...Central Florida is an amazing playground with appeal
beyond its iconic theme parks and gorgeous beaches. But
those stellar assets tend to play major roles when couples
tap the region for destination weddings and honeymoons.
Couples typically find it a breeze to lure friends and family to
the heart of the "Sunshine State" for sharing in their love fest
and lingering longer for a vacation.
"One reason Central Florida is so popular is that 40
percent of marriages are second marriages these days,"
says Heather Snively of Orlando's Weddings Unique. "So
people are incorporating vacations with children. Our theme
parks are big draws, as are our coasts. But if they're looking
for more of a wedding that's not so beachy, we also have
some phenomenal higher end resorts here."
From the family-style recreation of Daytona Beach,
New Smyrna Beach and Cocoa Beach, to the sanctuaries,
preserves and "out of this world" NASA thrills along the
Space Coast, Central Florida's Atlantic Coast is a pleasant
blend of "Old Florida" with a modern-day beach vibe.
Lori Campbell Baker, director of communications for
Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau,
says, "The Daytona Beach area's off-the-beaten path
activities offer visitors plenty of recreational options. From
kayaking pristine inland waterways that run through scenic
Spruce Creek Preserve and Tomoka State Park, to exploring
Ponce Inlet while on a stand-up paddle boarding tour,
visitors will never be bored."
Florida's Space Coast, too, is a great option for a
destination wedding or honeymoon as the area is blessed
with 72 miles of endless sand and 250 sq. miles of wildlife
refuge—making it one of the largest intact ecosystems in
Indian River County, meanwhile, with its friendly, unpretentious atmosphere, is ringed by citrus groves, cattle
ranches and the Atlantic Ocean. Susan Belgam Hunt,
director of tourism for Indian River County Chamber
of Commerce, says that visitors are wowed by the
abundance of natural and cultural resources that can all
be enjoyed with a quaint, small town ambiance. "An airboat tour of the marshlands in the western part of the county is
an excellent way to view some of our nature at its best," she
says. Additionally, "Skydive Sebastian allows our visiting
skydivers to enjoy an incredible view of the Sebastian Inlet
and the Atlantic Ocean while in freefall and under canopy.
It's a spectacular option."
Then there's the Orlando area, with the high-voltage
theme parks, as well as some of the best-preserved
nature areas in the state with 554 lakes, 37 nature parks
and preserves that span more than 25,000 acres.
In nearby Seminole County, visitors can get into the Great
Florida Birding Trail, canoe wild Seminole County's rivers
and spot gators on an airboat tour. They can plan a group
cruise along the historic St. Johns River, charter a boat for
an afternoon of fishing or sailing on one of many sparkling
lakes, or take a kayak outing on the Wekiva River.
But there's more to Central Florida than theme parks,
water fun and nature areas. In the Tampa/St. Petersburg
area, for example, destination wedding guests can watch as
fine cigars are hand-rolled in Ybor City or visit the renowned
Dali Museum. Jeff Copeland, owner of Simple Weddings
Florida based in St. Petersburg, says that nearly all of his
clients want a beach ceremony. "And since so many want
it with a sunset, you have to have that west-facing beach.
Central Florida's Gulf Coast is one of the most accessible
and least expensive options for that in the U.S."
From the soaring glass atrium of the stately Gaylord Palms in Kissimmee to the gorgeous powdery sands fronting
the Loews Don CeSar Hotel on St. Pete Beach, Central
Florida serves up a delicious selection of destination wedding
options that sweep couples—and their guests—off their
collective feet. Settings are diverse, event space runs from
casual to opulent, and service teams deliver fresh concepts
that make for memorable celebrations.
For seaside ceremonies, the AAA four-diamond The Shores
Resort & Spa (866-396-2217; shoresresort.com) recently
added a private ocean terrace specifi cally to provide the
ideal backdrop for open-air weddings. Its 212 luxurious
guestrooms woo with breathtaking views of Daytona Beach,
the Atlantic and the Intracoastal Waterway. Chic furnishings,
Italian marble bathrooms and pillow-top beds add to the
slew of upscale touches. The bridal party and guests can
be pampered with treatments at the boutique Indulge spa,
lounge around the oceanfront saltwater pool and toast the
future at the palapa Tiki Bar.
"Our reception venues range from an opulent ballroom
to rooftop spaces with water views as far as the eye can
see," says Joshua William, catering manager and wedding
specialist. Ceremony packages run from $750-$2,000,
depending on the season. A Couples Retreat pampers with
breakfast for two, valet parking, nightly turndown service,
$100 resort credit and couple's massage with ritual bath in a
private Indulge spa treatment room.
A city-within-a-city, the self-contained Ocean Walk
Village (386-254-4500; oceanwalkvillage.com) is home to
the Ocean Center (800-858-6444; oceancenter.com) with
205,000 sq. ft. of function space and the recently renovated Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort - OceanWalk Village (386-254-8200; daytonahilton.com).
they're not enjoying Ocean Walk's massive shopping, dining
and entertainment options, attendees can dive into all the
ocean action at Daytona's only traffic-free beach or enjoy a
chocolate fondue wrap at the Hilton's spa.
