Tying the knot at Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall

I was fortunate enough to be invited, along with about a dozen other agents, to spend the weekend at the adults-only Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall in Montego Bay, Jamaica. We were there to tour the new resort and learn about how it appeals to the romance travel market (destination weddings and honeymoons), and we got to meet the wedding/event staff and experience a “mock” wedding ceremony and reception. Most of my “FAM” (familiarization) trips are filled with dozens of hotel inspections, but since this one included a little more free time to enjoy the destination, I figured I’d share it as a trip report. Enjoy!


Fam group

I flew in from Orlando on Friday afternoon, and after a quick stop at Customs and Immigration, I was welcomed into the Hyatt Zilara/Ziva airport lounge. It’s a beautiful, serene oasis, where you can enjoy a cold drink, do your advance check in for the resort, and relax while you wait for your shuttle. Perfect way to arrive in Jamaica!

Airport lounge

The shuttle ride is about 10 minutes, on a nice main road, and we were welcomed into the Zilara lobby with tropical drinks and chilled towels. My room was not yet ready, so I headed off to the beachfront Jerk Shack for some lunch. My deliciously juicy jerk chicken was accompanied by “festival”, potatoes, and an icy cold Red Stripe beer – perfection!

Jerk Shack


Zilara 2

Afterwards, I was able to check into my room — an oceanview junior suite, with a large balcony overlooking the pool and beach. The rooms at Zilara are gorgeous! Light, airy and modern, without feeling cold or sterile. There’s a big daybed (for two) on the balcony, and another spacious seating area inside the room. The king-sized bed was one of the most comfortable hotel beds I’ve experienced in a long time, and behind the bed there’s a very unobtrusive desk for those who simply can’t get away from work. Sitting at that desk, with the views of the ocean, made answering emails a pleasure 🙂


I’m really picky about hotel bathrooms, and this one gets a “10” in my book. Large and open, but with sliding pocket doors you can pull for privacy, double sinks, lots of shelves/storage, a huge shower, and a deep soaking tub. Plus, the bathroom has a low-level motion-activated light that illuminates when you walk into the room in the middle of the night – genius!  The lighting overall was really well thought-out  — all the switches are labeled, there’s a subtle nightlight you can leave on in the entry hallway, and a master light switch right at the bedside.

Room 45

As at most all-inclusives, there’s a stocked mini-fridge with soda, beer and water, and the Zilara also stocks the room with some snacks, and three full bottles of alcohol (rum, vodka and gin). There’s a pretty extensive room service menu available as well. I did discover that room service operates on “island time”, as my breakfast took over an hour to arrive, but as long as you plan accordingly that’s fine.

Room 3


Room 2

I was able to go enjoy the beach for a couple of hours before our welcome dinner that evening, and I had no problem finding a shady palapa to sit under. To me, that was a MAJOR discovery, since most resorts these days seem to have too little shade and too many people “saving” chairs/umbrellas that they’re not using. I kept an eye on this all weekend, and I have to say I did not see any chair-saving at all, and there were always plenty of available shady seats. The resort said they were at about 50% occupancy for that (off-season) weekend, but even if there were twice as many people, it would not have been a problem.

Zilara 3

A quick note about the beach…this area of the coast is rocky, and the resorts have, for the most part, blasted out little “cove” beaches protected by jettys and breakwalls.  Hyatt Zilara (and sister property Hyatt Ziva next door) are no different. The beaches are small – no seven-mile- long stretches of powder white sand here – but perfectly fine for lounging, or a dip in the water. A true beach fanatic would probably be better off in Negril, but I thought the pools more than made up for it.

Room view

On Friday evening we enjoyed cocktails in the PotionZ lobby bar, and I had my first taste of Rum Cream (yum!) After that, there was a delicious welcome dinner in the open-air beachfront restaurant HoriZonZ, where my food was significantly better than I’ve experienced at other all-inclusive resorts, but the service was a little shaky (again, I put it down to “island time”  — we had a large table, and some people had not yet received appetizers while others were enjoying their entrees)

On Saturday we were treated to a fun catamaran excursion that included snorkeling at Doctors Cave Beach and a stop at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. I’ve snorkeled in the Caribbean, Mexico and Hawaii, and this was the first time that I’ve been swarmed by a school of fish! Tiny, colorful fish were all over and around me, and it made me wonder if they’re used to being fed by swimmers along this beach. Very cool! At Margaritaville, we were able to jump off the boat and have a snack/drink at the restaurant, or just play on their water slide and floating trampolines.

