Weddings are supposed to be the happiest day of a couple’s life. After months of dedicated planning, a lifetime of saving, and the bulk-booking of flights, hotels and restaurants, finally saying "I do" at a location that means everything to the couple, destination weddings seem even more special. So what happened when COVID-19 hit?

Here, three couples discuss what happened when their destination weddings were upended by the coronavirus pandemic.

A honeymoon couple look loving at one at sunset at Anse Madge on Praslin Island in the Seychelles
Gulmira Myrzakmat and Stephen Lioy on Praslin Island in the Seychelles on their pre-wedding honeymoon © Stephen Lioy

Gulmira and Stephen: love in a time of quarantine

Four hours. That’s how late Gulmira Myrzakmat was for her first date with Stephen Lioy.

The pair, who met in Kyrgyzstan, had found themselves passing through Istanbul for work at the same time, so Stephen, who had previously led tours around the city, planned a romantic stroll for their first date.

“I arranged this whole, beautiful walking tour,” he remembers laughing, “but I had to compress it into a rushed two to three hours.” Still, it had a storybook ending: dinner at a restaurant on Istiklal Ave that had just one candlelit table on a tiny balcony. “It was really, really romantic,” says Stephen. “I couldn’t have planned it any better.”

Fast forward to 2020 and the couple were planning to return to Istanbul for their wedding, getting married on a boat as it cruised along the Bosphorus.

Boats motor along the Bosphorus in Turkey with the Istanbul skyline in the background
Gulmira and Stephen had planned to get married on a boat whilst it cruised along the Bosphorus © Roberto A Sanchez/Getty Images

It had taken some effort to pull together. Stephen knows Istanbul well, but friends had helped organise the celebration too: they’d planned to fly some Kyrgyz students in to play traditional music, and a friend of Gulmira had organised several Kyrgyz wedding games to play.

Their immediate families would be staying in the city for the week, and their friends for the weekend. Stephen, who is from the USA originally, had prearranged some sightseeing and bar-hopping. Many of his family members got their first-ever passports issued.

Then around 10 days before the ceremony was due to take place, their officiant, a friend called Bill, got in touch to say he didn’t think he’d be able to attend. He had underlying respiratory issues and was worried about travelling over from California. One of Gulmira’s friends emailed too. She didn’t think in good conscience that she could attend either.

With Stephen already in Turkey and Gulmira in Bishkek, the couple deliberated over their options on WhatsApp. Overnight, the WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, and the couple cancelled their wedding.

“I was really sad because I was really looking forward to this big day,” says Gulmira. “But when I found out that the WHO declared it as a pandemic I thought it best for the wellbeing of everyone to cancel the gathering.” Stephen, sat by himself in a hotel room in an Istanbul suburb, said he just felt dazed.

An aerial view of the Hagia Sophia mosque in Istanbul; the photo is taken at dusk, and lights are beginning to illuminate the city.
Gulmira and Stephen had planned to show their family the famous Istanbul sights like the Hagia Sophia mosque © DANNY HU / Getty Images

At the very moment their ceremony was due to take place – Stephen waiting nervously under an arch of flowers as Gulmira walked down the aisle to the Wedding March – the couple weren’t actually together at all.

“We were messaging each other saying, ‘we’d actually be on the Bosporus at this moment,’” says Gulmira, speaking about the wedding cruise. But as it was, Stephen had been quarantined in an abandoned US military base near Bishkek's airport whilst making his way home and Gulmira was in their apartment for Nooruz, a national holiday in Kyrgyzstan.

Fortunately, they had already taken their honeymoon.

“We had our honeymoon before our wedding,” says Gulmira, laughing. In Kyrgyzstan, the first week in January is a national holiday, so the couple went away for three weeks to Zanzibar, Seychelles and Qatar. “The Seychelles became our favourite place – we didn’t have enough time to explore, so we’d like to go back,” she adds.

At the time of our interview, Stephen had made it back to their flat but was self-isolating. They still haven’t decided whether or not to replan the wedding. Though, as the pair know from their first date, late is better than never.

Couple Alba Díaz and Daniel Camino clink glasses in celebration of their wedding.
Alba Díaz and Daniel Camino celebrate of their wedding – one that took place through their window © Alba Díaz / @frida_kiwi Instagram

Alba and Daniel: the unexpected Instagram wedding

For Alba Díaz and Daniel Camino, a couple from A Coruña in northwest Spain, their destiny was written in the dates.