Five Hilton ceremony packages let couples keep it
casual with outdoor receptions in beach attire or ramp up the
black tie elegance with champagne flowing as a trio of violin,
harp and guitar players maintain the mood. The ultimate in
"Do Not Disturb" getaways includes deluxe accommodations,
breakfast for two, champagne upon arrival and chocolate
Also newly renovated with a decidedly upscale decor,
the area's "Grand Old Dame," the 320-room Plaza Resort
& Spa (800-329-8662; plazaresortandspa.com) features
spacious guestrooms with four-star touches like private
balconies and down bedding. Wedding planners consider it
a prime site for larger gatherings with its sprawling outdoor
space along Daytona's pristine white sandy beach. Further
whisking guests into the magic is the resort's Ocean Waters
Spa, the only full-service European-style spa in Central
Florida. They can also relax in comfy lounge chairs on the
oversized pool deck, and convene in the casual Veranda
Lounge with its oceanfront deck and nightly live music.
In an attempt to better assist couples considering Kissimmee
for their destination wedding, the Kissimmee Convention
& Visitors Bureau has launched weddingsinkissimmee.com. "We're promoting Kissimmee as a wedding destination
for tourists, but also for Floridians," says Shelly Maccini,
bureau director. "We can give couples what they want here
without spending a lot." Kissimmee CVB's wedding planning
expert, Sara Melendez (firstname.lastname@example.org),
brings her years of experience in planning group and special
events to guide couples in selecting Kissimmee-area venues,
accommodations and services.
Set in the style and grandeur of a turn-of-the-century
Florida mansion, Kissimmee's 1,406-room Gaylord
Palms Resort & Convention Center (407-586-2000;
gaylordhotels.com/palms-home.html) delivers modern
amenities and its signature 4.5-acre glass Grand Atrium
that promises an "outdoor" wedding with indoor comforts.
Throughout the atrium, the resort's Florida themes transport
guests to colorful Key West, the lush Everglades and historic
St. Augustine. Couples can select a customized Intimate
Wedding or Luxury Wedding package, and bridal parties
can glam to the max at the resort's Relache Spa. Based on location, set up, date and number of guests, rates begin at
They can also treat their guests to a cocktail party
aboard the 60-ft. S.S. Gaylord schooner in the Key West
atrium or host a fun Everglades-themed reception surrounded
by the shimmering light of a thousand firefl ies and the sounds
of croaking bullfrogs.
"It's a total sensory experience from the moment
you step into the atrium," says Cindy Saunders, owner of
Signature Wedding & Events that serves as Gaylord's
exclusive wedding planner. "Guests are enveloped into the
experience. Aside from the amazing atmosphere, there are
no weather issues since you're in the atrium. But it's designed
so you feel like you're outdoors in nature." Newlyweds
can recharge with a Remember Romance plan covering
accommodations, champagne at check in, $40 daily meal
credit, 20 percent off selected spa service, daily self-parking
and daily resort fee.
In Orlando, a pair of artistically inspired Kessler
Collection boutique hotels adds high-end flair to destination
wedding settings via exquisite art, music and cultural
infl uences personally acquired for that property by the Kessler
family. The AAA four-diamond Grand Bohemian Hotel
Orlando (888-213-9110; grandbohemianhotel.com) takes
center stage as downtown's landmark luxury hotel. From the
Italian mosaic tiled barrel-vaulted ceilings to the jester-like
statues at the entry, this oasis of sheer beauty welcomes
wedding parties to enjoy an unprecedented collection of
more than 150 rare works of art.
"Our intimate wedding packages are extremely
appealing to non-local couples since they're all-inclusive,"
says Eric Enriquez, director of exceptional events. "These are
phenomenal options for couples with guests of 30 or less
who would like all of the details of their wedding day taken
care of upon arrival."
From $3,000 for up to 10 guests, a favorite wedding
package covers a 1-night stay for the honeymooners,
professional wedding ceremony with location choice, offi ciate,
classical music, champagne toast, 2-tier cake and 4-course
gourmet dinner with wine service. Additional guests are $125
each. For the newlyweds, the resort offers a 1-night Heart's
Desire honeymoon package that covers accommodations,
one-of-a-kind Amber Higgins designed necklace, $170 food
and beverage credit and valet parking.
With its stunning lakefront scenery caressed by tropical
breezes, Bohemian Hotel Celebration (888-249-4007;
celebrationhotel.com) lets couples celebrate with cocktails
and hors d'oeuvres under the stars, an intimate dinner
for 15 or a traditional gathering in a lakeside ballroom.
The property's Getaway Wedding package with a 2-night
honeymoon stay for the couple and a complete ceremony is
priced from $2,295. An intimate wedding ceremony/reception
for 25 with a 2-night honeymoon stay for the couple is from
$3,995. "All of our wedding packages include either a 1- or
2-night stay here at the hotel," says Melissa Jones, catering
sales manager. "That stay will also include some special
touches like a bottle of champagne and a romantic turndown
Other Orlando and Kissimmee favorites for destination
weddings include the Waldorf Astoria Orlando (407-597-
5500; waldorfastoriaorlando.com), The Peabody (407-
352-4000; peabodyorlando.com), Omni Orlando Resort
at ChampionsGate (407- 206-2400; omnihotels.com/
fi ndahotel/orlandochampionsgate.aspx) and The Ritz-
Carlton Orlando, Grand Lakes (407-206-2400; ritzcarlton.
