8 Great “Destination Wedding” Venues in the US

asiseeit_fayette_headshotMany couples tying the knot these days are not only looking for different kinds of ceremonies and receptions, but unique and memorable locations as well. More and more weddings are veering away from the traditional ceremony and reception, and instead heading toward what is known as the “Destination Wedding”. Typically these types of weddings result in smaller numbers of people attending, but allow for couples’ friends and families to experience an unbelievable day to remember.

Here are some of the most popular “Destination Wedding” ideas happening around the U.S.:

Central Park- NY, NY

The Wedding of Evan and CherylNew York City is arguably the most iconic city in America, so why not select a weekend afternoon in the ‘The City That Never Sleeps’ to exchange wedding vows? Though the venues in NYC are seemingly endless, perhaps Central Park is the most ideal location for a wedding. Nestled between the busy city avenues and skyscrapers, sits the tranquil beauty of this green-filled park. With nearly a dozen locations available throughout the park, the Conservatory Garden, the Pond, and the Boathouse are three annual favorites for weddings. It should also be noted that the famous Tavern on the Green is currently under renovation and inquiries about its expected time of re-opening should be checked on a regular basis. It’s important to know that there are fees, applications, and certain restrictions that go along with having a wedding in Central Park; for example No alcohol, amplified music, or tents are permitted in the park. For more information and to download an application visit the NYC Dept. of Parks & Recreation’s website at www.nycgovparks.org/.

Mall of America- Minneapolis, Minnesota

moaGetting married in a mall? Yes, believe it or not, America’s largest mall plays host to hundreds of weddings a year, having had more than 5,000 performed since its opening. With over 4-million square feet of building area, 520+ stores, and a twenty-five ride and attraction amusement park built inside, it’s no wonder that more than 40-million people visit the MOA every year. But a wedding, really? The fact is the Mall of America has several venues to accommodate just about any style and budget. The MOA even has… (Move over Elvis…) The Chapel of Love! Catering to those who can’t get enough of ‘retail America’, the chapel has photographers, hairstyling, dresses and tuxes, and more all at your disposal. And they of course take all major credit cards. Find out how to book your nuptials by visiting www.MallOfAmerica.com .

Grand Canyon

grandcanyonFor a more rustic approach to tying the knot many couples are venturing to one of the country’s great natural wonders, the Grand Canyon. Some of the more popular ways to celebrate the big day in that area is to be helicoptered in and dropped off onto the peak of a mesa, or ride the historic Grand Canyon Railway from Williams, Arizona that winds through the magnificent canyon with all its colors and beauty. The helicopter rides range in price as well as duration. Bridal parties can view the Hoover Dam and Las Vegas from high above, as well as take in remarkable sunsets as they come and go from the majestic Grand Canyon. Staying more down to earth, the Grand Canyon Railway excursions offer a slower pace, yet still a memorable wedding day. Bridal parties can reserve their own 1923 rail car or mingle in with other passengers. Full-service wedding packages are available and an outdoor wedding permit is required by the National Park Service by calling (928) 638-7841.

Monterey and Carmel, California

MontereyDotted along the Pacific coast sits some absolutely incredible venues for a one-of-a-kind wedding. Carmel and Monterey, California offer breathtaking backdrops for a bride and groom’s magical day. From Monterey’s rocky cliffs to Carmel’s soft sandy beaches, this region gives couples a variety of spectacular venues to choose from. From Stewart’s Cove to Carmel Beach, and Cypress Point at Pebble Beach to the Monterey Stone Chapel in the Redwoods, this area of the Pacific Coast region is home to hundreds of “I Do’s” each year. Booking reservations at a specific area requires timely planning and flexibility of venues and dates, so couples are encouraged to make their plans as soon as possible. www.MontereyWeddings.com is a great place to view all that is offered for weddings in the region.

