My wife proposed to me at the Sandbar Restaurant on Anne Marie Island on a beautiful June evening – the 7th to be exact.  I had been staring at the lesbian bridal couple on the beach posing for photos with family members. I whispered to Margaret that it was a sign –  a message from the Universe that one day we would also be married by the water. Moments later, as the sun set, Margaret took my hand in hers, led me to a quiet spot on the beach, and asked me to marry her. Without hesitation, I said “yes.”

Growing up, I dreamt about a big white Jewish Christmas wedding (my Jewish mother and I watched White Christmas one too many times ). In my dream, my flowing dark locks were topped with a long, red and white lacy train over my mermaid shaped gown. The ceremony hall was covered in green holly and glowing white Christmas lights as “Here Comes the Bride” serenaded the guests from an old pipe organ. The innocent flower girl, in her scarlet red dress, scattered red rose petals ahead of me as hundreds of attendees stood to watch me walk down the aisle to greet my soon-to-be-groom.

Fast forward 30 years and that dream was far from reality. I was now engaged to a woman, divorced twice (including to the soon-to-be-groom), thirty pounds too heavy for a mermaid gown, donned short spiky hair, didn’t have any interest in surrounding myself with hundreds of people, let alone dozens, and the thought of wearing white for a third time made me cringe.

So, we both agreed to an intimate ceremony on a boat followed later by a casual wedding reception with friends and family in the country. We knew without a doubt that our ceremony and reception would take place on the one-year anniversary of the day we met – December 7th.

At first we were excited by the chance to plan our perfect wedding, but as our wedding neared, we were overwhelmed by decisions: How many people should we invite to the reception? Who should we invite to our intimate ceremony? What’s our budget? Should we have a tent and dance floor for the outdoor country reception in case of rain? What kind of boat should we charter for our ceremony? How many people can fit onto the boat? Who should we cut from the ceremony list?

Our dream wedding quickly turned into a nightmare.

“Why are we doing this?” she asked me one day over a drink at the local bar. “Without a doubt I want to marry you, but it all seems so complicated.”

“Then let’s elope!” I replied. “Our 7 month anniversary is this Saturday. It’s 7/7, so let’s get married at 7:00!”

She stared at me, bewildered. “How do you plan to pull off a wedding in two days? If you can make it happen, I’ll be there.”

“Challenge accepted!”

An hour later, I had booked the photographer and minister then notified our closest family members that we were eloping that weekend and would FaceTime them so they wouldn’t miss a thing.

It all seemed to easy until we were faced with our first roadblock. In the state of Florida there is a three-day waiting period for a marriage license unless you agree to take a four-hour online pre-marital course. When I informed my fiancé about the course, she rolled her eyes, ordered a beer, and said, “let’s begin!” Four hours later, the course was complete along with a six-pack.

The next day, we headed to the courthouse to pick up our license. We then purchased a beautiful navy dress with rhinestones for me and a white linen button-up shirt with navy shorts for her. We swung by our local florist to order a bouquet of navy and yellow flowers, an ode to my parents who have been married for 42 years, and I had my nails done.

All that was left to do was to select the venue. “That’s an easy one!” I squealed. “The Don Cesar – where we had our first date! It’s also the most beautiful building in the region.”

On the morning of our wedding, we gathered our things, picked up a blue glass lightbulb and velvet bag (I’ll explain later) and headed across the Pinellas Bayway toward St. Pete Beach. As we neared the island, I was giddy with excitement as the Pink Place loomed in the distance. It’s breathtaking grandeur was mesmerizing.

The heart of St Pete Beach, The Don CeSar beckons new and old generations with its classic architecture, modern interior design and subtle winks to its storied roots. From its inception in the 1920’s, The Don has been a mainstay on Florida’s Gulf Coast and the seaside playground for all from the elite of the Jazz Age to today’s modern traveler.

I was excited to become part of the legend.

When we arrived, we were greeted by a friendly bellman who offered to take our items while we checked into our room. On the way to the elevator, we swung by the concierge desk to pick up our bouquet which had been delivered earlier that day.

My jaw dropped as I opened the door to our evening retreat. Every detail of our room was stunning, from the white bead-board trim to the beautiful vanity and stool. I felt like a princess in a castle. Our corner room (which was ironically on the 7th floor) was surrounded by charming décor and captivating Gulf of Mexico views. We could see the beach for miles. And the tranquil colors of the room mirrored the natural beauty of the views. We were also greeted with a gift of chocolate covered strawberries and a note of congratulations on our desk.

Don Cesar
Image by Maria Boutzoukas

We changed into our bathing suits and spent the afternoon at the poolside Beachcomber Bar & Grille, sipping on cocktails, relaxing before our big evening, and chatting with guests who were in town for a reunion weekend.Around 5 o’clock, we headed back to our room to get dressed and wait for our photographer, Maria Boutzoukas. When the photographer arrived, Margaret made her way outside to the courtyard and I stayed with Maria so she could capture images of my makeup, dress, and jewelry, along with several photos of the room.

We eventually made our way to the courtyard staircase to meet Margaret, who had been waiting patiently at the bottom of the stairs for my grand entrance. She stood with her back toward me awaiting the go-ahead from Maria to turn around. As Margaret turned, her blushing smile said all I needed to know – that I was the one.

Image by Maria Boutzoukas
Image by Maria Boutzoukas

Maria spent an hour with us throughout the property and on the beach capturing memories. The hotel colors and views made the images postcard-worthy. And her incredible photography skills didn’t hurt either!

A little before 7:00, our officiant, Diana Fryman, and her wife joined us on the beach for the ceremony. We selected an intimate sandbar flanked by two small shrubs, feet from the water and away from hotel guests, to exchange our vows. The pink palace behind us provided the perfect backdrop.

Diana’s wife Facetimed my family to witness our laughter, tears, and words of adoration. And we all giggled as Margaret ran across the beach to grab her forgotten flip flop mid-ceremony to safely step on the blue glass lightbulb inside of the velvet bag – a Jewish tradition. As soon as her foot hit the sand, we all yelled “Mazel Tov!”

Image by Maria Boutzoukas

And then came our favorite part of the evening – when we turned off our phones and told everyone to go home! That’s the beauty of eloping. There’s nobody to please or entertain. Elopement is about two people having an intimate space to celebrate the sanctity of their union.

While I won’t go into the intimate details of our romantic wedding night, let’s just say that without having to entertain a room full of guests, we still had plenty of energy left for a drink at the Lobby Bar, dinner at the Don Cesar’s award winning Maritana Grille, and some evening jazz music while we finished our nightcap, but the night didn’t end there. We made sure to save enough energy to enjoy the high-end luxury mattresses – for sleep of course!

The following morning, we wrapped ourselves in the embroidered cotton robes provided by the hotel, ordered room service, and watched the morning news. Days later, we purchased our first official wedding gift – a new mattress!

Although we chose to elope, the Don Cesar offers several wedding options. Whether you envision an intimate gathering or lavish, grand affair, The Don is a place of joy and reconnection. It beckons lovers, joining in marriage for the first time or celebrating it for the 50th time with its elegant indoor, outdoor and beachfront venues suitable for up to 250 guests.

For more information on booking your wedding at the Don Cesar, click here.