Two years before she ever crossed paths with James, Alyssa Julya Smith was at The St. Regis Bora Bora Resort filming the movie Couples Retreat. “I always said I wanted to go back there with someone I love, because it was the most magical place I’d ever been,” she says. Two years later, on the Fourth of July, she met that person—though she didn’t know it at the time.
When it came to wedding planning during a pandemic—following a Christmastime proposal in 2019—timing was everything again. They’d canceled two weddings already: a big party in Aspen and a smaller family-only affair in Santa Barbara. “We had booked Bora Bora for a honeymoon; it was one of the few places we were allowed to travel,” Alyssa says. “So within two weeks, we decided to elope on our honeymoon in French Polynesia, just the two of us. It felt like the only thing we could control at that point, and we just wanted to get hitched.”
So that’s exactly what they did, saying “I do” alone on a private island October 31, 2020. One more time, they got a sign that the timing was just right. “It was a full blue moon the day we got married,” Alyssa says. “Once in a blue moon!”
Alyssa and James’ overwater villa at The St. Regis was like something out of a fantasy. Though the trip was technically meant to be their honeymoon, once the couple decided to elope, they enlisted Smith to help orchestrate their intimate nuptials. “She took care of everything,” Alyssa says. “She also planned our two other ‘almost weddings,’ which means she managed multiple meltdowns. We basically planned three weddings within the last year. Third time’s a charm!”
The couple arrived in style for their 14-day stay on the island: Alyssa in a linen off-the-shoulder dress by Maurie + Eve and James in linen shorts and a custom linen shirt by Battistoni. They spent their time jet skiing, snorkeling, and swimming with sharks and sting rays. Then, on Halloween, they got married.
“Most wedding mornings are hectic; ours was the opposite,” Alyssa says. The couple slept in, then donned swimsuits—Alyssa’s was a textured one-piece by sustainable swim line Hunza G—and enjoyed champagne and waffles on their villa’s private swim deck. “We jumped in the crystal-clear water and had a long morning swim together,” she says. “How many people do that the morning of their wedding?”
The bride did her own hair and makeup for the ceremony, to stunning effect. However, she jokes, “I probably should have practiced ahead of time."
The custom lace Brock wedding gown she’d been planning to wear didn’t fit the beach setting, so the bride opted instead for a draped satin mini by Monique Lhuillier—and had it shortened even further to add height since she’d be barefoot. “I never in a million years thought I would get married in a short dress,” she says. “I didn’t want to want to wear a full-length gown in the sand, but wanted something that still felt like a wedding dress. Since it had a long sash train, it was perfect.” She paired it with a watch and a family heirloom satin handbag—the same one her mother had carried at her own wedding in 1979.
The boat ride was magical. It was covered in flowers. We drank champagne and had sandy wet feet.
The couple took a boat from the resort to a privately owned motu—a small island—for their ceremony. “The boat ride was magical,” Alyssa remembers. “It was covered in flowers. We drank champagne and had sandy wet feet.”
The sun shone as they arrived on the island. “Of all the 14 days we spent there, it was truly the most beautiful weather we had,” Alyssa says, noting that this was further proof of the timing being right. “I did not particularly want to get married on Halloween, but since it was so last minute it was all the hotel could accommodate. However, the days before and after—the days I would have preferred—it rained. It’s just another example of not being too attached to certain things, and letting it all work out as it’s meant to.”
With no wedding party or friends and family present, the couple processed down the aisle together. They sat in wicker peacock chairs at the altar, which was decorated with palm fronds, hibiscus, and other local flora.
James’ wedding band is an exact replica of his grandfather’s ring, Alyssa says. “His stepfather also has a replica of it as his wedding band, so we wanted to continue the family tradition.” Alyssa had a custom engagement ring and band designed.
“By being just the two of us, we were able to be fully present for one another with zero distractions,” the bride says. “We were grounded and focused on our thoughts, and the promises we chose that day and every day from now on.”
They incorporated Polynesian customs into their ceremony—and planned to use the traditional Polynesian vows, as well. “We adored the Polynesian vows,” Alyssa says. “However, the wires got crossed and the priest thought we had also prepared our own vows—so when he asked us, we just winged it! It was funny, in-the-moment, and sweet.”
In lieu of a boutonniere, James wore an open ti leaf lei. A Polynesian tradition, the ti leaf is a sacred symbol meant to ward off evil and protect the wearer. Alyssa carried a red and pink bouquet of alpinia purpurata, or ginger plant.
The first kiss made it official. While planning and replanning multiple weddings, the couple’s guest count had dwindled from 130 to 29 to just the bride and groom. Ultimately, the intimate ceremony “was more sacred than a big show,” Alyssa says. “More real than surreal. And, it couldn’t have been more perfect for us.”
Traditional Polynesian dancers performed a hula, and a trio of musicians played tropical local music as the newlyweds recessed down the aisle, showered with flower petals.
We took our first steps as a couple in solace.
“We took our first steps as a couple in solace—free of influences or distractions—holding a pure space for the future and the family we wish to create," shares Alyssa.
When it came to planning, the couple had a specific vision: “Cindy Crawford and Rande Gerber’s 1998 Bahamas wedding—simple, beach, and barefoot."
Now newlyweds, the pair returned to the boat and took a romantic sail back to The St. Regis for a reception dinner, party of two.
The hardest part of planning, of course, was having to start from scratch again and again, and “deciding to get married without our families present,” Alyssa says. The easiest part was saying “I do." Doing so on their honeymoon turned out to be a unique blessing. “It was obviously paradise, but it was also important for us to settle into our new life and roles, and reflect on the commitments we made to each other in such a sacred place before returning to life as we know it," says the bride.
Alyssa and James dined under a straw-roofed hut on the beach. The menu? “Caviar to start, freshly caught local fish, and a citrus wedding cake, which I shamelessly ate for the next three days,” the bride laughs.
Fire dancers provided entertainment during dinner—and there were some familiar faces: “The fire dancers were our priest and Polynesian dancers from the ceremony,” Alyssa says. “They are part of the family that owns the motu.”
Make plans in life, but not too many. Know that who you love, and how you love, are more important than any party.
Fireworks on the beach were the perfect nightcap to the dreamy day. There were many lessons learned along the way, Alyssa notes. Chief among them? “Make plans in life, but not too many," she says. "Know that who you love, and how you love, are more important than any party.”