My trips to Mexico included an off-the-beaten-path tour of Western Mexico and a border-town stopover during a trip to Texas. However, none of my experiences in Mexico were more prolific than the trip to Riviera Maya Mrs. Tires and I took in 2011. She was Ms. Tires when we flew into the airport in Cancun, but that changed after a few beachfront vows and an exchange of rings, and she was Mrs. Tires by the time we flew home.
After a skydive proposal in Wisconsin, Mrs. Tires and I started planning our wedding almost immediately. Our initial concept involved getting married at a castle in Scotland. We found a handful of castles that would be glad to host our wedding, but getting to them wound involve flights, trains, personal chauffeurs and a hike through the highlands. In the midst of putting these pieces together, I looked at Mrs. Tires and said, "Should we get married on a tropical beach somewhere instead?" My suggestion made her eyes light up the way they do when she realizes something she never thought possible could actually happen. She enthusiastically agreed, and within minutes, we stopped looking for castles and started looking for cabanas.
Beachfront weddings take many forms. There are upscale places like St. John's, St. Thomas, and many other saints. Then there are more Rastafarian-sounding places like Jamaica and Bermuda. Some places are more tropical, and some more affordable. Some are more adventurous, and some are easier to get to. To sort out our options, we worked with Sally from SAL Travel. She steered us towards a wedding in the Riviera Maya area of Mexico. Riviera Maya sits on the eastern shore of Mexico and goes roughly from Cancun to Tulum. In between those two points, there are many amazing options that offer just as much beauty as the St's and the Rastas at a fraction of the cost. Sally helped us get the ball rolling, and later in the process, she helped book our guests' trips to the resort. Having a bonafide travel agent on our side made our dream wedding a reality, and it also alleviated a tremendous burden.
Once we decided on Riviera Maya, we had to choose the resort to host the festivities. There was no shortage of options. We considered many factors while evaluating resorts, including the wedding packages, restaurant options, price ranges, rules on children, and overall beauty and experience. There was a ton to consider. Even with defined criteria, the resorts all started to sound the same after a while. We used a few different tools to sort through our options, none more helpful than the message boards on bestdestinationwedding.com.
Two weeks into our search, Mrs. Tires took a break from our seemingly endless search for the perfect resort and went out to sushi with a friend, and a couple at the next table overheard their conversation about the planning plight. The couple had just returned from their honeymoon in Riviera Maya and they highly recommended a brand new resort called Dreams Riviera Cancun. It had everything we were looking for, including great wedding packages, lots of food options, attractive ceremony locations, and, perhaps most importantly, a huge pool with a swim-up bar. We excitedly researched DRC the next day, and as soon as we did, we knew we had found the perfect place.
We chose our date - May 14, 2011 - and informed our guests via a hand-made video Save-the-Date.
Our year of planning went by quickly, and before we knew it, it was time to fly into Cancun and get things started. With favors, decorations and a wedding dress in tow, we hopped on a plane at O'Hare and landed in Cancun. At the airport, we boarded a van that dropped guests off at various resorts in the area. We realized pretty quickly that our wedding wasn't the only one in town. Of the four parties in the van, three were there for weddings. The mood in the van was therefore quite jovial, and the excitement grew as we conversed.
When we finally pulled up to Dreams Riviera Cancun, the outside looked more like a fortress than a resort. This made us a bit weary, and we joked it reminded us of a dinosaur paddock from Jurassic Park.
The hotel staff grabbed our luggage when we disembarked, and when we walked up the stairs and into the main lobby, things brightened considerably. We were greeted by a tented roof held up by huge wooden beams and perched high enough so we were in open air, yet fully covered. A stately assortment of chairs and couches appeared throughout the lobby, and a sprawling, fully-stocked bar was close by. A gentle breeze wafted the swirling scent of ocean and sunscreen. Hotel staff members handed out champagne and offered trays of cookies while we waited to check in.
After getting our room keys, we were anxious to get things started. However, we'd have to wait a while longer, as we had to go through "orientation" first. I put orientation in quotes. It was actually a sales pitch. We were offered the opportunity to attend a seminar about timeshares in the area in exchange for a $200 spa credit. The staff member pushed us hard to accept the offer. I was rather annoyed. The pitch was mandatory, and it was the only thing holding us back from officially kicking off the wedding and vacation of our dreams.We waited out the pitch, declined more than once, and eventually we were finally released and allowed to enter the rest of the resort.
