Tips for Planning a Destination Wedding
by Lisa Light, wedding consultant and owner of DestinationBride.com
Destination and Destination-Weekend Weddings have become increasingly more popular. With venues offering wedding packages, this type of wedding is not only for the wealthy. As a matter of fact, brides may be surprised to find that, compared to the average wedding today, a weekend wedding may actually be more economical.
A Destination-Weekend Wedding is one which spans several days and incorporates the rehearsal dinner, the ceremony, the reception and the morning-after brunch. It can also include any number of other wedding-related events, such as an after-wedding informal party, a breakfast the day of the wedding and even the bridal shower. The objective of such a wedding is to bring friends and loved ones together in one location and extend the celebration past the standard four or five-hour party.
Under some circumstances, logistics may require that some guests stay off-site. In that case, it's up to the bridal couple to determine who gets invited to what parts of the wedding event. This kind of wedding can be planned at a location near the bide and/or the groom's family, locally, nationally or internationally. The planning details will change depending on where the venue is that the couple select.
This article encompasses planning that may be applicable only to a local wedding, or only to a wedding held abroad. Please pick and choose those hints which will work for your wedding and simply ignore the rest.
First, you will need to pick the kind of destination wedding style that suits your taste and your budget. If the venue you choose for your Destination-Weekend Wedding is near neither the bride's home nor her family's, it may prove invaluable to hire a local wedding consultant who can help with arrangements. The time, effort and cost of traveling back and forth to check on and finalize details can be high. A wedding consultant can carry part of that burden. Many hotels and resorts offer a wedding consultant, wedding coordinator, or an event planner, as part of their wedding packages. A local consultant who is familiar with the location you have chosen will provide her planning expertise and should have local contacts offering wedding-related services, to recommend. Local tourism bureaus at the destination you choose can provide valuable information, on-line and/or by phone. They can furnish information on locations, marriage laws, attractions, lodging, customs, service providers and more.
Start planning at least a year in advance, by creating a budget that you will stick to. Create a written planning schedule. Getting and staying organized will keep the task of planning less daunting. Purchase a loose leaf or an accordion file, or make use of one of many wedding planning software solutions. This file is where you will keep information about each of your service providers such as correspondences, contracts and reminder notes. Just as you would with a "traditional" wedding, research and find the wedding professionals you think you want to work with. If you will travel to your destination wedding, if possible, visit the venue so you can check out the facilities. Meet with the service providers and open communication with them.
Prepare a schedule of events with each provider. Then merge all the individual schedules and create one master that you give to each of the "players" in your wedding, including your attendants, officiant and parents. Particularly with an "all-inclusive" wedding, it is especially important to include all the details into contracts, which you should review carefully before you sign.
Confirmation calls and/or E-mails should be made to each provider one month before your wedding date. Keep all the correspondences (make print copies), just in case. Keep your guests current with any changes in details. If your wedding is abroad, someone in your party (e.g., your wedding consultant) should have an international cell phone, an emergency and first aid kit, a laptop and printer with extra ink, paper, discs, and adaptor . . . or lots of legal-size or steno pads and pens.
Design or select a Save-the-Date card as soon as you have picked and booked your date. You may wish to include contact information about your wedding and travel consultants and your personal wedding web site address (of you have one). It may also include information about the venue, sites to see locally, transportation hubs (closest airport, closest bus depot, etc.). Information about the climate can also be very helpful for guests planning their trip. If you have started to set up accommodations, include that information too, along with any other travel information. Sending the letter out as early as three to four months ahead will give your guests ample time to take advantage of any special air fares and make whatever other arrangements they need.
You will need to find (in person, if possible) accommodations for your guests. If the financial status of your guests varies, you may wish to select more than one lodging location. The locations should be near one another, if possible, so guests can easily get together, and so that transportation becomes less complicated. It will be very helpful to your guests if you mail them itineraries, packing hints, dress codes for each event, expenses of tours, customs of the country, electricity issues, currency, calling home procedures, customs of the location, and climate. This information can also be included on your personal web site.
If necessary, instruct guests as to how to register and pay, in advance, for special tours, if any. You may also opt to "send" them directly to your travel consultant and have them deal with that person directly. If you or your consultant will be coordinating guest travel, it's best to have all your guests arrive and depart at the same time. That makes providing transportation to and from airports easier to coordinate. It's a good idea to explain to your guests that is they wish to deviate from the itinerary and travel on their own they can, of course, but they will need to understand that you may be unable to provide "shuttle services." A local group escort and/or translator can prove invaluable for keeping things simple and understandable, literally and figuratively.
Albeit you are under no obligation to pay for your guests' travel expenses, any effort you make toward the trip being easier and more enjoyable for your guests, the better. A welcome basket, a tour or prepaid activity (e.g., spa or food service, etc.) along with a welcome letter is a really nice touch. You may wish to include a thank you to them for coming from afar and can provide them with a list of local weekly events and attractions, a local newspaper, brochures, maps, and any number of other amenities and information.
The Internet can prove invaluable as a way to communicate with vendors and/or guests around the state, the country or the world. If you wish to, you can even set up a personal wedding web site, as a means of keeping people current and informed. Your web site can include photos, helpful links, information about yourselves, travel information, directions, a gift registry, the schedule for your event and more. There are several existing web sites that offer a simple site for free, such as WeddingChannel.com and DestinationBride.com. When the event is over, the site can continue to serve your needs. You may choose to include photos of the event, thank you notes that you wish everyone to see (not in place of written ones) and any follow-up information you wish to share.
