A Tropical Wedding in Hawaii With a Surprise Family-Only Elopement

Planned by Moana Belle Events

bride and groom

Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography

On their wedding day, Janine Licare and Alex Avery met for a first look, then surprised their families with a small exchange of vows on the beach—just below where they were planned to say “I do” in front of 160 guests at Mauna Kea Beach Hotel in Hawaii.

“We actually ‘eloped’ on our wedding day and had a micro-wedding with just our immediate families,” says Janine, a wedding photographer, of the small ceremony. “It was really special to have that moment that I knew was just for us.”

The couple, who are based in San Francisco, did have plenty to celebrate with their large guest list, including the formal ceremony. They hosted three days of events at the Hawaiian property on the Kohala Coast of Hawaii Island, a place where Alex’s father had vacationed annually since the 1960s. Janine began traveling with them eight years prior, and it became a special place for the couple too. Janine says she wasn’t even picky about the wedding date—they picked the day that the venue was available, and being a wedding photographer herself, the day her "dream" photographer Rebecca Yale was also free.

From there, the couple combined their favorite elements of Hawaii with details from Janine’s childhood growing up in Costa Rica and thoughtful guest amenities, like a shoe valet. Since many guests flew in before the official festivities commenced, the couple organized water sports and beach volleyball as well as sunset walks on the beach with cocktails, which they dubbed “Mai Tai Walks.” By the end, Janine says, it felt like “adult summer camp.”

The bride admits it wasn’t the easiest to plan. “It was hard to discern between what I genuinely loved versus what I loved because I’d photographed it at someone else’s wedding,” she says. But all said and done, Janine says it all, from the surprise elopement to the choreographed first dance at the reception represented her, Alex, and their relationship.

Read on for all the details of their tropical-inspired wedding in Hawaii, planned by Moana Belle Events and photographed by Rebecca Yale Photography.

invitation suite
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography
invitation
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography

Lotus & Ash designed the couple’s tropical-inspired invitation suite, which included a photo strip with images of the destination from a previous trip.

save the date
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography
wedding weekend itinerary
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography

Lotus & Ash also designed the save the date—reminiscent of a vintage Hawaiian postcard—and the paper goods in the welcome pack, like a trifold itinerary.

couple kissing on beach
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography

Leading up to the wedding day, Janine and Alex hosted a white party on the beach as part of the daily “Mai Tai Walks.” Guests grabbed a cocktail and met the pair on sand at sunset.

welcome sign
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography
outdoor party
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography
place setting
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography

The next day, Janine and Alex threw an "Aloha-themed" welcome party, complete with Hawaiian décor, such as like monstera leaves, and fire dancers.

couple walking on beach
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography
outdoor cocktail party
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography
couple
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography

“It was really incredible having so many people we loved in the same place for so many days,” Janine says.

bride writing vows
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography

Both Janine and Alex woke up on the wedding day at 7 a.m. to write their vows together. They also wrote vows to their families. “This is one of my favorite memories of the day,” the bride admits. She wrote her vows in a vow book by the Wedding Story Writer.

bride
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography
bride
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography

“My dress was one of those dresses that looked pretty awful on the hanger and you wouldn’t even think to try it on,” Janine says of her Zuhair Murad gown. She found it, after much searching, at Jin Wang in San Francisco, where the team helped her alter the lace gown. They removed the long-sleeves—"too hot in Hawaii for those," she says—and used the material to trim her veil. “We turned it into a one-of-a-kind creation,” Janine adds.

bouquet
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography

Janine’s bouquet by Of the Flowers included a variety of coral, green, and pink anthuriums, roses, ginger, ranunculuses, peonies, and an assortment of greenery.

bride's shoes and accessories
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography
rings and earrings
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography

Janine went with pearls for her accessories, including pearl studs on her Stuart Weitzman heels and a set of freshwater pearl drop earrings she found on Etsy. “That felt very appropriate for a Hawaii wedding,” she says.

groom's attire
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography
boutonniere
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography

Alex put a tropical spin on his look: He wore green pants and a green bow tie with a white jacket and colorful surprise, palm-print suspenders. He also gifted a pair of suspenders to each groomsman.

boutonierres
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography

The boutonnieres included anthuriums, peach ranunculus, and greenery.

first look
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography
bride and groom standing on rocky beach
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography

We actually ‘eloped’ on our wedding day and had a micro-wedding with just our immediate families. It was really special to have that moment that I knew was just for us.

bride reading vows
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography
bride and groom kissing
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography
newlyweds
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography

“I'd always wanted a small, intimate wedding—three days of events wasn't quite what I'd had in mind,” Janine says of the surprise exchange of vows during their first look.

bridesmaids' bouquets
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography

“We wanted lots of happy and bright colors, with lots of tropical flowers and greenery,” Janine says of the overall wedding aesthetic. “We also wanted it to be a bit different from what most of our guests had experienced before.” That extended to the vibrant palette of bridesmaid dresses.

flower girls
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography
ring bearers
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography

“The flower girls wore bright pink dresses that matched the bridesmaids color palette and the ring bearers wore bowties that matched the groomsmen’s suspenders,” Janine says of the children attendants.

outdoor wedding ceremony
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography
floral wedding altar
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography
tropical flowers
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography

The ceremony (with all the guests!) took place on the property’s golf course. The third hole looks over the Pacific, so Moana Belle Events used a low, semi-circle arrangement to create an altar without obscuring the view. “It was constructed to feel part of the ceremony site and the view rather than detract from it,” the bride adds.