com/en/Properties/Orlando/Events/Default.htm). "We tend to
work with these properties quite a bit because we know we
can count on them delivering a dream product," says Heather
Snively with Weddings Unique. "The ceremony options are
wonderful and the service is high-end. It makes for happy
Everything about the Westin Lake Mary, Orlando
North (800-937-8461; westinlakemary.com) truly inspires
wedding creativity. The 7,800-sq.-ft. Grand Ballroom is a
dream venue for over-the-top receptions, while the intimate
poolside makes for less formal affairs. An onsite wedding
staff takes the stress from couples so they can focus on
each other. Attendees feel stress-free as well, diving into the
signature WestinWORKOUT fitness center, Westin's evening
unwind ritual in the lobby and the Westin Kids Club that
frees up adult time for guests traveling with children. After
the ceremony, honeymooners can celebrate with an Indulge
Your Passions Experience that covers sparking wine with
strawberries for two, daily full American breakfast and 4 p.m.
Starwood Vacation Ownership (starwoodvacationownership.com), too, offers destination
wedding groups three budget-conscious choices that are
big on comfort and amenities without breaking the bank— The Sheraton PGA Vacation Resort, located in the heart
of Florida's Treasure Coast in Port St. Lucie, as well as the
Sheraton Vistana Resort and Sheraton Vistana Villages,
both in Orlando. All include grocery stocking and discount
attraction tickets as convenient options.
"If there's a large group for a destination wedding,
it makes sense to have all the comforts of home while
on vacation," says David Calvert, director of brand
communications for Starwood Vacation Ownership. "With Starwood Vacation Ownership, travelers are treated to
spacious, fully furnished villa-style accommodations with
luxurious amenities such as full kitchens or kitchenettes,
living and dining areas, and private patios. Plus, with resorts
located in some of Florida's most sought-after destinations,
travelers have access to exciting theme parks, beautiful
beaches and premier golf courses."
In Clearwater, Shephard's Beach Resort (727-441-
6875; shephards.com) offers everything couples and their
guests need for a spectacular beachfront celebration. For
those who wish to say their vows right on the beach at
sunset, the property lets them dress it up or go low key with
a "no shoes required" attitude. An onsite wedding coordinator
utilizes more than 12,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor space
to help romantics nail the ceremony of their dreams. With
accommodations ranging from studios to 2-bedroom suites,
the resort is a fl exible fi t for destination wedding groups. They
can cut loose on a private stretch of beach with parasail
rentals just steps away.
St. Pete Beach's only four-diamond beachfront hotel, Loews
Don CeSar (800-235-6397; loewshotels.com/doncesar.com) delivers pure indulgence with 277 luxurious rooms
overlooking the Gulf, powder-white sand and sunsets. The
property's professional wedding team handles all the details,
from helping couples select the invitation engraver to dressing
reception tables with exquisite florals. Traditional indoor
options like the Historic Grand Ballroom or the King Charles
Ballroom truly capture the grandeur and glory of "The Don."
"As you might expect, 'The Don,' as locals refer to it, is
a popular wedding and reception venue," says Jeff Copland
with Simple Weddings Florida. "The resort offers a
number of options, from a casual beach wedding to a formal
ballroom—and everything in between. It's one of the pricier
properties in the area and is generally not recommended for
brides on a limited budget.
But if you can afford it, it makes a
breathtaking wedding venue!" Copeland adds that couples
on a budget might consider holding their nuptials off-site on
a nearby public beach like Pass-a-Grille, but stay at The Don
for a night or two of upscale honeymoon pampering.
From rehearsal dinners to honeymoons, the dedicated
event planning staff at Saddlebrook Resort (800-729-8383;
saddlebrook.com) in Wesley Chapel helps coordinate every
detail. Saddlebrook offers unique locations for ceremonies
and receptions—beautiful terraces with stunning views of
the golf courses, pools surrounded by lush greenery or a
beautiful glass-enclosed tropical pavilion.
"Saddlebrook has some incredible outdoor venues
for ceremonies and receptions which are not available in
typical hotels, plus deluxe accommodations that are mostly
suites," says Alberto Martinez-Fonts, Jr., director of marketing,
advertising and public relations.
"Destination wedding groups appreciate that we're totally
self-contained with accommodations, restaurants, function
spaces and recreation all within walking distance of one
another, plus an award-winning culinary staff and service.
There's golf for the guys, spa treatments for the ladies, and
wonderful settings for bridal lunches and after-wedding
brunches. Our complete destination wedding packages
cover it all, from bridesmaids luncheons/teas and rehearsal
dinners to ceremonies, receptions and day-after brunches."
It just makes sense that an area as diverse and culturally rich
as Central Florida would be home to such a colorful roster
of off-the-beaten-path wedding ceremony sites. From lush
gardens and quiet chapels to habitats where there's plenty
of monkeying around, this is a dream place to celebrate in a
No doubt the biggest uproar in Daytona Beach resonates
from the Daytona International Speedway (800-748-7867;
daytona500experience.com), home to the Daytona 500
that annually kicks off the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The
sprawling 480-acre motorsports complex has merited the
moniker of "World Center Of Racing" since it boasts the most
diverse competitive driving schedule on the globe. Nine major
racing weekends run the gamut from NASCAR to the Rolex.
To rev up romance, the speedway waves the green flag for
couples to motor through Victory Lane in a pace car and say
"I do" in the winner's circle. This playful package includes
two attraction admission passes, a commemorative bottle
of champagne with glasses and other themed souvenirs.
