I LOVE destination weddings. And I've planned a lot of them over the years. In fact, my own wedding was a destination wedding.
From a planning standpoint, I love them because they often provide a challenge, whether it's a time difference, language, local customs, or all three. I also love that I get to discover new vendors and incorporate different cultures and elements into the events I plan.
From a guest experience standpoint, I think destination weddings are awesome. Guests always seem a little more relaxed and ready to party when they arrive to the destination. They are often eager to explore this new place and experience everything the city/island/country has to offer. If you've planned a great weekend itinerary (ahem... that's where we come in!), your guests will depart from the wedding weekend with wonderful memories and experiences.
However, if destination weddings aren't expertly planned and thought through, they can be stressful for you and not so enjoyable for your guests. To avoid this catastrophe (you want everyone to be stress-free and have fun, don't you?), consider the list below:
1 - Keep travel times in mind.
If most of the people on your guests list lives in Dubai, traveling all the way to Washington, DC for your wedding is a pretty long haul. Will a lot of people do it? Yes. They love and care about you and will probably make the trip, perhaps pairing it with a longer stay to see other sights in the States.
But, a wedding in Europe might be a happy medium for everyone. It's a shorter flight for the guests from Dubai and it's an easy flight from the East coast of the U.S.
So when you're picking you destination, keep your guests' travel times in mind. It's the considerate thing to do and they will appreciate it.
2 - Consider the seasons/time of year wherever you're planning on celebrating.
Want to have a destination wedding in Puerto Rico during hurricane season? That might not be such a good idea. The same goes for celebrating in Hawaii during the rainy season.
Keep in mind the area's weather patterns and plan accordingly. Will it be unbearably hot? Way too cold? It's impossible to predict the weather, but avoiding hurricane season and not planning a wedding in Palm Springs at noon in the middle of August just makes common sense.
3 - Consider local customs.
When you plan a wedding in a different country, you must be mindful of that country's customs.
When I planned an event in Istanbul, every meeting with vendors or shopkeepers we were buying goods from began with tea. I don't drink a lot of tea on a regular basis, but in Istanbul I had to (it is considered rude not to partake).
Be considerate and open to learning the local customs -- that is one of the reasons you chose to celebrate elsewhere, right?
It also doesn't hurt to educate your guests about these customs. A little info sheet in their welcome bag is often a nice touch.
4 - Think about where you're going to get your marriage license.
Getting a marriage license abroad is often quite difficult. In places like the Dominican Republic it's almost impossible.
Don't forget about this important detail and come back from your wedding celebration without actually being married. Think about where you're going to get your marriage license (usually your home state is the easiest way to go) and fill out the appropriate paperwork.
5 - Think about dietary restrictions.
Do you keep Kosher and want to get married in Mexico? It's not impossible to have a Kosher wedding South of the border, but it is difficult. Be prepared to handle some complicated logistics and shell out more money for a Kosher meal.
If you and your guests are vegan, be prepared to explain that concept multiple times to hotel, catering and venue staff.
These are just two examples of how dietary restrictions can pose challenges when celebrating in other countries. While it's not impossible to travel and celebrate in other places of the country and world with dietary restrictions, consider them when you're picking a celebration destination. And be prepared to spend a lot of time talking and emailing about food during the wedding planning process. This is one of those places where, quite frankly, a wedding planner is indispensable because he/she can keep an eye out for any food-related transgressions and correct them immediately. Do you really want to explain to Chef Alexopoulos for the umpteenth time that lamb is not vegetarian? (Remember that scene from My Big Fat Greek Wedding?)
6 - Transportation will become a big line item in your budget.
There are rare cases when a destination wedding budget does not include a line item for transportation, so be prepared to spend some money here.
You typically need to transport guests from the hotel to the ceremony and/or reception site(s) and from the various weekend events. Even if they have their own cars and can drive to the celebrations, I'm sure you don't want anyone to drive inebriated, and thus are almost obligated to provide a method of transportation for them.
Transportation is one of those so-not-sexy items that is practical and needed. Keep it in mind.
7 - Be prepared to be flexible.
The flowers you want may not be in season. The chef at the resort may not have access to the particular ingredients you really want. The chairs available for rent might not be something you like.
When you're planning a destination wedding, you need to be flexible.
You're often limited in what you can have abroad, and while I have organized some truly over the top celebrations where we put containers full of chairs on ships bound for a certain Caribbean island, you don't always have to go to such lengths and expense. If you're flexible, chances are you can arrive at a happy medium with what's available locally. But when you're not...
8 - Be prepared to fly some items in -- and pay for the shipping on those.
You will inevitably have a few items that you will need to ship to your destination (or pack in an enormous suitcase). Destination wedding planners are known for traveling with insane amounts of luggage because we pack suitcases full of day-of print material, items that couldn't be shipped to the destination in time, family valuables, binders with schedules, contact sheets, vendor agreements, etc.
While shipping costs are involved in any wedding or event I plan, they are usually higher for destination events. Especially if the client wants something specific that is only available in one place (i.e. cookies from a specific bakery in Georgetown).
9 - You usually need to turn your wedding into a destination wedding weekend.
If you have asked everyone to travel from near and far to celebrate with you, it's only fitting to organize an event to welcome them to the destination. It's also great to organize a day-after brunch before everyone leaves as a nice send-off. This easily turns a destination wedding into a destination wedding weekend, which involve more planning and thought.
One huge takeaway from wedding weekends is that most formalities and hellos get out of the way the night before the wedding so on the day of the wedding most guests are more relaxed and the bride and groom tend to enjoy their wedding even more (and event get to eat!) because they're not running around trying to say hello to everyone.
Please Note: If you are planning on hosting a brunch the day after your wedding, or a dinner the night before, there is no way to tactfully disinvite wedding guests to these events. If everyone has traveled from near and far to celebrate with you, it's only polite to invite them to whatever other events you're planning. If you don't, it will result in some kind of drama when one person who is invited to the brunch inevitably spills the beans to another who was not invited.
If you'd like to keep your rehearsal dinner small and intimate, consider hosting a dessert reception for your guests after your dinner. Or perhaps host your rehearsal dinner a night earlier so you can involve everyone in a "welcome dinner" the day before the wedding.
10 - Keep your guests comfortable and informed.
Guest experience is important. It is one of our core beliefs here at LIG Events. And nowhere is the guest experience more important than at a destination wedding.
When guests have all traveled from around the world to celebrate with you, we better make sure they are happy, comfortable and informed.
You wouldn't like to arrive in an unknown or foreign place and not have a comfortable place to stay or know where you're supposed to be and when for the planned celebrations.
Think about your guests and consider their experience so that your destination wedding will be a fun and memorable experience for everyone involved.
Are you thinking of hosting a destination wedding? Contact us for a free consultation.