For some people, the local church wedding and traditional ballroom reception just don't hold the appeal that they'd like for their Big Day. For them, their wedding dream includes an azure ocean, waves white-cresting in a relaxing rhythm of rolling surf, the sun warm on their faces and shoulders, the sounds of seagulls (or Caribbean steel drums), an hibiscus flower tucked behind the bride's ear, and both of them barefoot in the sand surrounded by their friends and family.

The oceanside wedding has long been a bridal fantasy, a favorite choice of celebrity couples, and it's no wonder that more and more wedding couples are planning their own beach weddings. According to TheWeddingReport.com, almost half a million couples have planned destination weddings this year alone - that's an increase of nearly 200 percent, say many wedding coordinators citing different industry surveys - and that figure is projected to rise in the coming years. Is it the celebrity trend that's causing the increase in this wedding style's popularity? While celebrities bring trends to the headlines, they're not the cause of the upswing.

What's Behind the Trend

So what's leading bridal couples to the sea? We have the latest theories, from the beauty-based to the budget-based; all of them are good news for future brides and grooms.

The first consideration is just how breathtakingly gorgeous the beach can be. Endless miles of pristine white sand (or pink if you're in Bermuda, or a stunning contrast of black on some Hawaiian islands), that azure blue ocean, the pinks and lavenders of the sunset over the water as the setting sun glistens in gold colors on the waves. Add in palm trees gently swaying in the ocean breeze, the rolling surf, the glistening of light blue sea glass dotting the ocean's edge. Does it get any more magical than that? For many couples, the scenery is the draw.

It's also the relaxed and friendly culture of beach society, how gracious and sociable the locals are, the slower pace, the sense of 'getting away from it all.' Brides and grooms say they immediately unwind when they're near the water, or in a resort environment, just as they would when on a much-needed vacation. Their guests do as well. Families may have wonderful memories of beach vacations together, and the couple may have gotten engaged on the beach. So that's where they'd rather hold their weddings. It has special meaning to them, as well as delivering them to a place where they can relax fully.

"We're seeing more couples planning destination weddings because they want to be in paradise," says wedding coordinator Summer Hutchens of Summer For Your Memories in Houston, Texas (www.summerforyourmemories.com). "And each couple's definition of paradise is unique to them, to their personalities. So they may ask for an island wedding in Hawaii, a beach wedding in Mexico, a cruise wedding with stops at several different islands."

"We're seeing more couples looking for a nice, romantic beach resort with bungalows right by the water," says Linda Gutekunst, owner of South Seas Adventures (www.south-seas-adventures.com), who specializes in weddings held on South Pacific islands. "Fiji is a popular choice right now. It's getting lots of press these days, partly because Tori Spelling just held her wedding on Fiji." The Cook Islands and other South Pacific destinations are also high on a growing number of couples' dream wedding locales. Even with travel costs to these sites, couples can save a lot of money by planning a destination wedding to an island or beach resort.

If you look at some complete oceanside wedding packages, including d├ęcor, paperwork, officiants' fees, musicians, photography and more, the cost is $1,000 to $3,000. That's what most brides spend on the wedding gown.

This fantastic opportunity to save money is another big factor in why more couples are taking their wedding plans to the seaside. "Bringing a group of friends and family to an oceanside oasis is very often going to cost less than the average $27,000 wedding at home," says Gutekunst. How could that be? With so many island and continental resorts offering attractive destination wedding packages, some all-inclusive and many offering perks like free rooms for the bride and groom or free honeymoon stays, plus free use of their wedding coordination teams and discounts on many associated expenses, couples see a win-win situation: they get to have their dream wedding in paradise for less. Sometimes, much less.

"As experts in planning destination weddings, we have a lot of experience with the sites and locations, so we have contacts that the couple doesn't know about on their own," says Teresa Belcher, president of Honeymoon Islands, www.honeymoonislands.com. "We know where the best deals are, and our network of vendors, musicians and officiants allow us the best prices for our couples."