Sail 1 Sail 2 Sail 3 Sail 4 Sail 5

Back at the resort that afternoon, I had time for a shower, a nap, and a visit to the pool bar (not necessarily in that order!) before our evening reception. Our visit that weekend coincided with the annual JAPEX tourism expo, for which the Zilara/Ziva were hosting a beachfront reception that night, and we were invited. There were cocktails and appetizers near the wedding gazebo, with a bartender slicing open fresh coconuts and pouring in some coconut rum, and then they led us along a lantern-lit path to a toes-in-the-sand reception featuring international food stations from each of the resorts’ restaurants. We feasted on sushi, fresh hand-made gnocchi, French crepes, and Brazilian steak, and then the band cut loose and the dance floor opened. Walking through the rest of the resort that evening, I could see couples snuggled up around the fire pits, and families enjoying a Michael Jackson tribute show on the open-air stage on the Ziva side of the resort. We had a nightcap at Union Jacks (the British pub / sports bar) and then I called it a night.

Ziva firepit

Sunday morning I had a relaxing breakfast on the patio at FlavorZ, in the Zilara lobby, and then reported for our site inspection. We toured rooms, public spaces,  restaurants and function rooms at both resorts, and then had some classroom training about Hyatt Ziva and Zilara resorts in general (they have properties in Mexico as well as Jamaica) and what they can do for destination weddings. Weddings are held on the Ziva side of the property (which is for everyone, families included, as opposed to the adults-only Zilara), and there’s a wide variety of function spaces, from the oceanfront wedding gazebo to the sexy Sky Lounge. I loved the FeZ rooftop bar, which can be used for private events during the day, and the expansive terrace outside of the main ballroom, which can be used for all sorts of private events.


Ziva fez1

Ziva fez2

Our weekend culminated in a “mock wedding” on Sunday evening, where two of the agents stood in as bride and groom. We had a sunset ceremony in the gazebo, followed by cocktails and dinner on the ballroom terrace, complete with music and a wedding cake. The surf and turf menu was fabulous (easily the equal of any wedding dinner I’ve enjoyed here in the states) and the tropical setting was just magical. It’s easy to see why so many couples are choosing to get married in the Caribbean!

Wedding 1 Wedding 3 Wedding 5

Monday morning came all too soon, and it was time to check out and meet my shuttle in the lobby. I had pre-purchased “Club MoBay” VIP service at the airport, so I checked in at the Club MoBay desk and they walked me through the security line and sent me on my way to the VIP lounge. There, I was able to relax on a comfy couch, enjoy open bar and buffet snacks/lunch, and wait for my flight. If I had wanted to, I could also have ordered a full lunch from Margaritaville (at an extra charge) or booked an on-site spa treatment, but I was MORE than happy to sit and read my book with a cold Red Stripe and some Jamaican meat patties and plantain chips. The cost of the Club MoBay service is more than worth it, and it can be purchased for arrival OR departure. Having done it now, and knowing what the regular gate area is like (jam-packed and chaotic), I would never fly home without it!

zzz club mobay






Is a destination wedding right for me?

The million-dollar question! More and more couples are choosing to get married in a far-flung destination, and it can be an absolutely magical experience….or not. There are some important things to consider before deciding on a destination wedding, and your answers to the questions below may help you figure out if it’s the right option for the two of you:

  • Are you hoping/expecting that all of your friends/family will jump on board with the idea and come along? Will you be okay (or even happier) if they don’t? Even the most supportive and enthusiastic guests can end up changing their minds about attending a destination wedding once they see the actual commitment required from them in terms of time and money.
  • Are you looking forward to planning out all the details of the ceremony and reception? Are you a DIY-fanatic with Pinterest boards galore? Planning a wedding in a foreign country really forces couples to be a little bit more “laissez faire” about the whole thing  – the resort’s wedding coordinator might take 48-72 hours to respond to your emails;  the local, seasonal flowers may not end up being the exact shade of pink that you had envisioned;  and it can be cost-prohibitive to ship all of your hand-made favors through customs in advance.
  • Does your union come with any special circumstances? Even the most basic wedding in a foreign country requires some extra hoops/hurdles in terms of paperwork and logistics (residency requirements, blood tests, documents, etc.)  If yours is a same-sex wedding, or involves a previous divorce or annulment, you’ll need to think about the extra steps involved and decide if it might be easier to get married at home first to make it legal and then do a symbolic destination wedding ceremony with friends and family. 

