Top Wedding Planners Reveal: This Is How You Plan a Destination Wedding

Make your wedding locale feel unique and special to you as a couple!

Updated 03/31/17

Photo by Brumley & Wells

One of the best parts of planning a destination wedding is just that—the destination! Building in a mini-vacation to the most memorable weekend of your life transports both you, your fiancé, and your guests to a place that’s just your own—making your wedding locale feel unique and special to you as a couple. (Plus, it makes a nice anniversary trip for years to come.) Below, tips from top wedding planners to make sure getting hitched goes off without a hitch.

Location, location, location.
Know you want to whisk everyone away, but not sure where? First, start with a guest list to help guide logistics. If you know you want to get married under the lemon trees in Capri, but that charming little restaurant has a guest maximum of 50, you either have to trim your list, or find a venue that can hold all your friends and family. In the same vein, if you have a ton of friends with little ones (or ones on the way), consider Zika-free options where everyone can join in on the festivities.

Almost every destination-wedding-worthy city will have gorgeous venue options. But when planning a destination wedding, “make sure you select a venue that truly works not only with your vision but also that logically makes sense based on how much time you can devote to planning,” says Sojourner Auguste of Erganic Design.

Renting a large villa with a view or an estate mansion where you can bring in all of your vendors is a dream project for hands-on brides, and “venues like hotels with an in-house staff that can handle catering and offer preferred or suggested vendors are perfect for those not looking to spend a lot of time vetting and coordinating vendors,” says Auguste, especially if you don’t know the area that well.

Also make sure to learn your venue inside and out. “Site visits are the key to success when getting married in a destination location,” says New York–based wedding planner Jennifer Zabinski of JZ Events. “After selecting your venue, plan one trip to get familiar with the spaces and interview vendors and a second to have your décor table sample, food tastings, hair and makeup trials, etc. This way, your wedding weekend will only be about having fun and enjoying the company of your guests—not last-minute meetings!”

Make it local.
“Highlight your chosen location by sourcing from spots where the locals shop,” suggests wedding planner Sarah Tivel of Gather Events. “We love designing a destination wedding based on a native plant color, textile pattern, or artisan craft—your guests will be delighted by details they don’t get to see every day.”

A New England wedding is perfect for a summer clambake with local lobsters and fresh fish, just like mofongo (a traditional Puerto Rican dish), is perfect for a soirée in San Juan. Take the best of the area and make it yours, whether in the food, decor, or music (or all three!)

All together now
Whether you choose a warm beach, arid mountains, or the town you grew up in (but no longer reside in), destination weddings are a wonderful way to make sure your guests get to bond while also taking in some of the local culture. “Planning a stunning beach wedding in Mexico? Throw a casual welcome fiesta party the night before. A French vineyard soirée? Work some wine and cheese tasting into the weekend. Gathering in the mountains? Hire an instructor to lead you in a sunrise yoga flow.

Thoughtful activities will ensure natural mingling and heartfelt connection,” Tivel suggests.

Who, where, what, how
A well-informed guest is a happy guest. “Be sure to communicate with your guests as thoroughly as you can. Send a save the date, send an invitation, send a confirmation package and set up a website with all the particulars: who, where, what, how. Have a welcome note in the room for your guests to remind them again of the itinerary: where to be, what to wear, and how to come,” says international wedding planner Colin Cowie.

And don’t wait until the last minute—send invitations four to six months before the wedding, giving guests time to plan their travel.

“It’s imperative to check flight patterns from the cities where most of your guests will be traveling from,” says Zabinski. “Often more remote islands can require multiple flight connections with challenging time frames, ie. very early morning departures.”

Also consider hiring a dedicated travel agent to help guests coordinate their itineraries—it’s a personal touch that shows that you appreciate the effort your guests are making to come support you as a couple, and that you want to make their journey as easy as possible.

Be thoughtful.
“Your guests are traveling a distance to be a part of your special day, so consider ways to make them feel special. Welcome bags in the rooms are a really nice treat and are always well received,” says Greenwich, Connecticut–based planner Sarah True of True Event. “And transportation is key! Usually, guests don't know the area—so if you provide transportation, it takes away the stress of having to figure out directions or who will be the designated driver. Lastly, include everyone in activities or events outside of the wedding.

Most destination weddings require more than one night's stay—so figure out some ways to spend time with your guests so they get more than just a minute with you on the big day.”

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