The travel-related portion of your wedding arrangements can most easily be handled by working with a travel consultant who can provide group coordination, group rates, and sometimes even a group escort service. The service fee that such consultants charge is particularly worth the cost because of the details involved in planning a destination wedding, especially one that is out of the country.
Some destination venues offer throw in's as an incentive. There are those, for example, who will include the ceremony at no charge, with the stipulation that the couple book rooms for a minimum number of nights and a certain number of guests. Freebies can be disappointing, so make sure you know all the details, in advance.
If you're getting married either out-of-state or out-of-the-country, do a little homework to avoid difficulties. Different states and certainly different countries have their own marriage license, waiting period and other regulations. Keep in mind that some places have residency requirements, lots of paperwork to complete, and/or substantial tests. If you want your marriage to be legal and recognized "back home," you'll want to be thorough with these details. Resorts that specialize in destination weddings often provide services such as license coordination or referrals to local wedding coordinators. One way to totally bypass international legal marriage laws is by getting marrying privately in the United States before or after the destination wedding reception. Keep in mind that some countries require both civil and religious ceremonies, so the civil marriage can be done at home, while the party is held abroad.
If you are planning a "away" wedding, you may need to ignore some things. Your special weekend wedding should, if all goes well, serve as a pleasant vacation for you, too. You can improve your odds of having a good time, if you try not to get caught up in little details that keep you from enjoying your weekend. Don't sweat the small stuff. Do only those things that you think are very important and then free yourself up to relax, have fun and join your guests in enjoying the festivities.
Pay special attention to the way you pack. Ask your dressmaker or bridal shop owner how best to pack your gown for travel. Make certain you have the correctly-sized suitcase(s) or box(es) ahead of time. If you are traveling by plane, take any items that you'll be wearing on your wedding day, with you into the cabin. Lost luggage is devastatingly painful where a wedding is concerned. There even are airlines that offer a special compartment for hanging long garments, like a wedding gown. Call the airline in advance to avoid the hassle at the airport.
Traditionally, invitations should be mailed four to six weeks before the event, but further in advance for a destination wedding. If you're computer-savvy, work from a guest list database, so you can organize your guest lists and easily keep in touch with your guests. That may not enough time for your guests to buy plane tickets and make travel arrangements. If the place you have chosen has limited lodging accommodations, some of your guests may need to be "housed" elsewhere, so the sooner they know your wedding date, the better. Get in touch with your guests early, with a "Save the Date" letter, an informal form letter that includes all the information they will need. Include information about the venue, sites to see locally, transportation hubs (closest airport, closest bus depot, etc.). Information about the climate can also be very helpful for guests planning their trip. If you have started to set up accommodations, include that information too, along with any other travel information. Sending the letter out as early as three to four months ahead will give your guests ample time to take advantage of any special air fares and make whatever other arrangements they need.
There is another invitation-related issue. The question is to whom to send an invitation. The choices are to send an invitation to everyone on your list, disregarding whether or not you know that they will be able to come. Or, you can invite only those people you think may be able to attend and send announcements to everyone else. Sensitivity and your knowledge of your family and friends' feelings are how this decision should be made. There is no hard and fast rule of etiquette.
It is your obligation to obtain or prepare a really accurate set of directions to the location. The way to write these instructions really well is for you to drive the route and record the details. It is helpful to include not only street names, numbers of traffic lights and turns, but also "landmarks" along the way to forewarn drivers of upcoming turns. If you can, include a map.
Gifts and wedding invitations seem to have become synonymous. Etiquette requires that those who are invited to a shower should also be invited to the wedding. Having a limited guest list for your wedding, but a much larger one for your shower (because it's held locally), may make you feel awkward. Don't. Make the assumption that people give gifts because they are happy for you and it is the traditional way for them to celebrate your marriage. You needn't concern yourself with feeling like you are "asking for a gift" with either your invitation or your announcement.
Do your planning well in advance of your arrival at the venue. Leave a few hours or, if possible, a day or two at your destination, before your wedding, for de-stressing, relaxing unpacking and unwinding. Try to get as many details as possible completed while you are still at home.
Your Destination-Weekend Wedding is a wonderful treat for your guests, so resist the urge to over plan activities for them. Watch out for too many get-togethers, which will eliminate free time that your family and friends would enjoy. Make yourself aware of any special needs of your guests and make whatever accommodations you can for them. If, for example your wedding will be held outdoors and there's lots of walking to do, telling guests to wear low heels or flat shoes will show you care. If you have elderly guests attending, you may wish to find out if some kind of transportation, like a golf cart, can be made available to them.
You and/or your wedding coordinator will need to arrive a few days before your guests to make sure everything is on schedule. This is when you will meet with your wedding services providers and confirm all the details. When you pay for services, it's best to use a major credit card. In case of an unforseen problem, paying by credit card will give you some recourse should you need it. You may even consider opening a bank account in the destination country, so you can write checks or make withdrawals of cash.
Couples who have Destination-Weekend Weddings are faced with a unique problem. When you have such a wedding, you are, in all likelihood, going to leave people off your guest list. There are several other ways to include them. One option is to hold a reception "locally," at some time after the wedding. Make the function as elaborate or as informal as you wish . . . anything from a traditional wedding reception to something more informal, like a party. This option gives you the opportunity to invite family and friends who couldn't make your faraway wedding. It is a lovely touch, if you can, to have your wedding photos (proofs?) and video to share with those guests.
Destination Weddings can be great fun, but they also present some special challenges. If you keep your eye on details, give yourself lots of time for planning, keep feelings and sensitivity in the equation, and remember to have a good time, your wedding can be an event that makes wonderful memories for you and yours guests alike.