Rocky Mountains- Colorado region

rockiesIt’s widely known that for skiing enthusiasts there perhaps is no better place to be from mid-autumn to late-spring than the ski trails of Colorado. So it only seems natural that for those who happen to be planning a wedding and enjoy fresh Rocky Mountain powder Colorado is a perfect destination for them. Of course the summer months in the Rockies are also ideal for a memorable wedding. Perhaps the most popular location in the region is Aspen. With an array of hotels, restaurants and activities, Aspen is built for special events. Other Rocky Mountain venues that are perfect for weddings are Golden, Denver, Breckenridge, and Vail, Colorado. Whether winter, spring, summer, or fall, the Rockies offer fun, adventure, and endless memories for brides, grooms, and their families and friends. Finding a location and time of year to suit the soon-to-be-newlyweds in the Rocky Mountain region will take some research and maybe even a couple “fieldtrips”. A great online resource to get your magical day planned is appropriately titled www.RockyMountainBride.com .

Atlantis- Paradise Island, Bahamas

atlantisLike Muhammad Ali knew boxing, the Beatles knew rock n’ roll, and Michael Jordan knows sneakers; with fifteen locations situated around Paradise Island, Atlantis knows weddings. Whether it’s a sunrise or sunset ceremony, a flower-filled or sandy beach backdrop, or a reception for twelve or five hundred, Atlantis at Paradise Island has it covered. From barefoot casual to over-the-top elegant the possibilities are endless for one’s storybook wedding. With the serenity of the Caribbean rippling in the background couples can exchange vows at the secluded Cove Beach. For those looking for a little more ‘wow-factor’ in their ceremony and reception a reservation at Ripples may be just the ticket. Surrounded by a Mayan-style décor and breathtaking water features, a wedding at Ripples will have guests talking about it for years to come. A complete guide to weddings on Paradise Island can be found at www.Atlantis.com . Here visitors will be reminded of what to ask and what to expect when planning a destination wedding in the Bahamas. And remember, U.S. citizens are required to have a passport in order to return to the U.S. (which when you think of it, may be a great place to get stuck for awhile).

Epcot- Disney World, Florida

epcotFor generations Disney World in Central Florida has been thought as a childhood destination. But today the land of Mickey is playing host to nearly two-thousand Cinderella-like weddings each year. Though Disney offers dozens of places to hold a ceremony and reception, I think the most unique venues can be found at a place that may not come to mind right of the bat– the Epcot amusement park. Epcot’s World Showcase takes visitors on a trip around the world, with an incredible attention to detail paid to each country’s highlights. It is here that a bride and groom can choose to be married alongside an English countryside, next to a cascading Canadian waterfall, or with a replica of Rome’s Trevi fountain set as their backdrop. From flowers to cakes, and ceremony to fireworks-filled reception, the wedding planners at Epcot will be there to assist the happy couple every step of the way. Wedding venues at Epcot’s World Showcase can be found within the countries of Canada, United Kingdom, France, Italy, China, Germany, Japan, and Morocco. To start making plans for your Epcot destination wedding visit www.disneyweddings.com .

Fenway Park- Boston, Massachusetts

kimberly + blake | fenway park wedding | boston, massThere are sports fans across the country that would go to the ends of the earth for their favorite team or player. Perhaps there is no place in America where this is truer than in the city of Boston, where fans do just about anything for their beloved baseball Redsox. Having been crowned World Series champions three-times over the past decade, there is no hotter ticket in sports today than that with the Boston Redsox logo attached to it. With all of that in mind, many fanatic couples try to make the Redsox part of their wedding day in any way possible. Whether they decorate their reception hall with red and blue flowers, or have their bridal party decked out in home and away uniforms, some fans just want their favorite team part of their big day. On the other hand, more and more couples are taking their fanaticism to a whole new level; “upper deck level” that is.  The Boston Redsox, like many other sports franchises across the country, are now catering to their over-the-top fans by opening sections of the stadium for wedding ceremonies and receptions before, during, and after the game. Fenway Park’s history and charm can now be captured on sunny afternoon or starlit night during a Redsox home-stand or even while the stadium is vacant. Brides can say their vows from the famed Green Monster, or overlooking homeplate from the EMC Club, which seats up to 300 guests. So warm up your vocal chords for a rousing rendition of “Sweet Caroline” and contact the management of Fenway Park at www.Redsox.com  to book your upcoming wedding.

