So, you want to have a destination wedding? Before you fly off to your magical ceremony with your closest family and friends, you’ll need to be super-organized to ensure it all goes smoothly. From choosing your desired location to arranging for accommodations and inviting guests, here are some experts’ tips on planning far-flung nuptials.
It may seem obvious, but the first thing to do is decide on the destination. Are you imagining a beach, woodlands, mountaintop, or grand castle setting? One thing to consider is ease-of-access for your guests, especially if you’re inviting grandparents or friends with small children who may not be able to manage multiple flight transfers or camel rides through the desert. That said, Shelli Nornes, president of Romance Travel, reminds her clients, “This is your wedding. Do what makes you happy, and people will come or they won’t.”
Requirements for a legal wedding vary by state and by country, so allow time to research and complete marriage certificate applications. Be aware that some foreign destinations may ask for letters of intent, birth, and medical certificates, or even proof of recent residency. A way to circumnavigate such requirements is to have a legal ceremony in your home city, and a symbolic one with family and friends.
“Symbolic weddings save time and stress,” said Nornes, adding that most of her clients choose this option.
Whether your wedding is a modest affair or an over-the-top extravaganza, you’ll want to set a budget. Destination weddings are usually more intimate affairs than hometown weddings. Fewer guests can lower your costs, so making a list of hoped-for attendees can help in budgeting. Once that’s established, it’s easier to make choices on venue, catering, flowers, and accommodations. This is where a dedicated consultant can make a big difference, as most destination wedding planners are connected to a wide range of resorts in many locations and can guide you through a maze of choices.
“You can book a vacation online, but a wedding is much more challenging,” said Christina Inglezakis, national sales director for Liberty Travel. “Our agents have at least 10 years of experience in the industry, and can help choose the right resort based on your guest list, budget, and events.”
If such a service isn’t in your budget, you can search online for hotels or all-inclusive resorts that offer wedding packages with an on-site coordinator. However, you might save time and money in the long run by working with a company familiar with multiple resorts and destinations.
“First and foremost, it really helps if couples find a travel agent that specializes in wedding travel because we know the resorts inside and out,” said Nornes. “I like to play matchmaker, pairing couples with the perfect resort.”
Whether you work with a coordinator or organize on your own, it’s a good idea to visit your destination well in advance of the wedding. Website images can be deceiving, and touring the venue in person will help eliminate any unexpected surprises.
Destination weddings are not usually last-minute affairs. Resorts sell out quickly, so if you want your resort of choice and preferred date, it’s suggested that you start planning 16 to 18 months in advance.
Once you’ve selected the destination and confirmed the venue, it’s generally recommended to send out “save the date” cards nine to 12 months prior to the event so guests can mark their calendars. The actual invitation, sent three to four months out, is where you’ll offer more detailed information.
Guests should be made aware if they are responsible for their own transportation and lodging costs (typically, they are) but you can make things easier for them by securing a block of rooms at the hotel where the wedding will be held, or providing a range of options at different price points that are located near to the ceremony. To aid in sharing such information, Liberty Travel will create a complimentary, personalized wedding website that helps you and your guests to stay organized. Attendees can use the site as a handy reference for finding accommodation options, easy ways to book and pay for rooms directly, learn what other events are part of the wedding weekend, and more.
If your destination is outside of the United States, you’ll need to let guests know about specific travel protocols, such as the need for visas and/or vaccinations, and advise them to make sure their passports are up to date.
Considering that your guests have traveled from afar and might be in an unfamiliar location, you might want to incorporate additional gatherings into the festivities, such as a rehearsal dinner and/or post-wedding brunch. In addition, some couples like to extend the celebration and offer tours or experiences that highlight the particular destination, such as wine tastings in Napa, bird-watching excursions in the Caribbean, or, yes, those camel rides in Morocco.
Resources: Romance Travel, 507-237-6133, www.romancetravelgroup.com; Liberty Travel, 866-623-0183, www.libertytravel.com/group-travel/destination-weddings
Necee Regis can be reached at email@example.com.