Your Ultra-Specific Guide to Destination Weddings
What could be more perfect than a destination wedding? When it comes down to it, you’re literally jetting off with your family and friends to marry the person you love, in front of all the people you love, in a stunning location far from home. They're basically like a vacation and a huge party all wrapped in one.
And just like trying to plan any other wedding, there’s a lot to consider before you actually walk down the aisle. After all, this is a pretty important day – you want to make sure you’re well prepared. Here’s a rundown of the basics:
What are the advantages of a destination wedding?
For starters, and especially if you’re going to an all-inclusive resort, a destination wedding can be far less costly for the bride and groom than a normal ceremony. A lot of hotels will throw in things like a free honeymoon suite or free room upgrades when you book a group room block, and some hotels will even throw in a free wedding package. There will also most likely be less people there, so all of your costs will be lower in general since you’re not purchasing as many favors, invitations, or centerpieces.
Most hotels also have a dedicated wedding coordinator to plan everything for you, so you don’t have to worry about spending your weekends researching florists or organizing a late night bridal assembly line to put together aisle runners. You’ll choose from different packages with different color schemes and layouts, and then they’ll make sure it happens.
What are the downsides?
It can also be more expensive for your guests. They’re going to be paying for flights and hotel rooms, not to mention using their vacation days to travel, so you’ll most likely not have as many people attending as you would at, say, a reception hall back home.
If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of someone else taking the reins, it may also be difficult not seeing anything in person before your wedding day.
And we’ll say it – if you’re looking forward to unwrapping a bunch of shiny presents when you get home, you may be disappointed. There’s a lot of gray area when it comes to etiquette about guests attending a destination wedding, but be prepared that they may go easy (or nonexistent) on the gifts.
How do I decide where to go?
Try to choose your destination first, and then narrow it down by hotel. You may want to look at a hotel’s ceremony sites before you even start looking at their wedding packages – sometimes a gorgeous location can more than make up for the fact that they don’t have the napkin color you wanted. And vice-versa: you may get a free wedding package, but a ceremony on a public beach could be a deal breaker.
Remember –if you’re like a lot of couples, you won’t be visiting the venue until you actually arrive for your wedding. Travel consultant recommendations and suggestions from friends who’ve been to the area can go a long way.
How do I actually get married? Are the rules the same as back home?
Laws about getting married vary from location to location, so you want to make absolutely sure your wedding coordinator gives you information about any special requirements before you leave. For obvious reasons, it pays to be prepared - some locations require couples be on the island for a few days before their ceremony, and others require health certificates or paperwork.
How do my guests book their rooms? And flights?
Ideally, they don’t. When a large group of people is traveling together, they qualify for something known as a “room block.” A room block is basically where a hotel is notified that a group will be taking up a large amount of space, so they set aside the number of rooms that are needed. Most hotels consider anything over 10 rooms a room block, so that’s normally when they’ll start offering things like free rooms or upgrades.
When you have an idea of how many guests will actually be attending your wedding, your best bet is to contact a travel consultant that specializes in groups. This way, they can organize everything with your guests and deal directly with the hotel on things like securing deposits and special requests.
Do people have to stay at the same hotel as me?
Not necessarily. If you have guests that want or need to stay at a different resort, they can most definitely do their own thing. Make sure they’re aware, however, that many hotels charge a fee for day passes. That means they’ll be paying to be on-property the day of your wedding or the night of your rehearsal dinner. Also make sure to check with your hotel if they have a policy on maintaining a minimum number of guests staying on property. Some require a certain amount, or may not offer guest passes.
How do I get my dress to my hotel?
Whatever you do, don’t ship it. If you need to send things like favors or place cards then you can check with your hotel about mailing them care of your wedding coordinator. But make sure you try to carry your wedding dress with you – you want there to be as little chance as possible that something happens to it.
Your dress may have to be searched when you bring it through security at the airport, and you can (and maybe should) ask if your TSA agent can put on a new pair of gloves before running their hands over it. A lot of planes have a coat rack onboard you may be able to use for storage, but be prepared that you might have to keep it in your overhead compartment. Make sure you have a heavy duty garment bag or proper travel box just in case.
What happens when the wedding’s over and it’s time for our honeymoon?
You’ll obviously want to spend time alone with your new spouse, but it can be awkward to gracefully separate yourself from your guests. You can’t order people not to extend their trip, so you may consider arranging for an upgrade to a private preferred club so you don’t wind up running into everyone in the pool on your first day as husband and wife. Some couples also choose to book their honeymoon at a separate hotel nearby so they get a chance to experience more of the area.
What if something goes wrong?
You're going to have enough on your plate, so book through a travel consultant to make sure you have someone on the ground back home in case something goes wrong. This is the person you’re going to call if your aunt misses her flight or someone in your group wants to change rooms.
Also be sure to discuss travel insurance options for what will literally be one of the most important days of your life. Keep in mind though, and make sure your guests are aware, that this insurance would apply only to you and not to your entire group. Each guest must purchase their own travel insurance in order to be covered.
Most importantly – congratulations! Enjoy every minute of your engagement and incredible destination wedding (and even more incredible marriage!).