So from a ballpark to a mall, or an island to a mountain top, the U.S. has some amazing venues for those couples looking to create a once-in-a-lifetime wedding memory. Where will your dream wedding be?

Family Getaway: Key West

asiseeit_fayette_headshotFor decades Key West, Florida has been seen as the ultimate adult getaway. From Bike week, the Hemingway Festival, and FantasyFest, Key West has created an aura of over-indulgence and the lowering of one’s inhibitions. And while to many that may truly be the case, my annual visits over the past ten years have found a let’s say, ‘Kinder and gentler Key West’. I have traveled there with my wife many times as a couples’ retreat, but we’ve also included the entire family as well on occasion. From seemingly limitless eating choices to non-stop water fun, the Conch Republic is a fabulous place to plan your next family getaway.

My home away from home is always the Hyatt Sunset Harbor located on the Gulf end of Duval Street. This resort is located just next to Mallory Square and its boardwalk. EveningsIMG_4003 produce breathtaking sunsets, while mornings awake to cruse ships making Key West their next port of call. The rooms at Sunset Harbor range from studios to 2-bedroom suites. All accommodations are spacious, and always up to Hyatt expectations. Their pool and hot tub are the centerpiece of many daily poolside activities.

If a resort setting isn’t your family’s style, Key West is packed with Bed & Breakfast inns, as well as VRBOs (vacation rentals by owner). Depending on your budget, your stay can be in an entire house or the sharing of one with another couple or family. Many of these rentals will even allow for the family pet to come along as well, but always make sure you check that out with management, and get it in writing, prior to arrival.

For those that have always dreamed of living on the water, there are many motor yachts and houseboats that are able to be rented out by the week or month. Some come with a complete crew, while others allow you and your family to sail solo.

IMG_4059When it comes to the ultimate in getting away from it all, there is no better place to stay in Key West than on a private island known as Sunset Key. Approximately three-quarters of the island located just to the west of Mallory Square consists of private homes, but the remaining quarter of the island has 1-bedroom to 3-bedroom cottages, along with pool facilities and a private beach. My annual visit to the island’s exceptional restaurant, Latitudes, lets me enjoy the surroundings if only for a couple hours, and keeps me dreaming for yet another year.

Getting around Key West is extremely easy. No car necessary! While my family usually walks from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean (about 14 blocks on Duval), bicycle and motor cart rentals are also available on a daily to weekly basis. Taxis are readily available, as well as pedicabs too. My taxi driver (I like to say that…) is saved in my contacts for a quick call when I arrive at the airport, and when my vacation is over. When staying in the historic section of the island known as Old Key West that’s about the only time I ever need a cab. While Key West is very pedestrian-friendly and speed limit concerns are rarely an issue, its always important to still be alert so your stay isn’t cut short by an incident.

Water fun on Key West can be non-stop. From ocean fishing to sunset dinner cruises, and jet skiing to snorkeling, the activities on the water are so numerous that you may not have a enough time toIMG_4031 take them all in on one stay. While I have enjoyed several excursions with the Fury and Sebago companies, my most enjoyable have been with Danger Charters. While the larger companies have you aboard with 40-50 others, the Danger Charters schooner only holds about twenty. My most recent adventure with ‘Danger’ started around 9:30 in the morning. Sailing out about five miles to the Strait of Florida we were able to snorkel for about 90 minutes on one of the world’s greatest reefs. One of the three crew on board Danger Charters actually became our snorkeling guide as she showed us the places to view amazing fish and underwater creatures. Following a fresh fruit and water break, two of the crew split the group and took us on a fabulous kayak journey around the Key West National Nature Preserve. This uninhabited island plays home to incredible wildlife as well as unique trees and plants. On our return the sails went up on the multi-mast schooner for a fun 60-minute sail.

