Cartagena, Colombia: A Gem on the Caribbean

You’re standing atop a hundreds of years old stone wall, looking out over waves of the Caribbean Sea crashing into the beach. The city is relaxed, cosmopolitan, and tropical. It is a foodie’s, and a history buff’s, paradise. Low key and luxurious. Very old and very new.

What it isn’t is a drug war zone, but that’s what people might think when you tell them you’re going to Cartagena, Colombia. Blame it on lingering news images from the 80s. While Colombia has rebounded generally, people in Cartagena told me their city was never quite like that.

I spent 5 fantastic days in mid July in Cartagena. It’s full name is Cartagena de Indias, Cartagena of the Indies, and that accounts for why I felt like I was right at home among the Caribbean people my West Indian family came from – because I was.  The city has a dual personality, split between an old town – La Ciudad Antigua – defined by 16th- century fortress walls and a new city, soaring up from a peninsula with highrise hotels and apartment buildings. Construction is booming on the peninsula, with several new hotels going up.

The night I arrived, a wedding party was being held on one of the galleons that are docked in the Las Ánimas Bay. Fireworks from the reception lit up the sky.

Fireworks over Cartagena

Fireworks over Cartagena

 

Cartagena is on the rise as a destination wedding location, but note that if you are not Colombian, your civil and legal marriage would have to take place in your home country. Still, Cartagena opens its doors to you – even the nearly 500-year-old Castillo San Felipe fort that overlooks the city is available as a venue for your special celebration.

Dancers, Castillo San Felipe fort

Dancers, Castillo San Felipe fort

 

Same sex marriage is legal in Colombia, so a same-sex couple should expect a welcoming environment for their wedding festivities. The Cartagena Chamber of Commerce will be launching a program to help couples plan weddings in their city in the coming months.

You and your party would certainly be well-fed. The food in Cartagena is delightful. Given its Caribbean location, I was on a mission to eat as much fried fish and ceviche as I could. I tried both at several restaurants. My favorite fried fish was served at Pizza & Pasta in the Old City. For the bargain price of around 11,000 pesos (about $6 USD), not only was I served an entrée of fried fish, rice, salad, and lentils, but the meal was preceded with a banana and a delicious bowl of ajiaco, a soup with beef, chicken, corn, and other veggies. I washed it all down with agua de panela, a light, refreshing, not too sweet drink made from sugar.

My favorite ceviche restaurant was the aptly named La Cevichería, also in the Old City. I tried a sampler of various flavors of ceviche, made of shrimp, fish, and octopus, as an appetizer, and had a wonderful paella for my entrée. La Cevichería, despite being nestled among high-end hotels, was incredibly inexpensive.

What else to do while in town? The Old City is the place for historical and cultural explorations. The Gold Museum showcased the intricate and beautiful jewelry of the ancient indigenous people of Colombia. Next to the Church of San Pedro Claver sits a museum dedicated to his memory, housed in the house where he lived and worked. San Pedro Claver was the patron saint of slaves, who fought a dedicated fight throughout his life for the rights of enslaved people. The Church has beautiful courtyards, an impressive collection of religious art, and – during my visit – was showcasing a collection of Afro-Haitian art. I took a private walking tour of the Church and the Old City, which I highly recommend, and learned about Cartagena’s history as a major port during the time of Spain’s conquest of the Americas.  The Old City is also host to public events such as concerts and festivals throughout the year.

 

Concert in front of San Pedro Claver Church

Concert in front of San Pedro Claver Church

 

Colombia is known for the quality of its emeralds and gold jewelry, so come prepared to shop, as well.

Far more beautiful than the city beaches are those in the Islas del Rosario off the coast. It takes about an hour to reach the islands by ferry from the Cartagena city pier, and a round trip visit package including lunch is easy to book from tour operators throughout the city. The water is clearer and the sand is softer than that of the beaches in the city, so a trip to the Islas del Rosario is a must during any trip to Cartagena.