For receptions, the 200-capacity Bill France Banquet Room
overlooks the attraction's interactive show floor with a replica
of the speedway's 31-degree, high-banked track.
Taking a completely different pace in this famous
racing destination, Tavern & Chapel in the Garden (800-
476-8204; tavernandchapel.com) is a beautifully restored
century-old site set amidst ancient oaks, soothing fish ponds
and brick footpaths on a private estate near the shores of the
Halifax River. From Monday through Thursday, engaged pairs
can snag a ceremony package for up to 50 for $5,000. "We
like to customize our clients' visions and budgets with our
estate, allowing them numerous options," says Kellie Cooper,
director of hospitality. "We're currently offering an 'elopement'
and last minute wedding package for spontaneous couples."
For history buffs and garden fans, there's Daytona's
The Cellar Restaurant (386-258-0011; thecellarrestaurant.com) that's located in a former home of President
Warren G. Harding and The Casements (386-676-
3216; thecasements.net), the former winter home of
multi-millionaire John D. Rockefeller. Today, it serves as
Ormond Beach's cultural center and museum. Graced with
stunning ancient trees, shrubs, exotic plants and flowers, Historic Dunlawton Sugar Mill Garden (386-767-1735;
dunlawtonsugarmillgardens.org) blooms with ceremonies
for up to 80 under a 250-year-old Confederate Oak Tree, in
a flower circle with seasonal blossoms or inside a gazebo
and chapel. "The beauty of the Confederate Oak is how
the canopy keeps things cool," says Cat Hoehn, owner of
Paradise Beach Weddings in New Smyrna Beach. "It's
very quiet there, with a clean earthy smell and birds chirping.
It's a very peaceful place to wed."
Hoehn adds that another one of her favorite ceremony
sites is Smyrna Dunes Park (386-424-2935; volusia.org/parks/smyrnadunes.htm). "Looking across to the north, the
view of the lighthouse is wonderful," she says. "It's a perfect
backdrop for a beach wedding. The park even has what the
locals refer to as 'Dog Beach,' where we can have the bridal
couple's furry friends attend the nuptials."
For a literally out-of-this-world experience, the Space
Coast's Kennedy Space Center (866-737-5235;
kennedyspacecenter.com) lets pairs blast into their future
in its Rocket Garden that's tricked out with NASA's early
spacecraft. Then it's on to a reception in the Apollo/Saturn V
Center that houses rockets and equipment from the Apollo
moon missions. The venue's catering department can shoo
the theme even further with food and beverage, or stay more
down to earth with traditional fare. During the reception,
guests are free to roam authentic spacecraft displays
depicting the realm of space exploration.
The Indian River Queen (321-454-7414;
indianriverqueen.com) triple deck paddlewheel dinner boat
in Cocoa cruises engaged couples into newlywed status
along the gentle Indian River Lagoon. Its slew of packages
allows for ceremonies topside or in the Queen's Room. The
99-ft. beauty's professional wedding planner ensures smooth
sailing, handling all details associated with their selected
package. Receptions begin with passed appetizers, libations
and music, and then head into the Queen's Room for dinner.
For couples acting on a whim, there's even the Last Minute
Landscaped to the core, Fort Pierce's Heathcote
Botanical Gardens (heathcotebotanicalgardens.org) presents a vibrant assortment of specialty gardens where
couples can exchange vows in a lush wonderland. Couples
definitely need a wedding planner to tie up all the reception
details since the venue doesn't offer tables, chairs, tents
or catering. But the dramatic setting alone makes it worth
A National Historic Landmark just an hour west
of Orlando, Bok Tower Gardens (863-676-1408;
boktowergardens.org) is home to a 205-ft. neo-gothic, art
deco "Singing Tower" carillon tucked amid some 700 acres of
conservation lands and gardens. The 1930s Mediterraneanstyle
estate is the epitome of romance, surrounded by
Olmsted-designed classic Tuscan gardens with lush
courtyards. Among the most popular ceremony sites are the
Grotto, Loggia Courtyard, West Terrace, Oriental Moon Gate
Garden and Pinewood. Among the most affordable sites,
the Garden Activity Center offers a ceremony with cocktail
reception for 150 or seated dinner for 72.
Known as the "World's Greatest Aircraft Collection,"
Central Florida's Fantasy of Flight (863-984-3500;
fantasyofflight.com) lets aviation nuts soar into their future
in an authentic 1940s airport village. The stunning art deco
facility is a perfect setting to display this priceless collection
of rare vintage aircraft. Housed in three huge hangars are
over 40 airplanes, many of which are restored to original flying
condition. Brave couples into up-in-the-air action can actually
board a Short Sunderland, the last airworthy flying boat, or fly
away in a biplane or hot air balloon.
For pairs turned on with the image of walking the plank
into each other's arms, Rivership Romance (800-423-
7401; rivershipromance.com) in Sanford delivers a distinctive
wedding and reception experience for up to 200 as it
cruises the St. Johns River. The 100-ft. Great Lake Steamerstyle
ship is fully licensed and regulated by the U.S. Coast
Guard. At the end of the voyage, newlyweds are presented
a certificate to commemorate their special day aboard this
version of the "Love Boat."
