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Wedding in Jamaica--It's No Problem, Mon!

March 27, 1988|BENNO ISAACS | Isaacs is a former wire service correspondent living in Reston, Va

MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica — They were going to do it right the second time around.

When Julie Rendl, a 20-year-old secretary, and William Fairchild, a 37-year-old truck driver from York, Pa., both divorced, decided to marry last August, they made this agreement:

They were going to start with a romantic wedding--no in-laws this time--with champagne, flowers, cake, rice, twilight skies, music and azure Caribbean waters.

They wanted a honeymoon in an exotic land where they could sail, snorkel, dance to a reggae beat, scuba dive, water ski, sightsee--and still have plenty of beach and quiet for themselves.

No problem, mon . They came to Jamaica, where this year a small but growing number of Americans are taking their vows. Some will renew them.

Free Ceremony

The Fairchilds were married at no cost at the Sandals resort, Montego Bay. The resort provided a Jamaican minister, a best man and maid of honor.

That also happened the same day to John Montgomery, 24, Louisiana State University student who was graduating in architecture, and Karen Oechers, 23, a New Orleans ambulance service secretary.

This was their first time around. The Rev. Eral Lewis, a Jamaican minister from Montego Bay, conducted the ceremony. Rickey Matthews and Opal Llewellyn, Sandals employees whom they had met the day before, were best man and maid of honor.

A Jamaican wedding package has been a Sandals tradition since it opened five years ago. It's the only resort on the island offering free marriages with all the frills, and the one that has conducted the most (it expects to pass 500 this year).

On June 20, 1987, Joe Bradlo and Mari Gina (nee McGinty) of Chicago became the 400th couple to be married at the resort when Father Robert Connelly joined them in matrimony on the sun deck.

Without Problems

Everything was perfect, according to Bradlo, a medical equipment salesman. "The resort handled everything," he said. "We didn't have to do a thing."

Mari, dressed in silk adorned with floral-patterned beads (some of the weddings have been performed in formal wedding gowns, some in bikinis), said it all came off like a dream.

The ceremony was witnessed by rice-carrying Sandals guests, a calypso trio, and Doug and Lynn Messner of Philadelphia as the attendants.

"We were honeymooning here ourselves," Lynn said. "They asked us to be their witnesses and we were more than happy to do it."

Freddie March, the resort's resident manager, says weddings like this--often held on beaches, lawns, even in the ocean--have become part of the Jamaican hotel scene.

There will be more, he said, when Sandals opens its two couples-only hotels, Sandals Cohos Ricos and Sandals Negril, this year.

"You'd be surprised at the number of married couples who take advantage of our offer to renew their vows," he says. "It is novel, yet it has become the romantic thing to do."

March said there will be a $150 wedding charge to include flowers, a Jamaican wedding cake, champagne, rice, music, the cleric, photographs, plus an additional charge for a video of the ceremony, if requested.

A Standard Fee

All the island's other hotels and resorts also charge a fee in the $150 range for weddings and, like Sandals, require the following information: a certified copy of the bride's and grooms's birth certificates; their occupations; if divorced, a certified copy of the final decree. Allow three working days' notice to complete formalities.

If the couple are Jewish or Catholic, a minimum of three weeks is required to book a rabbi or priest. Catholics are also required to bring a notice of counseling from their priest.

There is no requirement that the marriage of a U.S. citizen abroad be recorded at the embassy, but the Registrar of Marriages, Ministry of National Security, in Kingston, reports that since 1962 more than 600 foreign marriages--mostly American--have been taking place in Jamaica annually.

And no wonder, with four major coastal resorts and hundreds of places to stay. From quaint inns and private villas to elegant resorts catering to honeymooners, Jamaica is a honeymoon haven.

Various Price Ranges

Prices for a week's stay in Jamaica range from $500 a couple to $2,000 and can be combined with scheduled or charter air fares from many U.S. cities.

Some of Jamaica's honeymoon resorts:

--The Sans Souci Hotel Club and Spa in Ocho Rios extends special treatment to its honeymoon guests, including a basket of fruit, a bottle of French Champagne and a surprise gift. Newlyweds also are offered a fitness and beauty program at additional cost.

--Eden II in Ocho Rios is an all-inclusive, couples-only property with an array of activities including tennis, golf, horseback riding, sailing, massage, dance lessons and tours. Newlyweds can expect a wedding reception, cake, champagne, flowers, and an 8-by-10 color photograph of the ceremony.

--Wyndham Rose Hall Beach Hotel and Country Club, Montego Bay, features an ocean view with private balcony. It provides champagne, a trip to famed Dunn's River Falls, complimentary daytime tennis, a gift, a cocktail party and use of the hotel's fitness center. Rates per couple are $455 for three-night stays, $935 for seven-night vacations, with extra nights at $120 per.

--Trelawny Beach Hotel in Falmouth near Montego Bay has honeymoon packages that include two meals daily (and one honeymoon dinner with wine and wedding cake), live entertainment, a fantasy cruise on the luminous lagoon, his and her T-shirts, and a $100 gift coupon valid for a return visit to Trelawny. Land and water sports facilities and instruction are available at no extra cost.

For more information, contact the Jamaica Tourist Board, 3440 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1207, Los Angeles 90010, (213) 384-1123.

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