Lauren and Jesse Spinks of North Carolina, at their destination wedding at the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort.

- Alexi Shields Photography

By Sarah Elder

Florida, with its attractive scenery, top-notch services and pleasant weather, is a hot spot for couples planning destination weddings.

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 at the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, and before the ball dropped at midnight, Lauren and Jesse would become Mr. and Mrs.

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 after the ceremony, “and I always wanted a winter wedding, but my husband wanted the beach.”

Voila! Florida was the ideal spot for both.

Destination Weddings in Florida

Carrie Darling, based 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.

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 a bounty of sites in 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, a growing percentage of the nation’s destination weddings take place in Florida, according to a bi-annual wedding survey conducted by TheKnot.com, a top online resource for everything wedding-related. That makes Florida the leading destination-wedding state in the continental United States, according to Kristin Koch, senior editor at TheKnot.com.

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


Beauty and Proximity

Florida’s tropical beauty and its coastal towns with sandy 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 makes it less of a hassle for guests. Unlike packing up for Costa Rica or the Caribbean, there's 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.

For some, the trip to Florida is only a drive away. Destin's crystalline white beaches, for instance, are within east range of travelers from Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Georgia.

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

And After the Nuptials...

As for post-wedding celebrating, couples -- and their guests -- 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 a few years ago. 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 recalled 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.

PLACES TO REMEMBER

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