If you enjoy nightlife, the bars and nightclubs are located in Getsemaní, an older area of town located right next to the walled city. Whether you enjoy spending late nights dancing and drinking or not, make the time to catch a Chiva party bus. For 30,000-40,000 pesos ($15-$20 USD), you will be treated to a live band playing rumba music, a tour of greatest hits, tour of city monuments (which look all that much more intriguing in the moonlight), and unlimited mixed drinks. The liquor served is what is called the national rum, but unlike other rums it is made with anise and has a distinctive flavor. Most chivas get going around 8pm, and will take you to a nightclub if that’s your thing at around 11:00pm – or return you to your hotel if it’s not.

In fact, it was from my seat on a chiva that I witnessed the wedding that punctuated the night sky with fireworks.

Cartagena was high on my bucket list of places to see.  But I found that it wasn’t just a place to check off my list and then move on.  I cannot wait for my next trip to this beautiful city.

 

DIY vs. Don’t Even Try: Let’s Talk International Destination Weddings

 

There are no rules with a destination wedding.  Not today, not anymore.  Freedom and style, especially for international brides, trump conventional ‘rules.’  The way it was done before still holds some merit, the only difference is that now it’s connected to deeper cultural traditions, the merging of different backgrounds and a real respect for new multi-cultural traditions. That said, it is pretty important when jumping into an international meeting with real brides about destination wedding plans to really get to the heart of what a bride needs to know must be established. Recently speaking to real bride Faz Abdul Gaffa, who intends on having a ceremony in Singapore and also one in New Jersey, it was important to break the ice and give her sound advice that can help her make a decision she feels good about.
So, at 10:00am EST and 10:00pm Singapore time, Faz greeted me on our first Google+ Hangout session with a bright and open twinkle in her eye with that blazing question that every bride-to-be should ask herself and someone else: do I really need a wedding planner? The answer is YES, an overwhelming yes. With limited time for our first e-meet-and-greet, we had plenty of territory to cover. As Faz had already decided on a private yacht in the Singapore harbor overlooking its skyline as her first wedding location, we moved on to the save the date announcements. I suggested that these be sent out as soon as possible, 9-12 months are ideal. The formal invitation should be sent out anywhere from two to three months ahead of your wedding date. Let’s not forget to list your URL on your invite so guests can go online to your wedding site and find out information on places to stay, special rates, location maps, airport transport, etc. Ceremony locations and timelines of your multiple events should be listed among other guest information. As you can see during the second part of our conversation I literally had so much to squeeze in to ensure she knew all that happens during wedding planning that you may notice Google+ Hangouts simply stopped switching the camera between us both and just focused on my attempt to fill her in.  With weddings, there is simply so much to consider.  Imagine, if one 24 minutes Google+ Hangouts session seems to be a lot, what happens once the ball gets rolling with vendors, flowers, guests, accommodations, officiants, etc.
Faz has a vision of a stylish, intimate to medium sized wedding and is considering inviting the same wedding guests to travel to both international ceremony destinations.  I felt compelled to let her know that what actually sounds like one wedding, in this case, is actually two and that this is why getting those save the dates out the door sooner than later was very important. Multi event locations can become very costly and time consuming for your guest and can take a lot of planning on their side as well. We do admire her pazazz but from experience we know that planning has frustrated countless brides in the past. Brides should be free of this burden because the level of stress is literally the opposite of what our bride should feel on her wedding day splendor. It’s a conversation that marks the beginning of a trusting relationship.
To hear Faz tell the story of how she met her fiancé, John, at a Halloween party shows the joy she feels about her approaching nuptials and the love she has for her partner, but I find it’s pretty important for brides to understand that there is a craft to wedding and event planning. Our job is to incorporate your personalities, vision and dreams into your wedding and to take care of every detail, so you don’t have to. Whether it’s day of coordination, partial planning or full planning, for anyone planning a memorable event, let alone planning a wedding (or two!), we don’t only create for the sake of the host or bride and groom to look their best amongst their family and friends.  We become the creators so that couples can enjoy guests and the magic they envisioned. Though the decision making process at this stage can cause some anxiety, it’s not as black and white as many think.  For brides who are reconsidering planning their own event (in lieu of articles like this), who don’t have access to a gratuitous budget, we actually created Weddings in a Box package, an all inclusive must-have kit for those deciding to elope or who prefer to have an intimate ceremony with a special touch but without the ongoing details of a full scale wedding.  With this option brides can keep a close relationship with an upscale planner but from a consulting perspective.  Ahhh, the power of choice.
Faz is a young professional in love, who should be absolutely hassle free on her big days.  Directing her own multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-destination wedding when she’s never done it before is like refashioning the engine of a rare car without all of the parts.  With one year from her weddings, Faz will now have to decide if she will weather the DIY wedding planning storm or if she’ll consider other options.  She can pick up where we left off once she chooses a date. Well, two dates.

