No bride wants to have to cancel her wedding for any reason, let alone because her beach venue was wrecked by a devastating hurricane. Unfortunately, countless couples have been forced to alter their wedding plans in the wake of recent natural disasters in the Caribbean, Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Irma. Though islands like Puerto Rico, Dominica, Anguilla, St. Maarten, and the U.S. Virgin Islands of St. John, St. Thomas, and St. Croix were hard-hit, thankfully resorts are stepping up to quickly asses the damage and assist couples with either rebooking their wedding at a later date or relocating it to an unaffected destination. Most travelers assume the entire Caribbean was affected by Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Irma, but fortunately nearly 70 percent of the Caribbean remains untouched; places like Grenada, Aruba, the Bahamas, and more are open for business and offer great alternatives for weddings.
We spoke to brides-to-be in our "Brides to Brides" Facebook group to see what struggles they're having in the wake of Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Irma, and interviewed a number of hotels to find solutions for what to do when your wedding is canceled because of a hurricane. Read on for more.
When Salt Lake City–based bride-to-be Jennifer Harding and her fiancé, Bryce, got engaged at his parents' house on St. Croix, the island quickly became a special destination for the couple—so much so that they planned to return for their wedding on November 4. Hurricane Irma didn't hit St. Croix too hard, but after Hurricane Maria blew threw the island, Harding was forced to change her plans. "The resort we were set to be married at was damaged, as was my in-laws' house. We also weren't able to contact any of our vendors down there," Harding told Brides. "We have 40 guests planning to travel to St. Croix to celebrate this happy time with us, but it's looking more and more like it's not going to happen." Fortunately, Harding has an up-beat attitude about her change in plans: "Our back-up is to just do a low-key court-house wedding here in Salt Lake. The wedding won't be how we originally planned and envisioned, but it will go on."
USVI resorts have struggled to rebound after Hurricane Maria. St. John's Caneel Bay, for example, received extensive and devastating damage, according to a hotel representative. The property has been forced to cancel all weddings that were booked this year but is refunding each couple's deposit, as well as room deposits for their guests. All brides need to do is reach out to request a postponement or refund.
Brides thankfully have the option to relocate their event to a non-affected resort, many of which have sprung to action in assisting couples who have been forced to cancel their wedding because of a hurricane. A representative from the Westin St. Maarten, which was forced to close due to damage from Hurricane Irma, told Brides, "The resort will be reaching out to all booked weddings and offering refunds of their deposits. We are also putting them in contact with the Marriott Global Sales Team to identify other available resorts where they may be interested in hosting their wedding."
Couples who planned to wed at a resort that is part of a reputable hotel chain are fortunate to have such a network of alternative options. As Marc Langevin, general manager of the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, tells Brides, "We have already had several wedding parties from affected Ritz-Carlton hotels move their reservations to Grand Cayman, and our team is looking forward to providing these couples with an incredible, memorable wedding. We are committed to accommodating guests who have had to move to a new destination and are doing our best to honor as many of the details as we can, even, in some cases, replicating the menu they originally chose for their event.”
The Four Seasons Resort Anguilla is similarly working to rearrange reservations wherever possible. Though the resort will be closed for the remainder of 2017, director of communications Suzanne Willis tells Brides that the property is taking every measure to assist couples in rebooking their events. "There have even been occasions when Four Seasons has sent a wedding planner from the original hotel to the new resort where the couple has booked so there was no continuity lost for the couple. We want to do everything we can to ensure it's the best day imaginable and often find this is comforting to the bride."
Unfortunately, some brides who booked non-hotel venues have struggled to bounce back so quickly. Vermont-based bride-to-be Shelly Lapierre was planning a destination wedding on St. Thomas before the hurricanes struck. Forced to cancel her wedding because of the hurricanes, Lapierre is trying to book a new reservation in Hawaii. "We don't have a personal connection to Hawaii, but we want to get married in a place that doesn't have a waiting period for a marriage license and has beautiful beaches!" she told Brides. Although Lapierre is excited at the prospect of Hawaiian nuptials, booking it is proving difficult, since she is still working to tie up loose ends in St. Thomas. "The villa we were renting for the wedding cost thousands of dollars, and the rental agency is refusing to give us a refund, so we can't afford to book anything new in Hawaii just yet," Lapierre explained.
Couples who booked such venues do have the option to file a complaint through their villa rental service, especially ones like VRBO and Airbnb, which have departments meant to deal with these occurrences. Couples who booked their villa with a credit card can also seek recompense directly through the credit card company. In all cases, it's important to read the fine print in advance of booking and make sure your event is covered by insurance; if not, always purchase an umbrella policy that offers cancellation and postponement protection.