In recent years, many brides and grooms have chosen to abandon the traditional large, fancy church wedding in favor of nuptials in a more exotic locale. Couples opt to go the long-distance route for a variety of reasons. For some, budget limitations make destination weddings the more attractive choice. In most cases, only close friends and family attend these celebrations, sparing couples from throwing large, expensive receptions. Whatever the reason, destination weddings have become increasingly popular for couples of all types -- from those having a first-time wedding to those renewing their vows or getting married for the second time. If you're an amateur wedding planner mulling over the destination decision, read on for our list of 10 helpful tips.
No matter what your style or budget is, there's a destination for every couple. Nature enthusiasts may long to tie the knot atop a picturesque mountaintop, whereas beach babes might prefer a more laid-back, tropical locale. Couples with a little more pocket money may choose to cross the pond for an unforgettable union in Europe. Others with a taste for whimsy might choose a unique ceremony at Disney World or the Grand Canyon.
Whatever your preference, wedding experts suggest determining a tentative head count before making a down payment on a wedding site or reception venue. You might assume that a dozen people will make the trek, only to discover that friends and family on both sides are yearning for time away from home. To keep from filling that tiny mountaintop chapel to capacity, have an alternate venue in mind, or limit your guest list to a select few.
Plan Well in Advance
When it comes to planning a destination wedding, the early bird really does get the best block of ocean-view rooms. Ensure that your big day doesn't get bumped to the second-choice resort by booking well ahead of time. Most resorts or hotels allow the happy couple to reserve blocks of rooms at a discounted rate for guests, so be sure to request plenty, and keep tabs on how fast they're filling up.
Traveling abroad, although it has its perks, does require a tremendous amount of advance planning for the couple, as well as their families and guests. Passports, vacation time from work and airfare are just a few of the considerations that have to be handled well in advance of the big day. Save-the-date cards with airport, hotel and other pertinent information should be made available far enough ahead of the blessed event to prevent would-be attendees from missing out on the action.
Combine to Save Cash
The beauty of most destination weddings is that they're set in romantic getaways, perfect for honeymooning couples that want to stay put post-ceremony or even engage in a little island-hopping, á la the Caribbean or Hawaii. Destination Weddings.com estimates that the honeymoon averages roughly 14 percent of a typical wedding budget. Couples who elect to combine the celebration and the getaway can save a significant chunk of cash (and put it aside for a down payment on a new home or even a child's college fund).
If your family and friends are vacation-starved, you can turn your destination wedding into a cash-saver for them, too. Many couples choose to keep the party going long after the ceremony is over, turning a day of celebration into a weeklong reunion of sorts. After all, they're paying to fly in for the wedding -- why not stay and enjoy the local scenery?
Consider a Cruise
More and more couples who want to share the ceremony and after-party with their guests are turning to cruise lines for affordable and seriously fun getaways. Especially great for second marriages or vow renewal celebrations, cruise weddings have skyrocketed a whopping 60 percent over the last 10 years, according to The New York Times. This upswing in cruise bookings is largely thanks to couples looking for a more economical and family-friendly alternative to traditional weddings.
Be sure to do your homework when selecting a cruise line. Some cruise lines don't provide an officiant to preside over the ceremony, and others require that the nuptials take place at port before departure. And in the case of Catholic ceremonies, although a priest can bless the union on board, it can't be fully recognized by the church if performed on a cruise ship.
Do Your Weather Research
A romantic sunset ceremony on the sandy beaches of an exotic Caribbean island can quickly turn sour when a hurricane, intent on destroying everything in its path (including your nuptials), shows up unannounced. Keep your guests from running for cover by strongly considering seasonal weather patterns before booking anything. If you absolutely must get married during hurricane season, it's a wise idea to purchase travel insurance. Better to postpone a trip for a few weeks rather than cancel it altogether! Weather predictions are never completely reliable, however, so if your personality is less than flexible, it might be best to stick with an indoor wedding closer to home.