When we stepped foot on the main walkway that spanned the grounds, we found beautiful palm trees, the shining sun, the perfect temperature, and a resort humming with charm. All of our stress and anxiety melted away as we strolled. We could tell the resort took great pride in its product. Everything was spotless and sparkling, and maintenance attendants meticulously painted and polished the individual floorboards as we walked by. We knew we had chosen the perfect place, and we couldn't wait to see more.
Our room wasn't ready immediately, so we took up residence at the Seaside Grill, an outdoor restaurant with a thatched roof that was situated right next to the main pool.
We started our meal off with margaritas and some fried dumplings, which were basically a tastier version of crab rangoon. We fell in love with the dish, and ordered about 30 more over the course of our stay.
While waiting for our food, we glanced around and got a thorough view of the main pool. The water was sparkling, the pool revelers jolly, and the loungers toasty from basking in the sun.
Our room was ready by the time we finished our meals, so we headed up to our honeymoon suite to scope it out and get settled. The room was huge, and featured a king size bed, a couch, and two hot tubs, one inside and one on our private balcony.
They also left us a bottle of champagne as a greeting to the betrothed-to-be. After unpacking and sending our wedding clothes off to be cleaned and pressed, we changed into our bathing suits and headed back to the main pool. It was finally time to immerse ourselves in the infinity pool and have ourselves a paddle up to the swim-up bar.
We had built up the swim-up bar in our minds over time, and even with our sky-high expectations, it lived up to the hype. The long, spread out bar made it easy to get to a stool or to the bartender without too much traffic, the bartenders were a hoot, and sipping a tasty blended drink while floating around was a ton of fun. Additionally, we were quite amused by the concept of pulling soaking wet dollar bills out of our pockets and slapping them down on the bar as tips. Eventually the bartender would peel the bills off the counter and wedge them under liquor bottles so they could flap in the breeze to dry.
We also witnessed the effects of the infinity pool, which, when viewed at the right angle, appeared to seamlessly meld with the ocean beyond it. Both bodies of water were perfectly, delightfully blue.
We floated for the rest of the afternoon, and before we knew it, it was time to eat again. Our friends Mel and Bill got in just before dinner time, so we joined them for a poolside dinner and a show. We enjoyed the heck out of the ceviche and other delights while we were entertained by lots of singing and dancing. To top it all off (literally and figuratively), we had a great server who kept cracking jokes and convincing us to drink more wine. Not two sips would go by before he swooped in with another pour. The whole affair got us good and tipsy, and we laughed and sang the rest of the night away.
The next morning we made a point to get in some R&R. We woke up early, and after a quick trip to the World Café for breakfast, we took up residence under one of the canopies that dotted the beach. Each featured a thatched roof which shaded two beach chairs. We brought our books, lounged and read for a good couple of hours. Much to our delight, a troupe of servers regularly paced the beach, eager to serve thirsty guests. Somehow they knew exactly when to show up with a grapefruit juice refill, and whenever I'd thank them, they'd respond with "It's a pleasure, sir." I could listen to that all day.
Getting lost in a book was a welcome distraction, but the best moment of our time on the beach came when my stunner of a fiancée decided to strut her stuff and pose for photos in the shining sun. This moment is one of those times that's permanently planted in my memory, and whenever I recall it, it brings a glowing smile to my face.
We had one important piece of business to attend to that day - a meeting with our wedding coordinator to finalize the details of our ceremony and reception. While we made a choice to check out our options for decorations, flowers, cakes and the like in advance, the weddings at DRC are set up so one could show up on the day before the wedding and pick out food, ceremony location, music, etc, right then and there. We had several special requests, and our wedding coordinator assured us each one of them would be met. The whole meeting was conducted in less than an hour, and when it was over, the wedding became very, very real.
Adding to that sentiment was the fact that our guests were now showing up in full force. It seemed like everywhere we turned, we ran into another relative or close friend. Our excitement grew with every encounter. Each conversation wrapped up with a "where you headed?" The answer was usually either "to grab a bite," "to grab another drink," or "to the pool." This was almost always met with either "Mind if I join you?" or "See you there later!" We spent most of the rest of the day having that same conversation and following through. Eventually our crew took over the entire swim-up bar.
That evening, we organized a small group of friends to scout out Desires, the resort's night club. When we first arrived at the club, it was dead quiet, other than the sound of squeaking sneakers coming from the basketball games showing on several TVs. More people arrived as the evening went on, but the dead air at Desires was preventing them from dancing. That lasted until our friend Jarrad stepped onto the dance floor. With total disregard for the fact that he was the only one out there, Jarrad started dancing like a best kind of crazed maniac. We all knew he was a good dancer, but as he moved, shook and spun around, we realized he was taking things to another level. Friends and strangers alike cheered as he breakdanced, did the worm, and busted out more moves than many of us knew existed. By the time he was done, the awkwardness in the room had been replaced with dance fever, with the club attendees hitting the floor in full force. The club was jumpin' for hours after that, with everyone still grooving when we left at midnight.
