Inheriting the best traits from both travel and wedding, destination weddings are becoming a more and more popular choice. They let couples spend their happiest days with beloved families and friends in exquisite locations and give them a fresh start on their journey together.
As exciting as it is, destination wedding planning is also a real challenge. I asked 12 wedding professionals for advice on the most common problems in arranging nuptials abroad, so you can “Keep Calm and Say I Do.”
Editor at The Knot
Problem: How to pick a destination and get everything planned from far away is a big issue for couples.
Think of places that have meaning to you as a couple. Whether it’s the place you took your first trip together to or where your family is from, pick a location that has resonance.
Do your research. Some of the most beautiful places in the world aren’t going to be great destination wedding locations. Make sure it’s accessible for your guests to get to (especially if you have older guests with limited mobility), and that the venue can accommodate a wedding party of your size.
Make sure you’re taken care of. Unless you want to be on a plane once a week, make sure there’s someone at the destination who is taking care of the details. Many destination wedding “hot spots” have on-site wedding coordinators who make sure everything goes smoothly.
Favorite Destination Wedding Locations: We can’t pick just one! We love Jamaica, Arizona, Colorado, Italy, South Africa, St. Lucia, Anguilla, Bali, Oregon, New York City, Napa, India, France. It really depends on the couple and what they’re looking for.
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CEO and Founder of Wedding Salon
Fix: There are always great vendors locally and a little bit of research will result in multiple options. Of course, don’t rule out the recommended vendors by the hotels, as they have a proven track record for showing up. Furthermore, most vendors are negotiable as far as price and/or will develop custom packages, so don’t be afraid to ask.
Favorite Destination Wedding Location: Turks & Caicos
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Founder and Editor of Green Wedding Shoes
Problem: My readers are most concerned with finding a great photographer for their destination weddings, as many of the locations they travel to don’t have the talents that they can find in the States.
Fix: I recommend finding a photographer you love and flying them to the destination. It’s a win-win! There are lots of amazing photographers who love travelling to capture destination weddings.
Favorite Destination Wedding Location: I’ve always been a fan of weddings in Tuscany, but a current favorite location is Iceland! The couples who decide to marry in Iceland always come away with some of the most stunning portraits, since its natural landscape is gorgeous.
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Jolene Rae Harrington
Director of Creative Content at Here Comes the Guide
Problem: For most couples, cost is the biggest concern as they ponder the question, “What do we pay for?” In general, the couple and/or their families foot the bill for food and activities related to the celebration (including mini-events, ranging from a rehearsal dinner to a day-after brunch), while guests are expected to cover their own transportation and lodging expenses.
Fix: The considerable investment of time and money by the guests should be acknowledged with more than just a handwritten thank-you note (promptly sent post-event, please!). One way to show appreciation is in the little things, like welcome gift bags with travel amenities or maps and tips for activities. Another is with group discounts (which a concierge and/or wedding planner can arrange) for rooms, golf, spa treatments, and visits to museums or other points of interest. And don’t forget childcare and pet-sitting options! Incorporating any of these amenities will lessen the impact on guests’ wallets.
Destination Jolene loves: One of my favorite California wedding destinations is Carmel. Top reason? It’s actually TWO destinations in one—the quaint, upscale Carmel-by-the-Sea with its luxe shopping, galleries and scenic 17 Mile Drive; and nearby Monterey, home to historic Cannery Row, fascinating museums, the renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium and many waterfront resorts. Carmel/ Monterey offers both an exclusive get-away-from-it-all vibe, and plenty to do: World-class golf, wine tasting, nature hikes, watersports and more will keep loved ones happily entertained…which means newlyweds will have more romantic time to themselves!
Founder of the Toronto Wedding Chapel
Problem: I get asked quite often about the legality of marriages at destination weddings. Many couples are concerned, and rightly so, as there has been quite a lot of press over the years about couples getting married out of the country and then finding out later that their marriage is not legal.
Fix: I recommend that they get married here before they leave for their destination wedding. They don’t have to tell anyone and we can even provide the witnesses for them. That way everything is legal and they can go off on their destination wedding without a care in the world.
Dream Wedding Destinations: Hawaii, Fiji, Italy, Spain, New Zealand and Aruba
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Wedding Planner and Producer at Platinum Events Group
Problem: How to budget for a destination wedding
Fix: The myth that a destination wedding costs less is just that, a myth. Understanding what your expectations will cost is not something that you should figure out yourself. There are a lot of factors to consider that only a professional who deals with destination weddings can properly advise you about. My advice is to talk to a travel consultant who specializes in wedding groups and a wedding planner who has sound experience with destination weddings. Between these two professionals you will be able to get a clear rundown on travel costs (air, accommodation and transportation) and wedding/event planning expenses.
Favorite Wedding Destination: This is a very difficult question answer because each location holds a special place in my heart. But if I had to choose I would say Cabo San Lucas. It has many intimate five-star venues that possess the kind of romance, sophistication and luxury that a high-style wedding away should have.
