Expert Tips For Destination Weddings
Find out what the pros know before your big day.
Before “happily ever after” can begin, you have a wedding to plan. Try our list of professional tips—call it a wedding cheat sheet, if you will—to find the perfect destination, manage your budget and make arrangements for your guests.
Destination Wedding Requirements
First, says Megan Velez, VP of Product at Destination Weddings Travel Group, decide whether you want a legal ceremony or a symbolic one.
Laws for legal ceremonies can vary. Jamie Chang, a destination wedding planner and designer with Passport to Joy, says, “Some places have residency requirements, others have blood tests, others require forms to be translated and authenticated and others require a certain religious ceremony to take place.” Start early, so you’ll have time to research your destination’s rules and regulations. “The best place to find this information is your country’s consulate in that location or the location’s official tourism site.” Be sure your passport, if required, is valid for at least 6 months after you return. If it isn't, renew before you go.
Velez recommends asking your destination wedding specialist about what you may need in addition to your passport, such as a birth certificate or divorce decree from a previous marriage.
Sound like too much paperwork? Opt for a symbolic ceremony at your destination, Chang says, and then get legally married in your hometown.
Wherever you go, Velez says you can honor traditions that are meaningful to you. “Write personalized vows or blend your lives with a beautiful sand ceremony,” or start your own traditions.
Planning Your Trip
Velez says, “When finalizing the perfect location for the Big Day, don’t limit yourself to the destinations ‘everyone’ chooses. Explore exciting options like the beach paradises of St. Lucia, Turks and Caicos, and Hawaii, or unique locales like Ireland, Barcelona, Tuscany or even Reykjavik."
Jennifer Taylor, of Taylor’d Events Group, asks, “Do you want sun and sand? Snow? Disneyland? Vegas? An elopement? In the United States or outside the country? How many people do you want? These are all the questions to ask when you are looking at places for your destination wedding…. think about ease of travel for your guests as well.”
Create a wedding website before your big day, Velez urges, so guests will have a “one-stop shop” to learn about accommodations, your registries and other details. “Send out ‘e-save the dates’ early and link to this online resource.”
Taylor says it’s also nice to give your guests tips on what to see or do, before and after the wedding, and where to stay, if they’re booking their own lodgings.
Remember, says Velez: weddings often involve multiple generations, so give your guests phone and email options for making travel arrangements.
Finally, when you’re considering different locations, Fabrice Orlando says, “One of the very first things you have to do is to familiarize yourself with the venue." Orlando, CEO of Cocoon Events Management Group, also suggests taking photos, touring the property, meeting key staff, and nailing down your overall vision for the wedding. “All of this is much easier when you’re on the ground there, but a video tour can suffice in difficult situations.”
Watch Your Wedding Budget
Low season rates can save you money—but you may not get the kind of weather you want, says Chang. Make sure your dates work with your location.
Chang also recommends checking the exchange rate and prices at your destination, so you’ll stay within your budget. For example, she says the Dominican Republic is currently less expensive than Barbados.
Orlando recommends staying in touch with all your vendors, especially if they’re spread out, as they often are in destination weddings. “Weekly calls may make sense for everyone to share updates.” Coordinating can also save time and money.
“All-inclusive properties booked through a destination wedding specialist may ultimately be the best bang for your buck,” Velez adds, if they offer unlimited services for a flat rate. “By working through a destination wedding specialist, you can find cost savings and discounted group rates with your wedding package at many all-inclusive resorts. Rather than wait until you arrive, pre-booking excursions will lock in advanced pricing.”
Many couples plan DIY weddings, but remember, says Chang, “Everything you DIY you’ll have to bring with you to your destination wedding (and back). The less you have to ship or pack the better. Keep your DIY projects to a minimum,” and choose things that are light and easy to pack. Taylor suggests picking dresses that aren’t too big, so they can fit in a plane's coat closet, if one is available.
“Consider investing in professional photography", Velez recommends, “so you can preserve the memories of your special day and take advantage of the incredible backdrops synonymous with destination weddings. This is especially important since you’ll want to share them when you get home.”
Call your credit card company at least a week before you leave home, Taylor says, so they’ll know it’s okay to approve your purchases while you’re away.
Keep Your Guests Happy
Reserve a block of hotel rooms in the same location, Chang says, so your guests can stay together. Also, put important travel info on your wedding website, including flight and ground transportation options, ideas about where to dine, locations of banks and grocery stores, and anything else your loved ones might need.
‘Welcome bags,” adds Velez, “are a great way to thank guests upon check-in. Popular items include maps, itineraries, water bottles, sunglasses and regional snacks.”
Did you invite guests who couldn’t make the trip? Live-stream your ceremony, Velez suggests, or create a wedding day hashtag and a shared photo opp. “Snapchat geo-filter is a fun way to engage those in attendance.”
Save Time For a Timeout
“While you may be there to get married", Orlando says, “there will still be some downtime for you to soak in the local surroundings. Take advantage of your time there and fit in a walk around the city or a few hours on the beach – you may even find some additional inspiration for your celebration!”