It’s supposed to be the happiest day of your life, but for one couple, their wedding day turned into a ceremony from hell, despite saving up £46,000 for the celebration of a lifetime in the Caribbean.
Andy Helsdon, 45, and his partner Heidi Brown, 49, enlisted wedding experts at TUI to help organise their special day in Jamaica earlier this year – after planning and saving for 18-months for their fairytale ceremony.
The couple secured a date at TUI’s 5-star Riu Montego Bay resort in Jamaica, which on its website is described as being ‘perfect for your wedding day.’
Friends and family then followed, hoping to meet them there to celebrate what was meant to be the holiday of a lifetime.
But after a series of blunders by the travel agent, the couple from Lower Darwen, Blackburn, found themselves returning home devastated – not knowing if their wedding was even legally binding.
On arrival, they found themselves booked at a rowdy resort – completely opposite to the relaxing and peaceful hotel they had been quoted by TUI.
“We put our complete trust in TUI and the whole experience was tarnished,” Andy explained.
“We’ve walked away with bad memories of our wedding day and have been left absolutely devastated that we’ve come home not knowing if we’re even married.”
“A family hotel with a luxury twist”
Soon after Andy got down on one knee, the couple started looking through holiday brochures in search of the perfect resort with a wedding package.
They found the hotel Riu Montego Bay, Jamaica, which is part of TUI’s platinum collection, “particularly appealing”, he said.
“We went down to our local TUI store in Blackburn in September 2017 to discuss it further. The shop staff highly recommended the resort, describing it as a family hotel with a luxurious twist. It ticked all the boxes and so we booked a two week holiday and a wedding package for April 2019.
“We had our full trust in TUI as the experts. We were promised a romantic getaway and full wedding service including legal documents and our own private wedding coordinator at our beck and call,” he added.
After two years of anticipation, the couple arrived in Jamaica on 3 April 2019 ready to say ‘I do’ in front of 22 friends and family members.
Upon arrival, they were given a room upgrade which was a great start but from there on in, things started to unravel.
“It was like a rowdy 18-30s resort”
“The place resembled a rowdy 18 to 30s resort with foam parties in the pool and women twerking on the bar,” Andy said.
“Most evenings the children had to stay in their rooms with an accompanying adult because the entertainment was overly sexualised and not suitable for families.
“The hotel furniture was old and tatty and could not be described as luxurious; it resembled a 3-star hotel rather than a 5-star. It was sold to us as paradise but in actual fact it was a nightmare.”
And when it came to tracking down their wedding coordinator, the couple were faced with another shock.
“We got to our room expecting a note from the wedding coordinator but there was nothing. We had to go in search of them and when we found them, they were less than helpful.
“We became increasingly concerned about the wedding day itself and felt uncomfortable with the whole set up. It was disorganised and we didn’t feel we were given enough information and planning time, despite continuously asking for more.
“Heidi was sat waiting alone in her room”
The day of the wedding came and as the sun rose, the resort was still very much alive with late-night revellers and loud music.
Heidi put on her wedding dress and waited for the wedding planner to signal when all the guests had arrived at the ceremony. However, as time went on, Andy was left waiting at the alter while Heidi was sat waiting alone in their room.
“The wedding planner that we had originally been liaising with had disappeared and their replacement was late collecting Heidi,” Andy said.
“It didn’t help that we were told a few days earlier that there would be a $50 fine for every 15 minutes we overran.”
When Heidi was ready to walk down the aisle, they had to wait even longer because the minister was late.
“The service itself felt rushed and we had to stop the wedding twice due to planes flying overhead which meant no one could hear the minister. We couldn’t even hear each other despite being stood next to one another.
“It was a total disaster. Even the wedding reception that followed was a shambles. Food that was meant to be on offer wasn’t and the hotel staff were rude and lacking in any customer care,” he said.
“We were not legally married”
The day after the wedding, the couple noticed a blunder with the wedding register that has ended up costing them their entire marriage.
The certified copy showed the witness names had been written by the minister in the wrong place and the errors invalidated the legal document. They were not legally married.
“We spent the rest of the holiday speaking to various people, including the TUI representative about how we could correct this but they didn’t take it seriously. They even tried to blame us and said we filled them out wrong despite the documents provided by us all filled out correctly,” Andy said.
“We were verging on hysterical and they just scribbled on our copy of the document by way of correction, even though this didn’t mean anything legally as the official register didn’t match.”
Andy and Heidi returned home with tears in their eyes, embarrassed to even talk to people about what was supposed to be one of the best times of their lives.
“The whole experience left us feeling ashamed in front of our guests who had all spent a lot of money to join us. We feel like we are still living in hell, in limbo about if the wedding is legally binding.”
“TUI denied all responsibility”
After making numerous complaints while on holiday, the couple went straight to their local TUI store once home to complain about their ordeal.
“The staff in the store couldn’t believe what we were telling them. They were eager to help and told us to write up our complaint up and they’d send it to the TUI head office. It went straight to director level which sounded promising but we didn’t hear anything during the 28 day period they said they take to investigate the case.
“We eventually received a response. TUI denied all responsibility and said our marriage was fine and legal, which isn’t the case. They said it was nothing to do with them and to get in touch with the hotel directly.”
The couple have since spoken to the Blackburn Registry Office and the National Registry Office who have both advised that in England, Andy and Heidi’s wedding is not legal.
“We’ve walked away with bad memories of our wedding day and will never travel with TUI again.”
The couple have now enlisted law firm Bott and Co to fight their case – claiming they were missold by the travel company. TUI refuses to take any responsibility for their experience.
In line with the Consumer Rights Act 2015, the law firm said that the wedding package should have been carried out with reasonable care, skill, due diligence – and an actual wedding.
David Bott, senior partner at Bott and Co said: “Under the Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tours Regulations 2018 and the Consumer Rights Act 2015, TUI had a responsibility to provide all the elements of the package contracted as they were described. There was a contract in place between both parties to provide a legally binding wedding which was not fulfilled.
“Andy and Heidi were massively let down by TUI throughout the entire holiday, on the wedding day itself and are still suffering now. We’re going to do all we can to get them compensation from TUI for the terrible experience.”
Heidi said: “We went away to get married and commit our lives to each other and it has just been one big stressful mess. This was meant to be a holiday of a lifetime for not only ourselves but our guests, making memories we could cherish forever but it will always be tainted with this memory.
“We came home not sure if we we’re even married. We are utterly heartbroken.”
When Mirror Money contacted TUI, a spokesperson refused to coment.
“We are very sorry to hear of Mr Helsdon and Ms Brown’s experience in Jamaica. As this is now a legal matter, it would be inappropriate to comment further,” a statement read.