We had one more item on the agenda that night. Being a Jimmy Buffett fan seeped in paradise, I felt the need to order a couple of burgers with cheese. A quick call to the kitchen was all it took, and a half hour later, we were in the outdoor hot tub with our Cheeseburgers in Paradise. In reality the burgers were ok at best, but in concept, they were incredible.
After an ambitious final pre-wedding workout on Friday morning, the rest of the day brought more swimming, socializing, eating and drinking. The swim-up bar acted as our main meeting point, and we were all smiles, all day.
That night, the wedding festivities officially kicked off with the rehearsal dinner. We rented out the El Patio restaurant for the event and had the majority of the restaurant to ourselves. Once dinner was served, Mrs. Tires and I addressed our guests and thanked them for being such important people in our lives, and for crossing over into a different country to witness our wedding. Our parents also spoke, and then we opened up the floor to anyone else who had something to say. Our friends and relatives delivered hilarious and moving speeches. Occasionally they were interrupted by the sound of the blender mixing a margarita, a perfectly acceptable obstacle. The event fostered great vibes, and by the end of the meal, the walls between family and friends were breaking down. The festivities had officially kicked off, and they were going swimmingly.
At the conclusion of the dinner, our party spilled out into the open-air lobby, where we took many photos and refilled our beverages. Eventually someone presented a ridiculous idea that was too spontaneous and mischievous to pass up. Skinny dipping! We were clamoring and giggling as a huge group of us marched across the resort and towards the beach. Upon reaching the sand, we disrobed in short order, and then ran into the water in our birthday suits. We were laughing hysterically and making a ton of noise as we reveled in the hysteria. It was late and we weren't supposed to be swimming at that time, so it didn't take long for the resort to stop us. While they made us get out of the water, they could never take this delightful memory from us, and to this day we have a good laugh about it.
We woke up the next morning astounded and ecstatic that it was May 14. We had been anticipating this day for almost two years, and it was finally here...our wedding day!
After a hearty breakfast, we met up with our wedding party for a brief but effective wedding rehearsal on the beach. Fortunately, the proceedings were fairly straightforward, and we left feeling confident in our assignments. That left us a few hours before things really got going, so we spent our time at...you guessed it...the swim-up bar.
Before long, 3:00 rolled around, the time we designated to start getting ready. I kissed my fiancée goodbye for the last time, and she went off for hair and makeup while I gathered my groomsmen. My best friend Jon acted as my best man, and my uncle Steve and my brother Ben stood up on my side as groomsmen. We're all Red Sox fans, so we dawned the matching Red Sox bathing suits I gave them as groomsmen's gifts and we posed for some photos that were taken by our good friend and go-to photographer Adie.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Tires and her crew were getting dolled up in the honeymoon suite. To calm her nerves, she sent her two brother-in-laws to seek out some champagne. Entire bottles of alcohol aren't included in the all-inclusive package, so they really had to work the bartender to get their hands on a bottle. Finally a deal was brokered. They got the champagne in exchange for a promise that we'd name our first born child Raul, after the generous bartender. Sorry we didn't live up to our end of the bargain, Raul!
After the photo shoot, my groomsmen and I set up shop in the best man's quarters, where I showered up and changed. I invited all of the guys to join us in the room, and attendance was high. I'm sure we broke some occupancy rules, as there were about fifteen of us on the best man's balcony. We cracked jokes and kept the mood light.
Once I was fully prepared, I led the guys from the room to the beach where the wedding would be held. Wedding revelers and other hotel guests cheered us on as we marched across the resort. The excitement was really starting to build.
We waited for what seemed like an eternity for the wedding to start. There were a thousand details going through my mind, and I had been waiting for this moment for years, so the anticipation was stretching my perception of time. In reality, we probably waited about ten minutes. Finally the song Swept Away by The Avett Brothers started playing, our cue to march up the beach and take our places near the alter.
As I stood watching our parents walk down the aisle and take their seats, a mix of giddiness and nerves swelled up inside me. It's a rare and exhilarating feeling to know that one of the most significant moments of your life is just minutes away. That feeling multiplied ten-fold when the opening chords of Led Zeppelin's Over the Hills and Far Away started playing.
