Destination Weddings can be the most magical of experiences for you and your guests. I have planned many, along with my own destination wedding in Hvar, Croatia! There is, however, a lot to plan and more often than not, the destination is not well known to you or your guests. Even having some knowledge does not always help you adequately prepare from afar. So, I’d like to share with you my ‘dozen destination’ tips so you can plan accordingly, enjoy the adventure, and create a truly memorable experience for everyone.
A destination wedding can be incredibly sentimental if the location holds some importance to you. Perhaps this is a place you met, or you have family there, or a great mutual love of the location. It may be somewhere you know your guests would love to visit but have likely never been – there should be some key factor as to why you are choosing a particular destination and what it represents. As such, this should also have a key role in your overall theme.
Whilst a December 31st wedding might be a dream date for you, it’s not ideal if you’re planning a wedding in Indonesia during that time (for example) which is the height of their monsoon season. Likewise, if it is the hottest month of summer, scorching your guests on a beach or non-shaded green is also not preferable. If you have the perfect place in mind then also consider the perfect time to visit, when the weather is likely to be more agreeable. Alternatively – there are options to create or maximize shade – rain, hail or shine, and if this is needed for your ideal date then consider it when planning. You may find a shaded area amongst trees, a secluded cove, consider a tented area, or a back-up ballroom. You also want to factor the sunlight into your invitation arrival time. Find out when ‘golden hour’ and ‘sunset’ are work backwards from there to ensure the best times for the ceremony and photographs. Whatever it may be, the weather is a key factor in planning your big day.
There are some magical destinations out there, but some can be remote and may require multiple modes of transport to get there – flights, layovers, busses, boats ferries and a potential one-mile hike to a secluded beach! Be mindful of your guests and if your location is ‘worth the adventure,’ then ensure they are well informed for a safe and stress free journey. In particular, think of your elderly guests who have limited mobility – helping them have a comfortable journey is thoughtful and respectful. It’s likely you can organize transfers from the airport, many hotels and apartments offer these. Speak to your tour operator, planner or local guide. Request information from the local tourist bureau and the airport. Check out reviews on Trip Advisor. Get the best intel on various transfer options and pass this along to everyone attending.
Prior to finalizing a date it’s important to check availability and options for accommodation for your guests. For example, if there are only two hotels at your destination and simultaneously a huge conference in town during your visit, there’s likely to be limited to no availability. Also, usually your guests are looking to spend at different price points, so having some higher and lower cost options is key. Usually the location will have suggested hotels where you can set up a ‘Wedding rate’. Alternatively, sites like Booking.com and Hotels.com allow for cancellations last minute on certain rentals, if needed, so you can reserve rooms and apartments ahead of time. AirBnb, Apartment Homes, Vacation Rentals, VRBO, Expedia, Trip Advisor etc. have options as well. Be sure to let your guests know ‘exactly’ your location during the festivities so they can book somewhere near accordingly. Giving them a few of your favorite options is a great idea – and this way you will get everyone staying together and near-by.
In order for guests to join your destination wedding there is much for them to consider including budget, vacation time, expenses, travel plans, child care etc., so the more time you can give your guests to set aside the date and work towards joining you, the more likely it is they will make it. Booking flights and accommodation earlier can also save on costs. A ‘Save The Date’ with a request for responses such as “are you planning to join us” and “please confirm your phone, email and mailing address” also gives you an idea of how many guests are planning to join you, so you can start to ascertain attendance numbers at an early stage, as well as their current contact information for invitations and the like. Sites like Paperless Post and Evite are great for gathering this information and have excellent invitation design options.
Preferably someone ‘outside’ of your venue representative.
This is a really important tip. Generally, most venues have an ‘in-house’ coordinator who will be able to assist you with local information about the destination as well as finalizing details for your particular venue, be it ceremony, reception or both. However, very often these representatives are dealing with multiple events surrounding yours and may also be overseeing other venues within their company or tour operator. Their time is limited and ultimately they represent the venue, not you. Find a planner who can be there for you! You can find planners in your hometown, or at the destination who will ensure that everything runs smoothly and free you up to enjoy your day and watch your vision become reality. There are various price points for planners so you can always find someone to fit your budget and will work with you on price! Add this item to your budget. The relief of knowing you have someone on your side to help you plan, offer advice and contacts and handle all of the details, so you can relax and enjoy your day, is frankly priceless.
