Better Beach Weddings
A great number of the weddings I officiate take place along the ocean shore. Beach weddings range from a simple three person elopement to elaborate affairs complete with arches, tiki torches and garden chairs. All of these ceremonies are quite lovely, but there are a few things you can do to optimize everyone's enjoyment.
There are a number of things about Brevard County beaches that are important to know, especially if you are coming in from out of state. For example, noon in August is not remotely the best time for a wedding right out on the beach. Unless you like pictures with harsh lighting and burning eyes from the sweat, sunscreen and makeup pouring into them. Bare feet are scorched feet.
Optimum: March and November
Good: April and October
Unpredictable: December, January, February
Predictably Hot and Wet: May, June, July, August, September
As amazing as it may seem to those seeking to escape from their parkas and snow shovels up north, December through February are actually the most unpredictable months. These months are notorious for being brutally cold or appallingly hot and sometimes in the same week! Not to mention wind, wind and more wind.
If you are going to have a beach wedding during our hottest summer months be prepared for heat that can reach in excess of 90 degrees and feel hotter with the heat index, even when the sun starts to go down. I have been tempted to charge a $500 hazard pay fee for midday summer beach weddings that start more than 15 minutes late. And in point of fact, no longer agree to do them at all!
You would think it might go without saying, but the sun does not dramatically disappear into the horizon at sunset here in Brevard County. Yes, I really did have a couple fail to realize we face east. That is not to say we don't have beautiful sunsets, indeed we do.
I highly recommend scheduling your beach wedding within an hour or so of either sunrise or sunset for several reasons. During the hottest times of the year this may be a matter of survival. The temperature doesn't necessarily decline much, but lack of direct overhead sunlight provides a modicum of relief. Sunrise and sunset weddings also tend to avoid the afternoon thunderstorms that can appear like clockwork when we aren't in drought conditions.
Perhaps more importantly, you dramatically improve the quality of your photographs if you avoid the harsh shadows and squinting resulting from a mid-day sun. Cloud cover may make you nervous, but your photographer is delighted. Hear me now, believe me later. If you want great photographs schedule an early morning or a late afternoon/evening wedding.
If you are timing a wedding to coincide closely with sunrise or sunset, make sure you know the exact time and schedule your ceremony to begin approximately fifteen minutes after sunrise or half an hour before sunset for optimal light. Be prepared to begin promptly. I have had some people make assumptions that missed the mark by over an hour. The results are unpredictable and can be either funny or tragic.
I highly recommend checking the tide tables for the date of your wedding before deciding on the exact time to hold your ceremony. I have had beach weddings forced to become grassy-hill-overlooking-beach weddings. I have seen brides burst into tears as they watch the waves lap against the boardwalk stairs. I have officiated a wedding where we were in it over our ankles before the ceremony concluded. The degree to which the tides will obliterate any semblance of a beach depends upon your exact location in Brevard County, but if you assume no reasonable space for a wedding ceremony within forty-five minutes either side of high tide you're likely to be right.
This link provides excellent information for predicting the tide schedule.
Brevard County Tide Prediction
I've linked to the tide schedule at Patrick Air Force Base as it is centrally located between Cocoa Beach and Sebastian. The tide schedule does not vary by more than five or ten minutes on either side.
Scroll down to "Predict Options'" and change the date under "Starting time and time display options." Click the "Make Prediction Using Options" button at the bottom and it will generate a tide schedule for your wedding day that can be safely used for planning purposes in Brevard County, Florida.I cannot emphasize enough how important proper timing can be when it comes to a wedding on the beach.
Successfully balancing light and tides is critical!
Wear flip flops, encourage your guests to wear them and expect your officiant to do the same. Nothing is ickier than walking in pantyhose with sand embedded in the fibers. Except perhaps sweaty pantyhose with sand embedded in the fibers. Better yet, have everyone kick off their shoes and curl their toes in the sand. Ahhhhh, that's better! (Although there are times the sand can get quite hot and scorch those toes. Better have flip flops as a back up.)
