I want an exotic marriage!

Our expert offers advice on knockout nuptials, travel in Croatia, the ins and outs of rental car insurance and finding New Year's charm in Portugal.

Published July 8, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

I'd like to get married somewhere exotic -- not necessarily overseas, but something definitely different. I heard there's a neat chapel in the Grand Tetons or perhaps a Caribbean island. Paris? Morocco? Any articles or info on this?

A "nontraditional wedding" is what you're interested in, and bridal consultants say the concept has gained a big following in recent years. Such ceremonies also appeal to the guests, who get a vacation out of the deal and probably have more fun than during a traditional church wedding. Some nontraditional weddings are quirky, mind you: bungee-jumping, hot air balloons, scuba nuptials. But I gather location, location, location is your main consideration.

Start with "Far and Away Weddings: Secrets to Planning a Long-Distance Wedding," by Denise and Alan Fields (Windsor Peak Press, 1996), which describes about 25 exotic places to get married. The Web site for the book has updates, including notes on consultants who help plan distant weddings.

Another worthy source is "Romantic Wedding Destinations: Guide to Wedding & Honeymoon Getaways Around the World," by Jackie Parrington (Innovanna Publishing Co., 3rd edition 1997). Besides practical advice and sections on foreign locales, it has chapters on a dozen states -- including mountain wedding suggestions for Colorado, Montana and Wyoming. It can be ordered by calling (800) 577-9810.

Many online sources offer ideas, too, including The Knot, the Ultimate Internet Wedding Guide, Wedding Pages, WayCool Weddings and OurMarriage.com.

Keep in check any yearnings for a foreign wedding until you can find out what the local requirements are. Often they are onerous, including residency rules and verifications supplied by a local lawyer, presented in the local lingo. Caribbean nations, however, have gone out of their way in recent years to make getting married easy. The free "Caribbean Vacation Planner" available from the Caribbean Tourism Organization has marriage requirements for each country in the guide.

Ultimately, you'll have to do some research yourself to find that perfect place on a mountain or on a palm-shaded beach. Unlike roller coaster parks, there's no audience of satisfied enthusiasts who continuously promote great wedding locations. You may have to take the ideas you get from the above sources and make contact with licensing offices and tourism authorities who know the local scene and have seen weddings plans unfold in their areas.

Other sources to consider within a region are local reporters who cover the social scene or compile wedding announcements, and longtime florists and ministers. Those groups would have long memories for outstanding weddings they've encountered.

I'm planning a backpacking trip through Croatia and possibly other Eastern European countries. Does the train system connect to other European cities? What's the safety situation there?

Yes, Croatia's rail system connects to the rest of Europe, but it's not part of the Eurail system. There are numerous rail and bus links between Croatia and Austria, Germany, Hungary and Italy. To reach Greece from Croatia, you'll probably have to rely on a ferry.

Croatia's war with Yugoslavia foiled tourism for years, but it was gradually rebuilding to old levels when the Balkan conflict stunted it earlier this year. Croatia wasn't directly involved, and visitor numbers should again rise, propelled in part by cruise discounting and other come-hither promotions. The biggest safety threat left from the earlier conflict was mines, which have been carefully cleared from areas where visitors tread. Still, you wouldn't want to go on a walkabout without being aware of that situation. For the latest U.S. report on crime and security, check the State Department's consular information sheet on Croatia.

On June 18, 1999, the department also issued an announcement that mentions Croatia: "There currently exists no specific threat against U.S. citizens or U.S. interests in the Republic of Croatia. Although the NATO air campaign has ceased in neighboring Serbia-Montenegro and Serbian forces are withdrawing from Kosovo, the situation is still unsettled. The reaction of the authorities in Serbia, and of individuals in both Serbia-Montenegro and the Republika Srpska entity of Bosnia-Herzegovina, is not certain. Therefore, Embassy Zagreb personnel are exercising caution in pursuing official travel to regions of Croatia which border directly on Serbia -- in particular, Eastern Slavonia -- or the northern border of the Republika Srpska. U.S. citizens in Croatia are urged to keep abreast of developments and to practice prudent personal security."

Exchanging money can be done without difficulty, and there are ATMs in the big cities. For practical and sightseeing advice on Croatia, get a copy of Lonely Planet's "Eastern Europe," which covers the territory you're planning to explore. The fifth edition was published early this year and is up to date.

You can also find firsthand travel information on Dalmatia.net, the Croatian Tourist Information Site and the Croatian Tourism Line.

The Croatian National Tourist Office in New York can be reached at (212) 279-8672.

Do you have any advice as to whether to buy the insurance offered by a car rental company when in Britain? My own auto insurance does not cover a car rental in Europe. My gold card company said it would cover insurance on a rental car, but someone told me that if I were to use my gold card and dented the car, I would be held responsible for making all the arrangements to have the car repaired. What can you tell me about the situation?

Car rental and car rental insurance are among the most troublesome issues for travelers abroad. Discrepancies over rental rates and what types of insurance you can or must purchase arise constantly. The fact is, the topic is complicated and when you hear so many horror stories it's easy to feel nervous about it.

Hearsay doesn't go far if you do run into problems. I suggest you rely on primary sources -- the gold card issuer and the company through which you book your car in advance -- to pin down what you can expect. I've found that the customer service reps at companies such as Kemwel and Auto Europe are very helpful and willing to speak from their prior experience with customers who filed claims.

Some rental companies include insurance as part of the rental agreement. Whatever the case, carry a written record of what coverage you have.

If you're still uncomfortable with what the credit card company and rental agency have told you, call the rental location in advance, even if it means a transatlantic call, and ask the manager what you can expect.

One of the best discussions I've seen about overseas rentals and the problems that can arise is in the book "Secrets Every Smart Traveler Should Know," by Wendy Perrin (Fodor's, 1997).

With a little luck, you'll never get the chance to try out whatever insurance coverage you end up with.

Among agencies renting cars in England are Europe by Car, (800) 223-1516; Kemwel, (800) 678-0678; Auto Europe, (888) 223-5555; Hertz, (800) 654-3001; and Avis, (800) 331-1084.

I was hoping to rent a house for my friends and myself this New Year's in Portugal, but all the Web sites I can find offer only personality-less condos in Lagos. Any advice on how I can find a rental with a little more charm and character?

Try contacting some of the booking agencies that have been around a lot longer than the Web and may have a larger stock of properties to offer. Among them:

Villas International Ltd. in San Rafael, Calif., (415) 499-9490 or (800) 221-2260.

Hideaways International in Portsmouth, N.H., (800)843-4433.

Hometours International Inc. in Knoxville, Tenn., (800) 367-4668.

The Portuguese National Tourist Office maintains a list of companies that arrange rentals. Its phone numbers are (800) 767-8842 and (212) 354-4403.

By Donald D. Groff

Donald D. Groff has been dispensing travel advice for a decade for such publications as the Philadelphia Inquirer, Newsday, the Boston Globe and the Kansas City Star.

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