I'm frequently asked, "How big should a destination wedding party be?" And my answer is usually something along the lines of "how big would your wedding party be if you were getting married at home?" There is no hard, fast rule that you have to have a smaller wedding party because you've chosen to have a destination wedding.
If it looks like most wedding parties are relatively small in most of the destination pictures that you've seen, it's probably because many brides and grooms have chosen to have a destination wedding in order to simplify their wedding planning, and keep their budgets under control. A bigger wedding party equals more stress, and additional expense.
The official answer is that you can have as many bridesmaids and groomsmen and junior bridesmaids and ushers and flower girls and ring bearers as you want at your destination wedding. But before you start asking everyone to be in the wedding party, take a quick step back and look at your overall headcount. Frequently, destination weddings are intentionally on the small side.
If you have 30 to 40 wedding guests total, and you ask 12 people to stand up for you at the ceremony, by the time you include yourselves and the minister, there are more people standing up on the altar than sitting in the seats. Is that okay? Yes. Does it look funny in pictures? Sometimes. A good photographer can work around it to some degree, but at the end of the day, it's a disproportionate setup.
More bridesmaids mean more bouquets, and those are not inexpensive. Boutonnieres for the gentlemen, if their shirts aren't too lightweight, cost money, too. Plus gifts for each member of the wedding party to thank them for participating can add up quickly. Don't forget there's the added stress factor of finding bridesmaids dresses that are flattering on more girls, getting everything ordered by a deadline, making sure the guys have gotten what they're supposed to wear, etc. You don't rent suits for a destination wedding unless you're prepared to spend a considerable amount of money to rent them for the extended time you're gone on the trip.
Years ago, you never saw unbalanced wedding parties— meaning that there were almost always the same number of bridesmaids as there were groomsmen. That's not the case anymore— in fact in my experience, at least half the time, the numbers are uneven. And you know what? It doesn't make the slightest difference. To be perfectly honest, I had twice as many bridesmaids in my wedding as my husband had groomsmen, and with the help of a good photographer, it's not even obvious in the formal photos.
My best advice to brides and grooms struggling with this question is to consider whether your day will be any less special if certain people aren't actually standing up for you when you exchange vows. If your answer is yes, those people belong in your wedding party.
Sandy Malone is the owner of Sandy Malone Weddings & Events, a full-service traditional and destination wedding planning company and Do-It-Yourself wedding planning consulting service for DIY brides and grooms based in the Washington, DC area. Sandy is the star of TLC's reality show "Wedding Island," about her destination wedding planning company, Weddings in Vieques. Sandy's book "How to Plan Your Own Destination Wedding: Do-It-Yourself Tips from an Experienced Professional," will be released on March 1st, but is available online for pre-orders now where books are sold.