About Marc Wilson:

Marc Wilson is the Guest Lifestyle Editor of World Bride Magazine, a 2013 Big Apple Award nominee and the Founder and Creative Director of Weddings by MWD Lifestyles.  Marc’s company, MWD Lifestyles (formerly Marc Wilson Design), is a full scale wedding, event design, production and planning company with destination partnerships and capabilities and has grown to be the name in the decor and events, weddings and destination industry it is today.  Marc’s fifteen years within the events industry has resulted in national and international recognition and, to date, MWD Lifestyles has worked with Rolex, Hugo Boss, Martha Stewart Weddings and MGM Metro Goldwyn Mayer.  Marc’s work has been published in Grace Ormond Wedding Style, Design Bureau, New York Weddings, Manhattan, Essence, Weddings by Design, The Knot, Brides and Town&Country. FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest.

Own A Piece Of America: Rancho Santa Fe

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Destination weddings involve more than just picking a location, sending out invites, and hoping everyone who r.s.v.p.’d shows up.  It requires complete and thoughtful planning.

While planning your nuptials locally, your  concerns may be a bit more simple, perhaps because your vendors are easily accessible to you.  Your primary focus will most likely be choosing a venue that will accommodate your sense of style, your budget, and your guest count.  You may go so far as to take into consideration driving accommodations to and from the location, as well as parking on the grounds.

Local vendors may prove to be more accessible for meetings, making you feel more at ease with your choice of doing business with them.

There is a big contrast when your wedding is not being held locally. What makes you feel more secure about the services you are going to receive?

You are completely at the mercy of management, internet reviews, and writers (such as magazines, like ours), hoping for an honest review about the experience at an establishment.

Thus the reason why we at WBM take it very seriously when we seek out venues, vendors, hotels, restaurants, caterers, florists, photographers and everything else that encompasses your big day.  We realize that what we put in writing will affect one of the most important moments of your life.

As one of our favorite states in America, California continues to maintain a warm spot in our hearts.  It is the state where the sun kisses your skin daily and the views are magnificent from one region to the next. On this trip, we decided to visit Rancho Santa Fe. This beautiful region totally impressed us with its rich history and Mexican-inspired architecture, which remains a part of its current lifestyle.

 

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Our wedding location of choice would be Rancho Valencia a Relais & Châteaux property, right in the heart of this town. The view, before you even get to the grounds, proves to be breathtaking. You will realize, during the scenic ride to the property, that you have left all your cares and stress back at the airport!

The grounds are perfectly manicured, and the top-class service begins as soon as you hit the parking lot, complete with valet parking. The front desk is stationed through the courtyard of this brilliant piece of architecture that was built with the intent of complimenting  the Mediterranean-inspired grounds. Thirty million dollars was invested to assure that your stay proved to be nothing but the best.  This five-star resort makes promises that it has every intentions of keeping.

After checking into our three-bedroom suite with its private Jacuzzi, full kitchen, bathroom in each room, and a chef-like kitchen, a patio that clearly makes you feel at home, I knew that nothing would go wrong.  After dropping our bags in our suite, we walked the grounds to get familiar with our surroundings.

The property is fully equipped with a full-service spa, fitness center, yoga space, swimming pool, tennis court and walking trail, which will bring you total peace. As if that wasn’t enough, the private areas for weddings are only one step short of perfection. You have a choice of having your wedding in the outdoor space on the property, or for a larger group, the ballroom space, which is more than suitable for the absolutely pickiest client.

This piece of paradise is not only fit for a queen, but his royal highness will be more than pleased with the private room that will enchant him and his groomsmen. From The Pony Room, The Wine Room, to the Veladora, nothing about this space will disappoint you.

 

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On top of that, the food is absolutely divine.  As you know, we are sticklers for customer service, and the Rancho Valencia food and beverage team did not disappoint us in that area. We were more than pleased with our treatment, the menu, and the list of options for all our dining needs.

