A Beachfront Winter Wedding in Bahia Beach, Puerto Rico
When Vanessa and Jim first met at work—she was a marketing consultant hired by his company—they were just friends. "Our paths crossed many times, and we were cordial and friendly when we saw each other," says the couple. But when Vanessa left consulting in 2016, Jim was quick to reach out. "I announced that I would be leaving to pursue my doctorate at a university in Jim's hometown," she says. "Jim was one of the first people to send me congratulations. He also offered to be of help as I transitioned to his city."
For weeks, the two traded notes about restaurants, events, and must-sees in their newly-shared city, but it wasn't until a mutual friend saw the emails and pointed out that Jim was flirting that Vanessa got the hint. When they finally met for drinks and dinner, Jim, a widower, "was very clear about his feelings that we could have something special," says Vanessa. "Imagine my shock—I thought I was just connecting with someone who I thought would be a friend." Vanessa's best friend urged her to pursue the relationship, and, says Vanessa, "Jim and I have spoke to each other every day since that first date."
Nearly two years later, Vanessa and Jim were seriously discussing marriage, looking at rings together before a trip to Europe. Vanessa assumed Jim would propose on her birthday in September, but he managed to surprise her during their time in England on an outing to picturesque Winchester Cathedral. After lighting a candle at the cathedral in memory of Vanessa's parents, Jim's father, and Jim's first wife, Jim got down on one knee, pulled out the ring, and asked Vanessa to be his wife.
The couple decided to tie the knot on December 21, 2018—Jim's parents' wedding anniversary—in a tropical destination wedding at the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort in Puerto Rico. "I'm originally from Panama, but we were unable to find any places there, so we then began exploring Puerto Rico," says Vanessa. The beachfront wedding for 50 guests incorporated an array of white flowers—including plenty of orchids—gold accents, and gleaming mirrored surfaces. But for Vanessa and Jim, the best part was becoming husband and wife while making lifelong memories with their closest friends and family. "[It was] a celebration of love, life, blessings, and family," says the couple.
Vanessa and Jim designed an engagement ring together with a family friend, jeweler Jonathan Zadok, who told them the custom piece would take about 12 weeks to produce. But four weeks later, when Jim proposed, he surprised Vanessa with a diamond "way bigger and more beautiful than what I had selected," she says. "Jim and the jeweler conspired to get my ring finished so Jim could hand-carry it to England—Jonathan moved heaven and earth to finish it. He delivered the ring to Jim the day before we departed for the flight."
Back in Action
The bride started looking for her wedding dress just three months before the wedding, and though she tried on several that brought friends to tears, none felt right. With time running out, she ordered an Ines Di Santo number from the Joan Pillow Bridal Salon in Houston at the urging of her family and friends. "Two weeks after ordering the dress, I began to redesign it," she says. "In the end, I wanted a sophisticated but sexy dress, but not too revealing." Her patience—and vision— resulted in an off-the-shoulder gown made of antique ivory Italian lace, with a deep button back and hand-sewn crystals. "It wasn't until I saw myself on my wedding day with everything that I fell in love with my dress and cried. I love everything about it—I would wear it again and again," she says.
An All-White Bouquet
Vanessa's bouquet consisted entirely of white orchids, one of her favorite flowers, uninterrupted by accents or greenery. Floral designers from Akua also included orchids as a main feature in the bridesmaids' bouquets and centerpieces.
Jim wore a traditional, European-cut black suit with a patterned tie. The groomsmen—his sons—wore the same color, sourcing their slim-fit suits from Suit Supply.
The groom's custom cuff links honored his heritage and Vanessa's: One showed off the flag of England, where Jim grew up, and the other displayed the flag of Panama, Vanessa's home.
A Place to Remember
A wooden archway with garlands of white flowers and deep green foliage created an altar on the edge of the beach, where the couple said their vows and made time during their ceremony to memorialize lost loved ones. "We had my mother's Bible and five candles for our family members who had passed on," says Vanesa. "We had a moment of silence to honor our parents who had passed on, as well as friends who couldn't make it."