If none of these questions phase you, and you’re excited about sharing some extended time with your closest friends and family in a romantic destination, with – oh yeah –a wedding thrown in, then you are probably the perfect candidate for a destination wedding!

Check out this video from Megan and Derek’s recent wedding in a romantic villa overlooking Puerto Vallarta, and give me a call if I can help you plan something just as magical 🙂

(photo and video copyright Carolyn Meers 2014)

How to plan a stress-free destination wedding.

This week’s “guest bloggers”, Sara and Andria from Infinite Events, do a great job of explaining how a travel consultant and a wedding planner (in cooperation with the wedding specialist at a specific resort) can work together to create destination wedding magic!

When planning a destination wedding, there are some things you need to know….

Not to be confused with an elopement, a destination wedding is one in which a wedding is hosted, often in a vacation-like setting, at a location to which most of the invited guests must travel and often stay for several days. This could be a beach ceremony in the tropics, a lavish event in a metropolitan resort, or a simple ceremony at the home of a geographically distant friend or relative. During the recession of 2009, destination weddings continued to see growth compared to traditional weddings, as the typically smaller size results in lower costs.
{Thanks for that awesome description, Wikipedia!}

IS A DESTINATION WEDDING REALLY MORE AFFORDABLE THAN A TRADITIONAL WEDDING? It certainly can be! When having a destination wedding, your guest list tends to be a lot shorter: fewer guests = less $75+ meals. Brides save an average of $20,000 by choosing a destination wedding; here are some big ways you can save on your wedding:

  1. Combine your wedding and honeymoon spot. This is a huge way to save! Two round trip tickets are all you need – which you were planning on purchasing anyway, right?
  2. Look for all inclusive resorts. Many all inclusive resorts and other honeymoon focused areas offer a wedding ceremony as a basic add on to any stay. Some will even throw one in for free if you book a higher room category or stay a certain number of nights at their resort.
  3. Look for group discounts. A lot of resorts & cruise ships offer discounts if your group fills up enough of their rooms. This is something that your travel consultant will know and encourage, so don’t be afraid to ask where you can get the best deal!


Many brides who are considering a destination wedding might be concerned with several different aspects of this untraditional approach, for example:

A small guest list – Some brides take comfort in the idea that “The people who care enough about us will make the trip” and desire a small & intimate event – this is definitely a great choice for those who don’t like a lot of attention {but will love showing pictures of their dream wedding.} However brides must also realize that everyone they WANT to be there might not be able to make the trip – If your grandmother is afraid to fly, you have to ask yourself if it is worth it, if someone so crucial in your life cannot attend.

Skimping out on style – A concern you need not to worry about! First of all, the small guest list will allow expand your budget on the lavish details you desire. Second, there are several resorts that offer very affordable designer wedding packages, for example, Martha Stewart Weddings is contracted with Sandals Resorts & offer an array of different packages. Third, you are choosing to have your wedding in an exotic, beautiful location – you cannot go wrong with style, just remember to choose the location that is right for you and your fiancé.

Lack of Control – Not having your wedding location within driving distance can make some brides uncomfortable; others equate less control with less stress. You are forced to put a lot of trust in your travel agent and wedding planner, it is important to remember that these people are professionals and will bend over backwards to make sure everything is perfect for your day! So do your research and work with those who have good reputations.

YOUR DESTINATION WEDDING TEAM: Travel consultant, wedding planner, and the resort’s wedding consultant. Depending on where your destination wedding takes place, the level of personalization you would like to include, and peace of mind you would like to maintain; a combination of these vendors are necessary…

The travel consultant is there to help you with logistics, legal arrangements, and advice on the different destinations you are considering, as well providing knowledge on which resort/venue is right for your vision while guiding you in the most affordable direction for you and your guests.

The resort’s wedding consultant not only knows their own resort inside and out, but also knows valuable things like weather patterns & sun set times, local vendors, and details on the packages they offer. They help you decide which spot on the resort your ceremony and reception will take place, finalize the details with the resort, and help with staff direction and day of logistics.

