Natasha Jhunjhnuwala and James Cotton – Cebu, Philippines
Shangri-La Mactan Resort & Spa, Cebu, Philippines
How we met
We met in ‘Geisha House’ a restaurant in Hollywood, California on 25th January 2008. James approached me at the bar and we clicked instantly. We got separated that night with no information about each other, besides our first names but happened to find each other hours later at a mutual friends house! We’ve been together since.
When we met I was a fashion design student at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles and he was working at Union Bank of California. Now we are living in Hong Kong (where I grew up) and I have my own swimwear brand, ‘MerCulture’ and James is in the watch business.
We both knew we wanted a tropical, beach wedding and at first I had my heart set on the St. Thomas in the Caribbean. But then I realized it was difficult to reach for a lot of my family (3 airplanes of a combined 30 hours!) So then we focused our energy on Asia, narrowing it down to Thailand and Philippines. After visiting the Shangri La Mactan Cebu, we knew we had found our dream destination! The thing that really caught our eye besides it’s striking beauty is the delightful staff. They are always friendly with big smiles and really go out their way to make you feel in paradise.
Since we wanted a beach wedding, we obviously needed a venue with a beautiful beach. We also needed a hotel that had indoor and outdoor venues that were big enough to accommodate at least 200 guests. Since we were going to have 3 full days of events we wanted a hotel that had variety of venues so guests wouldn’t get bored. Shangri-La was definitely the perfect fit!
I have always wanted a white wedding on the beach as well as an exotic Indian wedding with a gorgeous red gown. When James and I got engaged we both agreed that we wanted to combine both Eastern and Western events.
We wanted the first day of our 3-day-long wedding (26th-28th July 2012) to be relaxed and fun. People were flying in from all around the world and most to Philippines for the first time. We wanted to show them the beauty that is Cebu and so our first event was an afternoon boat excursion to the stunning ‘Pandanon Island.’ Our theme was colorful, tropical and relaxed. Guests wore swimwear with cover-ups, danced on the traditional banca boats, ate delicious BBQ to their hearts extent, enjoyed the jetskiis, and listened to a local band.
The same night we hosted a welcome dinner and cocktail party overlooking the ocean in the absolutely breathtaking ‘Cowrie Cove.’ Our color scheme was cobalt blue with white and pops of yellow. We let the location speak for itself and kept the decoration to beautiful floral arrangements and bold lighting. My favorite part was our ‘grand entrance’ where we entered by speedboat while guests were entertained by fire dancers and fireworks. I wore a gold dress by Jovani that screamed ‘glamour.’
The second day was the day of our beach wedding. For the wedding itself, we had chosen a very soft, romantic theme with colors like white, peach and turquoise. We had the most stunning, ethereal wedding arch and gorgeous orchid and starfish bouquets designed by ‘Pink Flora.’ We kept most of the decoration simple so we could admire the beautiful ocean that played as our backdrop. I wore an ivory fit-and-flare chiffon gown with floral details from ‘Watters’ and James looked incredible handsome in a beige, tailor-made, 3-piece suit from Hong Kong.
Our reception was also supposed to be on the beach but due to the chance of rain, we made the last minute decision to move it to the ballroom. I was sad at first because I had my heart set on the beach as our reception venue. However looking back, I realize the ballroom was a better choice as there was air conditioning and we could party all night long… which we definitely did! ‘Cakes by Trina’ did an amazing job with edible seashell and orchids cascading down a 5-tier coconut and vanilla cake. The food was so delicious complete with imported snow crab and lobster.
The third day was definitely the most hectic as we crammed in 4 events (not to mention 4 outfit changes!) In the morning we started with a pooja and haldi ceremony in which we got covered from head to toe! After showering and rushing to get ready we had our mehndi and ladies sangeet event. The theme was an English garden, so we kept to pastel pinks, whites, yellows and greens. Everyone was dressed in Indian outfits, and many of our family and friends had prepared performances. We all had so much fun dancing. I absolutely loved my light pink and gold dress from ‘Seasons’ I felt like such a princess.
After another outfit change it was time for our Indian wedding ceremony. The groom’s family and friends started the baraat with a magnificent white horse. My family and friends welcomed them and James and I put varmalas on each other. James looked very handsome in his sherwani and turban. We then continued the baraat together sitting in a carriage. The guests continued dancing to the dhol players and fireworks as we made our way to the glass ‘Ocean Pavilion’ where our pheras would take place. We had chosen to go with bold, cultural colors such as red, orange, hot pink and purple. The floral arches by ‘Pink Flora’ were absolutely breathtaking! It reminded me of an ultraviolet aquarium with bright coral bursts. Our pundit was great as he translated everything into English so everyone could understand and enjoy the ceremony.
After the ceremony we changed and made our way to the ‘Marquee tent’ for our final dinner reception. As we entered, I was completely blown away by the way ‘Pink Flora’ had brought my vision to life. I had wanted an enchanted, Avatar jungle complete with rainforest foliage and exotic flowers but they had completely exceeded my expectation. There were ivy scaling the walls, purple orchids everywhere, birds of paradise hanging all around, giant palm leaves surrounded the venue. It was spectacular! We had a huge array of Asian food from Indian to Thai to Chinese to Filipino. We partied until the sun came up, I couldn’t have asked for more!
We worked with Cebu based Stanz Catalan. We decided to hire a wedding planner as we were having a 3-day wedding in a destination that we weren’t familiar with.
My favorite part of wedding planning was anything to do with the visual aspects such as colors, flowers, decoration, outfits etc. As I am a designer I absolutely love coming up with themes and making sure everything works within that look. Also the food, cocktails and cake tasting!
The most stressful part was trying to get everything done on time, as we only had 6 months to plan the wedding after we had decided on Cebu rather than St. Thomas. In the end, I would have gone through all those sleepless nights all over again knowing that I was going to have my dream wedding with my dream man!
I would like to thank Stanz Catalan for arranging all the vendors for me, and pushing them to get everything ready on time. Our photographers from ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’ were absolutely wonderful, we love how dreamy all their photographs look. Gary Son and his team, our makeup artists, were such a joy to work with. And of course Pink Flora, their team really made our wedding spectacular!
Rock Paper Scissors Photography by Jeffroger Kho