Planning a Wedding on the Big Island, Hawaii
I never really fantasised about a destination wedding until I met my husband. Since I’m Australian and he’s American, we had to decide whether we would have two weddings (one in each country); ask one of our families to travel long distance for one wedding, or ask everyone in our families to travel and meet halfway. The halfway option worked best for us because it meant that all of our immediate family was able to attend the one wedding, have a holiday and finally meet one another. It also meant that our wedding photos included all of our closest family members.
We started planning our wedding late in 2014 and aimed to be married in November 2015. The first thing we booked was accommodation. Having never been to Hawaii myself, I figured that most weddings occurred on Oahu or Maui so I asked my Dad to look into accommodation there because he is a member of an accommodation club known as Wyndham in Australia and Worldmark in America. There wasn’t enough accommodation available for the number we expected on either of those islands, but Worldmark was able to offer accommodation on the Big Island.
If you don’t know much about the Big Island, it might surprise you to learn that as you are flying into Kona, you will see a lot of hardened, black lava rock. It is a mysterious site, very different from golden sandy beaches and green leafy coconut trees. However, after you hire a car and drive out of Kona vegetation gradually starts rearing its head towards Waikoloa Village and other areas of the island. The accommodation my Dad booked at Paniolo Greens exceeded my expectations. The dark lava rock gave way to the luscious green lawns of Paniolo’s golf course. The rooms have fully equipped kitchens, bathrooms, washer and dryer. A lot of them have balconies or outdoor eating areas as well. Paniolo offers a gymnasium, tennis court, spa, pool, and adjacent to the pool is a large recreation room with an outdoor barbequing area. You do not have to be part of Worldmark to book accommodation there and the rooms are fairly well priced.
To travel around the Big Island, you will need to hire a car. There are plenty of bus tours, but not a lot of public transportation. Using a Costco Travel membership is a good way to hire a car more cost-effectively. Costco Travel requires a US mailing address and rental car companies will need to see your Costco Travel card. Additionally, some credit cards cover rental car insurance so that you don’t have to pay significantly more when hiring your car, though you would need to research which credit cards this applies to.
After booking our accommodation and hire cars, we needed to book our wedding reception venue so that we could send out wedding invitations to family and friends. My husband and I looked into: Fairmont Orchid, Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows, Islands at Mauna Lani, Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, Hilton Waikoloa Village and Lava Lava Beach Club.
Some of the reasons we chose Lava Lava Beach Club are: tables would be on the beach with a view of the ocean, lighting was provided, food would be set up like a buffet and there was plenty to choose from, the price per person was affordable, we were able to cap the alcohol and since we did not reach our cap we were only charged for what was consumed.
We were initially concerned about the fact that it was a public restaurant so other people would be there eating, we would have live entertainment–for better or worse–there would be no dance floor and no microphones unless we hired them. But as it turned out, there was a large open space between our 5 tables and the restaurant tables which meant noise didn’t really carry. We held our speeches without microphones while the musicians were on a break and that worked out fine. We were also able to use that open space as a dance floor. So in the end I felt as though Lava Lava was pretty perfect! It cost us approximately $3250 USD for 31 people all inclusive.
Not long after booking the reception, we found a Hawaiian photographer, David O’Baldwin recommended by staff at Paniolo Greens and Lava Lava. We also highly recommend him. He was absolutely phenomenal on the day and the pictures turned out beautifully. We hired him for 2 hours, but because I was more than 30 minutes late to the wedding, he stayed overtime and gave us a discount on the additional time spent with us so that I would have every different photograph I wanted–and I had a list!
David has a great personality. When I arrived, I felt anxious about being late and he reminded me that it was my special day. He didn’t seem the least bit rattled by my tardiness; he was friendly and happy. This put me at ease and David kept up his beautiful manner for the next two hours. He was easy to contact prior to the wedding and was able to organise our beach permit so that we could have our ceremony at Anaeho’omalu Bay, a short walk from our reception at Lava Lava. This was an idyllic place to have our wedding with white sand, palm trees and an oceanic background. I made the beach entry way my aisle and our niece threw rose petals.
There were a few minor pitfalls with having a beach wedding:
1. The petals my niece threw, strictly had to be picked up after the wedding or we could be fined for littering
2. Beach-related chairs are permitted at Anaeho’omalu Bay, but commercial chairs are not. We used 4 chairs for our 3 parents and 1 grandparent and had the rest of our guests stand
3. Fixed structures are not permitted on public beaches so my husband was unfortunately not allowed to design an archway out of balloons
Basically this means we had no decorations, furniture, or other wedding related apparel at the ceremony. It was just 31 people on a beach with a few chairs. Mind you, again, the photos look gorgeous and I do not feel as though we missed out.
