The most important aspect of putting together a wedding in Hawaii, celebrity wedding planner David Tutera told a rapt audience at the Modern Honolulu on Waikiki Beach, was surprising guests – creating an environment that’s the opposite of what they’re expecting.
Surprises were certainly in ample supply for a group of Canadian destination wedding experts who recently spent a week on the archipelago, with the visit serving to enlighten the team on Hawaii’s array of diverse wedding offerings – and dispel some popular preconceptions that existed about tying the knot there.
Led by Hawaii Tourism’s Lea-Ann Goltz, the group’s immersive experience in Hawaii provided a closer look at O'ahu’s Waikiki Beach and North Shore areas, coinciding with Wedding Week Hawaii in an itinerary that combined site inspections with invaluable networking opportunities.
The scenic backdrop for the Paradise Cove luau.
Reflecting Hawaii’s burgeoning status as a location to get hitched, the FAM also showed the specialists that the associated costs of a wedding in Hawaii are not as prohibitive as they may seem.
“I was under the impression that it would be much more expensive to do a wedding in Hawaii,” Rock-it Travel’s Shauna Sharp told PAX, “but really, it is not. They have many locations where budget is no option, but other locations and services where they can fit into a budget.
“Many of them [destination representatives] talked about budgets, and that they can work with any type of budget.”
Town and country balance
Another of the most striking revelations from the week was the sheer range and variety of wedding options that Hawaii can offer across each of its islands. Karishma Chowfin, director of travel industry sales at the O'ahu Visitor’s Bureau, had welcomed the group by emphasizing the state’s ‘town and country’ appeal, and that was apparent throughout a week that saw the group take in both the hustle and bustle of Waikiki Beach and the more detached, idyllic atmosphere of Oahu’s scenic North Shore.
Four Seasons Resort O'ahu.
“I didn’t realize how many different wedding options, and such a variety of activities, are available on such a small island,” commented Weddings by Escapes’ Ashley Honigman. “O'ahu offers such a great mix of city life, shopping, luxury hotels, beautiful beaches, and variety of wedding venues – from oceanfront, to dramatic lush jungle backdrops.
“Now that I’ve seen it, I really think it is the perfect place for a destination wedding.”
That diversity of experience on offer in Hawaii, the group agreed, was one of its most unique selling points. With ‘something for everyone,’ Keeley Dahl of Liz Moore Destination Weddings noted, “no-one would ever get bored in this destination.”
Waikiki Beach provided the setting for the first stage of the FAM, with the group visiting a range of properties dotted across the world-renowned strip. While its busy downtown atmosphere was apparent throughout, it also strikes a neat balance with more relaxed offerings; the iconic Royal Hawaiian hotel, for instance, was described during the tour as an ‘oasis’ on Waikiki Beach, featuring the ‘best of both worlds,’ and it’s a description that could easily be applied to a host of other properties along the strip – with the prospect of relaxation and repose blending with a world of excitement on their doorstep.
Taking a closer look at East Honolulu's picturesque Bayer Estate.
Hawaii’s uniqueness as a venue for destination weddings also shone through for the specialists present, with its potential for an inimitable wedding experience one of the key takeaways from the trip. “Hawaii can offer some amazing, unique venues to my clients that no other destination can offer,” reflected Away U Go Destination Weddings & Honeymoons’ Sheila Barry to PAX.
“It’s different,” agreed Sharp. “Most of the brides and grooms today want something different and Hawaii can give them that. It is going to offer them an experience more than just a beach… knowing we can fit most budgets, it is even more attractive to clients, because they can look for the ‘something different’ that most of them are seeking today.”
Wedding facilities on offer at The Willows, Honolulu.
World-class wedding facilities are on display throughout the hotels of the Hawaiian islands – with the group also having the chance to get first-hand experience of several impressive options including the peaceful Willows Restaurant and the stunning Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum.
The historic Bayer Estate, meanwhile, offers a combination of a charming, quaint, indoor area with an expansive garden and picturesque beach views – with the short journey from Waikiki Beach marking a swift transition from town to country.
For the specialists in attendance, one of Hawaii’s most appealing features for destination weddings was the distinctive culture that pervades every aspect of life on the island; Preety Jaswal of Champagne Weddings & Travel noted that the ‘cookie-cutter’ element of destination weddings was nowhere to be found.
“In Hawaii, there are so many little things that can be done to embrace the culture, since it’s all about the ohana (family),” she remarked, “so everyone feels involved and a part of the event.”
The group was provided a special behind-the-scenes look at O'ahu's historic 'Iolani Palace.
From an immersive luau experience at Paradise Cove to a behind-the-scenes tour of the spectacular ‘Iolani Palace and a perusal of the KCC Farmers’ Market, authentic Hawaiian culture was visible at every turn during the FAM – with one of the most memorable moments occurring during a healing and spiritual cleansing ceremony on the beach by sunrise.
There was plenty of added value in those experiences, too, according to the specialists; a Hawaiian vow renewal ceremony, for instance, is offered at no extra charge by the Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Hotel. Having performed ceremonies for around 16,000 couples throughout the past 16 years, the property has only had to cancel the vow renewal due to poor weather conditions three times during that period.
Spectacular views of Diamond Head (known as Le'ahi in Hawaii), such as this one from Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach, are a staple of O'ahu's wedding offerings.
Those cultural experiences were essential in providing a taste of Hawaii’s local flavour, with Honigman saying they allow visitors to “feel more connected to the people and to truly appreciate the uniqueness of the island.”
Ultimately, it was that uniqueness that seemed to shine through for the group, with Champagne Weddings & Travel’s Courtney Pilon noting the ‘amazing experience’ that can be infused into a wedding by Hawaii’s culture and people. “Absolutely anything they [clients] envisage can come to life in Hawaii,” she commented.
An enriching cultural experience
Addressing the group during a lavish evening dinner ceremony on the grounds of the ‘Iolani Palace, whose imposing structure loomed in the background, Oahu Visitors’ Bureau Executive Director Noelani Schilling-Wheeler put Hawaii’s distinctive appeal into words.
“It’s somewhere that embraces you, no matter where you’re from,” she remarked. “By touching the place, and experiencing the people and the culture, you are truly enriched. How better to start your lives together than to have such a cultural experience?”
Stay tuned for more coverage from Hawaii, as PAX takes a closer look at O'ahu's rugged, tranquil North Shore!