Photo: Warm Pears
If you're planning on throwing a destination wedding, when you marry can be just as important as where you marry. In the Caribbean, for example, the weather is best—and prices are highest—December through April, while hurricane season brings major bargains June through November. One strategy? Set your date during the shoulder season (the weeks before and after the high season), when the weather is still good but prices are lower (P.S. To avoid a kid-packed pool, don't book during school holidays).
You'll also want to get to know the 'hood. Scout a few venues before putting a deposit down. Some resorts will host you for a night if you express interest in marrying there later. If you can't swing a visit, scour the Web (try TripAdvisor, Yelp, and, of course, Brides.com) for user reviews. Then, hire a planner. You'll need help from someone who knows the local vendors and customs. Many resorts offer a (free!) on-site coordinator. If you go with someone who's not based at your destination, ask her how many events she's planned there to make sure she's up to the task.
As for vendors, hotel planners will have recommendations, but it's best to meet them in person to make sure they understand your vision. Can't make the journey? "Skype will help you connect on a more personal level than email," says Melina Glavas, director of events at the Little Nell, in Aspen, Colorado, which hosts about 75 destination I do's a year. If it's in your budget, you can also fly VIP vendors (a hairstylist, a photographer) from home; you can often arrange to pay for their flight and room in lieu of their regular rate.
With destination wedding planning, you need to think ahead. Reserve room blocks for guests at least 10 months ahead. You'll be competing with other travelers, so do it the moment you've set your date. Send save-the-dates at least six months out and invites two to three months ahead. Arrive three to four days before the wedding to relax and prep for everyone's arrival.
Even though guests are paying for plane tickets, people will still want to shower you with gifts. But if you're throwing a destination wedding , do include lots of reasonably priced options in your registry so no one feels stuck buying you the $500 mixer.
Lastly, when narrowing down your vendors you'll want to eat, drink, and be merry—locally. When in Rome—or anywhere else—using a local band and local food and booze gives guests a sense of why you picked your magical location in the first place. Caviar and bubbly make sense for a French soiree; at a Mexican fiesta, a salsa bar and local tequila are less expensive and más festive.
—Sarah Z. Wexler