Mother Knows Best

Bride & groom in front of hotelOne mom shares the story of her daughter’s wedding away in Mexico.

As I sat on a rooftop patio overlooking Puerto Vallarta’s Banderas Bay waiting for my husband, Kent, to walk our beautiful daughter down an aisle of yellow rose petals, I reflected.

Kathryn had determined to marry in Mexico during her high-school years, long before she met her groom. Our family had crossed the border many times when she was young, whether to eat lobster in Puerto Nuevo or shop in Tijuana. She grew up loving the atmosphere, the food — basically everything.

Mark and Kathryn met during her last week of college at California State University, Chico, mere days before her father arrived with a U-Haul to drive her home to San Diego. The couple became better acquainted through long-distance phone calls; they eventually both moved to Sacramento. Five years later, Mark asked for our permission to marry her. We were thrilled.

However, my jubilation quickly dimmed when, as mother of the bride, I realized that it’s one thing to fantasize about your daughter’s perfect (yet affordable) wedding venue and another to help her find it in a nearly 800,000-square-mile foreign country. Drawing on my reservoir of knowledge was little comfort, as my wedding-planning experience was limited (translation: I had none). My own ceremony had been a small garden affair in the backyard of my parents’ home in Dallas, Texas, with my mother serving as “wedding planner.”

Playa Fiesta had the feel of a well-kept secret.

For my daughter’s event, the Internet assumed the role of research assistant. Our hunt was tedious and time-consuming, but after weeks of sorting through places and ideas online, the payoff came when one of Kathryn’s bridesmaids discovered our eventual wedding home.

Playa Fiesta had the feel of a well-kept secret. The white-stucco hotel gave a respectful nod to tradition but also boasted modern touches like private balconies with Jacuzzis; call it three parts Latin nostalgia, one part Mexican cool. We found it a true gem in today’s world of overly dressed-up mega-brand resorts. The 30-bedroom beachfront creation is a wedding-only property, and Lindsay Burgess, who owns the hotel with husband Adam, acts as the in-house wedding coordinator. I was comforted by their extensive experience.

After finding our locale, our next concern was that Mark’s family and friends had traveled very little. Most had never applied for a passport, and Mark’s only surviving grandparent, Grandma Jo, had flown in an airplane only once before. It would be understandable if they didn’t want to deal with the hassle and expense that an international getaway entails. Thankfully, our fear quickly proved unfounded as family members and childhood friends happily signed on for the nontraditional nuptials.

Once everyone was onboard, I felt an additional responsibility — to make sure all the guests enjoyed not only the wedding, but their “vacation” as well. Playa Fiesta proved the ideal setting for both. An alfresco paradise with its blue mosaic-tile pool and the palapa-covered bar, the hotel was the perfect place for our guests to do positively everything or absolutely nothing. Off-property, guests zip-lined through a tropical forest, swam with dolphins and golfed among 10-foot crocodiles. We were only five minutes and a $6 taxi ride from the action of Puerto Vallarta, but for those who wanted to relax, life at the hotel was as simple as deciding which kind of margarita to drink and what SPF of sunscreen to apply.

In no time, we were on a first-name basis with the entire staff — chef Sergio, manager Norberto, Ulises at the front desk (we called him U) and bartenders Charly, Celso and Aldo — and Playa Fiesta quickly seemed more home than hotel. Every aspect of our stay helped cement the newly formed bond between our two families as we anticipated the main event.

After five days spent enjoying the sun and sea, the day arrived. On Dec. 7, 2007, our party of 60 gathered on the hotel’s Sunset Deck, adjacent to the water beneath a lattice of bamboo to witness the union of Kathryn and Mark.

The ceremony came together brilliantly. Even the ocean cooperated; as the service began, the waves seemed to quiet. A 10-piece mariachi band played “A Thousand Violins” from a balcony close by while the couple said their I do’s. I can’t believe it’s here, I thought. And I can’t believe I’m not crying! The tissue in my purse went unused; I was just happy. And when Pastor Barry, a local minister, said in conclusion, “Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to present Mr. and Mrs. Hanson,” I was flushed with nostalgia and pride — the little girl who wouldn’t get on the preschool bus because she wanted to spend the day with me had become a young woman who had just committed to spending her life with a very special man.

As the sun set, the group shifted into party mode. Our guests celebrated into the early hours on the pool deck, transformed with twinkle lights, candles and flowers. Kent’s favorite moment was dancing with the new bride to “Isn’t She Lovely.” And the highlight of my evening was its finale — the bride and groom’s toast of gratitude to the group, accompanied by our surprise gift: a fireworks display.

The wedding week was perfection. The initial quandaries over destination selection, hotel site, wedding menu, guest list and so on faded into vague memories. A year before, I was excited for Kathryn to have a destination wedding, but I couldn’t have been less excited about planning one. And yet, every piece of the wedding puzzle fell into place faster and easier than I had ever hoped. Though Kathryn and I have always been close, we worked together in a different way — less as mother and daughter and more as equals. We have no wedding on the horizon, but my preference for her sister’s eventual one would be another destination wedding. I treasure the additional time with friends and family, the fun of an exotic location and the comments from our friends proclaiming Kathryn and Mark’s event as their “all-time favorite wedding.”

Kathryn sitting on beach in wedding gown