Many South Pacific hotels offer insanely romantic venues for destination weddings. But if you want to be married where the first overwater bungalows were invented, there is only one choice
That’s on Tahiti’s sister island of Moorea. The exact spot is at the Moorea Pearl Resort & Spa, on the site of the old Hotel Bali Hai. It was there, back in the 1960’s, that a trio of young Californians who would become known as the Bali Hai boys thought: “Why not build hotel rooms over the lagoon instead of alongside it?” And as obvious as the idea might seem, with hundreds of resorts throughout the Pacific and elsewhere now offering overwater bungalows, no one else, not even the ancient Polynesians, had thought of it before.
Today, you can get married steps from where those original bungalows have been replaced by the more up-to-date ones of the Moorea Pearl, on the beach under what activities co-ordinator Dannie Roometua calls The Tree of Love. In fact, Roometua, who handles about 50 weddings a year at the resort, says that most bridal couples, some eighty percent of them Americans, exchange their vows beneath the tree’s sheltering limbs. “It’s just the setting they imagine, and it offers shade, too,” say the native Moorean, clearly attuned to what Americans consider necessary.
Mostly, she says, the wedding party consists of the couple and perhaps a friend or two. But she has two weddings coming up that will have about 20 guests who traveled to French Polynesia for the event.
A serene, high green island only a few miles from Tahiti, Moorea can provide just about any wedding service that might be required. “The only thing I tell brides is we can’t iron traditional wedding dresses; you have to go to Tahiti to get that done,” Roometua says.
One thing most couples opt for is a traditional Polynesian ceremony – approaching the Tree of Love along a walkway of flower petals to the accompaniment of Polynesian music. “Usually, the bride and groom get legally married at home and do only a symbolic ceremony here; but since the marriage laws changed a few years ago, doing it legally here is easy,” she says. Making it especially easy is that the Moorea Pearl puts brides and grooms in touch with a local expert who helps them through all the legal steps.
And when you are done, and other couples try to impress you with the exoticism of their destination wedding? Just mention, ever so casually, the history of the Pearl Moorea’s overwater bungalows –Bob Payne