Destination Wedding: Nantucket

Pippa and David Nava were married on Nantucket five years after meeting on an online dating website. David did a keyword search for “Nantucket” and Pippa appeared on his screen. Her username was “Nantucketgirl.” When it came time to choose a place to marry, Pippa says, “We really had no other choice.”

PIPPA AND DAVID NAVA WERE MARRIED ON NANTUCKET FIVE years after meeting on The Boston Globe’s online dating website. David did a keyword search for “Nantucket” and Pippa appeared on his screen. Her username was “Nantucketgirl.” When it came time to choose a place to marry, Pippa says, “We really had no other choice.”

Pippa, a catering sales manager at The Colonnade Hotel in Boston, plans other people’s weddings every day, so she never considered surrendering her own to a third-party planner. She’s also very familiar with Nantucket since her parents had moved there 12 years earlier from New Jersey. Pulling together an event on an island that’s 30 miles out to sea is no small feat—anyone without Pippa’s specialized know-how should consider hiring an island-based planner who can tap into the tight-knit network of local vendors.

Island Basics

NANTUCKET HAS AN INTERNATIONAL REPUTATION, BUT IT’S A TINY place—only 14 miles long by three-and-a-half miles wide—with limited resources and unique challenges. “There are about 1,000 hotel rooms on island, and they book fast. We know the B&Bs and the smaller places you can get into,” says Caroline Sallee Reilly, president of ACKtivities on the island. “If fog rolls in on Saturday, we have friends who fly planes. If your musicians are stranded in Hyannis, we know local musicians who can fill in.”

Reilly dispatches a fact sheet called “Tips for Planning Your Nantucket Wedding” that gently tugs buoyant brides-to-be down to earth by listing some island-specific snafus: “Tip number three: ‘We have weather.’” Rain, wind, fog—all can interfere with getting to and from the island. Tip number four—“Consider your budget”—warns of the mainland-to-Nantucket ratio: rates on the island tend to be a bit pricier.

Still, the number of destination weddings in Nantucket has grown steadily over the past decade, because the payoff is impossible to quantify. You’ll never see a sky as clear and blue, or grass as emerald green, or experience a breeze as sweet-smelling and gentle as you will on a clear Nantucket day. And thanks to a strident historic district commission and an active conservation foundation, the island’s architectural and natural attributes are breathtakingly intact.

“The natural beauty is an obvious draw,” says Reilly. “Some brides take advantage of this and let the backdrop speak for itself. Others want something very elaborate, because that’s their dream. Nantucket can handle both.” No matter what type of wedding a couple seeks, Reilly’s advice is to plan way ahead to beat the competition and to reach people while they’re still open and available. In such a seasonal spot, lots of restaurateurs and other service providers shut down after the island’s Annual Christmas Stroll Weekend, which takes place in early December, and flee for the winter.

First Thing’s First: Church, Beach or Tent?

WHEN PIPPA AND DAVID WERE ENGAGED in July, the first thing she did was book the church—St. Paul’s Episcopal—for the next October. Her parents were parishioners, so it wasn’t a problem. Courtney Ness, a Boston bride who married in Nantucket last July, didn’t have such an easy time with St. Mary’s, the Catholic church in town. “They take their parish very seriously,” she says. “They’re not open to non-parishioners.”

Eventually, St. Mary’s relented, offering her the only Saturday that was still open. Ness had to change her reception date at the White Elephant to fit the church’s schedule. She learned the hard way that she should’ve booked the church first: The few churches on-island fill up fast during the high season—
summer—and the shoulder seasons—April through Memorial Day and Labor Day through mid-October. September, when summer warmth lingers and the ocean is the perfect temperature for swimming, is as popular for weddings as June.

Reserving a place of worship was not a concern for Virginia Fitzgerald, owner of Molly Bloom Designs in Somerville, who was engaged on New Year’s Eve and married the following April. She opted for a ceremony on the ample lawn of the home that she and her fiance—assisted by Kimberly Reed, owner of catering and event-planning company A Taste of Nantucket—rented for the wedding. This is probably the only type of ceremony that’s doable in such a short window of time, because churches are few and beach weddings require permits.

Guest Concerns

SINCE NESS WAS EXPECTING GUESTS who’d never visited Nantucket—her family is from Atlanta and her husband’s is from Vancouver, British Columbia—she sent a soup-to-nuts, 11-page save-the-date packet with information on airlines and ferries, lodging and a schedule for the weekend. “I was inviting people who were working with different budgets,” she says. “I wanted to provide a lot of options.” Finding open rooms on Nantucket isn’t always easy, so brides need to call around to hotels, bed-and-breakfasts and inns to check who has rooms available during their wedding weekend.

Fitzgerald’s guests had no trouble finding rooms at several inns within walking distance (another advantage of planning an event during the springtime shoulder-season). And the house she and her fiance rented provided a laidback headquarters. “People were dropping in all the time just to say hello,” she says. The night of the rehearsal dinner, a crowd gathered around the baby grand in the couple’s living room for a sing-along that lasted well into the night.

Like Fitzgerald’s guests, Ness’ invitees made the wedding into a long-weekend affair. They were invited to events starting on Wednesday night, including a barbecue at her brother’s rental house, drinks in town, a bridal luncheon and a clambake on the beach. “People make such a huge effort to get there,” says Ness. “No matter how self-sufficient they are, I didn’t want to abandon them.”

The Big Day

PIPPA HAD A LARGE WEDDING—120 people—and knew that, during September and October, a hurricane might blow through. She rented a tent in case of rain, but there was no hurricane backup plan. “I said if we don’t have a backup, we wouldn’t need one,” she says. And they didn’t. The summer day was beautiful and mild.

Ness’ July wedding day also turned out to be sunny, but every bride needs some small emergency right before her wedding, and hers had to do with her dress. She had overlooked the detail of getting it pressed before the ceremony and after some frantic phoning around on Friday, she discovered that there was only one dress-presser on the island. Roni Roberts, owner of Pressed for Time, returned her call the afternoon before the ceremony and was at her hotel within an hour. “She was so great,” says Ness. “She was my hero.”

Another hero, Reed, proved her mettle when heavy rain drenched Fitzgerald’s wedding day. Reed’s staff tirelessly escorted the bride and her guests back and forth from the house to the tent under sturdy white umbrellas, and they set up extra space heaters inside. “Everyone had a great time,” says Fitzgerald. “People still talk about the food, the music and the flowers, and we still laugh about the rain.” And all her guests, no matter what their taste in vacations, loved visiting Nantucket.

This, it seems, is guaranteed. “At the end of the weekend,” says Ness, “no one wanted to leave.”