A free wedding...is it for real?

Honeymoons & Destination Weddings
Tammy-Levent2.jpg

Courtesy of Elite Travel

Travel guru Tammy Levent of Elite Travel delivers the inside scoop on planning a wedding away from home. Here, she answers a question every bride wants to know:

Is it possible to get a free destination wedding?

While there's no way to get an absolutely free wedding—the officiant and the location will always cost you something—it is possible to save big on your big day! The key is keeping an eye out for so-called deals that have hidden costs.

Let's start with the good news: You can actually throw an entire destination wedding for as little as $5,000. What you can typically expect is a wedding ceremony at a beach or garden location with chairs for up to 50 guests, a sound system for music and a microphone for the minister. The reception site is usually semi-private in one of the resort's restaurants and includes all food, bar service, servers and a small two tier cake. This price also includes your stay for six nights, airfare, all meals, drinks, water sports, land sports, taxes, transfers and tips (this is why they're called all-inclusive resorts!).

But if this sounds too good to be true, at some places it is. Beware of hotels that boast "all-inclusive" packages, but still charge extra for the reception; keep in mind that a cocktail reception doesn't include dinner; and hotels that charge you a "site fee" are essentially having you pay for a space on the beach. Free photos? Ask them how many, and what size, because most of the time it's one free photo, or they give you sample sizes. Free flowers could be daisies and carnations. And if they're offering a free wedding, make sure they're not charging a "set up fee."

Here are three resorts I found that offer the best deals around:

The Le Blanc Spa Resort in Cancún offers the Free Wedding Package "Gratuit" as part of their all-inclusive program with a dinner reception for up to 25 guests at one of their three restaurants. Unlike similar deals, your guests are not required to stay at the hotel—only you are. However, incentives for having them do so include a room upgrade for you, a larger cake and the option of having your reception in a banquet room rather than at a restaurant.

In the Riviera Maya, the El Dorado Royale's free wedding package offers a reception for 40 people at their main restaurant: the formally elegant "El Cocotal." The wedding party will be seated at tables in a secluded spot of the restaurant where they can enjoy a three-course dinner, drinks and dessert. Special decorations, a wedding cake and wines from their wine list are not included. The Free Sweet Wedding Package is valid when booking a Casita Suite for a minimum of seven nights or more plus five rooms (any category for three nights or more).

And finally, the Riu Ocho Rios Hotel on the north coast of Jamaica includes a reception for up to 50 guests at one of their two restaurants, St. Anne's and Mammees Steak House, with a wedding cake for up to 10 people and two bottles of sparkling wine. What I like about the Riu Ocho Rios is that you won't see 20 other brides getting married at the same time. —Tammy Levent

Editor's note: Always check with the hotel for up-to-date deals as details can change.

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