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Destination: Hawaii

State of the Union : Romantic scenery, and streamlined regulations make weddings a big business in the islands

June 16, 1996|MARY KAYE RITZ | Ritz is an editor and freelance writer in Honolulu

HONOLULU, Hawaii — My presence brings a charm to wedding parties.

All four marriages in which I've stood at the altar with the bridal party are still afloat. The four in which I issued polite declinations? Sunk.

I fretted about that as my then-fiance and I considered a trip from Alaska, our home in 1984, to his hometown in Hawaii for our wedding. Would the charm work across the Pacific, or was it like a "Star Trek" badge, out of commission beyond communications range?

What I didn't take into account was that Hawaii would provide a blessing of its own. Double rainbows arched our path as we drove through the Koolau Range to the Windward Coast of Oahu, where my husband's family was preparing for the ceremony. The wind was infused with the scent of plumeria, a smell that crosses a lemon blossom with lilac, but the lilac wins.

It was among life's most glorious moments, though we didn't know we were just part of a growing trend of couples who roll wedding, honeymoon and Hawaiian vacation into one.

Nearly 9,000 visitors chose Hawaii in 1994 as the place to legalize their unions. That's almost equal the number of Hawaii residents who marry in a year. More than two-thirds of the visitor brides and grooms came from the mainland or Europe; most of the remainder were from Japan.

When Steve and I married, regulations were strict: We had to bring our original birth certificates, or authenticated copies, to the Department of Health office in Honolulu, had to have a blood test, had to pay a fee and then suffer through at least a day's waiting, all for the honor of marrying in Hawaii.


Today, it's more streamlined: Show up with a completed application (you can call ahead for one), pay your $25 fee and you're ready for the minister in 45 minutes, tops.

Even Bill Gates, when he married on Lanai, had to plunk down cash for the notary public who served as marriage licensee when he married Microsoft employee Melinda French in 1994.

Gates' wedding helped shine a spotlight on what is becoming big business in Hawaii's tourism-based economy. Open Oahu's Yellow Pages to "Wedding Chapels & Ceremonies, Consultants and Arrangements" and you'll find page after page of ads and scores of listings--and that's before you even get to the B's. Resort planners wouldn't think of breaking ground without a wedding chapel on site, and even wedding planners who do mostly local business, these days have 800 numbers.

Billionaire Gates wasn't the only notable who found Happily Ever After in the tropics. Local woman Tia Carrera (of "Wayne's World" fame) rented an exclusive beach-side estate on Oahu for her wedding and reception. Megabuck-earning screenwriter Joe Eszterhas picked Maui as the site of his 1994 wedding to artist Baka.

Two big names opting to go Polynesian when renewing their vows: Dustin Hoffman and his wife of 15 years, Lisa, who did it Tahitian-style, complete with body paint and native finery; and David Hasselhoff, who was shooting a special "Baywatch" episode in Hawaii at Waimea Falls Park in 1994 and was struck by the spirituality of the place. Before the Hasselhoffs celebrated their fifth anniversary at the park, complete with crowning rainbow, no one had married or remarried at the park before. Now the park offers a "David Hasselhoff wedding package."

(Hawaiian honeymoons are even more popular than weddings. In 1995, 568,970 chose to honeymoon here, including the artist formerly known as Prince and Mayte, who married in Minneapolis last February.) People who choose Hawaii for a wedding tend to be young professionals, say people in the wedding industry here. They dream of a beach wedding at sunset, or the mist of a waterfall adding to everyone's dewy-eyed look. And long white gown and control top pantyhose aside, beaches are extremely popular places to exchange rings.


For Melani Shoop, 26, of Denver, it wasn't a childhood dream that drove her into a cool, halter wedding sheath--appropriate for the weather in lush Haiku Gardens in Kaneohe, on the windward side of Oahu--but the chance to stave off wedding negotiations between families and friends that made the Israeli peace accord look simple.

"I didn't want to deal with it," said the first-time bride, getting ready to walk down the flower-festooned pathway to meet Robert G. Grodt, also 26. "I wanted something luxurious and glamorous and romantic . . . and (sigh) Hawaii."

Instead, she hired Susan O'Donnell of Aloha Wedding Planners to handle the arrangements. Even though the couple planned to get away from it all, when they moved their December wedding up to May, they ended up bringing their wedding party with them: 30 family members and friends.

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