With that, everyone stood up to welcome the bride. I felt suspended in time as the beautiful Mrs. Tires began her descent down the aisle. She looked absolutely stunning in her flowing white dress, and her face beamed with happiness as she walked. The entire collection of wedding guests and I stood in awe of my captivating bride as she approached.
As she drew closer, I met her in the aisle, hugged her brother Kevin (her escort) and locked arms with her. We were both feeling a bit nervous, so to break through it, I whispered an inside joke in her ear. We both had a good chuckle and sported huge smiles as we took up residence at the altar. This was really happening!
The ceremony included some nice statements from our Justice of the Peace, Linda, as well as readings by Leanne's best friend Frank and my best man Jon.
Our own version of a sand ceremony bridged the gap between the readings and our vows. This ceremony is typical of the weddings at DRC, and it normally consists of pouring artificially colored sand into a container. We decided to personalize it by substituting the colored sand with sand from beaches that were significant in our lives, including some from beaches in New Hampshire and California (our home states), the Lake Michigan shoreline in Chicago (our current home), and from the very beach we were standing on.
At the conclusion of the sand ceremony, we read our vows. I shed many a tear while reading mine. Mrs. Tires delivered hers elegantly and eloquently.
The ceremony concluded with exchanging rings and saying "I do." It's a tradition as old as marriage itself, but that didn't make it any less impactful or any less true.
With that, we were officially a married couple. We kissed, and then faced our guests, who greeted us with enthusiastic cheers and thunderous applause. We made our way back up the aisle hand in hand while Shades of Blue's "Oh, How Happy." played in the background.
As we exited, the staff at Dreams handed everyone a glass of champagne, and my uncle Steve gave a brief but moving toast.
Next, we headed to the beach for pictures. Our photographer Anel was superb, and she had lots of creative ideas for shots. They came out beautifully.
With the photo session complete, we made our way to the reception, which was situated between the infinity pool and the beach. As we approached, they announced us, and we boogied into the reception with huge smiles on our faces, love in our hearts, and dance moves pouring out of our bodies.
We danced our way to the center of the dance floor, which was made up of neon and pastel squares that lit up and resembled Michael Jackson's Billy Jean video. We had our first dance to our song, Baby, I'm Yours by Barbara Lewis.
At the conclusion of the dance, we were surprised by huge sparklers that shot glowing golden bursts into the air. My newly-minted brother-in-law Kevin was quite surprised as well, as the pyrotechnics met the wind and blew a deluge of sparks into his unsuspecting face. Fortunately no one was hurt, and with everyone safe, we reveled in the moment and had a good laugh.
From there, we were ushered to the buffet, where we fixed plates full of delicious food, and then took up residence on huge plush red chairs at the sweethearts table. We felt like royalty as we dined and looked out at our guests. As the meal concluded, Jon, Frank, and Mrs. Tires' sisters Carolyn and Louisa treated everyone to hilarious and heart-felt speeches that had everyone rolling.
At the conclusion of the speeches, we opened up the dance floor. Our friends were practically pushing each other out of the way to get there and dance. There was a jubilant vibe in the air, and that, mixed with a few cocktails, made for a hell of a dance party. It took about two minutes for a conga line to break out.
When Right Said Fred's I'm Too Sexy came on, an impromptu mock runway formed, and we all took turns strutting our stuff as others looked on and cheered. Eventually a second dance party broke out on the beach about twenty feet away. There were a few slow songs in there as well. I have a vivid memory of swaying with Mrs. Tires to REM's Night Swimming. There was something about the way the heavy notes from the piano bounced off the ocean water that made the moment particularly impactful. It was one of those rare perfect moments in life that will stay with me forever.
We danced, ate and drank late in the evening, and the staff had to kick us out for us to finally leave. Friends swear to me that it was one of the most epic dance parties they've every been a part of. In my mind, the dance party was an extension of the wedding itself, an exuberant, emotional and memorable event that will stand out as a highlight for the rest of my life.
The wedding events wrapped up with an informal breakfast at the World Café the next morning, where we chatted with many of our guests and relived the night before. The good vibes carried over to that morning and beyond.
At the conclusion of breakfast, Mrs. Tires and I realized the wedding festivities were officially over. It felt a bit strange that something we had looked forward to for so long was now behind us, but we had no regrets and were riding a newly-wed high that set a wonderful foundation for our marriage.
While the wedding was over, we still had lots of time ahead of us in Mexico. The honeymoon was about to get started...
Coming Soon: Mexico, Part 3: Our Tropical Honeymoon