Use your location coordinator and/or wedding planner for information on local vendors who offer excellent services at fair prices. Make sure these vendors come highly recommended with great reviews. As you don’t have prior knowledge of their work, you need to rely on recommendations. Also, make sure you are clear about fees, any deposits or a payment plan to be agreed and what the arrangement is for final payment. Currency and exchange rate also should be confirmed. Usually vendors will want an up front deposit to hold the date, and then payment ‘day-of’ or 24 hours in advance of your event. Personally, if you have a planner then ‘day-of’ payments are fine but if not, I’d recommend discussing a mutually agreeable date that is NOT your wedding day and confirm this in writing.
Please also look into whether there is a gratuity policy in place and if you are expected to tip your vendors, or provide to them any vendor meal, dependent upon hours spent on location. The venue can offer you discounted vendor meals, usually a pre-made dish of some items from your wedding menu at a reduced per person price. If you are in a remote location and have any vendors that will also need to stay overnight, it’s likely you will need to cover this cost. This is usually your DJ, wedding photographer and videographer – anyone you need to stay late.
There is so much to consider when choosing an excellent menu for your guests, especially if you are hosting at an international destination. Some venues can be quite rigid about their offerings but don’t be afraid to ask to include a particular dish that’s important to you. Also, now-a-days dietary restrictions are prevalent and go well beyond a few vegetarian dishes being requested. You will want to consider allergies, dairy and gluten free options, vegan, vegetarian, pescetarian and so forth. Work with your venue coordinator and planner to come up with a menu that will make you happy and accommodate your guests. Find out dietary restrictions from your guests in advance. They will be grateful that you cared enough to make sure they were thoughtfully catered for, and let’s face it – people always critique the food at weddings. Be sure yours impresses! On this point, try to arrange or negotiate a food tasting prior to the event, so you can ensure everything tastes and is presented to your liking. Take photographs of the food at the tasting (for comparison at the wedding) and make sure to check salt and garlic levels are not excessive.
Destination weddings are very often in a picturesque surrounding. You can use the natural beauty of these stunning surroundings, architecture, coastline, view or vantage point to enhance the ambience of your event. This can also help you save a lot of money on decorating and reduces the need for increased costly flower arrangements. Consider a palette that works with the natural flora and fauna of the area. Your planner can advise local florists that can assist you with flower choice and seasonality. Also, think realistically about how you will get various décor items to your location. What are your luggage restrictions and what can you physically bring with you? If you need décor items or gifts, bomboniere/ favors, decorations, place cards etc. delivered to a destination, try to consider this well in advance to avoid pricey shipping costs and taxes, and/or consider paying for an additional bag to check at the airport and bring with you. Check with the airlines for baggage weight limits and costs.
When bringing friends and family to a destination, it’s a lovely idea to plan a few group activities that your guests can choose to join. Ideally, it’s best not to have a packed itinerary with plans throughout the day for multiple days in a row – but if you are intending to spend 5 days in your location, you might wish to arrange a few excursions, as well as some nighttime fun. It is not your responsibility to cover the costs – you can always request guests PayPal or Venmo you beforehand, which also helps you figure out RSVP numbers; but whatever you decide, these plans are a great way to tour the surroundings, they are a very thoughtful offering to your guests and can also be great for socializing and getting to know each other before the big day.
Did I mention ‘information’? There is usually a lot of detail to share with your guests for any wedding, let alone a destination wedding. The more information you can get out to everyone to help them plan, as well as advise them on the itinerary, where to be and when, the less stressful this is for everyone, and the less questions YOU are asked! Set up a website, set up an App, give your guests information on location, travel, accommodation options, the weather, things to bring, what to wear, what to avoid, baby sitting services, a detailed map of where everything is located. Informed guests are well-prepared and happy guests. Consider a printed itinerary whilst you are on location – particularly if you are in a remote place where WiFi is not always available. Some great sites and apps are The Knot, With Joy, and Appy Couple to name a few.
Given you are in a foreign place, it’s often helpful to consider finding a location for your guests to continue the celebration after your event ends, regardless of whether the bride and groom plan to join – it’s a nice gesture to have something arranged. This is, after all, a vacation too! Perhaps guests can stay at the venue and revert to a cash bar. Perhaps there is a villa, hotel lobby or dance venue in the area? I always find that people are looking for something ‘they can do’ after your ‘I-do’, so having an option is a nice perk.