“Hola, and welcome to my beautiful country”, says our guide-in-training as the coach exits the airport parking lot. “I am in school studying English and this is my first time learning to be a tour guide” she continues. Our guide is a delightful university student with long black hair who appears eager, yet nervous, to practice her English. After the obligatory USA anecdote, she informs us jokingly that “the national sport is hitchhiking” as we drive by groups of people flagging rides on the side of the road. The group lightly jokes with the guide, increasing her confidence, and it appears that we are off to a good start.
A holiday with family and friends is not always easy to coordinate. Taking time off at the same time proves to be difficult, saving money and planning months, even a year, in advance is no easy feat either, but it seems one event helps bring this to realization. Marriage; and I signed up. Sure, the clichés are endless; scary, exciting, unnecessary, even inevitable or just plain ridiculous, but I signed up.
The celebration with friends and family would be enjoyable, but I was not pulling for the large wedding. Thankfully, neither was she. So, not unlike many Canadians, we opted for a destination wedding. We weighed our options, and the decision was made to have our wedding with our friends and family on the beach. Cuba to be exact. With previous trips made to the island for holidays and one on a volunteer brigade, we felt it was a good fit. It happens to be quite nice, and cheap, too.
Destination weddings are increasingly popular in Cuba, and like many others, we arranged for a wedding package with the hotel, and the travel arrangements with a sun vacation provider. All wedding guests, including the bride and groom, purchase space within the wedding group just as they would on any other air inclusive vacation. We then booked the wedding arrangements with the hotel, and we were set to go as a group.
Sound simple? Sure. Stressful? not at all. Expensive? Cheaper than some of the alternatives.
Unfair? Good argument, but everyone wants to go on holiday and sometimes an excuse is needed. It appears there is no better excuse than a wedding.
Only 90 miles from Key West, Cuba is a diverse and cultural island of over 11 million people of various faiths. The cities and towns boasting colonial architecture and the coast lined with pristine beaches bring the tourists in droves. After a week, it appears it is the beer and daiquiris. Cuba’s fascinating and ongoing history, her lively people, the crumbling colonial facades, beautiful weather, fruity drinks and live music ensure that we are all kept entertained.
We chose Varadero for our wedding. Familiarity comes into play having been there before, but the beautiful beach and accessibility to Havana were the clinchers. The hotel chosen is a common choice for destination weddings, evident by the numerous ‘likes’ on the bride’s bookmarked Facebook page ‘Iberostar Laguna Azul Brides’. The Hotel Iberostar Laguna Azul in Varadero was our choice. In fact it was her choice, but who am I to disagree? The hotel is one of the newer resorts in Varadero, which to those who vacation in Cuba, means a lot. With 814 rooms, 5 pools, 9 restaurants, 6 bars, and a fitness club and spa, the resort was an easy choice.
Although this was a vacation, a wedding was to take place. Homemade invitations were sent out, a wed-cation blog was created, clothes were purchased and then the countdown began. To go on holiday with a small group of friends and family is indeed fun, and to celebrate our big day together on the beach with the Caribbean waters as our backdrop was a nice way to instil lasting memories.
Needless to say, I was pleased by my only real chore of just ‘being there’ for the wedding. No rehearsal, one brief meeting with the wedding coordinator and a short tour to the location of the ceremony. If the weather didn’t cooperate we’d be having the ceremony on a terrace. Dinner would be chicken or beef, the cake would cost 20 pesos, and the photographer will charge per photo. I guess we were set. I was anyways.
Thankfully, the weather did cooperate, somewhat. “It’s very windy today” greets the coordinator as I walk with the guests to the beach, “but I saw the bride and she looks so beautiful. She will be here soon” she continued. It was windy, but unless the beach magically disappeared would my bride consider her big day on a terrace. The ceremony was conducted in Spanish with our coordinator translating loudly over the strong winds. Then came the pouring of the celebratory champagne, the expressing of kind words, and some amusing poses for the photographer.
After the obligatory ‘jumping’ group shot, we then crammed into a model T with my generous photographer sister and our driver fashioning a newsboy hat to head out for offsite wedding photos.
What does everyone do prior to the reception while we take some photos? Eat, drink and swim! What else? Then comes the chicken and beef, a few speeches, cake and a dance and just like that our day was over. Thankfully, we were here for a week.
Sure, a destination wedding is not for everyone, but it was surely for us. It truly did feel like a celebration. A week-long celebration. Oddly, I’m already looking forward to our renewal of vows.
Steve is looking forward to our vow renewal because I promised that we would do it in Vietnam - on our fifth wedding anniversary. Ten is just too long to wait. But honestly - I'd do it tomorrow if I could.