Bride-to-be Megan Ziemba was weighing two Caribbean oases for her winter wedding when the U.S. government stepped in and tipped the balance.
In Puerto Rico, the 27-year-old could get married in a colonial mansion of her dreams - and her American guests wouldn't have to worry about new U.S. passport rules that are promising headaches for the more than 70 percent of U.S. citizens without one.
Starting Jan. 23, American air travelers accustomed to visiting the islands, Mexico or Canada with only a driver's license will need a passport when they return home. The rule kicks in for cruise passengers and drivers in 2008.
"We have a lot of family coming down, and I know they don't have passports," said Ziemba, a financial analyst from New York.
So Ziemba, who had been tempted by a mountainside resort in St. Lucia, chose the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan for her wedding instead. Many of her guests plan to spend a week and take in the island's old Spanish forts, palm-lined beaches, and jungle rain forests.
Puerto Rico has been aggressively branding itself a no-passport destination with a $36 million advertising campaign on the U.S. mainland, and the U.S. Virgin Islands has labeled itself "America's Caribbean."
But while those U.S.-administered islands are expecting a windfall from weddings and impulse travelers, their tourism-dependent neighbors are sweating.
The new passport rules, designed to increase U.S. border security, have conjured fears of economic ruin in the island nations. Their governments have lobbied Washington for a deadline extension, and their tourism boards have launched campaigns encouraging Americans to apply for passports and keep them up to date.
Analysts say Puerto Rico will likely experience a jump in bookings, at least initially, with losses expected elsewhere.
A 2005 study commissioned by the Caribbean Hotel Association found the passport rule change jeopardized as much as $2.6 billion in tourism revenue and 188,000 jobs in the region.
Those prospects - and Puerto Rico's and the U.S. Virgin Islands' campaigns - have also aggravated rivalries in the region's $23 billion tourism industry.
"The technical term is breaking ranks," said Basil Smith, director of Jamaica's tourism board. "I do recognize their tremendous competitive advantage, and frankly I wish Jamaica had such a competitive advantage."
The staggered implementation of the passport rule is good news for Americans planning cruises this year and those within driving distance of Canada or Mexico, but it's galling to island governments.
Tourism officials say it gives the cruise industry a competitive advantage. Cruise ship passengers, who typically stay in port only a few hours, also spend much less money than overnight visitors.
Americans account for more than half the tourists in the region overall, but that jumps to 87 percent in the Bahamas and 73 percent in Jamaica - destinations expected to experience the most severe effects of the new passport rule.
With the wait for first-time passport applicants typically six weeks, the islands say their greatest loss will be last-minute getaways. For budget travelers, cost could also be a factor -passports cost $97; $82 for children.
Hotels and tour operators have responded with incentives such as a free day-trip, discounts, even a free massage and cocktail.
At Club Peace & Plenty, a resort on the Bahamian island of Exuma already dealing with cancellations from Americans who learned about the rule too late, a family can be reimbursed for the cost of obtaining up to four new passports.
"Some of our guests have been coming for over 30 or 40 years, and they're very used to being able to come and go with just a driver's license," said Barry Benjamin, the hotel's vice president for sales. "I really don't want to see them inconvenienced at all."
In Mexico, Marriott resorts have offered $100 traveler's checks for first-time passport users.
Since the Department of Homeland Security announced the new rules in 2005, Jamaica's tourist board has set up information booths at commuter terminals in New York, Washington and Boston, offering passport applications and free cups of the island's famous Blue Mountain coffee.
Tour operators, airlines and others still expect the new rules to catch plenty of travelers by surprise, and Caribbean tourism officials hope any damage isn't long-lasting.
In Ziemba's case, St. Lucia won't entirely lose out: She and her husband - who, unlike some of their relatives, do have passports - are leaving from San Juan on a honeymoon cruise that will stop in five islands, including the St. Lucian capital of Castries.