As for degrees of formality, you will see everything at a beach wedding. A bride in a simple white cotton sundress beside her handsome groom sporting a panama shirt and khaki shorts to a bride in a full-length bridal gown with a cathedral train beside her dapper groom in white tie and tails. There are no fashion rules when it comes to a wedding by the ocean shore.
Alcoholic beverages are generally prohibited on Brevard county beaches. I do believe you can get a license to have champagne, wine and beer if you reserve one of the pavilions. You should check in advance with the Brevard County Parks and Recreation Department or the specific municipality if you will be at a municipal beach access park.
Do bring a cooler filled with ice and water bottles, even if it stays in someone's car in the parking lot during the ceremony. This gesture is appreciated during balmier months and a downright requirement during the summer.
If you are having your reception at one of the beach parks, be sure you check to find out what the facilities include. Some are more convenient for catering concerns than others. Definitely make a reservation in a park that has bathrooms if you plan to be there beyond just the ceremony and picture taking.
While I have no problem with do-it-yourself weddings, I had one as a bride a number of years ago, beach weddings are trickier than they seem. I highly recommend professional assistance such as Shannon Perez at Florida Beachside Weddings, especially if you are not a regular beach-goer here in Brevard County.
Adrien and Kimberly in Cocoa Beach
When you're on the beach, you are competing with the wind and the surf to be heard - even with a portable PA system. Electronic equipment right on the beach is not the best idea as sand and wind can damage the equipment. I will bring my PA system and place it on a small stool, but admit I am still a wee bit nervous about it getting knocked over. Such systems can be used on boardwalks or at pavilions safely, but on particularly windy days may still pick up more wind than you would like to hear through the speaker.
If your guests will be standing, remind them to gather around in order to hear the service, but your officiant should also include that instruction as he or she begins the service. I always gesture and encourage people to come closer as we begin the ceremony. I can project my voice quite well, especially when the wind is helping me by coming off the sea, but there are limits to the decibel level of crashing waves I can master.
For some odd reason, live instrumental music and singing simply do not carry like a projected speaking voice will. Short of a steel drum band, bag pipes or a harp, you might want to save your special music for a reception treat rather than have it be part of your wedding ceremony. It is perfectly permissible to process in and out of your ceremony accompanied by just the sound of the waves.
If you really want music at the beach, I highly recommend hiring professionals, either a DJ or live musician with the necessary amplification equipment. I promise you a CD player or iPod with speakers is going to be lost to the sounds of nature.
Given the distance between beach access and where the wedding ceremony will be held, you might want to arrange a "Signal Person" and come up with appropriate signals to let the wedding party know when they should begin walking from the boardwalk to the wedding site on the beach if there is to be a processional.
Brides, this one is mostly for you, but it may apply to some grooms as well. Tie your hair back! Did I mention the wind? Unless you want to seal your marriage with a kiss through a lock of hair, get an up-do. If not all of it goes up, at least get it fastened away from your eyes. You really don't want to spend your wedding struggling to brush your hair out of your eyes with your bouquet. Then again, that might make for a hilarious wedding video and be good for some amusing viewing on future anniversaries.
Wind Photography Tip: If your veil is blowing all over the place, have someone smooth it down behind you and tuck a portion of it under your armpits. Works like a charm!
So let's talk about the wind some more, shall we? The best plans can be laid waste by that lovely ocean breeze. Professional beach wedding supply companies can erect stable structures and are worth the price if they are within your budget. For the do-it-yourselfers among us, be sure you aren't tempted to obtain the cheapest products at the expense of a wee bit of durability. Some arches are better than others. Make sure they have anchors and be ready to chop off the gauze if the wind decides it is having none of the fluffy stuff that day. Bring extra pipe cleaners to secure or reattach errant flowers, foliage and ribbons. Remember to bring a small table if you have a sand ceremony or other ritual requiring "props."
