Say ‘I do’ with the sand between your toes

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Barefoot brides and grooms from all over the country are flocking to Siesta Key beaches to say “I do.”

Wedding ceremonies postponed by COVID-19 and regional restrictions on the number of guests have had couples re-thinking the best way to celebrate their big day. For many, the ideal wedding venue is one of Siesta Key’s scenic beaches.

To marry on Siesta Beach, Crescent Beach or Turtle Beach — the three Siesta Key beaches where weddings are permitted — a beach wedding permit must be obtained from the Sarasota County Department of Parks and Recreation. A Florida marriage license from the Sarasota County Clerk’s office, or any county clerk’s office in Florida, is also necessary.

 Nationally, the entire year of 2021 is expected to be one of the busiest years for weddings in recent times, according to a national survey of 7,600 couples who had planned to marry in 2020.

Photos courtesy of Florida Gulf Beach Weddings.

A poll that was conducted by The Knot, an online wedding website, and released in February, showed that 47% of couples surveyed postponed their 2020 ceremony to 2021. Of those, six in 10 couples responded that they selected an outdoor location.

Places such as Siesta Key are realizing the impact of this trend.

 “Last year we were reducing and canceling,” said Brandon Wheeler, owner of Florida Gulf Beach Weddings. “Now our summer and fall schedule is busy and we’re starting to book beach weddings into 2022.” 

Although wedding experts recommend planning a wedding six to 12 months in advance, Wheeler said that “suddenly many brides are calling and asking for wedding dates that are two months out.”

Michelle Borrero, who runs the Sarasota-based Precious Moments Events firm with her husband Nelson, reported “Now that things are opening up, people are getting married and they want to get married in a bigger way. We’re seeing a strong influx of couples from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. They’re all fleeing the cold weather and COVID restrictions in those northern states.”

 Popular as they may be, beach weddings come with certain unique issues that may not exist at indoor locations.

“Many people don’t know,” Borrero said, “that here in Sarasota we are in the middle of turtle nesting season that runs from May 1 through Oct. 31.

“This may impact available locations and for sunset wedding ceremonies, we must limit any lighting.”

Nesting turtles, according to Mote Marine, rely on dim natural light to find their way to the water. Lights from the land and on the beach can disorient nesting female turtles and their young.

 Other natural elements can come into play during a beach wedding ceremony. Kimberly Frazer, a wedding planner and co-owner of The Perfect Dress, a bridal store on South Osprey Avenue in Sarasota, notes that she has seen beach breezes blow chairs and decorations away.

And while going barefoot may sound romantic, Frazer strongly advises brides and their wedding parties to wear flat shoes or sandals to avoid harm from shells or rocks.

When it comes to choosing a bridal gown, Frazer recommends a gown with a flowing skirt made of chiffon, crepe or tulle, explaining that “the dress will look airy and beautiful at the ceremony and in the wedding photos.”

She also urges brides to select a long cathedral-length veil for a elegant look. Brides on the beach should avoid getting the dress wet because it could stain. Although, she said, “Sand on your veil or dress won’t do any harm. Just shake it out as you leave the beach on your way to the reception.” 

 Couples marrying on a Siesta Key beach may choose a religious or civil ceremony.

In Florida, notaries public are legally permitted to perform civil ceremonies. The Sunshine State is one of only three states in the nation where this is allowed.

Clergy who are licensed in Florida may also perform weddings.

And, for the record, same-sex marriages became legal here in 2015.

 The Rev. Susan “Sophie” Bierker, an ordained minister in the Unity Church and a notary public, is a Sarasota wedding officiant who has performed many first and second weddings on Siesta Key beaches. Her most memorable event took place when two people wouldn’t let a few raindrops dampen their dreams.

“As we began the ceremony, it was just the three of us on the beach,” she recalled. “Suddenly it began pouring rain. They wanted to stay. We laughed, continued on and we all got completely wet.

“It’s one of my fondest memories.”

Nancy Taussig, a notary public and wedding officiant in Sarasota, said that vow-renewal ceremonies on the beach have become increasingly popular.

Not long ago Taussig conducted one for five couples from the same family. The grandparents, Taussig noted, were celebrating 75 years of marriage. Their two married children joined them, along with two married grandchildren and their spouses.

“Now that,” she said, “was a ceremony their family will talk about for generations to come.”

A guide to planning a beach wedding here

• A free, web-accessible guide from Visit Sarasota, the official tourism organization for Sarasota County, is called “Say I Do to a Sarasota Wedding” and can be found at visitsarasota.com/visit-sarasota-county-wedding-guide

• A Florida  marriage license is valid for 60 days from the application date from the Sarasota County or any Florida county clerk’s office. The fee is $86. Go to sarasotaclerk.com.

• Florida marriage licenses for non-Florida residents are valid day of purchase.

• Marriage licenses for Florida residents are valid three days after purchase.

• Permits for beach weddings on Siesta Key beaches are required and can be obtained from Sarasota County Parks and Recreation. Call (941) 861-7275 and speak to a representative.

• Wedding permits for Siesta Beach are $75/hour, with a two- hour minimum.

• There are three permitted wedding locations on Siesta Beach.

• Crescent Beach and Turtle Beach wedding permits are $40 per hour with no minimum time. There is one designated wedding location on Crescent Beach and one on Turtle Beach.

• For a list of businesses that provide wedding and event services on Siesta Key, visit the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce at siestakeychamber.com/siesta-key-chamber/member-directory.

Jane Bartnett
Author: Jane Bartnett

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