- Associated Press - Friday, March 18, 2016

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - As a contestant in the early years of “The Bachelor,” seasons four and six, Maribel “Mary” Delgado was one of the first to seek love through reality television - once unheard of but now an entertainment genre.

Delgado won season six, but the match proved less than perfect. Then she found love again and married James Kordomenos of Tampa on New Year’s Eve 2015, stepping once more through what may be a door to a new trend.

The ceremony was held in Cuba and included mostly American citizens, a rare feat made possible only through the normalization of relations between the U.S. and the island nation.

“It was a dream-come-true type of wedding,” said Delgado, who along with ABC Action News’ Sarina Fazan will be discussing their experiences with “The Bachelor” on a Facebook video feed as the reality show airs.

“Cuba was beautiful. I’d absolutely recommend others get married there.”

For decades, because the two countries had no formal relations, Cuba has been largely off limits for Americans who want a destination wedding there. But with relations undergoing normalization, Cuba could indeed become a popular choice.

“It is still a mysterious island to so many people here,” said Tracie Domino, an event planner based in Tampa who has arranged destination weddings in the Bahamas. “The excitement and intrigue alone could make it a fun place to marry.”

Americans have been marrying in the island nation for years, but the ceremonies usually involve a visiting U.S. citizen and a Cuban who fall in love and decide to wed there so they can return to America together.

Those born in Cuba who came to the U.S. as adults, and then fell in love with someone who followed the same path, have been known to return to Cuba for their nuptials so immediate family could attend.

Delgado was born in Cuba, though she left before she turned 1.

But what makes the wedding of Delgado and Kordomenos so unusual and potentially groundbreaking is that most of the 30 people in the wedding party were from the U.S. and had no link to Cuba.

Delgado, Kordomenos and their 30 guests went to Havana for five days and four nights on a licensed educational trip through Tampa-based travel company ASC International. Each day, the group visited Havana’s historic and cultural sites.

Through a Tampa friend with connections at the Hotel Nacional in Havana, the couple reserved the establishment’s waterfront garden in advance of their trip and had the area decorated to their request.

Then, on Dec. 31, when the day’s educational tour was complete, they were married by a friend who made the trip with them.

“It’s a gray area,” said Dana Reed, owner of ASC International. “We need to stay within what we do - taking people to Cuba for one of the 12 legal reasons. Mary has the unique situation that she was born in Cuba and had contacts there and can speak the language so could do something like this on her own.”

It may soon be easier for American couples to marry in Cuba.

Currently, those visiting Cuba for educational trips must be part of an organized tour group that takes them to sites such as museums, art galleries and music studios to learn about the nation’s culture. The tour group operator must vouch to the U.S. government that the experience fell under the educational category.

Destination weddings are chosen by couples primarily to spice up the ceremony, event planner Domino said.

Locations also are chosen for their connection to the couple, perhaps memories of a romantic getaway in the Bahamas that solidified their love, Domino said, or of a resort where the bride vacationed as a child.

For Delgado, who now works at her own real estate brokerage, the wedding in Cuba was especially personal.

She was 11 months old in 1968 when her parents Juan and Juana Delgado carried her onto her father’s fishing boat along with her brother and three sisters - four if you include the sister still in the womb.

“They did not like the direction Cuba was taking,” Delgado said.

She has no memories of the family’s 36-hour journey at sea, but her sisters often talk of when the Coast Guard rescued them off the shores of Florida and took them to their headquarters in Miami, where the hungry family was provided a bounty of food.

“They said they thought they were taken to heaven,” Delgado said with a laugh.

Soon after, the family moved to Chicago and later, Tampa.

Delgado would go on to become captain of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleaders and appear on two seasons of “The Bachelor,” receiving the final red rose from Byron Velvick in season six, 2004. The couple split in 2009.

A year later, Delgado met Kordomenos, the two began dating, and in September 2013, he popped the question during a getaway to the Virgin Islands

From the start, they discussed a destination wedding. They considered Greece because Kordomenos is of Greek heritage but chose Cuba because Delgado always wanted to see the land of her birth.

The ceremony was simple. In lieu of a reception, they reserved tables at the Hotel Nacional’s New Year’s Eve party.

“The beaches in Cuba are so gorgeous,” Delgado said. “Weddings there must be something special.”

Not that she has any complaints about her ceremony. It was perfect, she said.

“It was my rebirth. My life began in Cuba. And now my new life with my husband began there too.”

___

Information from: The Tampa (Fla.) Tribune, http://www.tampatrib.com

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