Dripping-wet, a man wearing board shorts and an orchid lei walked up to me on the beach one day.
“I hate to bug you,” he said. “But I’m about to get married. Would you mind being a witness?”
Standing in the sand, the man and his barefoot bride held hands while a minister read a few words. The couple exchanged rings, and I signed the marriage certificate.
That’s the way it can happen here on Maui. Your dream wedding may be no more than a sandy beach with your loved one by your side. Or it may be a tropical garden at a posh Ka‘anapali hotel with a cascading waterfall and photogenic swans—the spot where my friends from L.A. chose to say “I do.”
Two hundred guests admired the bride as she was carried in on a surfboard by torch-waving men. Following the champagne toast, the entire party was shuttled to a swanky clubhouse to enjoy a gourmet dinner and dancing. The wedding cake was as tall as the flower girl.
Your dream wedding is whatever you want it to be, and on Maui (unless you’re looking for a ski lodge and two feet of snow), that can be anything.
Just a few essential points to keep in mind:
Peace of mind
When it comes to creating a stress-free wedding, nothing beats a wedding coordinator, especially for destination brides.
“It’s so important to have an advocate here on the island,” says Tracy Flanagan, owner of A Dream Wedding: Maui Style, LLC. “Our brides know they’ve got a friend here to do the legwork for them—someone who knows the very best people to work with, so they don’t have to spend an enormous amount of time searching the Internet.”
“Knowing what I know now, yes, I’d advise getting a coordinator,” says Tammy Ash.
Perkins of First Class Weddings and author of The Best of Hawai‘i Wedding Book. “But,” she adds, “some brides just have to do it themselves. The book helps teach a bride the difference between doing it on her own and hiring a coordinator. There’s lots of information out there,” she adds, “but little of it relates to destination weddings—the rules change when you get married in a faraway destination.”
“We take away all the stress,” Flanagan says. “We tell our brides all they have to do is show up and enjoy their wedding.”
How do you pick a coordinator? “Ask for references,” Perkins advises. “Ask what the onsite services include and what the fees include.” Most importantly, “Choose someone you connect with who understands your style.”
How to pick the perfect wedding site among Maui’s many charming locales? A combination of preference and practicality.
Beaches are by far the most popular setting. “It’s fantastic to be right on the water, especially during sunset,” says Barbara Lewis, former wedding coordinator for Four Seasons Resort Maui. “However, beaches on Maui are public property, so beach weddings do not offer privacy. There can be multiple weddings going on at once.”
For large groups, beach weddings are not the best option, says Reverend Diana George, an ordained minister who has performed countless weddings on Maui and O‘ahu. “If you have more than 20 people and a bunch of chairs and an arch, you need to get a permit [available through the County of Maui].”
Perkins agrees. “There are risks involved. On one hand, there is no location fee, the setting is naturally beautiful, and attire can be casual. It’s perfect for the couple who want to go with the flow. But,” she cautions, “you will have uninvited guests, it’s a challenge to hear the ceremony above the ocean and wind, and if it rains there is no backup.”
A good compromise is a grassy lawn with an ocean view. The Hyatt Regency Maui, for example, provides a grassy setting at its Statue Garden, which accommodates up to 100 people and offers a panoramic backdrop of the island of Lana‘i, framed by beach and palm trees. Other resort properties like The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, the Wailea Beach Marriott, or the Maui Prince are also good options. (Hotels typically charge a grounds fee for the use of their property.)
With Maui’s rich foliage and natural waterfalls, garden settings can be a gorgeous alternative to a beach wedding—try for mid-afternoon, when lush areas are less likely to be rainy.
Diana George often performs ceremonies at ‘Iao Valley, with its clear stream and dramatic mountainous backdrop. “The natural beauty is so powerful,” she says. “We try to be responsive to the environment itself and respectful of the culture and land. We’re always careful to take everything with us when we leave, including flower petals.”
For the most privacy, rent a private home or estate. A popular one is Hokulani Makena, set on an acre of tropical lawn right at the water, or Olowalu Plantation Estate, a magnificent plantation-style house on five private oceanfront acres. Book early—both sell out well in advance.
