"I Planned My Dream Wedding in Italy...Then, Coronavirus Happened"

Blogger Melanee Shale shares what her last few weeks have really been like

positano proposal

Photo Courtesy of Melanee Shale

Like most girls, I started fantasizing and planning my perfect dream wedding from an early age. So, when I met the man of my dreams, and he proposed to me, I was extremely excited to get the planning started.

Raphe, my fiancée—and now husband, more on that later!—proposed to me while we were on a trip to Italy for one of my best friend's weddings in the beautiful ocean-side town of Positano. On that trip, I fell in love with Italy and all it has to offer. What's not to love, right? It has art, culture, and, of course, amazing food! When we returned to the States, we started talking about plans for our wedding. The possibilities spanned from a simple legal ceremony, to eloping, or to a more grand event—i.e., the wedding I dreamt about all those nights as a young girl—in either Santa Barbara or even, possibly, Italy.

Meet the Expert

Melanee Shale is a lifestyle blogger based in Los Angeles. She and her fiancée, Raphe, originally planned to marry in Orvieto, Italy in April 2020.

We eventually chose Italy for a few key reasons. First, Raphe spent a semester in college abroad in the small town of Orvieto, located in the lush vineyard-laden hills of Umbria in central Italy. That experience was so transformative for his life, so while we were on our trip, we visited a beautiful boutique winery just outside Orvieto before he showed me around the town. For Raphe, having the opportunity to get married in this special place was particularly meaningful. Secondly, some of our family members and guests, especially my sister and Raphe's parents, have never been to Italy, and, quite frankly, may not take the opportunity to go. Our Italian wedding would, for them, be the perfect excuse to explore one of our favorite places on earth. That gift alone was enough to push us close to the decision. Lastly, when we found out that we would be able to stretch our somewhat limited budget further in Italy than a similarly sized wedding in California, we were sold. Italy it was, and the image of our wedding started taking shape.

We found a wedding planner—Emma with Love Italy Weddings—who lives in Italy and specializes in planning weddings for those coming from abroad. After our first Skype call with her, we were sold, knowing she would be able to execute our joint vision and deliver an elegant and quaint wedding ceremony and reception. Next, we chose a date in April 2020 because the weather would start to warm that time of year, but it would technically be an off-season wedding, allowing more comfortable (and more affordable!) travel for ourselves and our guests.

Then, it was time to plan! For the next year, Emma, Raphe, and I, exchanged countless emails, Skype calls and shared Pinterest boards, and, soon, every detail was falling into place. Raphe, having been to Italy several times and living there, was instrumental in planning details for many guest's travel itineraries. By January of 2020, we had nothing but high hopes for our Italian wedding celebration. Deposits had been made, our travel arrangements were all set, and we were in the home stretch, just getting excited for our wedding in Italy.

By January of 2020, we had nothing but high hopes for our Italian wedding celebration. Deposits had been made, our travel arrangements were all set, and we were in the home stretch, just getting excited for our wedding in Italy.

Then, something we could have never predicted happened. About seven weeks before our departure to Italy, we started receiving news alerts from guests and friends about the Coronavirus or COVID-19, which had begun spreading through Italy quickly.

Within a week, we went from being elated to stress beyond belief. Things escalated so rapidly with the viral outbreak in Italy that within two weeks, the U.S. State Department and CDC issued a Level 2 warning to travelers, stating that travelers should take increased precautions (like washing hands, sneezing into elbows, etc., to avoid infection). At that point, we began having some serious discussions with our wedding planner and venue in particular. Though there was a threat, we decided to wait and see what would come of it without changing any plans at that time. Since so much work had already gone into it (not to mention: the money!), it seemed to be the most reasonable and logical way to move forward. Not less than a few days after our first talk, the CDC warning raised to Level 3, which meant travelers should seriously reconsider all "non-essential" travel to Italy, and even to a Level 4 in the northern regions of Italy, which meant: Do Not Travel!

