One couple pulls off a beach wedding, even when the heavens seem set against it.
Photos By David Wolfe of David Wolfe Photography
Most brides expect their wedding to be a whirlwind, but no one plans to have their nuptials ruined by one. That almost happened for Andrea and Philip Watt. The two dreamed of a tropical wedding since the day Philip popped the question on a beach at Turks and Caicos. But the hurricane season of 2004—more specifically Hurricane Ivan—nearly blew that idea to pieces.
Between September 11 and September 12—just seven months before the Watt wedding—the Category Five storm whipped seas and winds of 180 miles per hour around the island. Ivan the Terrible himself only missed the shore by 30 miles. Once the cyclone moved on to ravage Florida, residents emerged to find that nearly 80 percent of the buildings had been damaged or destroyed. It was the worst hurricane Grand Cayman experienced in almost 90 years.
“We were all dumbfounded,” says Poppy Goulein, Watt’s wedding planner. “All of the telephone poles were down. Landlines were dead. There was no electricity. Everyone was shocked.”
The storm and its floodwaters brought a few things when it washed away telecommunications and homes. The Emerald Eyes, a 65-foot party boat, washed into a local hotel parking lot, where it demolished six cars. All around, a mix of sand and mud and flotsam caked the streets. In short, it was a mess—and Andrea’s worst nightmare.
The Wilmington-native had planned for an elegant affair at the Ritz Carlton, the island’s newest hotel. But Ivan left the property devastated. It would take another year for the hotel to rebuild and open its doors.
Andrea was crushed. She knew that there was no way to have the wedding she dreamed of at the Ritz. They were going to have to move. So in December, as soon as tourists were allowed to return to the island, Andrea went to investigate. What she found was promising. The island was rebuilding. At the center of that was the Westin Casuarina Resort and Spa. It was one of the few hotels still open, and it was housing residents and relief workers. “It was one of the only places that was liveable,” Goulein says.
The couple, with their hearts and plane reservations set on Grand Cayman, decided to hold their wedding at the Westin. With only five months left to make a miracle happen, Andrea was a bit stressed. “It felt like planning the wedding all over again,” she says.
Fortunately, she had some help. Goulein handled most of the details on the Westin’s side, while Joanne Brown from Celebrations, another local resort, pieced together the logistics. “We worked over email and put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into it,” Andrea says.
By the end of April, things had come together. All 90 guests arrived from the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom to find a beautiful island and immaculate accommodations. Most of the jetsetters stayed for a week. They were entertained each day with different activities. One morning there was a chartered boat ride. Another night there were cocktails at Reef Resort. Another night dinner was served at the Grand Old House. The festivities really kicked into gear on Friday for the rehearsal dinner. The couple honored Philip’s Australian heritage with a beach barbecue (yes, they had shrimp on the barbie) and wines from Tasmania.
Then, on April 30, 2005, the couple tied the knot. The ceremony was held on the white sands of Seven Mile Beach overlooking the sapphire waters of the Caribbean Sea. The bride wore a white A-line gown by Angel Sanchez, which ruffled softly in the breeze as she walked up the aisle of tiki torches and flower petals. Her groom, dressed in a tan-colored suit by Brooks Brothers, waited for her at the altar, which was made of an archway draped in white linens.
After the couple said “I do,” the party moved to a courtyard for appetizers and mingling before heading to the Galleon Ballroom for a seated dinner. “I wanted to be married on the beach, but have a formal reception,” Andrea says. And that’s just what she got. A dinner of steak and lobster was served by the Westin’s staff and was capped off by the sounds of Body and Soul, a local jazz band. Halfway through the evening, Velvet Touch, a horn ensemble, joined the band to create an upbeat swing sound.
All in all, the week-long celebration was just what the couple had in mind: It was relaxed, fun and included everyone—except Ivan.
“The really great thing about the destination wedding and staying for nearly a week is that everyone knew everyone else by the end,” Andrea says. “People weren’t just talking to who they came with. They were really able to mingle.”