Circle of Life Wedding for Ali and Luo at Beaches Turks and Caicos

In the weeks after Luo proposed to Ali, they talked at length about where they would live and the places they wanted to visit before being married. The discussion about where their wedding would be lasted about as long as it takes to read this sentence.

“There wasn’t much to discuss,” Luo says. Ali had known since she was a teenager that her future wedding would be at Beaches in Turks and Caicos. “She said she never imagined it being anywhere else.”

Her imagination had been shaped by reality. By the time Luo popped the question, Ali had taken two dozen trips to Beaches Turks and Caicos. She knew the resort as well as she knows her backyard. If you want to read a book, she’d suggest you go to the pool at Key West Village. If you want to have fun with bartenders, she’d tell you to jump into the big swim-up pool in the Italian Village. When you want to unapologetically play like a kid, enter the Pirates Island Waterpark. But, if you want to be alone on a secluded patch of pure Caribbean beach, well, you need to follow Ali.

“My favorite spot among favorite spots,” she says, “is off the beaten path near a sign that says, ‘I wish I could stay here forever.’ That’s how I feel whenever I’m at Beaches. I knew our wedding guests would feel the same way.”

Beaches Turks and Caicos

Turks and Caicos would serve as ideal middle ground for those guests to attend Ali and Luo’s destination beach wedding. Most of her family would come from the Kansas City area. Most of his family would be coming from Zambia. Ali also had a third family to consider.

“My Turks and Caicos family,” she says, referring to Beaches staff members who have been like brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, and uncles from the time Ali’s family first stepped onto the resort in December 2010. “I wanted them to be part of our big day because they’ve always made this feel like home.”

Photographs by The Philgreens

The Future Bride and Her Future Wedding

For her first 13 years, Ali had been the middle child of three siblings. And then a little surprise came along — a baby sister. Mom and dad had to address a tough question: where can we go on vacation with a college-age son, a teenage daughter, and a little girl … and everyone enjoys it? They heard about Beaches Resort on an island with a playful name and breathtaking scenery, as if it were created for storybooks. “Those first family vacations to Beaches are really how our wedding celebration started,” Ali says.

On those trips, she filled her own storybook with memories. She and her little sister would sip tropical smoothies and dance with Sesame Street characters during the day, and then Ali would participate in young adult activities in the evening. She knew when and where to find liveliness, and when and where to enjoy peacefulness. Everywhere she went at Beaches, Ali also filled her imagination with a dream. "This is where I’m going to be married someday."

She’d stand in a tropical garden or at the edge of the sea and mentally absorb everything she would possibly want in a dream destination wedding. Beauty. Joy. Fun. Love. And the Beaches staff — the friendliest people she’d ever met, who genuinely cared about every detail and every guest.

“I loved the idea of a destination wedding that would serve as a vacation escape with friends and family. To me, that always sounded like the ultimate way to celebrate.”

Photographs by The Philgreens

A Crystal-Clear Wedding Vision in Real Life

The specifics of Ali’s wedding celebration gradually crystalized during more than 20 family trips, girls’ trips, and even a business trip to Beaches Turks and Caicos. She envisioned a steel-drum player, catamaran excursions, pool games, and beach dinners. She saw a merging of Caribbean culture with the western traditions of formalwear, a classic altar, and fine linens.

“Mostly,” Ali says, “I wanted to let the sight of the soft white sand and spectacular water speak for itself.”

As sure as she’d become about her “someday” wedding during vacations as a daughter, girlfriend, and colleague, Ali needed to see everything through the fresh sparkling eyes as a fiancée. So, she and Luo scheduled a “test drive” at Beaches Turks and Caicos — trip number 27 for Ali. This time, she did something she’d never done on previous trips. She met with a wedding specialist and translated her vivid wedding vision into vivid words.

“There’s no one else I would trust to personalize my vision and take it to another level. And because of that, even as a type-A personality, I felt completely at peace when our wedding week came a few months later.”

Ali and Luo landed in Turks and Caicos several days before their wedding, not to finish preparing but to start enjoying. They went from pool to ocean and ocean to pool, occasionally jumping out of the water to hug friends and family who arrived from various parts of two continents. The most important people in the bride’s life and groom’s life converged there on the island. Grandparents who rarely travel showed up. Friends came with children who Ali and Luo had never met. More than 80 people joined the fun to love on Ali and Luo, and to enjoy a weeklong vacation at a place Ali had been trying to describe for more than 10 years.

“I’ll always be in awe at the fact we had my family, his family, and our Beaches family together on this beautiful tropical island to celebrate us,” Ali says.

Ali and Luo had given more than a year’s notice for guests to arrange travel plans. They reserved rooms for any single friends who wanted to stay together and split the cost. The girls enjoyed days at Red Lane Spa and hanging out in the biggest suites. The guys took an excursion to a barber who had become a family friend, a good excuse to share cigars and bourbon. There were backflips off the catamaran and dance moves on the deck.

Photographs by The Philgreens

“The most fun I’ve ever had in my life,” Ali says, which is lofty praise in a life full of fun times. Throughout the week, family and friends thanked her and Luo for making it easy for them to enjoy a family vacation at a wish-list wedding destination.

On the afternoon of the wedding, Ali saw her entire life intertwine with everything she’d imagined about her wedding day. The little sister who once danced with her during parades stood next to her as the maid of honor. She heard the familiar sound of the ocean and watched the setting sun create the same colors that have always made her stare in wonder. During the ceremony and reception, she and Luo watched all of their families mingle. And then came a moment that captured the full-circle spirit of it all. Aide, the butler who had become family on Ali’s very first trip to Beaches, performed a fire-twirling show, culminated with flaming hearts.

“My gift to you,” he said to the new couple.

Photographs by The Philgreens

The Trip of 80 Lifetimes

This was, first and foremost, a wedding. But the truth is, Ali, Luo, and their guests will always talk as much about the magical moments of the entire week as the ceremony.

“If we hadn’t planned for everyone to spend a few days at Beaches before and after the wedding,” Luo says, “everything would have gone too fast.”

Every day after their wedding, Ali and Luo would walk alone to their favorite spot down the beach. Ali had been there a hundred times, but now for the first time as a wife. The sand felt softer than ever. The ocean appeared more peaceful than ever. The sign behind them remained timeless: “I wish I could stay here forever.”

The wish has come true in the form of memories in their hearts— and the certainty they’ll return to their Turks and Caicos home, again and again.

Photographs by The Philgreens

Photographs by The Philgreens

Robert Stephens

About Robert Stephens

A husband for 20+ years & father of daughters, Robert's priorities of family, community & brief stints as a butler, beach groomer, & crepe "chef" at Sandals shape his traveling & writing perspective.