If you decide not to drive in, Porsche has partnered with Rancho Valencia to provide you luxury at your fingertips. Why Porsche?  Why not?  Porsche is the how you spell luxury. The location calls for it, why not go all out and enjoy the toys that come along with it during your stay. The history of the brand is enchanting enough to enjoy it at the very least during your wedding or honeymoon stay and not feel guilty.

In addition to the already listed amenities, Rancho Valencia has a list of preferred vendors that will make sure your day is as perfect as you imagined it. And if after your day is completed and you just can’t imagine not being able to enjoy all of these amenities again, you are offered the opportunity to own a piece of paradise.

 

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“Along with what may be the world’s most perfect climate, owners at Rancho Valencia enjoy a refined and quiet sensibility—the glamour of old Hollywood, the thrill of Del Mar racing, the simple pleasure of a picnic at the beach.  It’s an inviting place where families come together, friends are made and life is cherished.”

 

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May your quest for the right destination be filled with joy and great excitement.   For us at WBM we will continue to journey across the globe to find you some of the worlds greatest Hidden Treasures.

Destination Weddings: 101 Class Is in Session with Marc Wilson

 

Dashing down to meet destination partners in from the Mayan Riviera and then onto the Four Seasons before meeting about a wedding back at the House of MWD, leaves me little time for creative luxuries.  Even on days when the weather is perfect, time is of the essence.  So many details go into the planning and presentational meetings with our brides. From our studio trove of various style, size and colored vases, like the standard clear glass bowls or the elegant blown cylinders from Poland to wonderful mirrored glass cubes that sparkle, to even the colored glass in luster finishes. Our team pulls from in-house stock of party wares to reviewing style boards created just for our bride and groom to review.  On perfect days, I arrive to the House of MWD only to find I’m not satisfied with the color swatches and realize, I have to go all the way back down to the fabric district for swatches to my liking.  With beads of sweat and one eye on the clock, I snatch the swatches and dash up to greet the bride-to-be.

I’d liken this presentational meeting with our bride (and sometimes the mothers of the bride) and groom to a shopping spree, of sorts, down elegant Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. It’s where we begin to talk about how the overall theme is interpreted for the event.  It should be a feast for your eyes and a tactile experience – which allows the bride to immerse herself in this experience.  Items usually tucked away in our display cases are now laid out on sample linens, to be picked up, sorted, discarded, coveted – now all a part of the decision making process.

Here’s some of what to expect at a planning meeting:

  • First – do your homework!  Pull photos of both your likes and dislikes from magazines, Pinterest, weddings blogs, etc.  Create your “look book” – keeping in mind sometimes what you don’t like is more important than knowing what you do…
  • Arrive with your questions in hand.  Your planner will have already given you a checklist to review – this will help streamline some of your concerns and needs.  Be forthright about any uncertainties related to selecting and styling your wedding.  Be willing to talk about the nagging or difficult issues that could become stumbling blocks later in the planning process, even if they seem small at the moment.  Once you actually identify them, fun begins.
  • Take notes during the meeting – and bring your calendar!  It will be imperative you and your planner stay on the same page throughout this process.  You’ll want to be sure those antique Moroccan vases arrive on schedule.
  • Be prepared to discuss your budget. The budget is a key element in the design process – providing direction and guidance for both you and your planner.
  • Anticipate change. Your favorite flower may not be in season on your wedding day.  Your “look book” color palate may clash with your venue. All of your co-workers respond YES to the RSVP.  Changes start with the first planning meeting.
  • Be ready to spend time at the meeting.  Once needed conversations are had about creative aspects and the overall design, it’s time to delve into the matter at hand – shopping!  This is literally a time to select as our team notes which items, textures, styles and shapes seem the most appealing to the bride.  Don’t be surprised to spend 2 or more hours.  In my case recently, 3 and a half hours later.  It was worth it because what the bride said she felt matched with how she looked: crystal clear.

We encourage every bride to be herself – everyone has their own sense of style, let us help you develop yours!  From our first conversation, we stress how the planning and design process is here to support the bride – and groom!  Don’t let weddings “over-exposure” keep your personal style from coming through.  Equally challenging will be all of the family and friend’s expectations for your special day.  Your planner is here to help and may often be the first line of defense.

