Renewing vows a journey of the heart

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Celebrate good times: After our vow renewal ceremony we enjoyed the traditional first dance. | FILE PHOTO

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I have no doubt I was the butt of family wisecracks for weeks leading up to my big day – for the second time – in just 3 ½ years. My husband, Matt, and I had decided to take the plunge once more and renew our wedding vows and commitment to one another in St. Lucia.

Cliché? Hokey? Even my brother-in-law Andy asked, “Is everything OK?” when we divulged our plans.

“Marriage is two people coming together and caring enough to commit to the relationship and making it a permanent union,” said Joan Murphy, RN, behaviorist and director of two Health Education Centers at Little Company of Mary Hospital and Health Care Centers.

Although we fittingly pledged ourselves to one another in October 2008, we jumped at the chance to spend some time together – just the two of us – in our own romantic hamlet and reminisce about what brought us together from the start. Life had moved rapidly post-nuptials: new house, new jobs and a new baby.

Situated in the eastern Caribbean Sea, St. Lucia is just 27 miles long and 14 miles wide. Twin peaks, known as the Pitons, reach upwards of 2,000 feet from the sea and offer a natural canopy to dense rain forests, green valleys and glorious flora and fauna.

The island was inhabited first by the Arawak Indians, who then were conquered by fierce rivals, the Caribs. Eventually, the British arrived, and in 1667 so did the French. Saint Lucia was alternately British and French for the next 150 years, before it was finally ceded to the British in 1814. Since 1979, it has been a stable, independent democracy within the British Commonwealth.

For us, there was no more idyllic setting in which to stay the next few days than Sandals La Toc Golf Resort & Spa. The couples-only all-inclusive locale is a weddings destination and positioned on more than 200 acres, with coral bluffs, verdant hillsides, a lovely half-mile crescent-shaped beach and golf course. The property breathes grandeur yet is intimate and charming in its own right and boasts accommodations to fit every preference and price point, three freshwater pools, four whirlpools, a spa, and eight eclectic dining options ranging from pub grub to French, Asian and Italian cuisine.

We were fortunate enough to stay in a two-story Sunset Bluff Oceanfront Villa complete with glorious scenery, upper level bedroom and bath plus whirlpool and lower level affording a furnished living room, patio and personal plunge pool. Absolute heaven.

Our last night we went all out in a Mediterranean-style Millionaire Suite – the lap of luxury – 180-degree views, capacious living room, terrace, private whirlpool and infinity pool, and fully opened glass walls. If the sunshine and waves weren’t beckoning, we would have locked ourselves away the entire duration of our stay.

The real coup de grace? Our very own personal butler. Initially, Matt and I were totally uneasy with the concept of having someone at our beck and call. And we felt a tad undeserving. But these individuals are handpicked for obvious reasons - you know why once you meet them - and trained to exceptionally high standards. They take enormous pride in what they do and failure to utilize their expertise is a complete disservice. Butlers go above and beyond to ensure your stay is relaxing and easy in whatever way possible – from unpacking and repacking clothes to arranging activities, dinner reservations, in-suite meals, a fully stocked bar or a signature cocktail and magazine at 6 p.m. each day.

The big day

The planning for our actual wedding nearly four years ago seemed never-ending and tedious. We even had a 4-inch thick binder to keep track of necessities, payments and crucial dates. But the entire process of preparing for and actually participating in the vow renewal experience was a snap. Months before the actual ceremony, we worked with a wedding coordinator to arrange the basics: flowers, music, vows, salon services, a copy of our marriage license. And once on-site we met the day prior with an actual consultant who walked us through every detail – ceremony location, wedding cake flavor, first dance song, reception, private candlelight dinner, and photographs.

We thought it would feel strange to not be surrounded by family and friends yet being on the beach – together – felt simple and cozy. Even our attire for the day was casual, island-appropriate, and comfortable.

Matt and I opted for a beachfront ceremony and being the traditionalist I am, gussied up solo and walked to meet my soon-to-be groom-all-over-again to Canon in D. I was partially going through the motions and can honestly say wasn’t expecting how emotionally engaging the experience was until I hit the beach. Catching a glimpse of Matt waiting for me with the marriage officiant brought me back to the very moment I saw him in his tux at St. Mary’s College in South Bend, Ind. And I instantaneously knew – as I did then – that he was the one for me.

We exchanged vows, spoke impromptu from the heart, listened to an inspiring testimonial from the minister and made a pact – once more – to stick together through the best of times and the worst – and to always rely on the strength of our commitment no matter what. “[Vow renewal] is redefining where you are in your life. It’s a great reminder of what you set out to do, what you spoke and promised to one another on your wedding day,” Murphy said.

We then kicked up our heels, danced to Frank Sinatra’s “The Way You Look Tonight,” indulged in appetizers, Champagne and wedding cake and enjoyed a private gazebo reception amidst a backdrop of lightly falling rain.

Later that day, we were spoiled at the Red Lane Spa. Unbeknownst to us, the resort presented us with a wedding day gift of a couple’s massage. Uncomfortable with the very idea, we opted out, with every excuse possible, including the need for one last rum punch and the importance of evening out our uneven tan lines. Strongly encouraged to rethink our decision, we open-mindedly decided to “just do it.”

I’ve always been a bit gun-shy about massage. I’m ticklish and uneasy with the idea of a stranger’s hands on me. That wasn’t the case for Matt. No sooner had we laid down side-by-side did he start to bemoan all of his stress, aches, and pains. I couldn’t help but laugh aloud.

We were able to select the oil that best appealed to our individual senses and ended the treatment in a whirlpool bath with Champagne and fruit.

As if that were not enough, we capped off an exciting, nostalgic and sentimental day in the most apropos way - an outdoor candlelight seafood dinner of shrimp, lobster and crab legs amidst crashing waves.

This was a journey entirely of the heart. I don’t think we could have found a more fitting or romantic venue.

I’d do it all again– and again – and I know Matt would, too, without a moment’s hesitation in the tropical sanctuary of beautiful St. Lucia. For more information visit Sandals.com, Stlucianow.com