With wedding guests scattered all over the globe, it's no wonder destination weddings have grown in popularity over the last few years. When nearly everyone on the couple's list is making travel arrangements for the wedding, often including the bride and groom themselves, suddenly the opportunities expand to include any gorgeous location they can see themselves getting married.
I personally love destination weddings. There is nothing quite like sharing an incredibly special moment with your closest friends and family in a beautiful location. The intimacy and camaraderie among the guests is truly magical, not to mention the all-out fun that comes with being on vacation. I've planned countless destination weddings and events, and each one adds new excitement and challenges to my job.
While a destination wedding is seemingly the laid-back way to go, there is a whole set of considerations and etiquette guidelines that comes with planning a wedding from afar. Here's some advice on selecting a location for those who are considering taking the leap.
Top Ten Things to Consider When Selecting Your Destination Wedding Location
1. Though you may expect a smaller group to attend, always start with a complete guest list. This is a must, so you can determine with certainty that the venues for the ceremony and reception are large enough for all of your friends and family.
2. Check into the range of guest accommodations. It's a lot to ask your guests to travel and take time off work, then on top of it pay for a costly hotel room. In a destination setting, it's best to keep your group together. Finding a resort with a reasonable range of rates that can accommodate everyone is ideal. If not, search for nearby low- to mid-price hotel options in addition to a luxury hotel. Be sure to review the room block policies carefully -- you don't want to get stuck with guarantees or minimums you aren't able to fill.
3. Think about elderly guests and how the travel and/or venue will affect them. Factors like very warm climates and hard-to-reach locations can be prohibitive for some elderly guests.
4. Make sure you love (and I mean love!) the ceremony and reception venues. If you love those, the rehearsal dinner and/or brunch venue will fall into place. I promise.
5. Be sure you have total confidence in the venue representative and caterer. The wedding caterer is the most important vendor -- they provide all of the service for your wedding and will interact with your guests more than any other vendor.
6. Explore what your guests will be able to do in the area. Is there enough around to keep them entertained during the down times? If not, you may want to consider planning fun day trips (like a hike) or other activities for your guests.
7. Consider airfare costs and travel times for most of your guests. The further from home and more costly the destination, the smaller group you may have.
8. Do a preliminary review of local vendors (music, photographers, flowers, lighting, rentals, transportation, cake, hair and make up, video). See if you like their work or if you will need to "import" a vendor from your area.
9. Research marriage requirements. If you're planning on getting married outside the country, be advised that marriage requirements vary and can include waiting periods. You will want to factor that into your planning timeline.
10. Consider hiring a planner, and this isn't just because I happen to be one. Destination weddings require insight and impeccable planning. Most resorts offer planning services, but be advised those planners can be limited in scope. If you want someone to take you through every detail, you should consider an independent planner with an expertise in planning destination weddings.
Some of my favorite destination wedding locations are right here in the United States, making things logistically simpler for the bride, groom and their attendees.
The Breakers, Palm Beach, Florida - This spectacular Italian-Renaissance hotel overlooking the ocean is just magnificent. Brides who want a regal and formal affair even in a seaside location will no doubt be blown away by the Breakers' old-world glamour.
Blackberry Farm, Walland Tennessee - Nestled in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, it doesn't get more charming than this luxurious resort. The world-renowned cuisine is an epicurean couple's dream.
Carneros Inn, Napa, California - Just a short drive from the Bay Area, wine country is also a coveted wedding destination for brides all over the world. Carneros Inn juxtaposes pastoral barns and silos with sleek modern interiors for a California cool atmosphere.
Four Seasons Hualalai, Kona, Hawaii - World-class golf, holistic spa treatments, beautiful beaches and outstanding service make this resort a perfect choice for pleasing everyone on your list. Kona also boasts the best wedding weather (as in, the driest) in all of Hawaii.
The Inn at Palmetto Bluff, Bluffton, South Carolina - Grace and hospitality abound at this South Carolina resort. Wedding ceremonies in the charming Waterside Chapel evoke the essence of the Old South.
Photo credits from top left: Kathleen Harrison; Abby Ross; Meg Smith
(previously published by Laurie Arons Blog, 7-29-10)