Lauren-Ashton Shepheard and John Alexander Moncrief both love adventure, travel and family. So, when it came time to marry, an exciting destination wedding seemed the perfect way to share their happiness with loved ones. She wanted a location with the Old World charm of a European villa. He envisioned tropical vistas and white, sandy beaches. They compromised by hosting the celebration at the exclusive Ocean Club on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. The luxury resort offered the tranquil mix of blue waves and dazzling sunsets with Versailles-inspired gardens and a 12th-century Augustinian cloister, brought piece by piece to the island from France. It is one of only four structures in the country’s history removed from French soil.
The architecture’s striking pillars and arches, set against views of the Nassau Harbour and clear blue Caribbean Sea, served as the romantic backdrop for the April 8, 2017, nuptials unit- ing the Texas Christian University graduates. They met at a freshman mixer on campus in 2008 and, after a two-year friendship, began dating. A May 12, 2016, engagement announcement launched their wedding plans.
“We wanted an intimate gathering that was both relaxing but also elegant,” says the bride, who goes by the nickname LA. “Our families bonded all weekend and we got to enjoy their company. It was beautiful.”
Lauren-Ashton, the daughter of Robyn Shepheard and Stephen Shepheard, grew up near Eagle Mountain Lake. Her husband, John, is the son of Tom and Therese Moncrief of Fort Worth.
Escorted by her father down the aisle, the bride wore an ivory silk Mikado ball gown by Lazaro. It featured a sheer appliqued Alençon lace bodice, V-neckline in the front and back, and a natural waist. The box-pleated, A-line skirt swept into a chapel train. A long, cathedral-length veil complemented the dramatic silhouette.
“The veil belonged to one of my best friends, Ashley Early. She got married a month earlier in Palm Springs, so that was my something borrowed,” the bride explains. Earrings belonging to the groom’s mother, and rhinestone-studded Badgley Mischka shoes completed the ensemble.
Her bouquet, created by Wildflowers Bahamas, was a wispy mix of blush pink and pale yellow ranunculus, pink tulips, majolica teacup roses, peach roses and pink astilbe punctuated with succulents and seeded eucalyptus. It was wrapped in ivory ribbon. Serving as maids of honor were the bride’s sisters, Hillary Shepheard and Megan Shepheard. Their pistachio chiffon dresses by Bill Levkoff were designed with a pleated, criss- cross neckline, ruched bodice and soft gathers that gave the floor-length skirt extra fullness. They carried small, hand-tied bouquets similar to the bride’s.
Departing from the more casual tan and white suits seen at the typical beach wedding, the groom chose more traditional apparel. Known as “Jam- mer” to his friends and family, John Moncrief, along with his best man and brother, T.J. Moncrief, wore black tuxedos by Tom James.
Dressed in a frilly white frock embellished with bridal lace, the groom’s young niece, Shirley Royer, filled the aisle with pink rose petals. Matthew Sweeting, a local non-denominational pastor and licensed marriage officer, presided at the double-ring ceremony. To comply with residency requirements for obtaining a Bahamian marriage license, the couple arrived at the resort several days early with their parents.
A fan of the movie “Love Actually,” the bride selected songs from the film’s musical score for the ceremony. “All You Need is Love,” performed by a string quartet, was played as the bridesmaids and flower girls came down the aisle. Another Beatles tune,“Here Comes the Sun,” heralded the bride’s arrival. The newlyweds exited the wedding garden to John Legend’s “All of Me.”
“I’m really proud of those selections,” Lauren-Ashton gushed. “We had the perfect setting for that music.” Regan Haggerty, owner of the Fort Worth-based Details & Designs Event Production and a friend of the bride and groom, helped coordinate the ceremony and reception. Bahamian vendors, including photographer Heather Carey, were recommended by the resort.
“It was elegant, intimate and traditional with a twist,” the wedding planner says describing the weekend-long celebration. “It felt more garden-like than beachy. The wanted to spend quality time with family and we were able to achieve that.” A welcome reception on a deck overlooking the beach area kicked off the festivities on Thursday afternoon. Hosted by the groom’s relatives, Kit and Charlie Moncrief, Marsland and Dick Moncrief and both couples’ children, the gathering was a casual affair with island apparel and “gave guests the opportunity to meet one another,” Haggerty suggests. The following evening, two chartered catamarans provided space for a private rehearsal dinner at sea.
“They were tied together so guests could go between the two catamarans,” she explains. “That allowed a unique opportunity for people to mingle.”
On Saturday, ocean breezes and palm trees added an exotic feel to the lush wedding reception. A tent, illuminated with strands of mini- lights, created a warm, orange glow against the evening sky as guests dined and danced.
Colorful large and small flower arrangements popped against the white linens that covered the venue’s long tables. Continuous centerpieces of low, clear vases were filled with free spirit roses, blush pink and yellow ranunculus, pale yellow stock, blush pink tulips and astilbe, majolica teacup roses, peach roses and succulents. They were accented with coral pieces and votive candles. Making a more dramatic statement, tall trumpet vases showcased natural pink hydrangeas, free spirit roses, pink and yellow ranunculus, peach roses and succulents with seeded Eucalyptus. “I think the watercolor palette of flowers was light and airy and reflected the bride’s personality,” Haggerty says.
For the plated meal, guests were treated to an array of Bahamian dishes, including pan- roasted grouper filet with Nassau and goat pepper sauce, curried chicken, island jerk chicken with pineapple salsa and mango chutney, Bahamian baked macaroni and cheese, native peas and rice, grilled corn and junkanoo vegetables.
After dinner, an array of energetic music by a local band, Tingum Dem, had people on the dance floor moving all night. For their first dance, the newlyweds started the evening’s entertainment by swaying to the Bob Marley song “Is This Love” by Corinne Bailey Rae.
Pastry chefs at the One & Only Ocean Club created the three-tier, chocolate bride’scake covered in cream cheese frosting and decorated with fresh flowers, gold flakes and a Mr. and Mrs. monogram. A Bahamian rum groom’s cake reflected the groom’s passion for scuba diving.
“We wanted a simple wedding cake,” says Lauren-Ashton who learned to appreciate the laidback timetable island dwellers seem to embrace. “I think it was still being made as we got married and didn’t arrive until five minutes before we cut it. But they were the nicest people and we loved every minute of the day.”
After a honeymoon in St. Lucia, the newlyweds returned to Fort Worth to begin their married life. Nearing their first anniversary as husband and wife, the new Mr. and Mrs. Moncrief look back on their island nuptials as a time of laughter, great moments and lasting memories. Moving the ceremony and reception to a destination site is a decision they recommend.
Lauren-Ashton, who works for an advertising agency, offers to two pieces of advice to future brides considering a romantic wedding getaway. “Definitely get a wedding planner and don’t get overworked about it,” she advises. “The best part of having a destination wedding was that I didn’t have a lot of choices. Most resorts have their own vendors so you don’t have to make a lot of decisions.” The weekend was free of the stress and worry that often comes with planning a wedding.”
“It was easy and beautiful,” she adds. “And our families were able to enjoy a trip together.” Joan Kurkowski-Gillen is a freelance writer and frequent wedding story contributor who lives in Saginaw.