Any wedding that isn't in the bride or groom's hometown, or current place of residence, can be considered a destination wedding — and the hardest thing about planning a destination wedding? Making decisions, involving a lot of money, about vendors and services you've never tried before.
Brides planning a hometown wedding are probably already familiar with a lot of the best wedding venues in the area, they know instinctively which hotels to suggest to out-of-town guests and, while they might not know the names of the most reputable catering companies off the bat, they can reach out to other friends and get recommendations.
Couples planning a destination wedding — even if it's just a few states away — don't have those luxuries. Before they even start planning their wedding, they need to research the destination. Here are the questions couples need to answer before solidifying their locale.
Is it difficult to get to?
What are the travel costs like around your wedding date?
Airfare to some parts of the Caribbean between Christmas and Easter is three times more expensive than going to the same place the other eight months of the year, for example.
Will your guests need passports?
This can be a huge issue for some people. If your family and friends aren't regular travelers, choosing a wedding destination that requires a passport may mean you won't some of your VIP invites with you to witness your vows.
Are there any travel restrictions?
Does the destination use U.S. currency?
What are the accommodations options at the destination? Are there a variety of price points?
Some people would rather spend less per night and stay longer because they don't plan to be in their room that much. So watch out for destinations that don't have less expensive hotel options available nearby your actual wedding venue.
As for resources to use, Caribbean Blue Book is a good source of information about tropical destination options. It can help you determine whether the destination has enough activities to suit your needs, and it will help answer a lot of the above questions about the island's amenities.
Be sure to also check out TripAdvisor and see what other brides and grooms (and regular tourists) have had to stay about the destination as well as the venues and accommodations there. A hotel's website might look fabulous and showcase spectacular wedding photos, but that doesn't tell you anything about how pleased (or not) the bride and groom were with the venue. To get the real skinny, read the positive and negative reviews to see if the reviewers' concerns would be a problem for your wedding weekend. Don't be afraid to ask the venue about a specific complaint to find out if the problem has been resolved for future guests.
Once you've nailed down your actual destination, WeddingWire is an excellent source for finding wedding vendors at most destinations. Just make sure that you've thoroughly researched your wedding destination to make sure it's the right spot for you and your wedding guests before you start making commitments and signing vendor contracts.
Sandy Malone is the owner of Sandy Malone Weddings & Events and author of How to Plan Your Own Destination Wedding: Do-It-Yourself Tips from an Experienced Professional. Sandy is the star of TLC's reality show Wedding Island, about her destination wedding planning company, Weddings in Vieques.