Booking for either half-day or full-day excursions is as easy as going online and selecting the package that is right for your family. Whether it’s parasailing over the Gulf or jet skiing around this 2 by 4-mile island of Key West, a day on the water is sure to create a lifetime of memories. And when the busy day is coming to an end there is no better way to take in the famous Key West sunsets than by enjoying them aboard dinner and/or sunset cruises. Many companies have varied packages with one to surely fit every family’s needs.

IMG_4017If you’d rather enjoy a meal on dry land Key West is certainly not lacking for fantastic food choices. Many of the island’s restaurants have been featured in worldwide publications and on national food and travel television networks. Starting off in the morning a trip to a couple of Key West’s best breakfast stops is bound to get your family’s day rolling in the right direction. For me it comes down to three ‘can’t miss’ places. Two Friends Patio is open all day long, but their homestyle breakfasts are always a good start to the day. LeCreperie is an amazing new restaurant on my ‘foodie radar’. Located just off Duval St., their savory crepe stuffed with scrambled eggs, various cheeses, and bacon is enough to make you wish breakfast time would never end. Perhaps my favorite breakfast stop is Pepe’s, located down by the marina. While they serve what may be considered a typically good breakfast, be sure to order their ‘toast of the day’; and pray to God that it is Coconut Toast. One bite of this beautiful piece of toasted homemade bread, and you may never look at toast the same way ever again.

The lunch choices on Key West can range from a one-of-a-kind burger experience at Garbo’s Grill to a mouth-watering lobster roll from DJs Clam Shack. I also recently stumbled across a great little Italian food and pizzeria restaurant called Onlywood. Located down a narrow lane off of Duval sits this little slice of Italy. With tables for eating inside or out, this place fires up some of the most outstanding pizza I have ever had the pleasure to enjoy. With its wood oven approaching a mind-boggling 1,000-degrees, the custom made pizza pies are ready in mere moments after ordering. Blue Heaven, Sunset Pier, and Sloppy Joe’s are also fun places to take the entire family for lunch. With great live entertainment daily and unique surroundings, all three locations serve great-tasting lunches with flair.

For evening dinners, one of the largest menus in Key West can be found at Fogarty’s on Duval. With open-air seating, this restaurant serves up great tasting juicy burgers to high-quality steaks, andIMG_4076 savory salmon to delicious desserts. Located adjacent to the restaurant is the Flying Monkey Saloon, serving delicious frozen drinks for moms and dads, as well as for the “under-agers” too. Fine dining reaches its pinnacle at The Hot Tin Roof, located at the Ocean Key Resort & Spa. Overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, this premiere location is only outdone by its exquisite menu. Starting with an appetizer of tuna tartare and a tomato burrata salad, followed by an entree of scallop risotto or Latin braised short ribs, executive chef Jason Westphal promises a dining experience to remember. For dining in a less formal setting, a family can enjoy a great dinner at the Conch Republic Restaurant by the marina or Pinchers Crab Shack located along Duval St. Both serve a wide menu that is sure to please adults and kids.

History abounds in Key West. A stroll through the Truman Annex will lead you to the Little White House where President Harry S. Truman spent much of his time when not in Washington DC. Various art galleries and antique shops line the streets of Old Key West. One of the highlights of the history of Key West is the Mel Fisher treasure museum, where visitors can view Fisher’s motherload from the Atocha shipwreck. This, as well as the Key West Aquarium, Fort Zachary, and the Shipwreck IMG_4082Museum can provide hours of learning and fun while on vacation. Imagine that?!

Hitting the beaches while in Key West is highly recommended. Smathers Beach along the Atlantic Ocean and Fort Zachary State Park are two of the best. While Smathers is free, Ft. Zachary is a little less crowded because of the nominal fee. At Ft. Zachary State Park beach goers will enjoy a sense of complete solitude, while those choosing Smathers Beach will have a large selection of water sports and rentals to choose from.

