“Wait, we need to photograph this!” Amanda K. Ruisi said before placing the emerald-cut engagement ring on her finger. After over 10 years of dating the publicist, Robert Sorrentino was familiar with the protocol and was happy to oblige. The lovebirds had just enjoyed a private dinner on the beach during a weekend getaway at a favorite resort in Florida, when their beloved Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Ruby, was brought out with a certain sparkler attached to her collar. “It was absolutely perfect – it all happened so fast,” reveals the bride. The stunning three-stone engagement ring had belonged to her mom, who sadly passed away when Amanda was just 23 years old. The bride admits that she could not fathom planning a wedding without her loving mother by her side, but a conversation with her grandparents helped her find the way. While becoming nostalgic about their daughter’s wedding day and theorizing about the future nuptials of their granddaughter, a light bulb went off in Amanda’s head, and she knew she would plan her special day alongside them.

In order for the bride’s grandparents to be fully involved, Amanda and Robert elected to host their destination nuptials in Florida. As the majority of their guests would be coming from New York and California, the bride and groom decided to hold their wedding over Memorial Day Weekend so they could have three full days of celebration with their friends and family, turning the event into a mini vacation. “Some people got down there as early as Wednesday!” Robert exclaims. Though the groom was initially concerned with having an intimate gathering of 105 of their closest friends and family in lieu of a larger guest list, he changed his tune once the wedding weekend began. He and his soon-to-be-wife were able to spend valuable time with everyone, even hosting cabanas for guests upon their arrival, in addition to a Friday welcome party.

Amanda and Robert were wed under an elaborate structure covered in vanilla florals and crystal accents. “We felt it was important to use clear and white details to let the natural beauty of the ocean come through as the backdrop for the ceremony,” the bride explains of their décor choice.

Amanda’s custom Chantilly lace gown paired elegant long sleeves with a modern skirt, although that was not the original plan. “Akilina at Kleinfeld Bridal transformed my dress,” the bride divulges. “At my last fitting – four days before I was to depart for Florida – I decided to turn it into a high-low dress.” She carried a bouquet of white peonies while her grandmother and maids of honor clutched the same blooms in shades of blush and ivory. Even Ruby, the couple’s much-loved pup, had a custom collar made of peonies in order to match her “flower dog” dress.

The ceremony was heartfelt and included special touches dedicated to Amanda’s mom: a memorial candle burned throughout the service, a bouquet was placed on an empty first-row chair, and the reverend incorporated a reading honoring mothers in his sermon. A final detail allowed the bride to keep her mom close – a patch of Amanda’s mother’s wedding dress was sewn onto her own, right over her heart.

Once the sweethearts were pronounced husband and wife, guests were led into the candlelit cabana area of the resort where a string quartet played throughout the cocktail hour. After enjoying drinks and hors d’oeuvres, everyone flowed into the ballroom, which was broken up into different sections, including a lounge area featuring furniture decorated with pillows showcasing the newlyweds’ custom logo. “I was hesitant about the lounge seating at first,” the bride admits, “but I ended up loving it!” Gilded flatware complemented the shades of ivory and gold that filled the space, and much like the ceremony, peonies were the blossom of the day. “There were thousands of peonies used throughout the entire wedding weekend,” Amanda confirms.

The newlyweds swayed to “By Your Side” by Sade to start off the reception. As guests enjoyed a sit-down dinner with tableside selections, both the bride and the groom’s brothers gave touching toasts. “The speeches were amazing,” praises Robert. Despite it being a personal and emotional day, the newlyweds still got the party going. One of the bride’s clients, DJ Ruckus, served as the entertainer for the night and he had revelers enjoying the music so much that Amanda and Robert had to extend the dancing from midnight to 3AM!

As hosts of a destination wedding, the pair feel they have plenty of newfound wisdom to bestow on those planning their own celebrations. Amanda notes the importance of finding a team you trust, proclaiming, “I was so confident in all the vendors we chose that while the wedding weekend was happening, we were able to enjoy every minute of it – everything had been planned seamlessly leading up to the big weekend.” As he was surprised with how smooth the three-day event went, Robert advises grooms to be patient and present, especially if their brides have been dreaming about their wedding since childhood. “Just support her, help where you can, and know when to stay out of the way!” he asserts, adding: “Remember, all of the planning leads up to a party that is over in about six hours, so take a breath and enjoy it.”