For more grounded but still glorious area options, pairs
can exchange vows and hold their reception at the 5-acre Maison & Jardin (407-862-4410; maisonjardin.com) or in an
intimate gazebo near a lakeside sculpture garden at Enzo's
Restaurant on the Lake (407-834-9872; enzos.com).
Whether intendeds dream of getting hitched in a
charming white chapel, beneath a statuesque oak tree or
on horseback, Westgate River Ranch Resort (888-792-
1082; westgatedestinations.com/lake-wales.htm) makes their
wedding dreams become a western-themed reality. Nestled
amid a 1,700-acre ponderosa forest with winding trails and pristine water an hour south of Orlando, this 162-room dude
ranch includes a private aviation center, marina, golf course,
Saturday night rodeo and 4,000-sq.-ft reception facility. The
bride can even arrive via horse-drawn carriage. Overnight
packages for the bridal party and wedding guests are also
In Kissimmee, offbeat venues simmer from fantasy to formal.
"Kissimmee has whimsical places that inspire 'Princess for
a Day' fantasies, and unique locations appealing to a wide
range of tastes and personalities," says Sara Melendez,
senior sales representative and Kissimmee Convention &
Visitors Bureau's wedding planning expert. "Adventurous
couples say their 'I do's' in a hot air balloon or sail into their
ceremony on a zipline. A bride can even hold court on her
wedding day, surrounded by knights and ladies." Melendez
adds, "Of course, more traditional brides will appreciate our
lovely churches, golf courses and other outdoor settings for a beautifully scenic ceremony and reception. Kissimmee is a destination that offers all of this without an exorbitant budget."
Happy betrotheds with a penchant for history or nontraditional
wedding customs can tap into Medieval Times (866-543-9637; medievaltimes.com). They can "become
official" by the show's resident minister, "King Alfonso," in the
venue's Medieval Life Village that sets the backdrop with eight
cottages. Medieval Times also offers traditional weddings in
its Hall of Arms. On a similar note, there are magically themed
affairs at the Arabian Nights (800-553-6116; arabian-nights.com) dinner attraction. Ranging from intimate gatherings to
parties for 500, packages are highly customized and tailored
for everything from a traditional wedding to a full-blown
Arabian Nights ceremony with a princess canopy. After a
banquet-room cocktail reception, wedding parties often take
in the venue's dinner show as part of their package.
Harley-lovers can gear up for the ride of their romantic life
as they affirm their vows decked out in biker wedding garb on
prized rides at Orlando Harley-Davidson's (407) 423-0346;
orlandoharley.com) perfectly recreated 1903 "Shack"—the
legendary shrine where Harley was founded. Guests are
in hog heaven as the bride and groom arrive in themed
wedding leathers on new Harley-Davidsons. A professional wedding coordinator handles unique arrangements including
temporary tattoos, gourmet barbecue catering, entertainment
and motorcycle-themed invitations.
The Orlando-Kissimmee area is rich with museums
and historic homes as well. The Albin Polasek Museum
and Sculpture Gardens (407-647-6294; polasek.org)
presents three lush acres filled with more than 200 classical
sculptures and paintings created by or belonging to the
late Czech-American sculptor. And there's the 1927-built
Orange County Regional History Center (407-836-8500;
thehistorycenter.org) with a spacious indoor atrium and
outdoor Heritage Square Park. Couples can also stroll into
marriage at The Estate House at Cypress Grove (407-
749-0792; cypressgroveestatehouse.com) and Casa Feliz
(407-628.8200; casafeliz.us). The former features a garden
setting for up to 300 on the shores of Lake Jessamine with
a pergola-styled amphitheater, wisteria arbor and lakefront
gazebo. And the latter's restored Spanish Farmhouse is a
beautiful venue for receptions of up to 120. Upstairs, bride
and groom suites provide a comfortable pre-ceremony prep
As St. Petersburg's oldest living museum, the 100-yearold
Sunken Gardens (727-551-3102; stpete.org) thrives
with some of the most mature tropical plants in the region.
Meandering walkways wind through this shady oasis that
surrounds couples with thousands of lush tropical displays,
hundreds of vibrant flowering plants and cascading waterfalls.
They can take the plunge by strolling over the bridge into
the historic Wedding Lawn, onto the North Lawn or under
a canopy of shade trees in the Oak Pavilion. Afterwards,
the festivities head into the new banquet facility's Garden
Room overlooking the exquisite gardens. With a loft-like feel
courtesy of high wood ceilings and metal beams, the room
graces the historic 1926 main building. "We really like this
venue since it has such nice places for outdoor ceremonies,
plus the pleasant indoor reception area," says Jeff Copeland
of Simple Weddings Florida. "They also allow for walk-in
weddings for fewer than 25 people. So you can have a really
special event and save a lot of money in doing so."
Couples craving a walk on the wilder side can get in
touch with nature at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo (813-935-
8552; lowryparkzoo.com). This picturesque venue handles
everything from intimate nuptials to huge bashes with full
catering services, a private bridal suite and interactive animal
encounters. Its newest option is the 17,000-sq.-ft. climatecontrolled
Safari Lodge that blends the beauty and wonder
of nature with exciting entertainment and worldly culinary
sensations. Handling up to 500 for seated receptions, the Lodge is situated within the Safari Africa habitat area among
meerkat, warthog, zebra, giraffe and elephant exhibits.
