and Mrs. Spinks.

    For family and friends, the news of Lauren and Jesse’s engagement was welcome and exciting, but hearing that the two, who live in North Carolina, planned to wed in Florida... that was special.

    “I’ve always wanted to do a destination wedding,” Lauren Spinks said afterward, “and I always wanted a winter wedding, but my husband wanted the beach.”

    Voila! Florida was the ideal spot.

    Carrie Darling, located in Naples, was the Spinks’ wedding planner. Darling estimates that as many as 70 percent of her wedding clients come from out of state. Many of these “destination brides” choose Florida because they took family vacations in the state or have family here.

    Florida Destination Weddings

    The Sunshine State is a popular wedding site throughout the year, but particularly between October and May. Wedding guests can sip mojitos under the sun hours before a ceremony, and couples can exchange vows by the ocean or even get married underwater.

    Brides and grooms can choose from many sites in Florida including those located in Miami and the rest of South Florida, Naples, Orlando, the Florida Keys or in northwest Florida.

    “It’s always been a hot spot, especially for destination weddings in Florida,” Lorena Lugo, an event planner of Lugo|Gilbert Event Styling + Production, based in Miami, said of Florida. “When people do call us they’ve already made up their mind. No need to do much convincing.”

    In fact, 18 percent of the nation’s destination weddings took place in Florida in 2011, according to a bi-annual wedding survey conducted by, a top online resource for everything wedding-related, and the That makes Florida the leading destination-wedding state in the continental United States, according to Kristin Koch, senior editor at

    “We are seeing destination weddings in general become a bigger trend,” Koch said.

    Florida’s tropical beauty and its coastal towns with white-sand beaches appeal to couples looking for ambience, scenery, top-notch services and attractive weather.

    Another factor: Planning a wedding involves a string of details and decisions that can be tricky to address off site. Finding a place away from home yet close enough to visit beforehand provides comfort and reassurance to couples eagerly and nervously anticipating their momentous day.

    Plus, a destination wedding that doesn’t involve foreign travel make it less of a hassle for guests. Unlike packing up for Costa Rica or the Caribbean, there is no need to dust off the passports, pay high prices for flights or worry about taking time off from work for an extra long weekend.

    Northwest Florida

    For some, the trip to Florida is only a drive away. Northwest Florida, for instance, is bordered by Alabama and Georgia and is easily reached from Mississippi and Louisiana.

    “Being in (northwest Florida) is closer to a lot of surrounding states,” said Christie Sachse of, a wedding planning business located in Miramar Beach, about halfway between Pensacola and Panama CIty. That proximity means that guests may not need to buy plane tickets.

    “Recession hurts a lot of businesses, but people are still getting married,” said Sachse, who expects to plan more than 200 weddings this year.

    Conventional wisdom might suggest that the wedding industry is immune to economic hard knocks, but that is not entirely true. With the average wedding budgeted at $27,000, some people do find it necessary to scale back.

    “We’re finding the biggest impact on your budget is your guest count,” Koch said. “From 2000 to 2012, there are on average nine fewer guests, which is not significant, but it is telling.”

    South Florida

    A destination wedding in Florida can be one of the most inexpensive to plan. A wedding permit at Miami Beach costs only $125. Between October 2010 and September 2011, that city approved 270 wedding permits, and it expects just as many during the current fiscal year, according to Raul Gonzalez, a spokesman for Miami Beach’s Tourism and Cultural Development Office.
    As for post-wedding celebrating, couples can find the version of paradise they imagined, whether they sit by the pool, board a cruise ship for their honeymoon, or head to the Keys to swim with dolphins

    Luanne Betz and David Thompson did something like that after their not-so-ordinary wedding in 2006. They dove about 70 feet below the water’s surface at Jules Undersea Lodge, an underwater hotel and former research laboratory in Key Largo.

    Returning to our New Year's Eve bride, Lauren Spinks lovingly recalls that, as she and Jesse took pictures on the beach before the ceremony, he knelt down and gently took off her shoes.

    She was in paradise. Others call it Florida.