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Romance Reigns at the Casa Marina

Titans of industry, stars of stage and screen, socialites and politicans, gangsters and royals once lounged around at the Casa Marina, in Jacksonville Beach, FL,  strolling along the wide white beach where heroes of racing and aviation thrilled onlookers with competition and landings and the mighty Atlantic Ocean rolled into the North American continent.

The Spanish revival hotel was the newest of the grand Florida land boom hostelries to be built not far from where Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon and French explorer Jean Ribault first landed.

Today it is the only one of those grand, rambling dames left.

Today’s guests will find its rooms and suites more spacious and its amenities and service all 21st century but the ghosts of it and its beach’s glory days line the hallway walls. Large photographs of events in those halcyon days – record-breaking airplanes and racing cars and motorcycles, fashionably attired revelers dancing in the grand salon, bathing beauties in the new skimpy swimming suits and the boardwalk with its huge roller coaster, two ferris wheels and the pier stretching out beyond the surf line, angler’s delight by day, site of endless dances come nightfall.

Sunrise over the ocean - wedding portrait perfection

The romance and joie de vivre of Roaring Twenties’ nostalgia with modern facilities and personalized service has become a magnet for brides seeking an oceanfront site for nuptials, receptions and accommodations for destination weddings and even honeymoons.

Recently the hotel’s staff showed off its beach wedding expertise bringing in some favorite vendors to show off new trends and what can be done with interior and exterior spaces. Casa Marina Chef Aaron Webb served his signature new Beach cuisine and Maitre D’Hotel Sterling Joyce was on hand to make sure brides and grooms learned to cut the wedding cake with expertise while giving photographers the best possible angles for flattering portraits of the ceremony.

I checked in to check it out.

With its intimate 24 rooms and parlor suites and space for up to 250 guests for a dinner reception, the Casa Marina is perfectly sized for today’s pared down weddings and receptions.

The Wedding Cake
The wedding ceremony may be outside in the patio or on the beach but John and Carol Propensky of Classic Cakes, who only create custom wedding cakes, “never, ever, never put a cake outside.” They will design for beach weddings – pearl decor for elegant beach, sea shells, beach chairs, chocolate shells, edible sea glass and sugar sand for more casual affairs.

New Trends
•  Cupcakes are out, shapes are divided 50-50 between round and square; “Give the groom a choice and he will go to square, grooms never pick round.”
•  Crazy flavors are fading and the white cake that tastes good is coming back with the cake becoming more and more the focal point of the reception. Taste, however, trumps all. Brides want their guests to go home saying “that’s the best cake I ever ate.”
• Grooms’ cakes are now being brought out for the reception rather at the wedding reception.

Flowers and Color Schemes
According to Lynette Self, owner of Rose of Sharon Florist:
• Big cascading brides’  bouquets are out, simple hand-tied bouquets are in.

New trends:
• Barnyard chic with rustic containers, wild flowers, bright colors.
• The green bride, plants rather than cut flowers, reusable centerpieces, succulents, wooden or glass containers.
• Beach themes with colored sand, shells and starfish in and around containers, vignettes with driftwood and votives.
• more muted color schemes – a variety of heights for interest, monochromatic, all white or blush with pale green – for formal weddings.

Beach Weddings
More popular than ever but after he pops the question, couples have to answer the question, Ceremony on the beach or near it?
Casa Marina experts weighed in with some factors to consider.
• Size – Do you want a few people to watch as you say your vows or all your friends? Most beaches limit times and numbers for such ceremonies. Jacksonville Beach, for example, limits the number of chairs that can be set up to 14 and special permits are needed (wedding coordinators at hotels like the Casa Marina can help you with this).
• Who’s coming? If you have elderly or physically encumbered family members of friends, they might not be able to make it to the ceremony site. Canes and sand don’t do well together.
• Vanity. Will your veil and hairstyle stand up under strong ocean breezes and can your make up and nerves handle the heat? Does the groom have funny looking feet? Most go barefooted and you don’t want guests laughing at them instead of oohing and aahing over how good you look together.
• Weather. Can you guarantee it won’t rain or storm? Thought not.

That’s where hotels like the Casa Marina come in. Most couples opt to say their vows in the courtyard, which can be attractively tented, with the ocean as the backdrop.

Perfect Images
Photographer Emily Martin who specializes in weddings, especially those on or around the beach, recommends having the ceremony off the beach where all can be more comfortable and taking those romantic portraits before of afterwards when light is best and no one is in a hurry. She even called on a pair of newlyweds to show how it’s done.

With the sun rising in spectacular fashion and the clouds casting drama to the sky, sea gulls swooped and soared,  waves glinted silver and gold, the sea oats nodded gracefully and no one had to worry about heat-smeared makeup or rivulets of perspiration tracking unattractively down faces, bodices and underarms.

Picture perfect.