Vows have been exchanged. The reception was a hit. After
all the marital hoopla is in the rearview mirror, it's time for
newlyweds to escape, relax and focus exclusively on one
another. Honeymoons are truly the icing on the wedding cake,
so to speak. And that's where Central Florida shines with its
seductive beaches, nature activities and theme parks where
everyone is young at heart.
The freshly upgraded Daytona Beach Resort & Conference
Center (877-644-3239; daytonabeachresort.com) has all
the recreational bells and whistles that honeymooners covet,
including a 32,000-sq.-ft. pool deck with three swimming
pools, an oceanside fire pit, the Terra Acqua Spa, a state-ofthe-
art fitness center and selection of eateries. A Romance
package pampers pairs with a pillow-top bed, champagne,
chocolates and breakfast for two at Reflections Restaurant.
There's also Romance Under the Stars that indulges with an
oceanview suite, romantic spa massage for two, personalized
floral bouquet, bottle of wine, s'mores fixings for the fire pit,
signature rose petal turndown service, breakfast for two at
Reflections, complimentary beach towel use and late check-out.
Couples splurging on the latter have plenty of space and privacy
with their master bedroom, separate living/dining area and
fully equipped kitchen to stash midnight snacks, champagne,
wedding cake and other well-deserved indulgences.
"The Daytona Beach area's off-the-beaten path
activities offer honeymooners plenty of recreational options.
From kayaking the area's pristine inland waterways that run
through scenic Spruce Creek Preserve and Tomoka State Park
to exploring Ponce Inlet while on a stand-up paddle boarding
tour, couples on a romantic getaway will never be bored,"
says Lori Campbell Baker, director of communications,
Daytona Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Adding that, "Museum lovers won't want to miss discovering
two of the area's most prized cultural gems—the Museum
of Arts and Sciences that's a Smithsonian affiliate, and the
Southeast Museum of Photography, Florida's only museum
dedicated solely to photography."
A pair of Hiltons lets newlyweds bask in Romance
packages covering deluxe accommodations, sparkling wine
upon arrival and full breakfast for two. An upscale choice
among Cocoa Beach properties, Hilton Cocoa Beach
Oceanfront (800-526-2609; hiltoncocoabeach.com) is
blessed with a backdrop of soft sand, rolling waves and
endless sky. When they aren't strolling lazily along the Atlantic
shore, they can hide away in their private retreat with an extradeep
tub, "Serenity" bed, down-fi lled comforter, "Touch of
Down" pillows and 250 thread-count sheets.
The Doubletree By Hilton Cocoa Beach Oceanfront (321-783-9222; cocoabeachdoubletree.com) typically sees
couples exchanging vows on the beach, and then celebrating
on a high note with a grand ballroom reception. Just steps
from the Atlantic and only minutes from the Kennedy Space
Center, the hotel offers incredible beachside guestrooms—
most with an ocean view. Amenities include a private access
beach, heated pool overlooking the ocean and fitness center.
Just minutes from Port Canaveral cruise terminal, it's also a
great springboard for newlyweds taking a cruise.
Loews (loewshotels.com) lures couples to the Universal Orlando area with a trio of hotels with creative
themes. As a bonus, guests of these three properties who
show their Loews room key card at the express entrance of
participating Universal rides receive complimentary Universal
ExpressSM ride access all day at no additional cost. All three
properties extend a Stay More Save More plan with a 10-30
percent discount off stays of three to seven nights.
Recreating the magnificent Italian Riviera seaside village
of Portofino, Loews Portofino Bay Hotel lets newlyweds
experience the sweet life with luxurious accommodations
and daily breakfast for two at Trattoria del Porto. With views
of the meticulously manicured and landscaped grounds,
guestrooms are decked out with marble accents and elegant
Italian furnishings. When couples open their window shades,
they'll fi nd themselves in the heart of the Italian Riviera. Bay
View rooms overlook the hotel's scenic Portofino Bay and
picturesque harbor piazza.
Fit for rock 'n roll royalty, Hard Rock Hotel Orlando is
a perfect mix of funk and just plain fun. Dining, nightlife and
entertainment run amok here, as do amenities. Scattered
throughout the hotel is more than $1 million of rock memorabilia from such legendary icons as Elvis Presley, Elton
John, David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix and Madonna. Honeymoon
stays cover urban chic accommodations plus daily breakfast
for two at The Kitchen.
Honeymoons flavored with the beauty of the South
Pacifi c are the specialties of the house at Loews Royal
Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando. Couples can revel
in a lagoon-style pool with sandy beach, 5,000-sq.-ft. fi tness
center, and selection of six eateries and lounges. There's also
a spectacular luau featuring authentic food and entertainment
in the Wantilan Luau Pavilion. And at the end of the day, they
can retreat to their own private paradise.
Boasting a prime location across from SeaWorld
Orlando and adjacent to Discovery Cove and Aquatica,
the 781-room Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld expertly
blends the enchantment of Orlando with its own imaginative
style. Couples can stroll the boardwalk hand-in-hand,
surrender to the serenity of the neu lotus spa, and then
escape to their oversized guestroom with its plush Revive
bedding. As an official hotel of SeaWorld, all registered
guests enjoy complimentary transportation to SeaWorld
and Aquatica, Quick Queue Unlimited at SeaWorld and an
assortment of park discounts.
