The secret is to do the paperwork yourself. Our experienced author tells how
For the rest of your life, you will remember how the golden reflection of the setting sun painted everything in a warm, rose-colored hue. And the intoxicating aroma of tropical blossoms wafting through the balmy air, and the whispering melody from the waving palm fronds as the officiant said those magic words: "I now pronounce you husband and wife." Hawaii's gentle climate and exotic ambiance create the perfect romantic atmosphere for a wedding to remember and a great setting for the honeymoon you've always dreamed about.
But equally important, it is possible to get married in the islands without spending a fortune and enjoy an inexpensive honeymoon without depleting your new joint bank account. You just have to be willing to do a little of the legwork yourself.
The paperwork to make it legal
For the legal paperwork, contact the Honolulu Marriage License Office, State Department of Health Building, 1250 Punchbowl St., Honolulu, HI 96813 (808/586-4545 or 4544, state.hi.us/doh/records/vr_marri.html; open Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m., Hawaiian standard time). They'll mail you their brochure, "Getting Married," and direct you to a marriage licensing agent close to wherever you'll be staying in Hawaii. And who are these agents? They range from private individuals working out of their homes to government employees in a state office building who will help you with the required paperwork.
When you arrive in Hawaii, you and your prospective spouse must go together to the marriage licensing agent to get the license. It costs $60 (cash) and is good for 30 days; if you don't have the ceremony within the time allotted, you'll have to pay another $60 for another license. The only requirements for a marriage license are that both parties be 18 years of age and not more closely related than first cousins. But contrary to what you may have gathered from the media, gay couples cannot marry in Hawaii. The state supreme court ruled last year that a marriage license can be issued only to an opposite sex couple.
Finding someone to perform the ceremony
The local marriage licensing agents are usually friendly, helpful people who can steer you to someone who's licensed by the state of Hawaii to perform the ceremony, whether you're looking for a minister of a certain denomination or a plain ol' justice of the peace. (However, some marriage licensing agents are state employees and under law cannot recommend anyone with a religious affiliation; they can only give you phone numbers for local judges to perform the ceremony.)
Another option is to look in the local newspapers on the island where you want to have the wedding. People willing and qualified to conduct weddings often advertise in the classifieds. They're great sources of information, as they know the best places to have the ceremony and can recommend caterers, florists, and everyone else you'll need. Contact the subscription or circulation departments of the following local newspapers for the latest classifieds:
On Oahu, write or call the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 7 Waterford Plaza, Suite 210, 500 Ala Moana, Honolulu, HI 96813 (808/524-4700); or the Honolulu Advertiser, 605 Kapiola Boulevard, Honolulu, 96813. On Maui, get a copy of The Maui News, P.O. Box 550, Wailuku, HI 96793 (808/244-3981); on the Kona side of the Big Island, look in West Hawaii Today, P.O. Box 789, Kailua-Kona, HI 96745 (808/329-9311); on the Hilo side of the Big Island, check with the Hawaii Tribune-Herald, P.O. Box 767, Hilo, HI 96721 (808/935-6621); and on Kauai, contact the Garden Island, P.O. Box 231, Lihue, HI 96766 (808/245-3681).
Another resource is online: the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau's site, gohawaii.com, has a section on weddings and honeymoons in the islands that includes a honeymoon planner, a wedding service fact sheet, and a list of related vendors (coordinators, photographers, florists, etc., who are members of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau).
How much will it cost?
The best way to save money on your ceremony is to do all the paperwork yourself and negotiate a fee with the person licensed by the state to perform the ceremony. Fees range from a donation (let your conscience be your guide, but most "suggested" donations range from $50 to $150) to specific fees set by the marriage officiant.
If you need a little help planning the festivities but can't afford a fancy wedding planner, here is our pick -- on every island other than Kauai -- of the people licensed to perform marriage ceremonies (some have their own wedding consulting companies). For a minimal fee (note: the $60 licensing fee is extra), they'll officiate a low-cost ceremony and help you out with the paperwork. (Note that we scoured the island of Kauai but couldn't find anyone who meets these criteria charging less than $150.)
On Oahu, contact Rev. Jerry Le Lesch and Rev. Toni Baran (44-160 Kou Pl., Suite 2, Kaneohe, HI 96744, 808/235-6966, lovehawaii.com), who have been performing weddings since 1985. For $95, they will coordinate your license and perform the ceremony (they even know some great spots to get married for free).
