The Destination Wedding Guest's Travel Guide
Don't think of it as an obligation: Here's how to turn your next destination wedding into a mini-vacation.
by By Diane Vadino
Diane Vadino writes about fashion, travel and film from her base in San Francisco. Her debut novel, Smart Girls Like Me, was recently published
When the word "destination" is placed in front of "wedding," an evening affair suddenly becomes a three-day event--almost like a vacation, except that you don't get to choose where you go, or, for the most part, what to do. You may not mind that situation if you're close to the lucky couple, but it's downright depressing if you're simply paying your respects to a long-lost cousin or your partner's college fraternity brother.
There's nothing like a destination wedding to eat up your precious days off of work--which means that the best course of action is to turn your trip into a vacation, during which one of the days you just happen to attend a wedding. (Think of the ceremony and reception as a day trip, with free food, drinks and dancing.) The only trouble, then, is figuring out how to spend all that time when you're not involved in wedding activities. Don't just sit around your hotel room watching TV: Here are some of the absolute must-sees in a few of the most popular wedding destinations in the world.
Honolulu may not be at the top of your list as a cultural destination, but the city is blessed with both style and substance. Not only can you sit for hours on its stunningly beautiful beaches, but it also showcases a deep sense of history. For anyone curious about the island's origins, the Bishop Museum is a necessary stop--it's the perfect place to get a peek into old Hawaii, which is perhaps more difficult to find in Honolulu than anyplace else in the state. And a trip to Oahu wouldn't be complete without a visit to Pearl Harbor to see the striking USS Arizona Memorial. If you're looking to simply escape, though, pull on a pair of running shoes and head for the hills. Diamond Head Crater rewards those who hike to its summit with a stupefying view, while a larger variety of trails--leading through rainforests dense with bamboo, wild ginger and guava trees, around waterfalls and alongside cliffs--converge at the nearby Hawaii Nature Center.
It may have made its reputation--and its marketing campaign--selling sin, but it's also this country's most popular wedding destination. If you love to gamble, you're probably in paradise--but what to do after the slot machines have swallowed up all your spare change? However unlikely it may seem, Vegas is home to an outpost of the Guggenheim Museum and puts on top exhibitions from around the world in a gorgeous, Rem Koolhaas-designed space. Meanwhile, the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art has hosted shows on artists including Ansel Adams (see him there through May 7, 2007), Alexander Calder and Andy Warhol.
A person can take only so many afternoons blissed out in front of the pool, especially when you're battling for space with relatives you usually only see at Thanksgiving and, well, weddings. If you're itching to escape the grounds of your hotel--and your extended family--Jamaica has loads to offer beyond your resort's happy hour. One novel way to explore Jamaica's too-often overlooked natural splendor is on horseback; a guide from White River Valley will lead you from the Pineapple Riding Stables through the Valley of Flowers beside the White River. Alternately, consider visiting the stunning Cockpit Country, a unique landscape carved from limestone--the communities that dot it are poor but generally welcoming, and the region feels as naturally pristine as you'll find in the Caribbean. And there's always the Bob Marley Museum for devoted fans of the reggae legend.
Given the crowds of drunken college students that tend to frequent this resort town, you may find that the best thing about Cancun is leaving it. If you've already seen the Tulum ruins--that essential spring break day-trip--consider heading a few miles farther down the coast to Sian Kaan, one of Mexico's best natural resources. The attractions begin just inside the park's northern entrance, with access to a cenote--or sinkhole--that's just a short walk through mangroves and other indigenous flora and fauna, some of which is helpfully labeled. Take a dip in the cenote's crystal clear waters--avoiding the fish, if possible--and then move on to the rest of the park: Kayaking, fly-fishing, night snorkeling, and even swimming with dolphins are just a handful of your options for adventure.Â
What to do in Puerto Rico, when you've already explored every corner of Old Town? Rent a car and drive to El Yunque, otherwise known as the Caribbean National Forest. It's an eco-lover's dream, with 1,000-year-old trees, orchids abounding, and--according to reference materials--"no poisonous snakes"! And if you have an extra day to spare, consider spending it on the island of Mona. Possibly the most exclusive address in town--only 100 people are allowed on Mona at any one time--it's home to gorgeous hiking, the region's best bird-watching and arguably the top snorkeling in the Caribbean. Plus, with several unique indigenous species, it truly earns its nickname, â€śGalapagos of the Caribbean.â€ť
Ireland's surely one of the most fun destinations on the planet for a wedding, whether the ceremony's in Galway or in the surrounding countryside. When you're looking for a break from the nonstop revelry, however, there's tons to explore, beginning with the ultra-scenic driving tour that follows the Ring of Kerry. The top roadside attractions include Ross Castle, the scenic point known as Ladies View, assorted romantic ruins--and hardly a Taco Bell in sight. If the idea of driving on the left side of the road with a stick-shift for several hours gives you pause, try the windswept Aran Islands: Just a short ferry ride from the mainland, they're desolate and dramatic, almost otherworldly. A guided bus tour is the easiest way to cover large patches of the largest and most visited island, Inishmore. Just be sure to pack an extra layer of clothing--and enough cash to bring home one of the famous Aran sweaters.
San Francisco abounds in gorgeous wedding locales--a city can do that when there are picture-postcard views from a majority of its street corners. What's amazing is that the city's surroundings are even more beautiful than San Francisco itself. If you're looking for a real escape--and don't feel like traipsing through Wine Country and imbibing any more alcohol than you already will during the weekend's festivities--head north, across the Golden Gate Bridge, to Point Reyes National Seashore. The hiking earns its claim as some of the region's best, and tiny Point Reyes Station is a foodie's paradise in miniature. Be sure to look for the picnic sets offered by the artisanal cheesemakers at Cowgirl Creamery: Pick up a ready-made packed lunch, and head up to the Point Reyes lighthouse for a budget meal with priceless views.
New York City
It's the eternal question: What to do first in the city that never sleeps? It's patently impossible to boil Manhattan down to one day, but the best advice is to divide and conquer. Art lovers will want to go to the Metropolitan Museum, the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney, although you should be aware that the new and improved MoMA now charges a steep $20 admission fee. More avant garde tastes will be satisfied with a trip to Deitch Projects in SoHo or the Rivington Arms Gallery on the Lower East Side. Shoppers will need to choose between indie shops, designer boutiques or flagship versions of their favorite stores--maybe the best mix of the three can be found in SoHo and neighboring NoLIta. And then there's ... you know, everything else. If it all becomes too much, just hop over to Magnolia Bakery on Bleecker Street. You can plan your next trip over a cup of coffee and one of Magnolia's famous cupcakes--worth standing in line for, and guaranteed to be much tastier than what you'll be served at the wedding reception.