ring bearers walking down aisle
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography
flower girls walking down aisle
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography

The couple's attendants walked down the aisle together, with the ring bearers holding hands and the flower girls tossing petals from coconut shells.

bride walking down aisle with mother
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography
bride walking down aisle with mother
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography

A local Hawaiian musician played an acoustic guitar for the ceremony, which included a cover of Savage Garden’s “Truly, Madly, Deeply” when Janine walked in, escorted by her mother.

wedding ceremony
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography
outdoor wedding ceremony
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography

The couple’s good friend led the ceremony.

bride and groom
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photographhy
bride reading vows
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography

During the ceremony, Janine and Alex shared their vows to each other as well as to their families.

bride and groom kissing
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography
bride and groom kissing on wedding aisle
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography

“It’s a really special place to the whole family and now to the two of us as well,” Janine says of marrying at the Hawaiian hotel. “We loved being able to share it with our guests.”

bride and guests
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography
bride and guests
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography

After the ceremony, guests headed to the beach for yet another “Mai Tai Walk” that served as cocktail hour. Janine loves that Alex and his family traditionally do the beach walk every evening in Hawaii, so naturally, they wanted to include it as part of the celebration. “It was really important to me and Alex that we get to join our guests for this part of the evening, so we took as many photos as we could,” Janine says.

bride and groom kissing on beach
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography
bride and groom walking on beach
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography

Janine knew from the start she wanted Rebecca Yale to photograph the event. “Being in the industry, I already had a good idea of who I wanted on each part of the wedding: planning, photography, invitations, florals," she says. “We didn’t choose a wedding date until we knew Rebecca Yale’s availability.”

shoe valet
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography
bride and groom taking off shoes
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography

As part of cocktail hour on the beach, Moana Belle Events built a shoe valet, where guests could kick off their kicks for safe-keeping while they let the sand slide between their toes.

bar
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography
bar
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography

Of course, the couple served Mai Tais, but also had Aperol spritz and Lilikoi margarita, with passionfruit juice, available at the bar.

guest book
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography
woman signing guest book
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography

The guest books were coffee table books, like Tartine’s popular cookbook, repurposed for sweet messages.

escort card display
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography

As a wedding photographer, I love photographing unique escort displays, so having something different was really important to me.

escort card display
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography
escort card display
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography

Moana Belle designed a wall of flowers for the escort card display, made up of 160 live anthuriums with each guest’s name calligraphed on their own flower. “As a wedding photographer, I love photographing unique escort displays, so having something different was really important to me,” Janine says.

outdoor wedding reception
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography
wedding reception
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography
wedding reception
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photographhy

“For our reception layout, we really wanted everyone to feel included and hated going to weddings where guests felt like they were at a “bad table” so we pushed our planners to come up with a design that incorporated all guests equally. They created a custom design of two semi-circles, one within the other, centered around our dance floor. And above all the guests were hung thousands of cafe lights creating a beautiful canopy.”

place setting
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography
place settings
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography

“Our planners worked with us to design something that was both contemporary as well as tropical and it was truly unique,” Janine says of the reception décor. It mixed prints with bright colors, featured bold linens and modern glassware, and fused tropical foliage, like birds of paradise, with traditional wedding blooms like garden roses.

menu
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography
letters
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography

Guests were greeted at each place setting with a menu that featured a pocket. In the pocket, was a handwritten note from the bride and groom.

small wedding cake
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography

The couple’s two-tier cake was filled with macadamia nuts and chocolate on one layer and vanilla cake with lilikoi filling on the other.

bride and groom
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography

Dinner included a menu of Hawaiian cuisines like ahi tuna poke, mahi-mahi fish, and a filet of beef, with a late-night snack of Kalua pork sliders.

first dance
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography
first dance
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography
bride and groom
Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography

One of the standout memories? The couple’s choreographed first dance. Not only did the guests love it—the performance lasted two songs!—but the classes were one of the best parts of planning. “You’ll have to learn to let go and let your partner take the lead, and you’ll gain a whole new level of trust when perfecting dance moves like the death drop,” Janine says. “It gave us something to create as a couple.”

Wedding Team

Venue Mauna Kea Beach Hotel

Planner Moana Belle Events

Officiant Ryan Brown

Bridal Gown Zuhair Murad, from Jin Wang

Veil Jin Wang

Shoes Stuart Weitzman

Jewelry IMaccessory

Hair & Makeup Mia Moriguchi

Bridesmaid Dresses Madly Bride

Mother of the Bride's Dress Laundry by Shelli Segal

Groom’s Attire The Black Tux

Groomsmen Attire The Black Tux

Flower Girl Attire Saks Fifth Avenue

Engagement Ring Trabert Goldsmiths

Floral Design Of the Flowers

Escort Display Flowers Grace Flowers Hawaii

Stationery & Paper Goods Lotus & Ash

Calligraphy Anna Claire Calligraphy

Wedding Vow Books Wedding Story Writer

Ceremony Music John Akapo

Reception Music Truly Medley Deeply

Catering & Cake Mauna Kea Beach Hotel

Rentals Blaze Entertainment; Big Island Tents; Hawaii Island Rentals; Hawaii Sound & Vision

Accommodations Mauna Kea Beach Hotel; Westin Hapuna Beach Resort

Videography McDuff Productions

Photography Rebecca Yale Photography

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