Since opening in 1973, SeaWorld Orlando has
entertained adults and kids with rides, shows, exhibits and
exclusive park experiences like the popular 90-minute Behind
the Scenes Tour that shows how park animal experts care
for rescued manatees and sea turtles. Couples can touch
a shark, explore a hidden polar bear den and interact with
a penguin. Ten percent of the tour admission is donated to
the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund to
support conservation projects around the world—how's that
for starting out one's marriage on the right foot?
Touched by history and blessed with natural beauty,
Orlando's Mission Inn Resort & Club (800-874-9053;
missioninnresort.com) is a plush estate with the timeless
qualities of style and tradition. Best known for "Courtyard
Weddings," the property delivers luxe accommodations,
catering expertise and award-winning recreation. With 36
holes of golf, this enchanting resort with its distinctive Spanish
architecture is sequestered from, yet convenient to, some of
Central Florida's most famous diversions. For couples into
golf, a 2-night Romance package covers accommodations,
a buffet breakfast and Sunday champagne brunch for two in
La Hacienda, and choice of two rounds of golf with cart per
person or $120 credit toward spa services.
With a romantic theme running throughout, the Vinoy
Renaissance St. Petersburg, Florida Resort & Golf
Club (888-303-4430; marriott.com/hotels/travel/tpasr-vinoyrenaissance-
recently unveiled new guestroom designs transforming the
already spacious accommodations into personal retreats.
The showplace of the waterfront, it's the only luxury hotel
on Florida's west coast with the combination of a private
marina, 18-hole golf course and 12-court tennis complex. A
fi ne example of 1920s Mediterranean Revival architecture,
the Vinoy has earned a National Register of Historic Places
designation. Honeymooners can unwind with the Ultimate
Romantic Rendezvous covering an upgraded luxury bay
view guestroom, complimentary valet parking, champagne
upon arrival, breakfast for two in the resort's Marchand's Bar
& Grill (in-room dining also available) and choice of couple's
massage or romantic dinner for two with wine.
At Tampa's newly renovated Innisbrook Golf Resort (800-492-6899; innisbrookgolfresort.com), newlyweds can
tee off on four outstanding layouts. Among these is the toprated
Copperhead Course that welcomes the world's fi nest
players each March when the PGA Tour visits Innisbrook
for the Transitions Championship. A Romantic Retreat
package includes deluxe accommodations, champagne
and chocolate-covered strawberries on the arrival evening,
full breakfast each morning, 4 p.m. late check-out upon
availability and $15 resort fee. For those wanting to kick it up
a notch, suites are homes-away-from-home with full kitchens,
oversized living and dining areas, luxurious bedding, and
private patios or balconies.
When it comes to quaint and quiet, nowhere whispers it
quiet like Central Florida. The area is sprinkled with a bevy of
romantic inns and B&B jewels allowing newlyweds to waltz
into their future at a mellow pace. Whether they're into a cozy inn a few steps from the beach or a romantic B&B that's
tucked beneath a canopy of ancient live oaks, they'll find it
here—all with a dose of "old Florida" hospitality that makes
them feel like they're staying at the home of longtime friends.
Despite its speedway fame, Daytona Beach has a softer side
that's all about strolling along Beach Street, antiquing, visiting
art galleries and grabbing a bite in a pleasant café. Museum
fans can take in such favorites as the Museum of Arts &
Sciences and Halifax Historical Museum with its 1912
Nestled away on 1.5 acres overlooking the Intracoastal
Halifax River, Daytona Beach's 6-room River Lily Inn Bed
& Breakfast (386-253-5002; riverlilyinnbedandbreakfast.com) is a dream escape for newlyweds. "Our 1904 riverfront
inn stands five stories tall with the cupola proudly gracing
the top," says innkeeper Polly Cappuccio. "You can almost
envision wives and mothers standing at the tallest peak
looking and waiting for their men to return home from their
long Atlantic voyage." Cappuccio says that honeymooners will
adore this intimate B&B. "They start their morning with a full
breakfast in our dining room or breakfast in their room. Then
they can take a swim in our unique heart-shaped pool, sip a
cool drink and soak up the sun. And later, we can arrange for
a romantic dinner on their private veranda." And for couples
who decided to skip the traditional wedding, the inn even
offers an intimate elopement ceremony for two.
Twenty minutes south of Daytona Beach and an hour
north of Cape Canaveral, New Smyrna Beach feels even
more laid back. "There's such a natural feel on its beaches,"
says Cat Hoehn of Paradise Beach Weddings. "There are
several places where you can have a backdrop of dunes on
the west side and the beautiful ocean on the east side. While
it has a slower pace and is more relaxed than some of the
surrounding areas, you can 'rev it up' a short drive away."
With a-la-carte honeymoon packages, Night Swan
Intracoastal Bed & Breakfast (386-423-4940; nightswan.com) unfolds to a commanding view of the Atlantic
Intracoastal Waterway in New Smyrna Beach's historic
residential area. Built in 1906, it features antique-filled interiors
and sweeping sunny porches ideal for relaxing with a book or
tall beverage. All 16 guestrooms offer private bathrooms and
personal touches, with many serving up river views. A 2-night
Honeymoon package provides a bottle of champagne,
private dinner for two and accommodations.
