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Destination weddings can be kid-friendly

It took my breath away.

The beautiful bride and her handsome groom saying their vows before a minister they knew well, standing on a platform decorated with fresh flowers under a billowing white chuppah, or canopy, fashioned in part from a hand-embroidered family heirloom amid the soaring California Redwoods surrounded by family and friends, some perched on blankets in a semicircle surrounding them.

Most had traveled hundreds if not thousands of miles to join the weekend-long celebration.

I had a front-row seat, holding my husband’s hand and wiping away tears. Like one in four American couples getting married this year, according to research by TheKnot.com, my daughter, Reggie Yemma, and her new husband, Dan Foldes, opted for a destination wedding in San Gregorio, Calif., at the OVY Camp, in a valley about 10 miles southeast of Half Moon Bay. These days, kids in the family are often part of the destination wedding equation. In our case, there were a lot of children present, including a baby who had come from Belgium and one preschooler very excited to show off her own “wedding dress.”

Thirty-three years ago we had a destination wedding in Chicago where we lived. Such affairs were far more uncommon and truth be told, I don’t think my mom was particularly pleased. We thought it would be easier with our busy work schedules and with family spread from Texas to New York.

Today, when you think destination weddings, you might think, as I had, a beach in the Caribbean (more than 60 percent of international destination weddings do take place in the Caribbean or Mexico), with just a few people making the trip.

But in fact, destination weddings average 75 guests and more destination weddings take place in the United States than abroad, according to the research from The Knot.com, often with celebrations spread out over a few days, which gives far-flung family a chance to reconnect. Almost half the destination weddings in the U.S. occur in three states: Florida, California and Nevada. I know couples who have married atop ski mountains and others on Long Island vineyards. One New England couple I know, for example, chose Miami so that the groom’s elderly and disabled grandparents, Florida residents, could attend.

Sometimes, the destination is purposely chosen because it will be kid-friendly. There are 1,200 weddings a year at Walt Disney World, for example. And when I was recently at the Now Amber, an all-inclusive resort complete with kids’ club in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, guests told me they were among the 70 or 80 friends and relatives who had pulled their kids out of school to attend, flying from New York and Canada. Beaches, Sandals’ family brand, touts “WeddingMoon” packages that combine the wedding, multigenerational celebration and honeymoon.

In our case, the celebration started in San Francisco, where the bride and groom live, the Wednesday before the wedding and didn’t really end until Memorial Day, two days after the wedding.

Couples often choose a place that has special meaning for them, The Knot says, and my daughter and son-in-law were no different.

Reggie had spent a year working for Vida Verde Education, a nonprofit in San Gregorio that provides environmental learning experiences for kids whose school districts are too poor to offer such programs. She would overnight with the kids in the bunks at the OVY Camp.

It was important to Reggie and Dan that the fee for their wedding venue help support OVY programs. The couple also wanted a place where their friends could all spend the weekend together. (They spent their wedding night in a teepee!) It was just as important for us that our generation, as well as our elders, be able to stay together too. We chose the 80-room Half Moon Bay Lodge in part because of its beautiful gardens and poolside fire pits, its complimentary breakfasts and its proximity to the wedding venue. Even breakfast, I was glad to see, became a time for our scattered family to catch up.

The bride and groom also wanted their guests to enjoy the Coastside area an hour southwest of San Francisco, which they had come to love.

The couple detailed some of their favorite places in the welcome bags they left for guests and were gratified that most heeded their suggestions. Of course, it was tough for the mother of the bride to be 3,000 miles away during the planning.