An elegant Upcountry choice is the Hui No‘eau Visual Arts Center in the historic 1917 mansion Kaluanui. “It’s just a gorgeous, romantic property,” says Kathy McBride, Hui rental coordinator. Makawao can be rainy, so a tent is a wise investment.
The drawback with private estates is usually the cost. “You’re paying to have everything brought in,” Flanagan says. “That’s one benefit to working with resorts. They have access to the entire banquet staff, kitchen, and pastry chef. Plus, they can offer a variety of different backdrops for photography, from waterfalls to foliage to beach.”
“There are quite a few benefits to having a wedding at a reputable resort,” says Laura Amerio, catering and wedding manager at the Hyatt Regency Maui, which offers an on-site coordinator, blocks of rooms, rehearsal space, and an inclement-weather backup site. And eliminating the need for transportation can save you time and money. Another consideration is curfew. “For an outside wedding, the music curfew is 9 or 10 p.m.,” says Perkins. “Indoors, you can party till the cows come in!”
If traditional ceremonies are more your style, Maui offers many charming old-style churches in a variety of denominations. Keawala‘i Church in Makena and St. John’s Episcopal Church in Kula are popular choices.
I now pronounce you
Finding the right minister is a task made easier by the Palm Pilot of your wedding planner, but it still helps to have your personal preferences in mind.
“Do you want prayers, or a civil service? Do you want to incorporate Hawaiian elements?” Flanagan asks. “Ninety percent of my couples want someone very warm and nondenominational.”
A Hawaiian marriage ceremony offers couples a spiritual approach that connects with the culture. Despite Western adaptations over time, the essential spirit of ho‘ao pa‘a—the binding of a man and woman in a lasting union—remains true to its ancient roots.
Hawaiian ceremonies typically include a kahu (minister) wearing a kihei (shawl) and an elaborate lei or haku (head lei). He or she may blow the pu, (conch shell), and perform chants, prayers, and blessings. The ceremony may include the bride and groom exchanging lei or binding their hands together with maile vines. George has performed every kind of wedding, from Native American to Hindu to Buddhist. “My ceremonies are in line with a couple’s particular belief system, not in line with the institution, but with the heart,” she says.
That goes for same-sex ceremonies as well. “The way I see it, if you are lucky enough to find true love in this world, it shouldn’t be important if it doesn’t look like it’s ‘supposed’ to look,” George says. “I try to create an environment for the couple and everyone there of unconditional love.”
Daring “I do’s”
“Some people want to be married on a cliff, others on a sailboat, others in a gazebo,” Flanagan says. “Those who are adventurous at heart may opt to charter a helicopter, hike a waterfall, or go out on a whale-watch.”
“Remote locations require an adventurous spirit,” says Perkins. “Every island has those little places that are unique, beautiful, and perhaps difficult to get to—so the expense will go up with travel time. The great thing is the once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“A wedding in Hawai‘i can be a complete expression of who you are,” Perkins continues. If you’re just looking for that Island flair, then there’s nothing like having a Hawaiian-themed wedding. The options are limitless.”
Whatever fits your fantasy, Maui has the resources you need. One of Flanagan’s favorite weddings was an underwater ceremony at “Cathedrals,” a dive spot off the coast of Lana‘i. “He wore a tuxedo; she wore a white wedding dress over a swimsuit, with fishing weights around the hem. The minister was certified to dive, of course. The vows were laminated, and they had a slate to write ‘I do.’”
Just remember: before you grab your witness off the beach, be sure she’s certified.
Maui Wedding Association
Hawaii State Department of Health: Marriage Licenses
Maui Visitors Bureau
Hawai‘i Better Business Bureau
Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa
A Dream Wedding: Maui Style
First Class Weddings
The Best of Hawai‘i Wedding Book
On Location Styling
A White Orchid Wedding
Tad Craig Photography
Stewart Pinsky Photography
Robie Price Photography