Many couples are passing on the idea of marrying in their hometowns to tie the knot in a more exotic locale. Planning a wedding away from home can be a challenge, but if you take advantage of the many resources available to you, the process can be smooth, and the event spectacular.
Scout the Site
Destination weddings are most commonly associated with the Tropics, but couples also marry in cities, the countryside, or the castles of Europe. If you don't know where you'd like to wed, scan some travel magazines and wedding-planning Web sites to get an idea of what's out there. Look for information about all-inclusive wedding packages; some resorts and hotels offer deals that include everything from the flowers to the music. Find out if there is a wedding coordinator on staff. Are there sufficient accommodations for all of your guests, at or near the site? What kinds of extra-fun activities will be available during the wedding weekend? How will your guests be transported to and around the site? Avoid storm seasons, months with extreme temperatures, and the area's high season. To make sure that you can be legally married in your destination of choice, contact the area's tourism board and the U.S. Embassy in that country.
Consult A Professional
A travel agent, on-site coordinator, private wedding planner, or a combination of the three can be extremely helpful. A travel agent can help you find a resort or rental property and arrange the transportation for you and your guests. He or she may be able to arrange discounted airfares and accommodations for your group, possibly including a free upgrade to business- or first-class for you and your groom. If necessary, a travel agent may be able to arrange for interpreters to assist your group.
An on-site wedding planner can tell you about packages and provide you with an itemized list of what's included in each, so that there are no surprises when the final bill is delivered. "Hidden costs are always an issue with a destination wedding," says Ann David, co-founder of New York City-based David Reinhard Events. "The resort may gladly agree to provide tiki torches, but you have to ask, 'Is there a cost?'" Also, double-check with the site manager to ensure that yours will be the only wedding ceremony taking place at that time (or, at a smaller location, on that day), and that the coordinator who handled your wedding from the start will be on-site for the event.
If you choose to use an independent wedding planner (based in the area of your site or where you live), be sure to look for someone with experience. Ask friends for referrals or contact the Association of Bridal Consultants (bridalassn.com). Ask potential planners if they have ever produced a wedding in your desired locale, or in another, similar place. Then get the names and contact information of the clients who married there and ask what their experience was like with the planner. Give the pro an idea of what you have in mind and ask how the planning process can be made simpler for you. And again, ask about rates. Is there an hourly charge, a flat event rate, or is the fee a percentage of your total budget?
If possible, schedule at least two visits to the site during the course of your wedding planning. You can check out the rooms where your event will take place, survey the activities available for your guests, do a hair and makeup run-through, and assess the transportation options to and from the airport. The second visit should be all business. "Jam-pack the weekend with meetings," says Nicky Reinhard, of David Reinhard Events. "Have all of the vendors' proposals sent to you in advance and finalize everything in person."
Spread the Word
Guests are typically responsible for their own transportation and accommodations, so let them know your plans as soon as they're made. David suggests sending out save-the-dates four to six months in advance. "Send a postcard to let people know that you're planning to marry on Oahu in October, and follow that with an information packet a month later," she says. Let guests know what kinds of travel papers they'll need (passport, visa, etc.), airfares, hotel rates, and, of course, the exact date.
Send out a weekend itinerary, so your guests know about the events that you've planned, including the rehearsal dinner, group activities (golf outing, city tour), and a send-off brunch the following day. Include a travel book for the area, so that guests can familiarize themselves with the surroundings. Many planners suggest inviting all guests to the rehearsal dinner, which can be as formal or as casual as you like. Also, give them an idea of the attire for the weekend's events and what temperatures they can expect so they know how to pack.
Incorporate Local Elements
Embrace the area's culture. "You should be excited that you're getting married in the Caribbean because of all the place has to offer," Reinhard says. Use flowers that reflect the locale's flora. A native flower can become an elegant motif for the decor elements at the wedding—print it on your invitations, programs, and menus. If the site has only white or ivory linens, decorate the tables with items like shells, beach glass, blossoms, palm fronds, or banana leaves. If you are planning to import certain items to your destination, like personalized Champagne splits for the cocktail hour or gifts for the welcome bags, check with your on-site coordinator for customs deadlines and be sure to leave plenty of time for everything to arrive to avoid any surprises in the final days before the wedding.
Get There Early
Plan to arrive at the site a few days in advance. For a Saturday wedding, it's wise to fly in on Tuesday or Wednesday to make sure that everything is in place and that any packages you were expecting made the trip. Assemble welcome bags for your guests and include items that are specific to the area or have a personal touch, like straw totes from a local market, beach towels embroidered with the name of the destination, or a bottle of wine with a customized label telling the story of how you met, as well as another copy of the wedding weekend's itinerary. With everything in place, you and your husband-to-be can enjoy some quiet time together and await what is sure to be a memorable celebration.