Sean & Erica Marak
January 16 | Elora
January 26 | Mexico
Home is where the heart is, but Mexico is where the beach is. For couple Sean Marak and Erica Finlayson-Marak of Elora, their wedding needed to include the best of both worlds. And so it did in all the important ways.
“We like travelling, so why not mix the two?” Sean said.
In fact, travelling has become an important part of their relationship. Erica credits Sean with inspiring her to travel more, something she admittedly was not interested in much before he came along. Each year of their courtship they have travelled to a unique destination.
“It was no question this is what we wanted to do,” Erica said, noting the couple wanted a beach wedding at a boutique-style resort, in a place somewhere new to them both.
“Destination weddings have become big business and they can be very costly,” Erica said, which definitely influenced their decision and helped them select the Playacar Palace in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
“We chose this resort because it was a boutique hotel, with approximately 200 rooms,” Erica said, noting she preferred a smaller hotel so her guests were not spread out in their accommodations. The picturesque beach front location and the close proximity to the city of Playa del Carmen ensured her guests would enjoy the experience too.
“It’s exactly what we wanted and we didn’t even know it’s what we wanted,” she laughed.
Key to the booking was the wedding package offered by the resort, which made planning the wedding in a foreign destination relatively stress free.
“We were older and later getting married; we wanted no fuss, no muss,” Erica said. “The resort provides you with a wedding coordinator, and basically, the hotel took care of everything for us through the coordinator.”
But there were some hurdles to having an international wedding.
“Mexico had so many parameters,” Erica said, when discussing the documentation required for a legal marriage in that country, including tourist blood tests to be performed and certified by a doctor there. “There was a lot of red tape to sort through to do it all in Mexico.”
They found a simple solution: the couple was legally married in a civil service in Canada prior to the big event in Mexico.
On January 16, 2016, the pair exchanged vows in Victoria Park, in Elora, at a location known as Lover’s Leap. The event was officiated by Karen McPherson Clark from All Seasons Weddings in Fergus. Two friends attended to act as witnesses.
“Lovers Leap was one of the first places I took Sean when we were dating,” Erica said, fondly recalling the stories she learned from Elora’s theatrical historian, Al Koop, of Older Voices Walking Tours. “Al would tell great stories about the how this spot was the place of the kissing waters, where the Irvine and Grand rivers meet and the tale of the Indian Princess who leapt off there for love (hence the name) … it’s an important place of prominence in Elora.”
Quietly married in Canada, the newlyweds headed to the beach for a symbolic formal ceremony in Mexico on January 26, 2016.
“We had to be legally in Mexico for four days before we could have a ceremony, even for a ‘fake’ ceremony, given we were legally married already,” Erica said.
Erica admits it was difficult to imagine how the wedding would go when she couldn’t see the facility in person prior to the event, but she has no regrets.
“There is no such thing as a private beach ceremony,” Erica said, recalling how the walk from the hotel to the beach was a long one, and everyone from the hotel and the beach area was watching. “The thing about being married on a beach is, it is still a public beach, but the people were amazing and the weather was beautiful.”
Looking back, the experience was everything the couple hoped for.
“It was very magical,” she recalls. “I didn’t expect it to be as great as it was; it was better than I expected.”
The one caveat to having a destination wedding is the understanding that not all invited will be able to attend, and being okay with that. Twenty-five guests were able to make the trip south.
“We went in knowing we would extend the invite (to Mexico) to everyone on our guest list, but we knew it wasn’t going to be possible for everyone to attend,” Erica said, noting they recognized many factors made it impossible for some to make the trip, from finances to vacation schedules, health issues or other commitments. “We were fully aware some of our family and friends could not come, and we had no expectations. We understood.”
So, if your guests cannot all make it to the party, why not bring the party home to them? That’s exactly what Mr. and Mrs. Marak planned to do, by throwing a fabulous backyard wedding reception in July, at their home in Elora. Complete with a large tent, a dance floor, seating and an open bar, the couple welcomed over 130 guests to their event.
“We wanted the opportunity to celebrate with those who could not come to Mexico. We wanted to ensure everybody had the chance to celebrate,” Erica said. “We love entertaining and our backyard is perfect for it.”
The couple wrote letters to all of their neighbours to notify them of their plan, (which included an invite to attend) and applied for a bylaw extension from the Township of Centre Wellington. An insurance policy was required specific to house parties, as they were hosting an open bar. With the dry summer, the township was under a fire ban, so the couple could not have open flames. There were many factors to consider, including the work of landscaping, decorating and coordinating rentals.
“The reception in July was more work than the wedding in Mexico,” Erica said, laughing.
But they wouldn’t have done it any other way.
“I think the way we did it was better than a traditional wedding and many of our guests told us so,” Sean said, joking that Erica enjoyed the opportunity to wear her wedding dress again. But he added that with no assigned seating or formalities, no speeches, and casual summer attire, it was intended to be a very informal, relaxed event. “People afterwards said it was great.”
Erica added, “It was just a big party. None of it was mandatory. People who could come came, including the neighbours … and people were free to come and go as they pleased like any other party.”
The wedding reception at home also allowed the couple to get important photographs taken with the family and friends who were unable to get to Mexico. With the Wellington County Museum and Archives, in Aboyne as a backdrop, the photos brought their event home.
“I have always, ever since I was young, loved this building,” Erica explained. “It’s nostalgic … the colours of the building, the large lawn, and the mystery of the building too…”
As a public location, the museum is open to any couple looking to do wedding photos there, but Erica cautions other brides to ensure they give the location some notice of the date and time they want to make use of the facility, as there are often many wedding parties on scene. Also, she reminds couples a donation is requested.
Destination weddings are gaining in popularity, in part for the ease and also for the experience. But for many couples, the challenge is making sure their wedding day is inclusive to everyone, including those unable to travel to the event. Sean and Erica were able to find the ideal balance of having a wedding day that fulfilled their dreams, while finding a way to make sure everyone felt included in the celebration of their new life together. It can be done, and it’s worth it, they say.
Wedding photography at the museum: What couples need to know.
As one of the most popular photography locations in the county, couples must bear in mind it is also a very active facility for the community, especially on weekends. The heritage site also happens to be a very busy place for wedding receptions and events.
“Advance notice helps us to coordinate what can happen where,” said Kym Drinkwater, clerk of the facility. “We can also determine what areas the couple can and cannot access due to previous bookings, actual events and ceremonies taking place.”
While photographs taken outside on the grounds of the property require no special permits, photographs to be taken in the interior of the museum or the heritage barn require a contract with the facility and include a fee for usage.
“Everyone wants the same access,” she said, noting the favoured photography sites include the expansive front steps that sprawl from the front doors of the museum, or the archway beneath them, the Victorian Garden and the Heritage Barn.
“We do ask for a donation for usage of the site,” Drinkwater said, noting the amount is based on whatever the couple deems acceptable. The funds go to support museum activities.