For Brenton, 36, and Danika Sweeney, 30, both from Sydney, the beach wedding at Lanta's Pimalai Resort & Spa earlier this year was romantic, exotic and affordable: at $4,695, it was about a quarter of the cost of holding a wedding bash back home. It was also hassle-free. There were no highly strung bridesmaids and no wrangling relatives. The couple's only task was to turn up, get hitched, then chill beside the lapping waters of Pimalai Bay. "It was our day, not anyone else's," says Danika.
The good news is that there are a lot of local operators who can arrange just about any kind of wedding you can conceive. In Thailand, the award-winning Banyan Tree Phuket (banyantree.com) offers two packages with names redolent of wedded bliss: Eternity ($1,355, plus accommodation) and Unity ($1,875). One monk blesses Eternity couples; a total of nine attend the Unity ceremonies. Also included in the packages are flowers, a multitiered wedding cake, bridal beauty treatments, massage sessions, and breakfasts and dinners. The real reason to splurge on a Unity package is the villa wedding-night setup, which Banyan Tree dubs the "Intimate Moments" part of the program. Each couple's villa has a candle-lit outdoor sunken bath, floating glass goblets of red wine, satin sheets on the bed, ambient music, incense sticks and massage oils. That's just about every trick in the amour book. I've experienced it. It works.
For the ultimate island wedding, head to the Maldives, where the Robinson Crusoe experience—gussied up with private bungalows, room service and gourmet food—can be found on several of the 1,192 small coral cays that make up this national island chain. Each resort has its own island, so couples bent on privacy receive it in abundance. Weddings in this self-billed paradise do not come cheap, though. Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru charges upward of $2,645 for its Unity package, which can include a sunset blessing ceremony on a sand bank in the middle of the Indian Ocean. The Underwater Unity package is $3,030; the Maldives is popular with scuba-mad couples who eschew white weddings in favor of wet ones, exchanging their vows on flash cards, seven meters deep.
Or why not let the country provide its own theme? Canna Cards (northernthailand.com) in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, offers a real Thai wedding for just $1,660. Tying the knot Lanna-style starts with you and your bleary-eyed partner rising well before the sun to make merit—offer food to monks making their daily alms rounds—in the city's silversmith area. If that's a bit more reality than you can handle, consult Bali Weddings International (baliweddingsinternational.com), which has been organizing Bali-style weddings for the past 10 years. "Before last year's bombings, we averaged 36 weddings a month," says wedding consultant Dewita Evans. That figure dropped to about 10 in the months following the Oct. 12 attack, until a resurrection of romantic spirit saw it surge to 22 in June. Australians account for 80% of the company's clientele.
There are no one-size-fits-all packages; every wedding is tailor-made. A $650 charge pays for the minister and the civil-register fees; the size of the final bill depends on the style of wedding ordered up by the bride and groom. All requests are taken seriously. "One groom said he wanted to parachute in to his wedding," says Evans. "So we got the costs in, and he was completely taken aback. He was kidding." Public-beach weddings are discouraged, but couples dead set on sand can opt for a helicopter wedding on a remote beach.
If its princely pomp and ceremony that you're after, Shaadionline (shaadionline.com) has the solution: a royal wedding in Rajasthan. Set in magnificent palace-hotels, the ceremonies typically begin with a procession led by a turbaned groom riding a richly caparisoned horse, elephant or camel. (Sometimes all three animals are employed in the spectacle.) Sari-clad girls scatter rose petals while liveried men with flaming torches flank the procession. The guests—all the males get turbans—fall in behind, borne along by the beat of a troupe of drummers. After arriving at the palace, there are more flower showers and welcoming garlands before the wedding ceremony proper begins. Cake cutting, champagne toasts, dancing, feasting and fireworks follow. As wedding theatre goes, it's a quality act.
Or you could choose a church. Since opening for bridal business in April last year, the Amantes Chapel at Guam Marriott Resort has hosted 650 weddings, most of them for Japanese clients of its owner-operator, World Bridal Micronesia (worldbridal.com). Perched near the aptly named Two Lovers Point, its glass chapel offers a breathtaking 180-degree view of ocean and sky. A standard wedding package will set you back just $680, but if you want World Bridal to take care of everything, from the rented wedding dress to the reception, expect a substantially bigger bill.
And what do you do to follow up your exotic weddingmoon? Vow-renewal ceremonies are getting very, very popular.