So you’ve finished your first planning meeting… what’s next?  Expect to have some homework.  And remember, until you’re married to your husband, you’re married to your planner!

About Marc Wilson:

Marc Wilson is the Guest Lifestyle Editor of World Bride Magazine, a 2013 Big Apple Award nominee and the Founder and Creative Director of Weddings by MWD Lifestyles.  Marc’s company, MWD Lifestyles (formerly Marc Wilson Design), is a full scale wedding, event design, production and planning company with destination partnerships and capabilities and has grown to be the name in the decor and events, weddings and destination industry it is today.  Marc’s fifteen years within the events industry has resulted in national and international recognition and, to date, MWD Lifestyles has worked with Rolex, Hugo Boss, Martha Stewart Weddings and MGM Metro Goldwyn Mayer.  Marc’s work has been published in Grace Ormond Wedding Style, Design Bureau, New York Weddings, Manhattan, Essence, Weddings by Design, The Knot, Brides and Town&Country.

Choosing Your Wedding Paradise- 10 Reasons to Think of The Cayman Islands

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The wedding is over and you both said I do.  The last of all the vendors are paid, your TSA friendly bags have been packed and you are honeymoon ready.

So why should you choose the Cayman Islands?

Located in the western portion of the Caribbean Sea, the British territories are made up of three islands: Grand CaymanCayman Brac and Little Cayman. The population is approximately 56,000 thousand people, a mix of African-European descendants. The area is said to have about 120 nationalities, with English the primary language.

The islands are governed by the Queen of England, with an appointment every four years. The people on the island depend totally depend on tourism from the ships, hotels and visitors to support the economy. George Town, once a swamp territory, has quickly become a destination playground for the well-to-do.  Not known for party scene, the capital represents relaxing and pleasure for those looking for peace away from fast city life.

While visiting the main island, we had the pleasure of being taken around by one of the locals, Miss Babeth Shelley, our fiery Jamaican entrepreneur who filled us in on what’s what on the islands.

 From politics to beaches and to news we got an ear full.  We heard the back story of how the town of Hell received its name and saw it up close up and personal.

Aside from lounging in our resort air conditioned room, pool side bar, full service restaurant, beach side water activities include kayaking, jet skiing, sailing we also enjoyed good old fashion snoozing on the hammock by the sea. The property is on the 18 hole golf course club ran by the Ritz Carlton if your looking to relax or work on your swing, while tanning in the heat of the sun.

So if you seek a honeymoon hot spot, the Cayman Islands may just be the cure the doctor ordered for your winter blues for those who endured this last torturous season.

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Seven Mile Beach

 

Here are our top 10 reasons to go:

1.  Based on your origins of travel and preferred airlines, there is a flight everyday. Many of them are from Miami, which is just over an hour away, and many airlines also fly direct.

2. There are over 120 nationalities on the island. English is their primary language because it is a British colony.


3.  They accept foreign currency if you don’t have time to exchange your money.  

4.  Access to hotels range from luxury 7-star hotels to affordable resorts that are all-inclusive and family friendly for every wallet size.

5.  The food is magnificent.  Fresh fish from this island makes for healthy eating.

6.  The beaches, specifically Seven Miles Beach, is rated number four in the world.

7. If you’re a golfer, the courses are groomed just right for your next game.

8.  If you enjoy water activities, you have your choices of snorkeling, surfing, diving and swimming with dolphins.

9.  Night clubs and DJs are plentiful from the traditional restaurant and bar scene to a more planned list of seasonal activities (check your calendar or the tourism board).

10. The beaches are perfect for laying in the sun with a drink and do nothing.

As a bonus to your list of of things to do, Cayman Island Fashion Week for all you fashionistas courtesy of  Guavaberry Marketing-Cindy Rosan-Jones and Terry Donovan. www.caymanislandsfashionweek.com

 

For more information visit: Websites: www.caymanislands.ky | www.caymankind.com www.divecayman.ky

All images are courtesy of Victor Amos.

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Holiday Inn Resort Grand Cayman

Seven Mile Beach

Seven Mile Beach