7 Reality Checks from a Destination Wedding Planner

This ain't your old backyard wedding..

Updated 08/22/19
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Michelle Scott Photography

While wedding planning is fundamentally the same wherever you get married, there are a few quirks and realities specific to destination weddings. Face it, you're getting married someplace you've probably not spent a whole lot of time. You're going to be taking the biggest step in your life someplace that is new and uncertain. It's not like all the weddings you've attended in your hometown church, and receptions you've attended at your local country club.

But that's why you've chosen to have a destination wedding, right? You wanted to get married someplace different and spectacular and special to you and your fiancé. So that's exactly what you're doing.

With that said, I have some tips for destination brides and grooms that may make the planning process a little easier to understand. Remember, you're probably planning your wedding someplace exotic and culturally different — and you have to take that into account when you decide to get married there. So make sure you're aware of the following things.

1. Your guest count may be smaller.
Don't expect that all of your friends and family will make the trip to your destination wedding. Especially if it involves more than one flight. Playing "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" doesn't appeal to everyone, and your wedding may not be a good enough excuse to get your relatives who never travel to take the plunge. As a rule of thumb, I recommend doubling the number of regrets you expect to receive if you're getting married someplace that requires a passport for travel.

2. Not everyone will accept your invitation to be in the wedding party.
A destination wedding is an expensive proposition, and a big time commitment. Even if they want to attend your wedding, there may be somebody who cannot meet the requirements of a good bridesmaid or groomsman, and may opt out of the honor. Try not to be hurt, or to let the disappointment impact your relationship. Encourage them to try to attend as a guest. They may only be able to get time off from work or family for the weekend, and opted out of the wedding party because they felt guilty they'd miss all your other pre-wedding events, and didn't have time to help you with the wedding.

3. In-person vendor visits might go a little differently than they would for a local wedding.
Many of the best caterers and pastry chefs do not have commercial kitchens, and don't offer tastings to their destination wedding clients. The ones who do will charge a fee for the tasting, unless you're already under contract and a tasting was included. Florists don't have full shops of blooms to wander amongst, as everything for your wedding will be ordered and shipped in, especially for you.

4. You don't need to meticulously plan the whole weekend. Your guests have spent money to travel for your wedding, but they'd also like to have some free time to explore your destination — whether that be beach time, pool time, adventure time, or something else. Schedule one wedding event per day, and let them figure out what to do with the rest of their time. It's fine to make suggestions and provide information about activities, but don't try to get everybody to all the same things every day. They'll have more fun choosing things that appeal to their own tastes.

5. Don't expect things to be less expensive at your tropical wedding destination.
In fact, it's just the opposite. Everything that comes to an island, for example, take a series of boats or planes to get there. So things tend to be more expensive than they are at home, not less.

6. You might not be able to find last-minute wedding items.
It's especially important for DIY brides and grooms to realize that most remote locations don't have stores that carry wedding supplies. There are no Michael's or AC Moore stores in the Caribbean. If you know you need it for your wedding, buy it at home and ship it or bring it with you.

7. Vendors might take a few days to respond to your emails and calls.
"Island Time" is a real thing, and if you're not getting married in the next few weeks, your vendors may not see the urgency in the matter. Because you have to work with these people, and you want them to like you when they're servicing your wedding, don't poke too hard, or be too annoying. You want to have a good relationship upon your arrival.

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.

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