Take the plunge in beautiful St Lucia writes SUSIE FOSTER
BAREFOOT, in a white gown, frangipani in her hair, the bride looked relaxed and radiant.
With the Caribbean Sea as the backdrop, lush, green forests to the sides and golden sand underfoot, there was little need for decorations.
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The wedding was uncomplicated and blissful as she chinked champagne glasses with her new husband, then mingled with a handful of cherished guests.
Gazing at couples tying the knot was a guilty pleasure at Smugglers Cove Resort and Spa in St Lucia.
With three venues to choose from - the tropical gardens, the cliff-top gazebo and the beach - I, as a resident, could admire the gowns, listen to the wedding marches, sometimes even gospel choirs and steel bands, and indulge in their romantic dreams.
Beach weddings are fabulous for those involved, and for anyone else staying at the resort.
Evening receptions were beach barbecues on the sand at sunset, surrounded by twinkly lights. Slow dances seemed so much more fun under the stars.
Smugglers Cove will arrange everything for wedding couples free of charge, from the licence to the cake, so all they have to do is turn up, get a tan, tie the knot and get tipsy on the rum.
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Couples can then return to their sunbeds the following day, married and already on their honeymoon, free from worry about having overspent on their big day.
Brides-to-be will love the new Samsarati Spa for a bit of prewedding pampering.
The beauty gurus there are also on hand to whiz up a look with their wedding hair and make-up skills.
I treated myself to a sublime hot stone massage and pedicure.
While Smugglers is a resort for true romantics with its pretty gardens, cool cocktail bars and beautiful beach, the massive 45-acre site in the north of the island means there is plenty of space for activities, as well as stuff to keep the kids amused. Most are included in the price of your room.
Pirates Whether you fancy learning to water-ski, play tennis, practise archery, do yoga or enjoy water aerobics, it's all on offer as part of the all-inclusive package.
Staff at the kids' club will look after infants to teens in separate groups.
The play area has a huge, adultsized castle, a replica of a ruin on Pigeon Island, as well as a bouncy castle.
Also for little ones there are movie matinees, beach cricket and a pirates' scavenger hunt. Teenagers can learn to cook or let off steam in the pool with a game of volleyball or try their hand at archery.
There are seven pools on the complex, with a 100ft waterslide at the children's pool where all the adults were having a go as well.
Kayaking, sailing, snorkelling, wind-surfing and banana boat rides are also available.
Local musicians liven up the bar every night with Caribbean classics and covers of Bob Marley hits, and the all-inclusive drinks keep flowing at the on-site pub until 2am.
There is a range of accommodation at the resort. I stayed in a Superior Deluxe Beachfront room, which was like a mini villa complete with Jacuzzi bath.
All standard rooms have kingsize beds, terrace, big flatscreen TVs, or upgrade to a garden view suite with a separate living room.
Food is a big deal at Smugglers.
My favourite restaurant was the Waterside Creole Grill where the catch of the day was served up fresh on the seashore.
There is an Italian, La Trattoria, for pizzas, hand-made pastas and salads, plus Caf© Asia specialising in Thai, Chinese and Japanese.
Guests like to dress for dinner, which adds to the romantic feel, but if you just fancy a bite to eat in your shorts you can head to The Cove for the huge buffet, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Theme nights are also popular, such as the Caribbean beach barbecue with reggae bands. St Lucia is great for excursions. Zip-wiring in the rainforest is a new favourite and really gets the adrenaline pumping.
We spent a morning doing the combined Rain Forest Aerial Tram ride and Sky Canopy experience.
We climbed high up in the comfort of our tram enjoying a bird's eye view of the forest and learning all about our surroundings from guides. It was the perfect place to spot birds and wildlife. Then we harnessed up and made our way back down, gliding along 10 zip lines between the trees.
To explore the island on the water, catch a boat to the iconic Pitons mountains.
Splash History recalls the giant grassy mounds Gros Piton and Petit Piton as "mystical guardians" of St Lucia. To the tourist, they're overwhelmingly beautiful peaks surrounded by clear blue water in which cheeky dolphins splash around.
Back in the harbour, local fishermen gut popular local fish mahimahi.
They're so laid-back, they are happy to let tourists have a go.
If you want to soak up some local culture and take back a memento of your holiday, enjoy a morning trip to Castries market where you'll mix with the locals as they buy their groceries and have a spot of lunch.
You'll also be able to pick up great locally-made souvenirs, from bowls and ornaments carved from local wood and calabash shells, to hand-made soaps, colourful paintings, dresses and tropical shirts, spice baskets and even Christmas decorations. All excursions can be booked through the hotel.
My visit coincided with the famous St Lucia Jazz Festival. Over the years it has attracted massive stars including Rihanna, Chaka Khan and Luther Vandross and this year was no exception.
Grammy Award-winning soul man John Legend topped the bill and US R&B boy Trey Songz was brilliant. Dates for next year's Jazz are May 5-12.
So if you fancy soaking up the sun to the sound of some chilledout beats, smuggle yourself to St Lucia.
SEVEN nights at the four-star Smugglers Cove Resort and Spa on St Lucia with Virgin Holidays start from just £949 per person. Price is based on two adults sharing a standard room on an all-inclusive basis with departures between May 1 and June 30, 2012, for bookings that are made by October 8. Scheduled direct flights with Virgin Atlantic from Gatwick, transfers, all taxes and fuel surcharges, which are subject to change, are included. To book visit virginholidays.co.uk/smugglers, call 0844 557 3859 or visit one of 70 Virgin Holidays outlets located in Debenhams and House of Fraser stores nationwide. Start your holiday before you've even taken off by visiting the V-Room at Gatwick Airport - adults £20, children £12. For more information about Smugglers Cove Resort and Spa click on saintlucianow.co.uk; St Lucia Jazz Festival 2012 go to stluciajazz.org Rain Forest Sky Ride click on rfat.com.
WEST MED CRUISE: Seven-night cruise on the Thomson Dream costs £581. Leave from Gatwick on October 15.
See thomson.co.uk/cruise or call 0871 231 3243.
ITALY: Fly from Gatwick on October 19 for three nights at the three-star Unicorno Hotel in Florence, B&B, for £317. Call 0844 879 8014 or see crestaholidays.co.uk.
MALDIVES:One week B&B at Bandos Island Resort & Spa in North Male Atoll for £949. Fly from Heathrow on October 10. See hayesandjarvis.com or phone 0844 415 1918.