The wedding planner’s role in your destination wedding is also very important. They are there to ease the stresses and frustrations of planning your wedding from beginning to end – anywhere you decide to have it; whether it’s a far away destination, or a location only a few hours away. Their role in the destination wedding consists of communicating between the travel agent and the onsite wedding consultant, negotiating prices with outside vendors, creating personalized decor and details outside the realm of your “wedding package”, finding local vendors and/or your destination’s vendors that can best service you, manage guest questions and special requests, etc.

There you have it, we hope this post helped clear up some questions you had about destination weddings or raised some more detailed ones we can help you with.

As always, happy planning!
– Post by Infinite Events (Sara J. Conrad & Andria Medeiros)

Think beyond the tuxedo

A recent blog post talked about destination weddings and what kinds of gowns brides are wearing for tropical ceremonies. Lest the grooms feel left out, today’s guest bloggers (Aldo and Alan Segama from Anthony’s House of Formals) weigh in with some great advice for guys who want to ditch the tuxedo in favor of something a little more “island appropriate”:

Destination weddings are becoming ever more popular these days and are not only changing the scenery of a wedding but are also changing its accompanying attire.  In general, destination events tend to break the norms of a traditional wedding and loosen up the formal rules when it comes down to fashion.  Although a destination wedding may be more casual, let’s not confuse laid-back with sloppy when it comes down to choosing attire.  Rules may be loosened but the basics still apply, especially with men’s fashion.

The most popular destination of all is perhaps the beach side wedding.  With the ocean at your back, sand at your feet, and hot sun blazing on your (hopefully) sunscreened face, you do not want to be trapped in a heavy wool tuxedo.  For a beach wedding, a traditional tuxedo is far too formal and even more uncomfortable (nothing against tuxedos, we love them, but there’s a time and place).  So what’s a guy to do?  The best option of course would always be a well-fitted (and infinitely lighter) suit.  Now all the rules still apply when renting or buying a suit.  Finding the best fit is always key and please don’t settle for “sorta fits”.  So choose a suit that corresponds with your correct height and build.  And of course it is a casual setting, but you always want to look put together, you just have to do it without seeming like you’ve tried too hard.  Sounds difficult, but it’s quite simple if you just follow the basics.   

For a beach wedding you want to look for suits that are lighter in weight and fabrics that are much more breathable.  Fabrics such as cotton and linen are great options.  Choosing a color is also very important, look for tan, cream, or even a nice navy suit jacket paired with khaki pants.  These all offer that casual feel and will fit perfectly into the landscape of a beach wedding.  Also look for thinner lapels and try a two button single breasted suit; three buttons are generally out of favor and out of style. As for shirts, options can vary immensely, but we recommend all natural cotton for its extra breathability — and try to stick to white or ivory. Fitted shirts are of course in fashion so don’t overlook the fit; and choose a laydown collar with barrel cuffs.  Tie options are endless, but be sure to choose the right colors that match the mood and overall scheme of your wedding.  Bright yellows, muted greens, and of course navy ties look great on a tan suit.  Now the big question, what about your feet? We recommend some nice leather sandals, preferably in dark brown when paired with a tan or cream colored suit.  Or if you feel so inclined, when on the sand let your feet roam free.  Nothing is more laid back than that.  Please leave the patent leather shoes with your tux at home, they have no place at a beach wedding and you wouldn’t want to ruin them.  Those are the basics so stick to them and you can’t lose. 

We at Anthony’s House of Formals embrace destination weddings, and always look forward to working closely with brides and grooms to find that perfect match to go along with the perfect setting.  We believe that if you follow these rules you will find the perfect balance between formal and casual that only a destination wedding could offer.  So loosen up those ties, knock your socks off, and breathe easy — you will look great!

You provided excellent guidance for us. I appreciated that you really had us think about what was most important to us when we were selecting the right cruise – and not to totally focus on what other people had to say. THANK YOU for helping to make this a memorable trip for our family! It really was a trip of a lifetime!

Clare and Mark (family cruise to Alaska)

The level of service we experienced was out of this world (and we did NOT make it easy on Ann). We weren’t quite sure where we wanted to go, when we would be able to go, or what “vibe” we were going for. After asking us some key questions (what we liked, didn’t like, why, etc.) Ann helped us narrow down our trip details and planned the honeymoon of our dreams. She helped book some of our excursions, answered some emergency questions while abroad and was always available/willing to help. I think it’s safe to say we won’t be using anyone else for future travel planning – Ann is a rockstar!

Carli (Italy and Spain)