We were faced with a difficult question: Is a destination wedding with 45 guests essential?

We were faced with a difficult question: Is a destination wedding with 45 guests essential? Certainly, we wouldn't want to take the risk of having any of our guests contracting the virus—especially a few of our guests who are older and had pre-existing medical conditions that would elevate their risk of severity. Still, more troublesome, at the time, was the imminent threat that the CDC would raise the warning to Level 4, and we simply would not be able to go at all. Or worse yet, when we arrived in Italy, the level would increase, and our guests and ourselves may be forced into quarantine abroad or upon returning home.

Raphe and I started scouring the Internet for all the news and information we could find regarding travel restrictions as well as basic information from top scientists regarding the Coronavirus itself. The pressure just kept mounting on top of us. We were nearing deadlines to pay complete balances on catering and other vendors, that according to our contracts, were to be completely non-refundable should the event occur, even if we were restricted from traveling to Italy by our own government.

That first weekend of March, with our wedding a mere eight weeks away, was pretty surreal. We went through periods of depression, utter disbelief, and, even at times, started considering what canceling the wedding would mean for us. Would we just regroup, take the loss of our deposits and try for a local wedding celebration? Was postponement an option? Or should we just cancel the whole thing and move on with our lives? At some point, we were able to calm ourselves and talk rationally through the situation. I remember Raphe asking me, "What do you really want?" I thought for a moment, and said, "I want my Italy wedding." But what did that mean: Italy or bust?

That first weekend of March, with our wedding a mere eight weeks away, was pretty surreal. We went through periods of depression, utter disbelief, and, even at times, started considering what canceling the wedding would mean for us.

Ultimately, it meant that we had to think smartly about our options and look for a postponement that was suitable for our situation. Luckily, our planner was able to start negotiating with our venue quickly, and they came up with a date in early October of 2020. She worked to revise our existing contracts so that we were able to move all of our deposits to that future date, instead of losing them. We spent the week working through terms to renegotiate the remainder of payments. It was important to us to have assurances in place so that if the situation with the Coronavirus is not cleared up by October, we would not be out nearly the entire cost of our wedding.

There were so many elements to consider in the process. Besides our financial obligations and travel arrangements, we also had to consider that 45 people had made plans to put their lives on hold for a week or two to make the trip to Italy. Luckily for us, our guests were more than understanding of our predicament, and all assured us that whatever we chose would be fine with them. With five weeks remaining until our initially planned date, we pulled the trigger and officially decided to postpone to the new potential October date.

At the time I am writing this essay, we are taking a much-needed break from wedding planning. Luckily, we have much of the hard work already figured out, and we're fortunate that we could change the date with most of the details remaining intact. Though the situation at present is still unknown and we don't know how long things will remain complicated in Italy and the world as it struggles through coronavirus, we remain hopeful that everything will work out. We are optimistic that we will wind up having a stress-free and beautiful Italian wedding just that way we dreamed it up.

We are optimistic that we will wind up having a stress-free and beautiful Italian wedding just that way we dreamed it up.

On a happier note, from the beginning, we had planned a small legal ceremony here in Los Angeles, where those guests that were not able to make the trip to Italy (mainly my elderly parents) could help us celebrate. On March 6, 2020, we had our legal ceremony—so we're officially married! Doing the legal service here was also an excellent precursor to what we will face on our larger Italian wedding, and we feel more prepared than ever.

Above all, we've learned a valuable lesson through all this. In the end, what matters most is that we have each other. In a way, this situation is a small gift from the universe to test our strength as a couple as we embark on the life-long journey of marriage. I'm proud of the way we were able to persevere through this situation, and it gives me great strength to know that we have a solid foundation for life's undoubted trials and tribulations that lie ahead.

The current outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) has been declared a pandemic by The World Health Organization. As the situation remains fluid, we’ll be sharing tips and stories from industry experts and couples who are experiencing cancellations to give you the most up-to-date advice on how this can impact your wedding.

Related Stories