Keep in mind that during turtle nesting season you may not be allowed to insert anything into the sand anyway. Small to medium sized tropical plants and palms make decorations that can be reused at a reception site and planted in your yard later. I have seen people make a simple heart by digging in the sand and filling the grooves with rose petals.
In all sincerity however, the best thing to do on the beach is think minimalist when it comes to decorations. Use the bulk of your decoration budget for your reception site, even if you are just heading back up the boardwalk to one of the beachside pavilions. You'll be spending more time at the reception anyway and nature is gorgeous as it is. Arches tend to look crooked in pictures, cast shadows that can ruin photos or more often than not....aren't even used for formal pictures making them an even bigger waste of time and money.
Do not get your heart set on a unity candle and a memorial candle. Even on days when the sailors are cursing the dead calm, a puff of wind will find your candles and blow them out. Better to choose a sand, wine, knot or flower ceremony. Pretty much anything that doesn't require flame. The one caution I have with the sand ceremony has to do with......wind! Make sure your vases are substantial. I have seen beautiful, but extremely lightweight glass vases repeatedly tip over, or go flying down the beach. Because they are empty through most of the wedding as the sand ceremony typically comes after the ring exchange, think heavy.
While shark attacks are rare in the water and even rarer on the beaches around here, we have been known to suffer swarms of gnats, mosquitoes, no-seeums and generally all-around little buggy pests. If you plan on a sunrise or sunset wedding on the beach do spray on some bug repellant. Sometimes you don't even feel it, but the next morning you'll be clawing at your limbs and seeing red welts spring up all over your legs and arms. Yes, I am speaking from experience. An investment you will appreciate on your honeymoon.
Occasionally we will see a blob of something gelatinous on the beach closer down to the water. Do not permit the flower girl and ring bearer to poke around at it. That is indeed a jellyfish and even dead they can hurt. After particularly windy weather, our beaches have been known to be positively littered with portuguese man of war. They look something like jellyfish, but are a different organism. Regardless, like jellyfish they can still hurt even when dead and washed ashore. Stay away from them.
Turtle nesting season is from May 1 - October 31. Please use carpets during this time period if you wish to place chairs on the beach. Decorations should rest on the sand and not be anchored in the sand. For example, use plant pots to anchor an arch rather than anchoring directly into the beach. This may actually be enforced by some, if not all, municipalities.
Never had much of a problem with seagulls, terns, crabs, or surfers.
The average beach wedding lasts perhaps fifteen minutes, but that may still be too much for great-grandma. Brevard county has several party supply rental companies that can help with seating for longer or more formal weddings, but it typically takes longer to bring the chairs down to the beach than the time people actually sit in them-another reason why I advocate for professional wedding planners. Much less effort and lower stress if they do the work.
Beach weddings can enable you to have a great deal of fun with wedding favors. I married a couple who provided everyone at the wedding with a water spray bottle with fan. Brilliant! Thank you Randi and Gregory.
I have seen parasols in the wedding colors to shield guests from the sun, custom-printed labels on bottled water, shells with the bride and groom's name and wedding date on them, flip flops, sunscreen, etc. Anything you would take to the beach to enjoy the surf and the sand can be turned into a wedding favor with the right amount of creativity. If you can't guess, I'm very much in favor of favors that help hydrate.
The most important thing you can do when preparing for a beach wedding anywhere is to have a flexible attitude and a backup plan! Here are some of my blog posts that address this critical aspect of beach weddings.
To Plan B or Not To Plan B
Whether to Weather the Storm
A Beach Wedding Q & A
Header: April Florio
Top Left: Keith and Aimee Nugent of Nuge Studios
Right and Bottom Left: Shannon Perez of Simply in Love Professional Photography
Okay, technically the wedding on the left isn't on the beach, but we had the ocean behind us and the tips about the wind and the weather are definitely applicable. Cocoa Beach Pier weddings are fabulous by the way.