• By: OLM Staff

Some Day at the Beach! Destination Weddings: Cuba

When my brother-in-law announced his intention to wed in Cuba, my wife Trine literally jumped for joy. She had seriously considered holding our wedding party on a beach in the Caribbean, so she could get hitched while barefoot in the sand. I was happy too – I like a beach vacation as much as the next guy, but never having been to anything like this, I had no clue about the customs. As we made arrangements to attend, the big question loomed before me: What are the differences between a “normal” wedding and a destination wedding? This was my first trip to Cuba, so I was looking forward to fine cigars, smooth aged rum, crystal-clear water on fine white sand, and the friendliest people you’d ever want to meet. My brother-in-law Jens is a top-of-the-line kind of guy, so he and his wife-to-be Angela had reserved a week at a five-star resort near Guardalavaca, on the northeast coast of Cuba. The Paradisus Rio de Oro is an all-inclusive resort with private beaches and many free activities, including snorkelling, sailing, dance lessons, horseback riding, kayaking, pedal boats, windsurfing, tennis, volleyball and even Spanish lessons. I’m lazy, so I thought I’d just sit around the pool or lie on the beach, but I ended up trying a few things myself. I loved the sailing and dance lessons but a week just wasn’t enough time to try everything!The flight to Cuba was less than four hours and we were processed quickly at the Holguin airport. The resort’s modern bus picked us up for the short drive from the airport. I loved the scenery and all the carefully maintained classic cars on the road. The sight of palm trees waving in the tropical breeze is guaranteed to put you in a relaxed mood. Check-in at the hotel was fast and efficient – good news for us, given the late hour of our arrival.

Snorkelling is one of many activities included in your stay at the Paradisus Rio de Oro.

Sunday was our first full day in paradise and it was hot and sunny. Mind you, so was every other day we spent there. That’s the advantage of going in the summer; the disadvantage was unlucky fishing – our deep-sea fishing trip turned into a pleasant cruise completely uninterrupted by the appearance of any fish. Our skipper, a bearded Hemingway look-alike, kept the mood light with jokes, snacks and drinks while we chatted away the afternoon on the deck of our chartered motor yacht. A pleasant day for us – and the fish too!

The wedding was planned for Wednesday, so we had plenty of time to relax beforehand. My favourite activity was snorkelling. We saw clouds of tropical fish and beautiful coral formations only a few metres off the hotel beach. We had originally planned to go scuba diving, but we beheld so much on our snorkelling excursions that we never felt the need.

Jens and his three sons were more interested in sailing. Every day, they went out with an instructor on one of the Hobie Cats (a small sailing catamaran) that the resort provides for free. Everybody enjoyed swimming in the ocean several times a day and we would usually hit the swim-up bar at the pool around 4 o’clock. It was a nice place to cool off after a day on the beach.

Evenings were a time to rest after playing all day. We tried all the different restaurants, but the buffet restaurant was our favourite. Flambéed bananas may just be my all-time favourite dessert. After dinner, my wife and I would retire to the lobby bar for my evening cigar and rum. In Canada, I’ve always enjoyed my cigar with a good scotch; in Cuba, I was assured that the only way to truly appreciate the flavour of a good cigar was to have seven-year-old rum to sip along with it. I liked that combination so much I bought a couple of bottles of Havana Club to bring home with my cigars. We would usually watch a dinner show while I had my smoke. The entertainment was the usual cabaret-type stuff: dancing and singing with some audience participation thrown in now and then. I liked the jazz band that warmed up the crowd before the big show. It had a bluesy sound with some Latin flair to spice it up.

This prelude was just like the dreamy holiday experienced vacationers to Cuba have been bragging about for years, but what about the wedding? Well, that could not have been handled any more efficiently. Early in the week, Angela met with the resort’s wedding coordinator to arrange the details, such as the wedding schedule, the colour scheme, and the flowers. This is where I noted some significant differences between this wedding in Cuba and weddings I attended in Canada. We could wear more comfortable attire than usual (a definite plus); there was no need to bring a gift for the married couple (that could wait until we returned home); no driving was required as the wedding venue was only a short walk from the resort; and there was very little prep time (we swam in the ocean until an hour before the ceremony).

We were all very impressed with how smoothly the wedding went. The ceremony was simple, beautiful and over before we knew it! The spot the resort designated for the wedding was gorgeous. The guests gathered next to a gazebo on a point overlooking the water. The sun was shining and the sea lapped against the rocks as we drank free champagne and took pictures of the scenery. We sat in the shade from the trees lining the path to the gazebo and enjoyed a light, cooling breeze off the ocean. I remember thinking how different the setting was from all the church weddings I’ve been to in Canada. The scent of tropical flowers, the clean salt air and the casual atmosphere of people at ease made me wonder why more weddings aren’t held in this absolutely divine location.

The groom and bride, Jens and Angela, happily married and stress-free.

When was the last time you went to a wedding and wished the service was longer? In fact, my only complaint was that they should have taken more time. I was enjoying myself at the ceremony and then – bang! – it was over. The service lasted only a few minutes (admittedly, the bride and groom wanted it short and sweet) and then we were all feverishly snapping pictures and offering our congratulations. We walked down to the beach to take pictures of the bride and groom barefoot on the sand. Then we relaxed in the lobby bar, drinking and snacking until dinnertime. The reception was held in the more formal setting of the El Patio dining room. Other restaurants are available for the wedding dinner, but the cool, refined atmosphere of El Patio did seem the best choice. After a delicious meal and a few speeches, the staff surprised the bride and groom with a beautiful wedding cake and a violin serenade. We ended the night with another few rounds of mojitos in the lobby bar. Ah, Cuba!

So what is the best part of a destination wedding? Quite a few features kept it from being ordinary, but here is the defining difference: a destination wedding is a holiday for everyone involved. To avoid any semblance of the hectic activity that often plagues a weekend wedding, this event was held mid-week. Plenty of time to get ready for it while enjoying sand and surf. And think of all the times you have helped out after the wedding of a friend or family member. Cleaning up, organizing, transporting – somebody has to do the grunt work after the happy couple leaves. That’s the beauty of a destination wedding – the bride and groom are already on their honeymoon, and all the guests happen to be on vacation!

It puts a whole new spin on the expression “Cuba Libre”! We Canadians felt a tremendous sense of freedom in Cuba!

For more information, contact the Cuban Tourism Office at: (514) 875-8004 or e-mail: montreal@gocuba.ca

By Dale Hovdebo