“Our first date was 14 March 2009,” says Alba, “Dani asked me to marry in May 2019, so we were clear that the [wedding] date would be 14 March 2020 because it is our anniversary and it was Saturday.”

So even as the Spanish government imposed a nationwide lockdown, the couple were still determined to proclaim their love to the world – even if it meant getting married from the window of their apartment.

Naturally their spontaneous celebration was captured on Instagram: Alba clutching a bouquet of red flowers, the pair leaning out the window. She’s wearing a white double-breasted gown she’d bought to have her wedding make-up done in; Daniel is in a charcoal-coloured suit. Their neighbour officiated the ceremony from the next window along.

It was a stark change to their original plans. They were due to get married in front of 190 guests in Daniel’s home village, two hours from A Coruña. They had friends flying in from all across Europe, including England and Iceland.

“Our wedding was [due to take place] in an alternative space,” says Alba. “The ceremony [itself] in the town's food market and the rest of the celebration in a ship that had been closed for 10 years.”

The couple had already put in a lot of hard work. “We had to prepare the walls, the floor, the bathrooms, the electrical installation, etc,” says Alba. “We had everything ready already: the decoration was already done, the flowers placed and the kitchen and food already inside the ship.”

Then, on Friday 13 March, a day before the wedding, they realised it would have to be cancelled.

“On Saturday we woke up with a feeling of terrible sadness,” Alba adds. It was Daniel who suggested they get married through the window. Alba was only convinced when their friends started sending photos of themselves in the clothes they were planning to wear to the wedding with well wishes written on cards.

The couple have rescheduled their wedding for 14 November – they couldn’t hold it any sooner as Alba runs Frida Kiwi, a wedding planning company, and she has another 30 upcoming events to sort and reschedule before that.

They were due to honeymoon in Italy, but now find themselves in self-isolation. How’s married life? “We are well,” says Alba “[Daniel and I are] at home with our dog, eager for all this to happen soon.”

Couple Mark Burton and Frankie Lewis stand on a bridge whilst travelling in Asia.
Mark Burton and Frankie Lewis were travelling from Thailand to Wales to get married © Mark Burton

Frankie and Mark: the chocolate rabbit wedding

The pews are full: 112 chocolate rabbits, all dressed in identical golden foil outfits, watch on as a veiled bunny bride and blue-collared bunny groom go through their wedding vows with a long-eared celebrant.

It wasn’t exactly the celebration that Frankie Lewis and Mark Burton had in mind when they flew to Wales from Thailand to tie the knot, but it was the best use of the Lindt chocolate wedding favours they could think of.

They had bought 115 chocolate bunnies for their marriage at De Courceys Manor in Pentyrch on 4 April, a homecoming destination wedding. However, they are now self-isolating at Frankie’s mum’s house with the UK on lockdown due to COVID-19.

The couple, who met in London but now live in Bangkok, started to think their wedding plans might change at the end of January. “We thought we might be in trouble because we knew coronavirus was spreading and everyone in Bangkok was wearing masks,” says Frankie.

“There was a lot of awareness of its impact as we were so close to China,” adds Mark.

So they moved the dates of their UK flights, still hoping that the wedding would go ahead, as they were expecting guests from Canada, Germany, Spain, Switzerland and Italy. Frankie’s mum had also made the wedding cake and the wine delivery was expected soon. However, the coronavirus situation had changed when they got to Wales with restrictions being put into place.

“We spent three or four days worrying: are we going to have to go ahead with just five people there?” says Mark. “It was a relief when the venue postponed [the ceremony].” Their wedding has now been pushed back until March 2021.

Over 100 chocolate bunnies lined up as if they are attending a wedding.
Frankie Lewis and Mark Burton have been finding creative ways to take photos of their chocolate bunny wedding favours © Mark Burton

But the chocolate rabbits won’t last until then, so the couple decided to have some fun.

“We happened to say [to our friends] that we’ve got all these Easter bunnies and that their life [expectancy] had been dramatically increased,” said Frankie, so they started giving the bunnies something to live for, including a rabbit wedding.

They set up the wedding scene, using their own marriage bands as rings, and the photos went viral. “It just exploded,” says Mark. The chocolate bunnies have also been on boats and taken part in a bunny Olympics. Eating them is the next logical step.

“It’s easy in these situations to be all doom and gloom,” says Frankie speaking about their wedding, “but we’re still incredibly lucky, so why not have some fun with some chocolate bunnies?”

The coronavirus (COVID-19) is now a global pandemic. Find out what this means for travelers.

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