If you desire chairs and an archway then I recommend Lava Lava’s grass area which overlooks the ocean. It will mean additional costs to have your wedding on the grass, hire chairs and hire an archway, it will also mean you are not actually on the beach, but it might spare you the sand in your wedding shoes that I experienced because I was wearing closed in heals–a slight misjudgement on my part.
JD and I made our wedding invitations on the cheap. This is very untraditional and my sister was honest and said she was disappointed that she didn’t receive a printed invitation. We invited probably more than 100 people, half of whom were in the US and Canada, and the other half in Australia. We used two digital photographs from our elopement day and wrote the accommodation, ceremony and reception details on the photographs, then emailed them around the world. The main problem we experienced with emailing invitations was that not everyone gave us a response and we just assumed they weren’t coming, or followed up and asked them whether they were coming. I wondered if people did not take emailed invitations as seriously as posted invitations, but the fact that it was a destination wedding probably factored in as well–obviously this kind of wedding draws a smaller attendance.
I was somewhat nervous about organising to have my hair and makeup done, bouquets put together and a cake made without knowing exactly what any of these things would turn out like until the day of my wedding.
I contacted a few flower shops and had quotes from Kona Flower Shoppe and Hawaii Floral Express. The reason I chose Hawaii Floral Express is because my contact there, Lisa, asked a lot of questions in order to really understand what I wanted in my bouquets. She did an excellent job combining roses, gerberas, frangipanis, orchids and a few other flowers in multiple colours with the majority being pinks and reds, exactly as I requested. She also crafted starfish boutonnieres for the groom and groomsmen. The only thing she forgot to include was the basket for the rose petals that our niece threw, but we were able to find a suitable substitute. Flowers, rose petals, star fish and delivery cost approx. $485 USD and were delivered to our resort several hours before the wedding.
I received cake quotes from Short n Sweet and Kona Sweets. Short and Sweet was a little bit above what I wanted to pay so I opted for Kona Sweets and the cake Janel made was absolutely delicious. I requested a traditional (English style) fruit cake for our top layer, with marzipan icing, and my husband chose a coconut, carrot and pineapple cake with buttercream icing for the bottom layer. The cake was white with a few icing frangipanis on the side. I forgot to request that the flowers be coloured so that was my oversight. But we were very happy with the cake and it was more than enough for 31 people–our family finished it two days later. Our particular cake cost approx. $270 USD. It was delivered to Lava Lava on the day of the wedding and we paid nearly as much for a cake table as we did for a cake–c’est la vie (or as we Aussies might say: thems the breaks).
I searched for several different hair and makeup places and the one that seemed most reputable was Big Island Hair.
Rachel came to Paniolo Greens at 10:30am and we discussed my ideas for hair styles and natural looking makeup. It took nearly 6 hours for myself and two bridesmaids to have our hair curled and pinned and our makeup applied. It was estimated to take 4.5hours and I was between 30 and 45 minutes late for my wedding which was set to be at 4pm. Makeup and hair looked basically how I wanted them to, but if I’d had more time I would have made sure to take the lip gloss with me and reapply it and I would have asked for the top of my hair to be fixed as it ended up looking lumpy. I think that partly had to do with the humidity and also the fact that my hair is generally very straight and is not used to being buffy. I didn’t think to communicate this, and we ran out of time for making things extra-perfect. However, it was good enough. For 3 of us to have our hair and makeup done it cost approximately $775 USD.
What do you wear at a beach wedding? My husband and both groomsmen and our page boy all wore khaki pants, a white button up shirt and white thongs (the Aussie word for flip flops). Depending where you buy from, you should be able to buy these items fairly cheap. We did, however, pay for alterations on the trouser legs. We bought our groomsmen’s outfits and bridesmaid dresses because we figured they were paying a lot to actually attend the wedding.
I wanted to wear a traditional, white wedding dress, and I bought my dress in July 2014 while I was in the USA. Australian wedding dresses are expensive, but bridal stores do have discount racks and occasionally you might find what you are looking for at a discounted price. I specifically wanted a halter neck dress which wasn’t very overly popular in 2014. One bridal store on The Horsley Drive in Fairfield, NSW, told me they could custom make my dress for approximately $2500, and that was back in 2013, if memory serves. My sister’s wedding dress cost closer to $5000 AUD back in 2008. Of course every bride should spend what she wants to spend on her wedding dress and that is no one else’s business, but if you have a tight budget, there are plenty of wedding dresses for sale on ebay, gumtree, and still white, and other websites.
