2009-08-06 / Local & State

To Wed, PA Couples Travel To Distant Shores

By Bob McDowell

NEW CASTLE, Pa. (AP) - Ever since Toniann Laurenza was 10, she'd been telling her mother she would get married on the beach.

And June 28, the elementary school teacher did - to Shawn Kelly.

While both are from New Castle, about 40 miles northwest of Pittsburgh and 10 miles east of the Ohio border, the couple said their "I do's'' at a resort on Marco Island, Fla. - in the same fashion that April Aven and Stephen Richards exchanged vows in Puerto Rico in May, and along the same lines that Kyley Ann Watkins and Bryan Shaffer will do in September in South Nags Head, N.C.

They are called destination weddings, and according to a Fairchild Bridal Group report cited at www.thinklikeabride.com, the number of couples choosing them has increased 200 percent in the last 10 years.

The Web site also reported statistics from Modern Bride that show 51,000 couples opt for destination weddings every year, and 60 percent of those are in the continental United States.

Now, local couples are getting in step with this trend.

Raised Catholic, Toniann Laurenza Kelly admired her fair share of church weddings, but didn't want one.

She knew she could create a memorable, yet traditional ceremony, without the fuss.

"I have a big family, Shawn has a big family,'' she said. "We didn't want the crazy stress that goes along with a huge wedding.''

They shared their big day with about 60 family and friends at the Marriott Beach Resort Golf Club & Spa, where guests could have a good time and pursue their own interests afterward.

The couple set their date about a year and a half in advance. Arrangements were done over the phone with a wedding planner.

All she and Shawn had to do was show up.

Everybody paid their own way - including the 12-member wedding party, each of whom found his or her own accommodations.

Toniann said her wedding was far less expensive than some New Castle weddings with all the perks.

Of going destination: "It was a wonderful experience and very stress free. I would recommend doing it.''

Locally, the high-end wedding of the season was probably the Aven/Richards nuptials May 16 in Puerto Rico.

Maybe the mother of the bride, Kim Aven, will share the photos. She and husband, Anthony, bought the entire package offered by their photographer.

The images are a three-day collection of happy memories as two families blend for a reunion/ vacation/wedding.

"I couldn't have tackled it alone,'' Aven said of the planning. She knew at least a year in advance what and where the event would be.

Her advice?

"Hire a wedding planner. Ours was wonderful,'' she said. The planner, provided by the hotel, offered Web sites for everything - flowers, cake, band.

"With the Internet, gee whiz, it was so easy.''

Aven's concern that prices could be exorbitant was unfounded when she realized, for instance, island flowers are cheaper than those imported to New Castle.

"Overall, when we got to checking, prices were comparable to what we could have had here.''

However, according to the father of the bride, if they were to have had the wedding in New Castle - avoiding things like travel and hotel - they could have spent the same amount of money, but instead of 90 guests, had 1,000.

Shenango Township's Kyley Watkins advises anyone planning a destination wedding to start earlier than she did.

"Four months is definitely not enough time,'' said the future bride who became engaged in April.

"It's definitely stressful,'' she said last week from North Carolina, where she was ironing out such details as a better price for five rose bouquets - $400.

Instead of relying on the Internet, she suggests visiting ahead of time to see your options to get the best deals.

She admits that even though a beach wedding is something she's always wanted, it's costing more than one in New Castle.

In North Carolina, catering was almost $60 a plate, so she chose barbecue for $32.

"That's about average to what it is up home.''


Key lime wedding cake to serve 60 - at nearly $500.

All told, her father is shelling out about $10,000, which includes the beach house for a week with private pool and walkway to the beach ceremony spot.

He's also paying for a night in the hotel for the bridal party.

The groom's parents are covering the rehearsal dinner and their guests' hotel.

Return to top