Island Weddings

Island Weddings:
Planning a ceremony at the beach


The October evening was clear but windy.  A lovely young woman from Frisco donned a perfectly fitting white silk dress that had been lovingly made for her by a close family friend.  She slipped into a pair of delicate white high-heeled shoes and tucked a long, fragile veil under her arm. Then Natalie Perry left her childhood home in Buxton and headed into her future.

Natalie is one of the many women who get married every year on Hatteras Island. For her, the location for her traditional wedding was an easy choice.  It is home.  This is where her family and lifelong friends are and where she and her parents, Susie and Bryan, know everyone who would provide the wedding services. 

She made a point of patronizing island businesses.  These are the people who also shop at their family business, Frisco Rod and Gun and Frisco Shopping Center, and, besides it is a point of honor for many who reside here to support local businesses whenever possible.

Her bridegroom, Jay Kavanagh, is captain and owner of the Bite Me, a charter boat in Hatteras.  Since his livelihood is on the water, they chose to hold their rehearsal dinner at sea, aboard the headboat Miss Hatteras.  Their friend, Jimmy Pitett
i, catered the dinner with a traditional barbecue, island style, and delivered it to the boat.

The wedding was at a Hatteras village restaurant. Wooden chairs were set up for the guests on the deck overlooking the marsh, warm and richly hued in the late afternoon sun.  At the appointed time, the bride arrived on her father’s arm and took her place beside her beaming bridegroom in front of yet another friend, the Rev. Dwight Burrus.

Hatteras wind tried to steal her light veil and Perry, not one to be overly concerned about such things, didn’t fuss with it. She simply took the veil off and handed it to her father.  There was a communal giggle in acknowledgement of her oh-so-Hatteras aplomb.

That set the tone for the evening and the wedding and reception proceeded with ease and comfort.  Most of the guests knew one another, and the joy of the occasion filled the rooms.

An island florist provided the flowers, and a local photographer was behind the camera. The wedding cake was designed and executed with an appropriate and very personal theme for the couple.  A marzipan marlin topped the confection and more marlins swam around the perimeter of the wedding cake.  The Bite Me was featured atop the groom’s cake.  

For the locals, organizing a wedding involves calling on family and friends who are eager to help.  For a growing population of visiting brides, it isn’t quite so easy.  They often don’t know where to begin.  But they, too, will find that one call leads to another.  With a little effort, it is possible to have a wedding on the island completely taken care of by helpful island businesses.

Most visitors’ weddings on Hatteras Island are not huge or extravagant events, and they are often do-it-yourself affairs, like the locals.  The couples who elect to be married here usually opt for smaller, more intimate weddings.  Guest lists are generally more manageable because of distance.   In fact, for most of the couples, the point of being married here is the laid-back atmosphere and the sense of place.

Sherry and Kevin Dortch is one such couple.  They have been coming down from their home in nearby Chesapeake, Va., for the 9 1/2 years that they have been together.  They chose to be married here because “it is our favorite place to go,” and, being so close, they can come frequently.

They decided on a cozy event with a simple beach ceremony.  The wedding supper in the rental cottage was pulled barbecue and chicken, in keeping with the relaxed mood.  They served the usual picnic side dishes and their 50 guests enjoyed a family-style get-together at the beach.  

They brought the cake with them from a special baker they know in Portsmouth.  That turned into a story for the generations when the icing melted in the heat on the drive down and the cake fell apart.  The groom’s sister saved the day by getting store-bought icing, putting it back together, and turning one side to the wall.

Another bride and groom, Jennifer and Chris Gardner, traveled from Tennessee to be married on the island.

Gardner had been coming with his family to the island on vacation “for years and years and years,” according to his mother, Betsy.  The family often stayed in the same house so, “It was like coming home for a week.” 

The first place the couple ever went together was Hatteras Island, so the decision to be married here was natural.  They wanted a small, simple wedding.  In total, there were 22 people and the bride had two attendants.  One was a dog that served as ring bearer.

The family brought much of what they needed and even brought along a chef, a family friend who had known the bridegroom for many years and “wanted to do it for him.”  But they did wait until they arrived to stock up on fresh, local seafood.

Hatteras Realty helped them locate a suitable cottage in Buxton and even organized someone to help them unload.

The rental management divisions of the island’s realty companies have a very limited number of houses that can be rented for very small events.  The decision to allow events at the cottages rests with the homeowners and also depends upon the occupancy, parking, and septic capacity of the property.  The guest services staff at the companies is happy to direct the bride-to-be to other venues on the island and, when possible, to other services.

Rental cottages, while rarely the site of the ceremony or the reception, often provide accommodations for the wedding party and guests.  Given adequate notice, the guest services personnel will try to find neighboring properties, since many people plan their vacation around the wedding and stay for a week to enjoy the extended celebrations together.

Some couples indulge their love of the water by hiring a boat for the service, particularly those who dream of a sunset wedding and those whose passion for fishing is the reason they come to the island.   Smaller, more intimate parties use charter boats and return to shore for the reception.  Larger groups often go out on the headboat Miss Hatteras for both the wedding and the party.

The sentimental favorite sites, by far, for the visitors who come to the Outer Banks to wed are the beach and the lighthouse.  These are the attractions that usually brought the couple here in the first place.  They are also conducive to laid-back affairs with bare feet and flip-flops instead of heels and loose shirts rather than tuxedos.  The bride’s “carriage” is more often a four-by-four rather than a limousine.

A major factor that can affect planning for an outdoors wedding on the island is the fickle weather.  A beach wedding conjures up a romantic vision but can turn downright unpleasant when everyone is getting sand blasted.  A back-up plan and a sense of humor are necessities.

Rental items – from tents to beach chairs – can be obtained through several island rental companies.  Advance orders are necessary because of the high demand throughout the year, but particularly in the summer.  It is important to discuss your plans well in advance, since a number of conditions have to be considered, including suitability of the potential site.

Gentlemen’s tuxedos can be rented. Catering and music can also be arranged. Several island specialty stores carry a large inventory of domestic and imported wine and champagne.

Numerous galleries and boutiques up and down the island offer unique gifts for the bride and bridegroom and also for the bridal party.  Hammocks, fine art and crafts, custom jewelry, accessories, lingerie, and resort wear suitable for beach weddings are all available.
Island seafood shops supply seafood for those who want to do it themselves and will steam shrimp and crabs to order.  A number of people will provide barbecue.  Again, the best advice is to ask for recommendations.

Salons and spas offer packages to bridal parties that include massages, manicures, and pedicures and the oft requested “up-dos.”

There are no grand cathedrals or ballrooms here for hundreds of guests, but with some thoughtful planning, some flexibility, and some realistic expectations, a dream wedding on Hatteras Island is possible.  In fact, they happen all the time.

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