Dempsey & Carroll’s Kara Alexander sat down with event planner, Mary Bartolucci of Island Style Weddings, to learn about her move to St. John and planning weddings in the Virgin Islands. Here’s what she said.
MB: 18 years ago, I was a Director of Sales and Marketing for a hotel in downtown Baltimore. I got a call from a head hunter – was I interested in a hotel in Seattle? This was right after a very long cold winter and warmer climates were calling me. I told him “NO, NO, NO, not interested in Seattle, but find me an island and I will go!” As fate would have it, there was a position on St Thomas, USVI at Frenchman’s Reef Hotel. I had spent 5 years living on Grand Bahama Island and knew I loved island life. Once it was put out into the universe it happened very quickly. I lived my first two years on St. Thomas but kept feeling the pull of St. John. When an opportunity at Westin St. John developed, I took it. Once I moved to St. John, I felt like I had found my home. The island lifestyle suits me perfectly and I love the small tight-knit community here.
KA: Destination weddings aren’t always so small and intimate, I’m sure you have hosted some exceptionally large weddings that include friends and family from all over the globe. What is the largest wedding you have ever helped plan and what were some of the pre-wedding group activities you coordinate to get everyone acclimated?
MB: A destination wedding brings people from all over the globe to come together for a celebration of love, family and friendship. There is no “typical” destination wedding so each is designed with the couple’s lifestyle and interests in mind. It is an opportunity to spend quality time with those closest to you. There can also be deep healing as families come together for a united purpose – to support and celebrate the new union. The days leading up to the wedding can be filled with group sailing trips, rum tastings, paddle boarding, snorkeling, and island hopping days. We have coordinated weddings with family traveling from the mainland of China, Australia, Europe and the mainland. It is important to design your wedding events around who you have invited to ensure that they have the best experience possible. How can you lose when your backdrop is the Caribbean sea and sweet reggae music in the air?
KA: If a bride and groom are set on getting married in the US Virgin Islands during hurricane season, what advice or precautions do you take while planning?
MB: For the couple who choose to married during hurricane season, my suggestion is to discuss your comfort level with the added risk of inclement weather. Always have a plan B for weather backup and buy wedding insurance. It is inexpensive and well worth it. If you are going to stress and obsess about the weather, choose a different time of year. We do lots of weddings during the season and although I have not learned how to control the weather, I do have very good weather karma!
KA: On your website you mention your experience working with Heads of State, celebrities and corporations. Would you indulge us with a bit of name-dropping?
MB: A good planner always respects her couples’ privacy.
KA: As a long time local, what can you recommend to a bride and groom who are considering the Virgin Islands for their destination wedding that would set it apart from any another location?
MB: The US and British Virgin Islands are unspoiled by development, the beaches are pristine, the language is English and they are an easy flight from the US. I love the fact that on many islands there are no red lights, no McDonalds, no strip malls. It is refreshing break from the fast-paced life that most people live.
Louis Lucas, Louis Lucas Photography
Alain Brin, Blue Glass Photography