Cane-back chairs and love seats upholstered in gray and white fabric created a cozy seating area for the couple's guests during the ceremony, while full green-and-white floral arrangements incorporated the couple's color palette.
The Music Man
Local guitarist Pancho Irizarry provided the music for the ceremony, which included "Danny Boy" and "Ave Maria" during the moment of silence and "Oh Happy Day" during the recessional. He then joined two other guitarists to provide acoustic versions of familiar songs during the cocktail hour.
Full of Joy
Vanessa and Jim agreed to a traditional first look as she walked down the aisle, escorted by her older brother, while Irizarry played "A Thousand Years."
An Emotional Moment
With his sons behind him, Jim wiped tears from his eyes as he got his first glimpse of Vanessa walking down the aisle in her wedding dress—a moment he calls his favorite of the entire day.
Saying "I Do"
Officiant Cory Casterton led the couple through a "spiritual" ceremony. "We didn't write vows," says the couple, "but we did share personal messages to each other."
Love is All Around
After the ceremony, the couple posed for portraits with friends and family, including their bridal party—three of Vanessa's best friends and Jim's three adult sons. The moments they shared with those closest to them are priceless. "I didn't know it at the time, but it would be the last time that my best friend and maid of honor and I would spend time together laughing and having the time of our lives with our friends and family," says Vanessa. "She lost her battle with breast cancer 31 days after my wedding."
As guests moved to the Astor Terrace for cocktail hour, the newlyweds posed for portraits around the St. Regis property. "Remember, it is your day—there are no must-dos except what makes you happy," says Vanessa. "We didn't want to miss a thing, so we made sure we had time to join the cocktail hour. Slow down and take it all in—it goes by so fast."
As guests entered the ballroom, they found their seating assignments printed in Spanish on an oversized mirror surrounded by candles and white flowers.
Having Their Cake
Rectangular tables in the lavish ballroom had mirrored tops that nodded to the gleaming gold chairs. Vanessa and Jim's custom cake was displayed in the center of the room. "In England and the Caribbean, wedding cakes are rum fruitcake with royal icing," says Vanessa. "Jim and I partnered with the pastry chef at the St. Regis to develop the recipe. In the end, the cake was delicious and all of it was eaten except for the top."
Full of Flowers
On each table, a variety of vases, flowers, and foliage created one-of-a-kind centerpieces. "The centerpieces featured an abundance of white orchids, white tulips, white roses, and greenery, candles of different sizes and shapes, mirrors, and risers," says Vanessa. "My aesthetic is clean and I love orchids, so we brought that to life with greenery, candles, and crystal."
The place settings incorporated two chargers—one wooden, one crystal and gold—topped with a letterpressed menus and a 3D laser cut of each guest's name. Entrée choices included plantain-crusted red snapper or pistachio and rosemary-crusted beef tenderloin.
After dinner, a 12-piece band and DJ from Allied Music Solutions performed for three hours of dancing—including the couple's first spin, to "When I Fall in Love" by Miles Davis. Another special moment for Vanessa: When the band played "You are the Best Thing" by Ray LaMontagne. "Jim is an avid drummer and he surprised me by joining the band as the drummer when this song played," says Vanessa.
Photography, Enuel Viera
Location and catering, St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort
Event planning, Maria Lugo
Flowers, rentals, and lighting, Akua
Videography, Gabriel González
Officiant, Cory Casterton
Stationery, Hollis Reardon, Events Gifts
Music, Allied Music Solutions (reception); Pancho Irizarry (ceremony)
Bride's gown, Ines Di Santo
Hair, Chioma Valcourt, Next Vanity
Makeup, Carolina Rufat
Menswear, Suit Supply
Bridal Alterations, Joan Pillow Bridal Salon
Jeweler, Jonathan Zadok