On the Big Island, we recommend Rev. Libby Kelson-Fulcher (P.O. Box 4965, Kailua-Kona, HI 96745, 808/322-3322, weddingsalaheart.com), who can perform both traditional ceremonies (including Jewish weddings) and customized ceremonies. She charges $175 for officiating the ceremony and also offers a "Simply Hawaiian" package for $395 that includes coordinating the wedding license, finding a site, helping you design the ceremony, performing the vows, providing two traditional leis, and assisting in any other details.
On Maui, call Rev. Linda Stevens (2162 Kahookele St., Wailuku, HI 96793, 808/280-6137) who has a basic "minister only" plan that includes arranging for the license, suggesting sites, and performing the wedding for a reasonable amount.
Free romantic tropical sites for your ceremony
More than 20,000 marriages a year are performed in the islands in a range of places: near the gentle wash of the waves on a beach at sunset, alongside a tumbling waterfall at dawn, atop a wind-swept bluff overlooking the ocean, deep in a rain forest jungle, and even in more traditional settings, like a church, synagogue, or mosque.
If you don't have your heart set on a big church wedding, you can save a lot of money by tying the knot in one of Hawaii's magnificent outdoor settings. If you pick wisely, you can have the location absolutely free. One example of a dream wedding site is Kapiolani Beach Park on Oahu. Not only is it free but your wedding photos can have Waikiki Beach in the background in one shot and, from another angle, the famous Diamond Head volcano in the next shot, letting everyone know just where you celebrated your wedding.
Hawaii's state and county beaches and parks allow you to have your ceremony there at no cost; however, you must fill out some paperwork to obtain the necessary permits.
Dreamy inexpensive honeymoon accommodations
When the ceremony is over, the honeymoon begins, and what better place to honeymoon than in sensuous Hawaii? It's not necessary to go into hock to have a sumptuous honeymoon in the islands. Our picks of low-cost but romantic sites at which to spend your honeymoon (or to stash the relatives for a few days before or after the ceremony) include these:
On Oahu, head for the relative serenity of the North Shore, where exotic flowers bloom in dazzling colors, the fragrance of the rolling ocean fills the air, and the glitter of thousands of stars beckons romance at night. For a honeymoon on the beach, "Auntie" Alice Tracy has been welcoming newlyweds for decades at her oceanside Ke Iki Hale, a collection of one- and two-bedroom cottages and duplexes right on the beach. Located between two legendary surf sites (Waimea Bay and the Banzai Pipeline), her units face a 200-foot stretch of white sand beach, and although none is new and furnishings are modest, each one is immaculately clean, homey, and comfortable. Perfect for honeymooners, with no phone and no television to distract you, only that great beach outside and the two of you inside. The cottages start at just $65 (59-579 Ke Iki Rd., Haleiwa, HI 96712, 808/638-8229).
Another inexpensive site on the North Shore, and a great place to stash the family, is the Best Inn Hukilau. This small (49 units), two-story, plantation-style hotel is within walking distance of the Polynesian Cultural Center and just across the street from a secluded white sand beach. The rooms are fairly standard, with two king, queen, or double beds, TV, phone, air-conditioning, small refrigerator, and coffeemaker and microwave on request. All the rooms overlook the swimming pool and barbecue/picnic area. Guests include lots of families, although Craig Huish, the general manager, says they get their share of honeymooners because the hotel is so close to the Mormon Temple in Laie. The units start at just $89 and include continental breakfast (55-109 Laniloa St., Laie, HI 96762, 800/526-4562, laieinn.com).
On the Big Island, we recommend spending your honeymoon in Kona, where it's perpetually sunny and the ocean is calm 350 days a year. The best deal for a boutique hotel right on the ocean is the Kona Tiki Hotel, located about a mile from downtown Kailua-Kona (close enough to enjoy the nightlife but far enough away to have peace and quiet). The rooms feature ceiling fans (with those ocean breezes, you don't need air-conditioning), mini-refrigerators, and spacious lanais (porches) to take in the view. What the rooms do not have are televisions or phones, but on your honeymoon, who cares? Rates start at $59 ($79 if you want a kitchenette) and include free continental breakfast by the swimming pool every morning (75-5968 Aln Dr., Kailua-Kona, HI 96740, 808/329-1425).