Follow the Law
If you think deciphering the laws at home is tough, just wait until you're faced with a whole set of new ones, possibly in an unfamiliar language. Every country has its requirements for legal marriage, including witnesses, marriage license applications, blood tests, proof of immunization and residency requirements. Before embarking on your voyage, be 100 percent sure that both of you possess all of the necessary documentation, lest your marriage vows turn into simple declarations of love.
Luckily, most destination wedding locales want your business, so they're often more than willing to guide a frazzled bride-to-be through the finer details. Be sure to research local marriage requirements thoroughly before settling on a location. Above all else, don't forget to apply for or renew your passport well in advance of your wedding.
Use Reputable Vendors
It's always a gamble to put a down payment on services not yet rendered, but since most vendors require substantial deposits to secure their talents, there's not much choice in the matter. Avoid scam artists or less than stellar workmanship by thoroughly researching musicians, florists, caterers, photographers, DJs and the like before cutting a check. Trustworthy vendors will happily supply a legitimate, diverse list of satisfied clients. Savvy brides should run for the hills from anyone who balks at providing this standard information. Ideally, the bride or groom will be able to visit the wedding site ahead of time to meet with vendors in person. If this isn't feasible for financial or other reasons, the wedding venue coordinator or a destination wedding consultant should be able to deliver a list of qualified vendors.
Be Sensitive to Your Guests
Family members and friends who make the trek to your destination wedding are forking over an average of $750 to $1,100 per person to attend, according to the experts at Destination Weddings.com.
Modern etiquette absolves the bride and groom from paying for the trip, but there are a few conveniences that the happy couple can certainly handle in advance. First, be sure to provide detailed instructions on transportation from the airport to the wedding site since many resorts are a significant distance away. If possible, arrange for guests arriving at similar times to split the cab or rental car fare. Also, provide several options for accommodations of varying price levels so that people on different budgets have options to consider. If your budget allows, consider hosting an extra event, such as a welcome party with dinner on the beach or group excursion to see the local sights as a thank you to the guests who went out of their way to attend.
Above all, bear in mind that many couples having destination weddings forego creating gift registries to show guests that their presence is a gift in itself -- they're already paying plenty just to attend!
Go With the Flow
Like all nuptials, destination weddings often hit snags along the way. These sticking points can be compounded thanks to language barriers, currency exchange issues and general unfamiliarity with the area and its residents. When problems arise, take a deep breath, evaluate the issue and correct the problem with help from the bridal party or other guests. Destination wedding experts often recommend that the happy couple arrive a few days in advance of the event to prevent or contain possible problems before they erupt. Above all else, don't let minor snags, like last-minute menu changes, ruin your big day. Instead, adopt a laid-back island mentality and enjoy your wedding to the fullest extent possible.
Use a Consultant
A qualified, reputable destination wedding consultant can take care of many of the small but significant details we've already mentioned. They simply have the resources and experience to get the job done faster, easier and with more assurance than the average bride. In addition to helping a couple pinpoint those pesky marriage requirements, a professional planner often knows the local legalities for ceremony and reception planning, such as the process for obtaining event permits. They also tend to have existing contacts with well-respected vendors and can give a bride an idea of what to expect as the big day draws near. Brides need not be too concerned about the budgetary dent the cost of an independent consultant would make. Many popular resorts and destinations employ staff consultants and fold the cost of their services into the package wedding deal. These staffers easily relieve a lot of headaches with their know-how, allowing the bride and groom the opportunity to truly enjoy the most important day of their lives.
More than one couple has felt the urge to run off and elope. See whether elopement should be your first choice or only your last resort.
- Higgins, Michelle. "Saving by Tying the Knot at Sea." The New York Times.com. (April 11, 2010). http://travel.nytimes.com/2010/04/11/travel/11pracwed.html?ref=weddings
- Penn, Charli. "The Ultimate U.S. Destination Wedding Guide for Brides." Wedding Channel.com. (2010). http://weddings.weddingchannel.com/wedding-planning-ideas/destination-weddings/articles/ultimate-US-destination-wedding-guide-for-brides.aspx
- Seto, Lori. "Destination Weddings: Getting Started." Destination.Weddings.com. (2010). http://destination.weddings.com/articles/getting-started-planning-destination-wedding.aspx