A destination wedding is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you and all of your guests will never forget. It brings together the excitement of a trip to a far-off getaway location with the celebration of your wedding day. Your guests will probably view it as one of their vacations for the year, so the expectations for what you’ll deliver will be higher, particularly since you’ll be asking guests to possibly take time off of work and spend on airfare and other travel costs. However, the rewards are just as high as the expectations, with the possibility for multiple parties, sight-seeing and tourism as one big wedding group.
Before you book your plane tickets and send out those invites, you’ll want to make sure you’re covering all of the planning essentials. We spoke with destination and luxury wedding planner Lynette Dow, one of the wedding planners who are a part of Amy Abbott Events, a world-renowned wedding planning team in Los Cabos, Mexico. Dow shared often-overlooked advice and insight. This info from a sought-after destination wedding planner should be extra useful as you plan your own destination wedding.
Planning from Afar
With a destination wedding a lot of people don’t realize the level of difficulty involved in not being able to just go and see things in person. Dow says this is where being in sync with your wedding planner becomes so crucial. “Being certain that your planner has relationships with the right vendors and that your planner knows what they have in their inventory is essential.” She says that although you won’t have the same level of face time with your vendors, you’ll have extra contact with your planner.
Flex that Flexibility
Although it might not be advisable, when you’re having your wedding in your neighborhood, you’re free to micromanage every last detail. The same is definitely not true when it comes to a destination wedding. If you’re someone that wants every last tiny detail to be exactly as you planned when you first fantasized about your wedding day, a destination wedding may not be for you (unless you’ve got the budget to fly in monthly to your wedding locale!)
But it’s not just the geographic distance that factors into letting go of the details. Sourcing a variety of items, from florals to food will be different than it is in the U.S. Climate, location, staffing, supply chains, there are many variables. “It’s important to give vendors the power to do what they’re hired to do and not to micromanage. Don’t worry about the specific flower that’s being used. Maybe Ranunculus didn’t have a good season this year. So if you’re obsessed with Ranunculus and insist on using them, then you may be upset about the outcome because you’re not going to have the right look. Trust your florist to know what’s best, know what’s in season, even if it’s not the exact flower that you had planned for, but will give you the look you want to achieve.”
Expect Higher Costs on Some Elements
Costs can quickly increase on a destination wedding, particularly when you have to ship items in from a long distance away. Dow says you won’t be just paying for the florist in these cases, but also for the shipping in order to get them to your venue location. “There are no flowers in the Baja, so everything has to be ordered through brokers in Mexico City and flown in. And then if they’re flowers that are not grown locally in Central Mexico, around Mexico City, then they’re flown in from a broker in Holland.” Dow says that if they’re being flown in, they’re being ordered 10 days to two weeks before the wedding, which is very different from most florists in the States and can change the look compared to what you’d find fresh.
Consider the Rules when Imagining the Romance
Destination weddings are dream getaways, but they also require significant logistical planning. Part of that includes paying attention to regional requirements particularly surrounding COVID.
“Know the rules of your location. Depending on your destination, things may be handled differently than they are in the US.,” says Dow. “You also need to understand your return policies, so it’s not just the departure to the country, it’s returning to the US.” She says as a planner, Dow stays up to date with all of these restrictions and new regulations. She adds that it’s important to talk out these policies with your planner, especially as they change.
“Right now you have to get tested within 24 hours of your return to the US. So who’s going to provide you that rapid test? How are you going to get the results? What are your hotel’s regulations if you do have COVID and you can’t go back to the U.S.? What do you do?” She says you need to consider if you’ll be paying out of pocket or if the hotel has a policy in regards to staying on site. “Some will give you a reduced rate. Some will offer that if you’re staying for three nights with the block, then you can have up to 10 nights free in a specific COVID area.” Knowing these policies in the months and weeks leading up to your trip will also help put your guests’ minds at ease.
Plan for Planning Visits
Dow suggests planning at least two trips to visit your wedding location. “Typically they’ll come down and take venue tours to get to know the different venues. You’ll want to see what’s available and what’s a good fit. Walking a property is invaluable because you actually get to see the spaces and talk through those with the planner.”
She says while you soak in all the ambiance, also consider further logistic questions, such as what noise restrictions are in place, what venue fees exist and if a venue has a minimum consumption policy? If you want to have a late night party, where can you do that? What are the costs? Or is it a venue that will allow you to go all night?” Dow says being able to see the spaces with your planner can spur plenty of ideas and questions you might not have thought of.
More than Just a One-Day Event
Part of the fun of a destination wedding is that instead of spending one day with your loved ones, you can spread the love over multiple days (in a dream getaway locale). Dow suggests spreading the festivities over the course of several days. If possible, she’d have every couple stay from Tuesday to Tuesday. “ I think the days after are just as important as the days before,” says Dow. So don’t forget to plan for the events you’ll want to host beyond your ceremony and reception. Dow says that most resort hotels will require three nights for a block of rooms.
“A lot of people will do a welcome cocktail or welcome party. That might be a little more casual and then a welcome dinner either for all of their guests or just family and the wedding party, more like a rehearsal dinner. Sometimes couples will do a daytime party like a pool party for all of their guests and then do a rehearsal dinner for a smaller subset.” She says typically she doesn’t see a lot of post-wedding morning after brunches, because a lot of people are flying out after the wedding is over.
Let Your Destination Wedding Planner Arrange the Details
Dow says there are many elements that couples might not plan for but that can make the scene of the wedding so much more captivating. There include:
Lighting – “Canopy lighting and string lights can add a lot of ambience.”
Dance Floor – “If your budget will allow for it, a custom dance floor that ties in your whole aesthetic is a huge design element that can really add a lot to setting the scene.”
DJ Booth – “You wouldn’t think this part matters, but it’s an area that attracts a lot of attention and can become a major focal point.”
Bar – “Everybody loves a good bar, so why not make it a gorgeous part of the experience?”
Lounge – “I love a nice outdoor living room space to really bring the inside outside.”
Connect Guests Beforehand
Unlike an at-home wedding, where guests might spend a few hours together, a destination wedding means that your guests will be hanging out often. You’ll want to ensure that they have created bonds before they arrive, so that they are ready to spend time together and make wonderful memories.
Since you won’t be able to be with all of your guests throughout the trip, it will be a wonderful feeling of happiness and relaxation, knowing that your loved ones are making plans to do things together and enjoy their getaway with their new found friendships.
Guestie gives guests that opportunity to connect. Be sure to sign up and upload your guestlist, so all of your guests will become acquainted with each other before they set off for your trip.
Dow agrees that introductions and creating those connections are essential for making the most of this time that everyone is spending together. “I think connection beforehand is such a great idea and assists guests so they feel comfortable and excited to spend their vacation with all of the other guests.”