We have all been guilty of drooling over destination wedding photographs and finding ourselves dreaming of a ceremony in the sand with the ocean lapping at your toes, or dancing the night away at your reception in the snow-capped mountains, the stars and icicles magically twinkling. I cannot tell a lie: Sometimes, destination weddings are a great choice for couples... but not always.
Many times I hear couples mention that a destination wedding would cut their costs: A win-win, they think -- charming, exotic, romantic and memorable location, and a quarter of the guests and thus costs. They assume the distance will deter some guests from attending the wedding -- but don't bank on that. You would be surprised how many people that you don't expect to make the trip (read: your freshman year roommate you haven't spoken to since freshman year; your fourth cousin twice removed with five kids of her own; your awkward office-mate) decide to make your wedding their big vacation of the year.
And speaking of costs... be sure to properly budget for additional events aside from just the standard wedding reception and ceremony. When working with couples taking the plunge someplace far from home, I always recommend kicking off the destination wedding weekend with a "Welcome Cocktail Party" on Thursday evening, a rehearsal dinner on Friday evening (which, ideally, highlights the culture, food and setting of where you are), the ceremony and reception on Saturday and finally a "Bon Voyage Brunch" on Sunday before everyone heads back to their respective corners of the globe. Each of your guests has traveled a long way to join you for the weekend so it is important to include everyone there in each event, and to have plenty of events to show you appreciate them making the trek to be there for your big day.
Destination weddings do not come stress-free either. You might envision starting your wedding day swimming with the dolphins or hitting the jet skis with your friends but there is just as much pre-wedding preparation to be done as there would be at home. You might be in the most beautiful place in the world, but you still are going to have hair, make-up, photographs and set-up to contend with. (So be sure the venue you pick at your exotic locale has plenty of good getting-ready spaces too! Sometimes the most important parts of a venue are the parts no one but you ever sees...)
Think long and hard about your personality, expectations and wishes because planning a destination wedding takes a great deal of flexibility and patience. Most of my destination wedding clients only visited their wedding venue once or twice. Much of the planning will be done via phone or email with your planner and wedding site manager. And if you're getting married someplace tropical, It is important to realize that the staff at your wedding venue as well as other vendors are often on "island time" -- which is not necessarily a bad thing... that is the appeal of a tropical destination, right? Turn around times for contracts, information, and responses in general will be on a different timeline than we might expect when planning a local wedding.
These weddings are not for brides that are expecting to show a florist a photo of an exact shade of fuchsia peony or a baker a specific vintage china pattern they want replicated in their cake design and say "I want exactly THIS." Some more exotic (and wonderful) destinations do not have easy access to a variety of rental items such as chairs, charger plates, and other décor -- yet offer a wide choice of local vendors from which to choose. Also don't forget that flower choices are limited and changes often have to be made at the last minute depending on availability and flower quality. So if you consider yourself to have a Type A-personality and worry that the limitations of a destination wedding might curtail what you envision for your day, don't worry, there are still tons of interesting options right here in the mainland United States such as Miami, Key West, Charleston, Vail and San Deigo. Truly, there are picturesque cities throughout the country that would still give you a dreamy backdrop but also allow access to any décor you might desire.
Destination weddings are perfect for couples looking to create a full weekend experience for their guests. The numerous events and activities that your guests attend together will allow them to get to know one another, making the weekend more intimate for everyone involved. Since weddings are really about two families coming together and combining, destination weddings do an extra great job of really giving everyone one-on-one time to get to know each other in a way and in a place they wouldn't be able to otherwise... so be sure to make it easy for your guests to start the bonding sessions the moment they arrive. Don't let traveling to a destination seem like a hassle for your guests.
Before choosing your destination:
- Research which destinations have the most non-stop or one-stop flights from the cities most of your guests will be traveling.
- Choose a host hotel that also has other options nearby (e.g. -- you might want to get married at Ritz Carlton in San Juan, Puerto Rico... but if someone wants to stay next door at the Courtyard Marriott, easy enough!)
- Check that the hotel(s) provide easy transportation to and from the airport.
- Ask the hotels for a list of activities available on the property and nearby so you can ensure there will be plenty for your guests to do in their downtime.
- If you are inviting children choose at least one hotel that is family friendly and preferably one with on-site childcare services (for the evening of your wedding).