*Disclaimer: If your nonrefundable wedding deposits have been paid, you may not want to read what follows. And certainly do not look at the photographs.
Picture the most breathtaking beach you’ve ever stepped foot on. And the brightest turquoise water you’ve swum in. Now imagine an impossibly idyllic private island that somehow tops everything you thought paradise was. That exclusive destination is the One&Only Reethi Rah in the Maldives. Reethi Rahmeans “beautiful island” in the local language of Dhivehi and it more than lives up to its name. It is also one of the most stunning places in the world to exchange the words “I do” with your partner.
Even the most seasoned island-hoppers can’t help but be blown away by the natural beauty of this island, which is one of the largest in the North Malé Atoll but claims the most privacy and land for its 122 villas. There are 12 beaches, stretching almost four miles, where everything feels supercharged—the palm trees shine kelly green, the sand glitters a delicate eggshell white, and the crystalline water changes from a surreal aquamarine to deeper teal to electric cerulean to eye-popping cyan depending on the sky and the depth of the sea. No matter what, when you’re submerged, it has the clarity of a flawless, colorless diamond.
Every second on the island seduces, starting with the newly refurbished accommodations. Unlike others that are built in rows, these overwater villas each face different directions for ultimate privacy (some with their own overwater pools and jacuzzis), and the beach villas are set back from the water’s edge, making a vast stretch of sand yours alone. Honeymooners—or elopers-turned-honeymooners, in this case—are celebrated with custom pillowcases and kaftans embroidered with their initials.
The ceremony itself is tailored to exactly your vision (just make sure you make it official—read: legal—at home first). Do you wish to exchange vows on your own private beach? From the pinnacle of the Love Bridge as the sun sets in a blaze of coral glory behind you? Under the thatched-roof wedding pavilion adorned with fresh orchids? Or maybe even on the resort’s private sandbank out in the middle of the sparkling Indian Ocean? (Side note: Reethi Rah is also an epic place to propose, which one future groom did by taking over the Lawn Club, where the staff had erected a maze ending at a dinner table; another popped the question on the ever-changing sandbank.)
Other can’t-misses while in heaven: Sunset cocktails atop a chiffon-draped daybed at the lantern-lit Middle Eastern restaurant Fanditha; and a candlelit dinner at the new organic Botanica eatery, inside the orchid house, where flowers surround the tables and perfume the air. Explore the Technicolor world under the surface, snorkeling alongside sea turtles, manta rays, or even (vegetarian) sharks. And prep for your big day—and fight jet lag—with a visit to the couples’ spa suite, or book a meditation session in the zen overwater pavilion to get in the zone.
Ride your twin white beach cruisers around the island, exploring hidden-away beaches and lazing by the dramatic infinity-edge pools. Or have your love paddle you out to one of the floating wooden docks, where a pair of chaise loungers await for totally secluded sunbathing. You can even go fishing—with line, per tradition—and the chef will cook your catch for dinner. The villas’ sunken bathtubs are made for two, as are the daybeds on your private beach, perfect for gazing up at the shooting stars each night.
It’s a long trip from America, but the Maldives couldn’t be more worth your time. Instead of spending thousands on a venue or flowers, put the funds into business-class seats on Emirates (the airline routes through Dubai, the easiest stopover), which will make the flight feel like a pre-honeymoon. From boarding to arrival, it’s like being in a tiny luxury hotel. And prime seats mean that when making the approach you’ll have an aerial view of the nation’s hundreds of islands, lagoons, and reefs so gorgeous it will make your heart race. The yacht that transports you the 45 minutes from the airport in Malé to Reethi Rah is, of course, plush, too.
Some Maldives visitors like to island-hop, making the most of their long-haul travel time. The Maldives is a country rumored to be underwater in half a century or so (its highest point is two meters), making it a bucket-list entry for many, but that doesn’t mean new construction of resorts has slowed. The Maldives has experienced a recent boom in openings, including the new futuristic-looking St. Regis Vommuli Resort, where a beach, overwater suite terrace and Whale Bar overwater deck (best at sunset) are options for intimate wedding venues. The most unique of their offerings: An underwater wedding photo shoot, which captures the happy couple diving into the ocean.
At Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru, in the remote Baa Atoll (a seaplane ride from Malé and a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve), a ceremony can take place in a floating wedding pavilion where you’ll walk over water down the glass-bottomed aisle. True water babies can celebrate afterward with a Mid-Ocean Dinner, on a floating table in the lagoon, or with a Night Spa Om Supti ritual, which is performed between 10:00 p.m. and 1:00 a.m. exclusively for a couple in a private jungle clearing with an outdoor bath and swinging bed.
Milaidhoo, a new island resort in the same Baa Atoll, does starlit wedding ceremonies on their beach, making the Milky Way witness to their vows, as you stand hand-in-hand among candles in the white sand. Not only that, but with one package on offer they will name a star after elopers or honeymooners—you choose the star and which constellation it’s in, and get a certificate with the coordinates. If you want to really go native, elope to the adults-only Baros Maldives, where vow ceremony packages include such indigenous traditions as a sarong for the bride, memorial palm-tree planting, and traditional Maldivian Boduberu procession.
Now, back to canceling that caterer.