If you want to leave the relatives at the Kona Tiki and seek out a more intimate location for the two of you, contact the Hawaii Island Bed and Breakfast Association (P.O. Box 1890, Honokaa, HI 96727, stayhawaii.com), which offers a range of options starting as low as $45 a night.
The sun-kissed shores of Kihei in south Maui offer honeymooners a tropical vacation at rates that won't break the bank. In the summer (June-September), you can get a one-bedroom unit at Kihei Kai for as low as $85 ($85 to $95 in the low season, mid-April to mid-December, and $95 to $105 in the high season, mid-December to mid-April). Inside, each unit includes a fully equipped kitchen, and outside there's a sandy cove that's great for swimming. Located on the north end of Kihei, just minutes from restaurants, shopping, and a four-mile string of white sand beaches, these spacious chambers are large enough to sleep four if you have relatives coming to your wedding and also have wide lanais, televisions, phones, and air-conditioning (61 N. Kihei Rd., Kihei, HI 96753, 877/778-7717, maui.net/ki_heikai).
The lush garden isle of Kauai, with its rim of white sand beaches circling the island, variety of ocean activities, and tropical jungle landscape, offers affordable accommodations at centrally located Garden Island Inn, an intimate hotel surrounded by tropical flowers and banana and papaya trees. Just ten minutes from the airport and within easy driving distance to all the attractions on Kauai, this hotel is a great location for honeymooners who want to get out and experience the island. Most rooms have a refrigerator, microwave, coffeemaker, air-conditioning, television, phone, and ocean view, and prices start at $75-$125 double (3445 Wilcox Rd., Lihue, HI 96766, 800/648-0154, gardenislandinn.com).
If you have relatives coming for the wedding who are more interested in saving money than having tropical surroundings, two low-cost motels close-by are the Tip Top Motel (3173 Akahi St., Lihue, HI 96766, 808/245-2333), where all rooms are $50 double, and Motel Lani (P.O. Box 1836, Lihue, HI 96766, 808/245-2965), where rooms start at $38.
Whatever your dreams are, and no matter how tight your budget is, Hawaii can make those dreams come true. A little pre-planning, plus a little legwork, will pay off in a memorable but affordable wedding and honeymoon.
Spectacular wedding sites for free
If you envision your Hawaiian wedding on a long white sand beach with emerald-green water offshore, the spot for you is Hapuna State Beach, near Kawaihae, on the Big Island, and the cost for use of the beach is absolutely nothing. Or if you want your wedding on Kauai, one of the most spectacular settings is Hanalei County Beach Park, where the juxtaposition of the steep, verdant Bali Hai cliffs against the creamy white sand and azure water causes first-time visitors to gasp in awe. The cost for using this dramatic beachfront for your wedding is zero.
Or if your heart is set on a Maui wedding, the sound of the crashing waves and singing birds can be the background to a dawn ceremony in the tropical jungle of Hana's Waianapanapa State Park. Cost for the site: free. However, you must fill out the paperwork for the permits first. To use a state park or state beach park, contact the District Office of the State Divisions of Parks on the island where you plan to have the ceremony and request a special-use permit for a wedding ceremony: Oahu, P.O. Box 621, Honolulu, HI 96809, 808/587-0300; Big Island, P.O. Box 936, Hilo, HI 96721, 808/974-6200; Maui, 54 S. High St., Suite 101, Wailuku, HI 96793; 808/984-8109; Kauai, 3060 Eiwa St., Suite 306, Lihue, HI 96766; 808/274-3444.
If you desire a county beach park and you plan to use it just for a ceremony, you may not need a permit. However, if you would like to use a park facility (like a pavilion), then you will need a permit. Most permits require a custodial deposit, which will be refunded if you clean up the site after you are done. For more information on use of county parks, contact: City and County of Honolulu (the entire island of Oahu): 650 S. King St., First Floor, Honolulu, HI 96813, 808/523-4527; Big Island of Hawaii: 25 Aupuni St., Hilo, HI 96720, 808/961-8311; Maui: 1580-C Kaahumanu Ave., Wailuku, HI 96793, 808/270-7389; Kauai: 4444 Rice St., Lihue, HI 96766, 808/241-6660.
Jeanette Foster is a Hawaii resident (of 25 years) and co-author of numerous best-selling guidebooks to the islands.