NEGRIL, Jamaica (Reuters) - The first time Gerri Carr got married, she took a traditional route -- big Catholic church, packed pews, and a near panic attack before she walked down the aisle.
Last month, Carr, 41, marked the milestone of a second marriage under a breezy blue Jamaican sky, surrounded by two dozen friends and family members, soft white sand and the pulse of ocean waves.
The island wedding "provided a more intimate experience" according to Carr, who spent several days in Negril celebrating with her new husband, his children and other family and friends.
"It's a nice way to lay the groundwork and the attitude for the rest of our lives," said Carr, who lives in Philadelphia.
Indeed, the low-stress, low cost -- a week-long jaunt to the Caribbean complete with wedding and reception can cost less than half of a conventional wedding -- and romantic aspect of holding a wedding in an exotic locale continues to fuel the popularity of so-called "destination" weddings.
"Destination weddings are very popular," said Sue Totterdale, board chairman of the National Association of Wedding Professionals.
"It's simplified with a lot less stress," Totterdale said. "You've been down at a resort property a couple days, you've had a couple Mai Tais, you go out in a beautiful setting, walk down the aisle to maybe a violin or a harp and you're married."
COST IS KEY
A simpler wedding typically translates to a significantly lower cost, according to wedding planners. While a typical church wedding might be followed by a reception with a sit-down dinner for 100 people or more, a dance, and the requisite flowers, photos and limousines, an island wedding is usually short and simple, held outdoors with only a couple of dozen guests, and followed by a casual poolside barbecue.
Moreover, the married couple then has several days to spend celebrating with the few close friends and/or family members who have joined them on the trip.
"We both sort of felt a wedding was really a special thing only to be shared with people closest to your heart," said 23-year-old Felicia Fleitman, a New York newlywed who tied the knot in Jamaica on March 17.
Moreover, her husband 24-year-old Jake Fleitman said, a wedding in the city was going to cost at least $60,000, compared to the $15,000 the couple ended up spending for 11 days and a wedding in Jamaica.
POPULAR PUERTO RICO
There is little data on exactly how many couples are choosing to eschew hometown ceremonies in favor of far-flung venues. But travel experts report a steady stream of bookings each month.
Patty Wallen, a coordinator with A Wedding For You Inc., based in Davie, Florida, said she is juggling about 30 such weddings right now.
"It is a huge, huge industry, bigger than people can imagine," said Wallen.
Puerto Rico is a current hot spot. New more stringent U.S. passport requirements that include Bermuda and many Caribbean locations but not U.S. territories like Puerto Rico have helped boost its popularity.
Other consistent favorites include Hawaii; Cabo San Lucas and Cancun, Mexico; Hayman Island, Australia; and increasingly Italy and Greece, according to industry experts.
On Turtle Island, Fiji, in the South Pacific, a bride can dress in traditional Fijian wedding attire made from tree bark and arrive at the ceremony aboard a wedding raft amid the trumpeting of conch shells.
A British Virgin Islands resort caters to romance-seekers with sunset cruises and a private beach dedicated to honeymooners.
And Jamaica, with its slow pace and near-ideal warm wedding weather year-round, is a perennial destination of choice.
Iesha Samuels, sales manager for the Beaches Resort & Spa in Negril, said the 210-room property handles an average of 50 weddings a month with couples from around the world tying the knot in the resort's flower-adorned, ocean-front gazebo.
For the Carrs from Philadelphia, their Jamaican wedding was the perfect celebration.
"We sat on a beach with our closest friends and a Jamaican sunset," said the 56-year-old groom Paul Carr. "It's what a wedding should be."