So when you hear someone mention Key West in the future don’t be fooled by what you’ve heard about the crazy Spring Breakers or FantasyFest crazies. Check the KeyWest.com website Events Calendar, and you may find your vacation will coincide with their annual Food Festival or Key Lime Pie Week. As I’ve so often said, Key West is Paradise Found, for couples and families alike.

Welcome to Miami Beach

asiseeit_fayette_headshotFrom Aventura to Key Biscayne the winter months in Miami Beach area are covered in white…..from the miles of sun-soaked beaches that is. Though snow doesn’t fall in South Florida, there is fun for all ages. Sunny Isles, Bal Harbour, Miami Beach, and South Beach all sit along the Atlantic Ocean inviting visitors to their pristine beaches and 75-degree waters. Just across Biscayne Bay Downtown Miami, Coconut Grove, and Littlewelcom-miami-beach Havana are bustling with various weekend that meld cultures into one. So for a change of pace from falling snow and temperatures in the forties, consider Miami for an upcoming winter getaway.

Tours around the Miami area are as diverse as the culture itself. Whether strolling through the Art Deco District of South Beach, sobeenjoying the beauty of the Miami Beach Botanical Garden, or experiencing the tastes of region with the Miami Culinary Tour, this slice of paradise is sure to have you quickly forgetting about the snow and cold back home. Along Ocean Drive is the historic Art Deco District of SoBe (South Beach). The architecture is timeless, the names iconic, and the history behind each building is fascinating. From The Clevelander to The Carlyle the beauty of the area screams SoBe! Just a few blocks from the Atlantic sits a quiet and serene setting known as the Miami Beach Botanical Garden. Open during the daytime hours, this 2 ½ acre area of greenspace offers a retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. Built in the 1960s and refurbished in 2011, the Miami Beach Botanical Garden is home to many native miacultourplants and flowers such as the palms, cycads, and orchids and many others. Whether you’re in Miami for the first time or making a return visit, a ‘must do’ is booking an afternoon or evening with the Miami Culinary Tour. On a recent visit to Miami Beach my daughter, Morgan, and I were given a walking tour through the streets of South Beach with more than a half-dozen stops at some of the area’s finest restaurants. Mirka was our energetic and informative guide for the Miami Culinary Tour, and shared with us the history, culture, and even gossip of SoBe. Our 3-hour tour (nod to Gilligan) included tasty samples of authentic empanadas, ceviche, churros, and gelato. All of these locations aim to help make your stay that more memorable.

While northerners may be skiing the slopes or sliding down Grandpa’s hill during the winter, those guests to Miami can kayak the waters of Oleta River State Park or soak in the sun on the miles kayakof beaches along the Atlantic Ocean. Nestled in North Miami is the Oleta River State Park. From the moment you arrive it’s hard to remember that you are in the middle of one of the busiest cities in America. The Oleta River State Park offers kayak and canoe rentals through the mango trees and even mountain bike rentals through several trails of various skill levels. Imagine kayaking on Biscayne Bay instead of fighting snowplows? After an enjoyable day at the park maybe grabbing a few hours of the fading winter sun on the sands of Miami Beach is just what the doctor ordered. From Sunny Isles to South Beach, and then Key Biscayne and Coral Gables, the Miami region has miles of beautiful sand beaches.

artdecoMiami is packed with fantastic stores and boutiques. From the Aventura Mall located in the northern part of Miami to the open air market-like experience of Lincoln Road, guests and locals always find unique shopping and a variety of restaurants to enjoy throughout the Miami region.

miabchEntertainment is nearly non-stop in Miami. From the hundreds of clubs and pubs to world class entertainment, there is always something going on in and around South Florida. The NBA’s Miami Heat and NHL’s Florida Panthers will all be hosting home games during the winter months and into the playoff drive of the spring.

So think about putting the parka away and start digging out that beachesswimsuit from the back of the closet, Miami Beach awaits you with warm temperatures, sunny skies, and friendly locals to help you forget about the winter season.