I found that American bridal stores seem to have more variety in the lower price ranges than Australian stores. My budget was around $1000 AUD (give or take a couple hundred) and I was determined to buy something while I was there, about to become engaged to my future husband. It took two days of shopping with my mother-in-law and sister-in-law to finally find a dress that was basically what I wanted, except that I needed a longer length and the neckline required altering to halter neck. It was approximately $580 USD which, at that time, was little over $600 AUD. I ordered it, had my husband bring it to Australia when he moved here the following year, and then had the dress altered by a friend for $200 AUD. Dry cleaning cost $180 AUD after having taken it on and off several times during the alterations. I also had it steamed in Hawaii so that it wouldn’t looked crinkled and straight out of a suitcase on our big day. That cost another $100 USD, so I ended up spending just over $1100 AUD and just under $1000 USD due to different exchange rates at different times. I was more than satisfied.
I searched for ruby red bridesmaid dresses on ebay and found two that were just above the knee line for $25 AUD each. When they arrived, the bridesmaids weren’t sure whether they liked them, but after having them altered to halter neck, the dresses sat better on the girls and they were happy. I was even happier. The bridesmaid dresses that I looked at in Australia were around $200 and upwards. I was willing to spend $100 on each dress but couldn’t find anything I liked for that price in my local formal dress stores. I was even more thrilled that we were all wearing halter neck dresses as that was both mine and my husband’s preference.
One of our nieces in America was our flower girl. I described a few dresses that I thought would go nicely and we exchanged picture ideas over facebook. My sister-in-law found the perfect dress, mostly white with some burgundy flowers that went well with the ruby red shade of the bridesmaid dresses.
I needed to buy wedding shoes while I was having the dress altered, so that we could make sure it was the right length, so I ordered them online for just over $100 AUD. If I’d known that the sand would ruin them, I would probably have searched for open-toed flip flop style wedding shoes instead of closed-toed heals. But I did like the style of shoes and I have a few photos that show off the shoes. They lasted the night and I threw them out before coming home.
My bridesmaids and I went shopping for accessories about a month before the wedding and found some comfortable open-toed shoes for them, some (fake) gold earrings and bangles and spent well under $100 AUD. There were also white thongs / flip flops sold at Kmart for $2 AUD that I was able to buy for our flower girl and could have bought for our groomsmen if we hadn’t already ordered some online.
A few days before flying out my bridesmaids and I had our nails done and our hair dyed. The wedding was set a full week after having my nails done and they grew out a little bit but it wasn’t noticeable in the photographs. Having our nails done in Hawaii would have taken time out of site seeing and being with family.
My sister helped me design my wedding order-of-service inexpensively on snapfish, and although we were fairly late in doing that, we had them express posted so they arrived before we flew out.
My mother-in-law created a wedding slide show with pictures of JD and I from childhood, through to our teen years and twenties, then photos of us while we were getting to know one another online, our meeting in person and getting to know each other’s families, and finally, photos of our elopement day when we legally married after JD moved to Australia. Our destination wedding took place exactly 9 months after our legal marriage. We were able to put music to the slides show, but knew we wouldn’t be able to show them at Lava Lava. So we took our HDMI cable and laptop to Paniolo Greens and were able to sit down with our families and watch the slide show the night before the wedding on the television in the recreation room.
My husband ordered 33 pairs of white sunglasses that said “Hawaii 2015” on the side and had them shipped to our resort in time for the wedding as our wedding favours / bonbonnieres. They were only $65 USD from etsy. They do not only come in white and can be custom made and individualised.
A week before flying out I remembered that I needed name placements for our reception tables. We bought 32 plywood hearts from The Reject Shop and blue and pink gel pens from a newsagency. I practised my cursive script and handwrote the names on the hearts that were later placed on the table, the day of the wedding. My grandmother handmade my garter – another thing I had forgotten about until a week before the wedding. Fortunately, Nana is a gifted seamstress.
I think the thing that helped me the most in organising our destination wedding was Pinterest! I pinned over 350 pins–over the span of about a year–just related to wedding planning alone. By searching for beach related wedding favours we came up with the idea of sunglasses. I chose my bridesmaid dress colour by looking at bridesmaid photos. I found Hawaiian and standard wedding cake designs and bouquets on Pinterest and was able to forward pictures to the people I paid to design my cake and flowers. Pinterest gave me the idea of a wedding “sand ceremony” and I was going to organise that in Hawaii, but ran out of time. I pinned hair designs, make-up shades, jewellery, dresses, shoes, different photography styles, researched beach weddings, destination weddings, colour schemes, archways–you name it, they have photos for everything on Pinterest.
We were also able to plan activities based on travel ideas for the Big Island, as well as Oahu where JD and I spent our honeymoon. I pinned another 250+ pins on Hawaii information and was able to send a rough itinerary to our wedding guests about visiting Rainbow Falls, Volcano National Park and going snorkelling with dolphins. To read more about our activities check out my travel blogs: “A week on the Big Island,” & “Six days in Oahu.”