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Owner of Baton NYC
Tip: I’m delighted when a couple is thinking of their guests when planning a destination wedding! It starts the planning off with being gracious hosts. Guests will be making a financial commitment to celebrate and anything that can be done to make getting there easier will be appreciated. Guests always appreciate a direct flight from the States.
Places in Angie’s Heart: Puerto Rico and Georgia
Owner of My 1 Event
- Staff – Most hotels have a high rotation of personnel. Most likely, the person that sells your wedding will not be in charge of the reservations or the operation of your wedding. This leaves a gap of interpretation and communication between all departments, which can sometimes cause issues. Having a wedding planner in charge will minimize this gap as much as possible by enabling communication with all hotel departments and any outside suppliers that are hired.
- Knowledge of the destination – couples sometimes chose a destination that has a connection to their past: a previous trip, an engagement proposal or just good memories; but other times brides and grooms have never been to the destination. In either case the couple has very limited information to be able to guarantee that they make an educated decision.
- Time consumption – My clientele are generally young, successful couples who have very busy lives. My job is to facilitate all information from the various suppliers, hotels, etc., and provide that to my clients to minimize the time they invest doing research. I minimize their stress and risks of having problems by narrowing the number of choices to only qualified/reputable suppliers.
- Know your destination or hire someone that does
- Pace yourself: A long engagement will minimize the stress level. I guide my clients through their process and focus on only one or two decisions per month. Pacing their involvement in the wedding planning usually eliminates anxiety.
- A la carte options are available: Most people think all destination weddings (especially in Mexico) are held at all-inclusive hotels where the “packages” offered by the hotel are all you have available to choose from. However, there are beautiful villas, private gardens, private beaches, and many other luxury options available, where each aspect of the wedding can be tailor-made for the bride and groom’s exact dreams and desires.
Jen loves to get married at: My favorite destination to get married is Playa del Carmen, Mexico. It’s the perfect combination of a lively and fun town and the best beaches in Mexico. Playa del Carmen caterers to a more boutique and trendy audience, offering a pedestrian street called Quinta Avenida, where for a few miles you can walk to great bars, fantastic gourmet restaurants and exclusive boutiques – all while still being able to find affordable dining options, like wonderful street tacos and sports bars, nearby.
A close second is Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Puerto Vallarta is the cutest city with the biggest Mexican charm out of all of the Mexican beach destinations. It has outstanding nightlife and is easily one of the destinations with the best gourmet cuisine, having several award-winning restaurants. The sunsets are also unforgettable, creating the most romantic backdrop for a wonderful wedding reception.
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Owner of Elegant Occasions by JoAnn Gregoli
Problem: The top problem people have it finding the location that is easy to travel to for their guests. And then the cost factor comes into play.
Fix: My tip for them is to find a location that has no stops or at the most one stop. Then it is important for them to find a location that has affordable hotels nearby for those who cannot afford the main hotel
Favorite Wedding Destinations: My favorite wedding destinations are: Italy, Caribbean and Riviera Maya. I love Italy for the food and culture. I love the Caribbean for its casual feel, and I love the Riviera Maya for its ease of access to all parts of the country.
Owner and Principle Planner of One Fine Day Event Planning and Design
Fix: My suggestion is always try to visit the location at least once prior to the wedding. Destination planning is a lot more complicated in terms of logistics for guests and choices are usually less on the islands unless you opt to import the items that you want.
Favourite Wedding Destinations: St. Lucia, Cayman Islands and Jamaica.
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Director of Marketing & Customer Engagement at Destination Weddings Travel Group
Problems: Potential language barriers, varying local customs, preferences and cost
Fix: Working with a certified destination weddings specialist gives you a domestic advocate that can not only use their travel experience to help you figure out the perfect resort, but also serve as a liaison with the property to coordinate the logistics and vendors.
Favourite Wedding Destinations: Personally, I love the Bahamas but just because I got married there myself. There are so many dreamy places in the world to have a destination wedding; you can’t go wrong wherever you choose. European cities like Florence and Paris are so historically romantic. Or choosing a tropical paradise in the Caribbean or Mexico can offer many fun choices to host your friends and family for the celebration.
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Owner, Creative and Proposal Planner at Brilliant Event Planning
Problem: Many times it all comes down to budget…it’s the least fun part of planning any wedding!
Fix: My advice is to select three areas that are top priority for your wedding and focus your finances on those three areas, and sacrifice in other areas in order to get exactly what you want in those areas.
Favourite Wedding Destination: I love Riviera Maya and St. Martin.
I would like to thank everyone for giving me their words of wisdom. It was awesome talking with you – the wonderful people who strive to make the dream days of couples come true.
Brides and grooms to be, I hope you find a solution to your destination wedding challenge in this post. Share with me your stories in the comment section below and let’s cherish the joyful beginning of your happy-ever-after.