The Lack of Hassle Factor

"Couples can let us know what they want for their beach wedding, and it's all taken care of," says Gutekunst. A traditional wedding at home, even with the help of a coordinator, involves hundreds of details, visiting venues, investing many hours on endless tasks that can sometimes take the fun and excitement out of planning the wedding. Seaside resorts very often have all the details collected in one place - including on-site chefs and floral designers - and coordination companies that specialize in planning destination weddings (like South Seas Adventures and www.floridaweddingservices.com for Florida weddings, plus www.amauitropicalwedding.com for weddings on Maui, and others) handle everything, so the entire wedding can be planned with minimum fuss. "More and more couples are coming to us to plan their seaside weddings because they want to take the stress away," says Belcher. "When a bride and groom start to plan their wedding, they don't know what they're doing; they're overwhelmed, and that creates a lot of stress. As experts, we remove the pressures by taking their ideas and making them happen. We handle all the little details so that they don't have to." Planning a wedding in Turks and Caicos, then, is a far more realistic dream come true when you have a pro that has done hundreds of them in the past. Brides and grooms are busy these days, so they love leaving all the legwork to an expert, with complete confidence that everything will be done their way. And when it comes to the legalities such as marriage licenses, IDs and time requirements (some islands require that you be on-site and apply for your license in person three days before the ceremony), an expert knows the ins and outs of every rule and regulation, saving time, money, and catastrophe with a simple mention of the timing and paperwork needed.

Couples love the high-tech element of planning from a distance, and that's another attraction to the beach wedding. Today, with over 80% of grooms as full wedding planning partners with their brides, they're excited about using the Internet to search for the perfect island or beach location. "With tech-savvy resorts even on the most remote of islands, we can offer virtual tours via the Internet," says Summer Hutchens. "Our brides and grooms can see the ballrooms and suites, guest rooms, pool areas and lounges as if they were on-site." The fun of technology, then, blends with tremendous savings in not having to fly to a destination for planning meetings...unless the couple wishes to. 'Meetings' can take place via Webcam, and graphics can be sent via e-mail. It's quick, easy, and that's what today's wedding couple wants: the beautiful wedding with none of the hassle. They just want their wedding-planning to be fun and simple.

The Activity Factor

Unlike most hometown, traditional weddings, the seaside wedding offers the entire wedding party a vast selection of true vacation activities, such as swimming with dolphins, scuba diving, snorkeling, parasailing, boating and fishing. "Activities are tailored to the destination," says Belcher. "For instance, in Hawaii, we'll plan a luau on the beach just for the family, complete with hula and fire dancers. Or we'll offer a sunrise breakfast on top of Mount Haleakala, biking down the side of a volcano - once-in-a-lifetime, unforgettable experiences, sights, and memories. In the Caribbean, we'll provide an itemized list of activities, like golf outings, spa days, waterskiing, shopping excursions for the group. In Mexico, we'd plan a half- or full-day tour of the Ruins."

The destination offers its own unique nearby attractions. While islands offer whale watching tours and snorkeling, a continental beach site might offer Wave Runners and sunset dinner cruises. In Florida, one of the top choices for destination weddings, couples and their guests will find nearby attractions like Disneyworld and Epcot. Those looking for culture can check out www.festivals.com to see if there will be any colorful street fairs with live music and great local cuisine.

And last, but certainly nowhere near least, is the purity of the oceanside wedding ceremony. "Many people feel closer to God when they're outside in nature," says wedding officiant/minister Janis Essex of Seaside Dream Weddings in San Diego (www.seasidedreamweddings.com), who has performed over a hundred ceremonies over the past 2 1/2 years. "If the couple doesn't have a church they're connected to, they may have a reverence for the ocean, for its vastness and its peacefulness." Standing oceanside, the couple may feel a great perspective on life. "I've had couples include the ocean in their ceremonies, talking about the strength of the ocean, the comfort, the healing powers, the energy. That's what they wish to bring into their lives and their future together." Essex also speaks of the intimacy of a beach wedding. Unlike a traditional church wedding where guests are seated in rows with barely a view of the ceremony, and usually the inability to hear the vows, "The guests can stand in a circle around the couple, sometimes in the water's edge with them, as a much closer group."

Teresa Belcher of Honeymoon Islands shares the story of one couple's Turks and Caicos beach wedding: "The bride and groom had an image in mind. They required that all of their guests wear white clothing to the wedding. No color at all. The bride wore white and carried white flowers, the groom wore white. The only color they wanted was the sunset and the sky. And we took a photo of them with their guests, all in white, surrounded by amazing purples, pinks, oranges and yellows of the sunset. It was breathtaking."