The 18-room Riverview Hotel (386-428-5858;
riverviewhotel.com) lets romantics kick back in a Victorianstyle
1885 property that's home to New Smyrna Beach's
popular Grille Restaurant and a world-class spa. Especially
geared to honeymooners, a spa special covers two
midweek nights with bike use, continental breakfast served
in room, spa credit and dining credit. In the evening,
couples can share delicious food, beautiful sunsets and
lively entertainment at The Grille at Riverview or at numerous
eateries within walking distance. While they're out, the
around-the-clock staff services each room by turning down
the bed and placing plush terry bathrobes on the corners
along with chocolates for a bedtime treat.
Drenched in history, New Smyrna Beach's Nuns &
Roses B&B (888-655-2025; nunsandroses.com) evolved
from a family residence into a boarding house, and later
became a nun retreat for the Catholic Church. Renovated
in 2006 with eclectic Caribbean touches, it's a colorful
setting for celebrating honeymoons. Newlyweds can enjoy
a Romance package with suite accommodations, candles,
chocolate-dipped strawberries, champagne and two
keepsake etched champagne flutes.
Jeff Copeland of Simple Weddings Florida in St.
Petersburg says that it's the sunsets that draw couples to
Florida's west coast. He's had many couples tap into Sunset
Beach House (727-423-3819; mysunsetbeach.com) for
ceremonies and then stay for the honeymoon. Copeland
is also particularly high on the casually elegant Inn on the
Beach on Pass-a-Grille (727-360-8844; innonbeach.com),
with 12 rooms and five cottages. "The inn's Old Florida
charm fits right in with its surroundings on Pass-a-Grille, a quiet residential community that feels like it was designed for
pedestrians. No beachfront development or high-rises are
allowed at Pass-a Grille, so the result is a stunning white sand
beach and dunes that are about as close to what Mother
Nature intended as you'll find in Florida."
Dating back to 1895, the regal Don Vicente de Ybor
Historic Inn (866-206-4545; donvicenteinn.com/nav.htm)
in Tampa's historic Ybor City district has seen action as
everything from an offi ce building to a health clinic. "Seeing
the beautifully restored building today, it's hard to believe
it once sat vacant for over 18 years," says Copeland. The
Shiver family acquired the derelict building and began its
painstaking restoration in 1998. And they continue to own
and operate this elegant boutique hotel today. "It's a popular
wedding and reception venue for those in the know, and a
great place to spend a few night's in Old World charm," says
Copeland. With romanticism the prevailing theme, the 16-
room inn is adorned with Persian rugs and ornate furnishings
that give each room its own distinctive flair. Dramatic fourposter
canopied beds welcome romantics, with cast-iron
balconies enhancing the mood.
Central Florida's Polk County is home to a collection of
beautifully restored historic inns, hotels and B&Bs exuding
Southern charm. Couples can celebrate in a quiet, charming
setting free of crowds and bustle, with all that theme park
action a quick trip away.
Among these is the 26-room Chalet Suzanne
Restaurant and County Inn (863-533-2393;
chaletsuzanne.com), a historic hideaway nestled on a
100-acre estate. A long-time celebrity haunt, the three-star
property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Not your garden-variety inn, it features a landing strip for
airplanes, spa, ceramic studio, a soup and sauce cannery,
citrus groves and a small experimental vineyard. The fivestar
Chalet Suzanne Restaurant overlooking Lake Suzanne
is unique as well, situated on 14 different levels in fi ve
connecting dining rooms. A favorite among honeymooners, the Tower Suite charms with a private deck furnished with
table and chairs so they can sit and enjoy the lake view. More
cozy seating welcomes them into the room where they'll fi nd
a king-sized bed and an alcove with a jetted tub.
An award-winning country estate, the 5-room Town
Manor Bed & Breakfast (863-984-4008; townmanor.com)
sits on a hill overlooking the shores of Lake Juliana. Built in
1933‚ this grand classic home carefully blends the grandeur
of Old Florida with all of the modern touches that makes it
more than just another bed and breakfast. From the gentle
sway of the palms to the quiet murmur of waves lapping the
golden sandy beach‚ it oozes romance. Couples can stroll
through the rose gardens, curl up with a good book in the
guest library, sit by the fireplace or grab a fishing pole and try
their luck off the dock.
There's also the 6-room Stanford Inn (863-533-2393;
thestanfordinn.com), originally built in 1906. Innkeepers
and world travelers Becky and Tony Grainger display their
unique and personal collection of antique furnishings and
artwork throughout the inn—many items collected during
their extensive travels. Located on the ground floor, the
spacious Master Bedroom is perfect for the honeymooners
with its romantic four-poster queen bed, period furnishings
and marble-surround fireplace. Honeymooners will love the
3-course gourmet breakfast served in the sunny open dining
room or on the expansive wrap-around porch.
Just a short walk to the historic downtown village of
Mount Dora north of Orlando, Mount Dora Historic Inn
(800-927-6344; mountdorahistoricinn.com) features four
beautifully appointed guestrooms for intimate getaways. The
area lets couples pamper themselves at one of many spas,
visit antique shops and museums, enjoy a glass of wine
at charming wine rooms and take a horse-drawn carriage
ride around the lake before dining at casual eateries. A
honeymoon favorite, Miss Elsie's Room surrounds couples
with magnolias, lace, walnut handkerchief chest, British
armoire and mahogany game table. They can drift back into
time in a 1880s brass bed or soak in a 1906 clawfoot tub.