If it is cold where you are right now (like it is here!), some of you may be dreaming about the sun and sand. Some of you may even be thinking about having your wedding in such a place. So, in case you fall into that category, I thought I would share some lessons I have learned so far in my year and a half of planning (3/4 of my engagement done!). Some of these lessons I knew ahead of time, some I am still figuring out as I go. But in case you may be dreaming of saying your “I Do's” on a beach (like me!) or in a far-away city (Paris, anyone?) or on a mountain-top, I thought I would share some of what I have learned – and am still learning – with you about the ups and downs of a destination wedding. This list could go on and on, but I tried to narrow it down to ten lessons, and then an extra, bonus, all-important lesson. So without further ado:
Lesson #1: If you have always dreamed of your wedding being a specific way – and you are not prepared to compromise on that dream at all, a destination wedding may not be for you. If you always, for example, wanted specific flowers, it may not be possible for you to get them at your destination. Or, it may be possible, but cost you a fortune. For most of us mere mortals with a budget, compromise is very important.
Lesson #2: You have to be pretty easy-going about the whole thing. Many brides, like me, choose to go with a wedding at an all-inclusive resort; for most of these places, a wedding coordinator is included with wedding packages. These coordinators are usually pretty good… but if you are someone who wants to know about a detail right NOW, you are going to have an aneurysm. Most coordinators take weeks, if not months, to get back to you, as many prioritize their responses by wedding date.
Lesson #3: While discussing communication, most of your information and contact will be through email, and you will be researching much online. If you are uncomfortable with this, it will make planning rather difficult. We are like a lot of destination-wedding couples. We are getting married in a place we have never ever been! So we do a lot of research, and take all reviews “with a grain of salt”, and keep that laid-back attitude about it. It will all work out.
Lesson #4: A destination wedding is probably best for someone used to traveling, for one main reason: Communication is difficult, and there is a language barrier in most cases. DO NOT, please, do not get too frustrated with this. You are entering another country (usually). You are stamping your passport to get there. It is their country, and yes, you are paying for most services while there, but you are still a guest there. Politeness goes a long way (how Canadian-sounding of me, eh?)
Lesson #5: Shipping items through customs is tricky. I have heard a lot of stories about décor items and whatever else being stuck for months. My recommendation for this is to bring what you want with you; and keep that kind of stuff to a minimum. This is important for the budget largely too. Our goal is to pack 3 suitcases; the one allowed for each Brandon and myself, and one extra with wedding items. Anything more is simply getting to be too expensive.
Lesson #6: You will not know a lot of details ahead of time. I am struggling with this one a little. In my case, the resort include several options, which I know about, and you can pay for other things, but I do not make final decisions until I get to the resort; mere days before the wedding. So I will not know flowers, reception or ceremony specific locations, table layouts, and any decor choices. I am just staying laid-back and focusing on the big picture.
Lesson #7: Whatever you are used to in the States or Canada (in my case), it will NOT be the same over “there”, wherever “there” may be. Some examples: You should book ahead of time, but travel dates and flights will change. Something may not work in your room. The order of events you want in your reception may not be the same. There may be certain requirements during your ceremony you were unaware of (many countries require legal ceremonies to be in the official language of that country, as an example). Your wedding dress will likely be folded in half. Language, time frames, level of service… if you are used to things a certain way and have expectations that you are unable or unwilling to deviate from (be honest!), a destination wedding may not be for you.
Lesson #8: Not everyone is going to support your destination wedding decision. For me, the toughest critics were my family. I understand most of the concerns; namely, elderly family members not being able to travel, and therefore, not being able to see your wedding. Some resorts offer Skype services or something to help deal with this. We are opting to have an at-home reception after our return, when we will be showing our wedding DVD and pictures. This is making it a little easier for my grandma, who I am very close with and who will be unable to make it to our wedding. Other concerns we heard were financial, time commitments, and just unease and unfamiliarity with the process. Tradition is a big deal in my family; for someone not to be married in the family church was a difficult idea for some people. But ultimately, most are coming around enough to understand. Mostly. If this sounds like a serious deal-breaker for you, seriously reconsider a destination wedding. It has been the hardest part of this wedding planning process.
Lesson #9: Not matter what destination spot you choose, someone will have negative reports about it (weather, cost, drugs, crime, politics…), so be educated to begin with about your spot. Know the facts, and know a whole lot of positives about why you chose your location.
Lesson #10: You will hear some ridiculous excuse about why some friend or a member of your family cannot come to your wedding. Take it in stride. It is not usually personal. See above for possible reasons, and a big one we found was that some people cannot afford to travel or take the time off work, but they are uncomfortable saying that. Be understanding. Maybe they really DO need to alphabetize their books that week. We prioritized a VERY small list of who was most important to be there. Unfortunately, someone from that list cannot come. Then we invited other people, but really understood when a lot of people said they would be unable to make the trip. It happens. That being said, there will be people who complain about the fact that you are having a destination wedding, whether those complaints are behind your back or to your face.
That brings me to the most important lesson I have learned about planning a destination wedding:
The Ultimate Lesson: Make sure it is what you really want, and stick to the “big idea” of what you want and why.
A couple times so far, I have had to ask myself, “Is this worth it?” It would be easier to be married locally. But then we would lose ourselves, and while I do believe that family and friends should have a role in the day, it should mainly be focused on the couple, not just one member of that couple, and not on their relations. So I am keeping the “big picture” of what we want in my brain… A beautiful location, a small ceremony, a relaxed atmosphere, ambiance and decor created largely by us, and my fiancé. Everything else I can compromise on. And so, when we found out that our resort is switching to “adults-only” two weeks before we arrive, and my bridesmaid, who will have a six-month-old at the time, is obviously affected by this, I have to take a deep breath and go back to that “big idea”. When I am hearing complaints about how hot it will be in the Dominican in July, I just smile and comment on the great swimming there. When a friend complains about the cost of the trip, we acknowledge that it is indeed expensive, but back it up with facts about the resort and comparisons to other places, and show her exactly where the money is going, and then assure her that we will understand if she cannot make the trip.
So, in conclusion, you have to let go of a lot of preconceptions about your day, and for many people, especially those of us on a budget, a destination wedding may be a little difficult. But at the end of the day, if you, like me, can answer that question of, “Is it worth it?” with a solid “Yes,” then a destination wedding may be for you.
What do you think would be the biggest issue planning a destination wedding?