On an April afternoon, Pamela Wen stepped off a plane in Lihue, 5,020 miles away from and 40 degrees warmer than her New York home. After four days of final preparations – plus some beach play time – the first-grade teacher stood in a white-silk, organza wedding gown on a Poipu lawn, with ocean waves slapping the rocks a few feet away, a blazing sunset tinting the sky and tiki torches glowing in the dusk.
“Originally we thought of Maui, but as we talked to people we realized Kauai was more lush and a much more beautiful setting. We had talked about going to Hawaii for two years, so when we got engaged, we said we have the perfect excuse.”
The perfect excuse turned into a storybook wedding: bare feet on the sand at Tunnels Beach on Kauai’s North Shore as a magenta sunset faded.
“We both have pretty big families so it would have turned into a headache if we had done it in Phoenix,” says Wait. “And it would have gotten crazy. This was a nice way to keep it more intimate and easier to handle. We just said anyone who wants to come is invited.”
She and her fiancé, Mike DeMore, didn’t set a budget, but they looked at the elements with cost-conscious eyes. The ceremony and wedding probably cost around $2,500, she says, but her parents picked up the tab for the reception dinner at the Bar Acuda restaurant in Hanalei and it probably cost just as much.
“We did a pre-selected menu of tapas and we had the patio reserved. It was so simple I can’t even believe it.”
The simplicity also sold Californian Christy Bechner Cates, who hired planner Iben Dwight to handle all the Kauai arrangements.
“It was the trip of a lifetime and the most beautiful wedding ever,” says Bechner, who also chose Tunnels Beach with the Na Pali cliffs in the background as the site for her wedding last August. She spent about $1,500 for the wedding itself and a total of $15,000 for the whole package, which included airfare, hotel, car, island-hopping and spending money.
“It was just so beautiful, just the two of us on the beach in the middle of nowhere with an ukulele player in the background and Manulele’s beautiful singing. It couldn’t have been more perfect.”
Pamela’s Wedding Tab
Here’s what Pamela Wen and Chung Chiang spent on their wedding:
Ceremony: $8,500, which included
• Catering: $3,000
• Photography: $800
• Flowers: $500
• Table arrangements: $600
• Lighting: $255
• Pamela’s hair: $250
Plus about $10,000 for everything else: the beachside estate they rented, food for a next-day barbecue, a beach picnic for the whole wedding party, rental cars, rehearsal luau, surfing and hang-gliding lessons, and a pathway of purple orchids leading to the minister (rose petals tend to blow away).
And they plan to return in 10 years with all their guests to open a time capsule they created.
Wedding Beach Permits
Since 2008, state law has required every couple that wants to marry on a beach to have a permit from the Department of Land and Natural Resources.
“The DLNR has four pages of instructions about what you can and cannot do,” says Larry LaSota, president of the Kauai Wedding Professionals Association. “There’s a two-hour time frame and only so many permits are being issued in that two-hour time frame.
“There was this big fear in the industry (when the rules began) that ‘There goes the wedding business in Hawaii,’ but weddings still prevail. In fact, it really only had a positive effect as far as I can tell. It has worked with the fact that there are regulations (against) tiki torches and chairs on the beach.”
LaSota says permits are easy to get, and wedding planners generally handle that for couples since you need liability insurance to get a permit. The cost is about $20 to $50 depending on how many square feet of space are needed; the minimum is 200 square feet, says wedding planner Iben Dwight, of Weddings Hawaii.
Dwight says brides are often disappointed when they learn they can’t set up chairs or tiki torches on the beach – as they may have seen in Hawaii wedding pictures. However, “Once they come here, everything else doesn’t matter because they’re just so happy to be here. At home, they’re all stressed out planning their wedding, so sometimes we joke with our brides, ‘You’ve just got to get on that plane and get here and everything will be fine,’” says Dwight. “You just have to get here and get yourself a mai tai.”
Auspicious Wedding Dates
It used to be that everyone wanted to be married on Valentine’s Day, says Tim Saunders, photographer and production manager for Kauai’s Kilohana Photography, which shoots about six weddings a week in the summer.
Not anymore. “Now it’s all about numbers,” says Saunders. “One of the trends we’ve seen since 7/7/07 is that people are really going after these numbers. Jan. 11, ’11 was big. Nov. 11 is big this year. And 9/10/11 – that’s Sept. 10, ’11 – is even bigger.”
The biggest so far was July 7, 2007, agrees Larry LaSota, president of the Kauai Wedding Professionals Association. “That eclipsed all the others by 2 to 1. But, right now, everybody is booked up for 11/11/11, and I think we probably were by last year.”
Last year, says LaSota, there were quite a few weddings on 10/10/10 at 10 a.m. “After we hit 12/12/12, it will be 11/12/13 and then 12/13/14, but that’s where it stops.”
Making Marriage Licenses Easier
State Department of Health registrar Dr. Alvin T. Onaka says 62 percent of the weddings in Hawaii are between nonresidents. Partly because of that, but also to improve efficiency, the state is simplifying the process of applying for a license.
By Jan. 1, 2012, DOH says it will introduce an Internet-based system for applications, though the couple will still have to appear in person to get the license.
“It will coincide with our implementation of civil unions,” says Onaka. “It’s important to provide a good service for the people flying in.” Potentially, he says, licenses could be picked up at the clients’ hotel, if it has a private agent who can issue the license in person.