Hello, Sunshine: Tips for Destination Weddings

Aubrey Davis and her husband, Chris, at their tropical wedding in Miami. Image courtesy of Upscale Photo.

A destination wedding is like that really cute boy in high school: easy to crush on, harder to get. Choosing a venue and vendors from hundreds of miles away can be complicated—plus you have to consider travel expenses for your guests, local weather, and more. Make things simpler by following these tips from a travel-loving wedding planner and a bride who has done the destination thing.

Decide if you really are destination-wedding kind of people.

“You have to be flexible to plan a destination wedding,” says André Wells, a Washington event planner who has done weddings in Jamaica, the Virgin Islands, the Florida Keys, and more. “If you’re doing a wedding in, say, the Caribbean, you have to realize it doesn’t move like the United States. They don’t have access to some of the same things we do, like the same flowers. You might have to forgo your idea of having hydrangeas everywhere. If you really want your 80-year-old grandma at your wedding, you may have to forget a wedding in Italy in favor of someplace that’s easier to get to.”

Fit traveling into your budget.
Wells recommends visiting your wedding destination at least twice: first to visit all of the sites and vendors you found online and then to weed out and book. If you can afford only one trip and time is tight, Wells says, “go to the best hotel in town and ask the concierge who he would recommend. Who is the best florist? Who does event rentals?” But never book based just on Internet research, he cautions—most people end up disappointed.

Plan the date carefully.
“Research the weather and ticket prices for guests,” says Aubrey Davis, a Washingtonian who had a tropical wedding in Miami last year. “During high season in Miami, plane tickets can be more than $300. I had to think, ‘Would my guests be upset?’ And then August is hurricane season, so flights often get canceled.”

Ask your friends to e-mail you their flight itineraries.
Getting itineraries helped Davis figure out which friends and family were serious about coming, which in turn helped her adjust the final head count to give to her caterer. “I had people say they were coming, but they put off booking flights and I didn’t know if I could really count on them,” she says. “An itinerary means things are in stone. If they have it, they’re coming.”

Check the exchange rate.
If you’re planning an out-of-country wedding, “How strong is the dollar?” asks Wells. “Is this place going to be too expensive? Could you get the same feel and look somewhere else?”

Research local laws.
If you’re planning an outdoor reception, you may have to wrap things up by a certain time, Davis says. For example, in Miami outdoor parties have to end by 11 PM because of noise-violation codes, she says. Also make sure to research the process for getting a marriage license wherever you are, Wells says.

Leave yourself enough time to plan.
Davis took 14 months to plan her wedding but recommends at least a year. “You really don’t understand how fast a year goes,” she says. “It’s like a week.”


Have your own tips for destination weddings? Leave them in the comments section.

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