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What You Need to Know About Planning a Destination Wedding

January 5th, 2017

Planning a Destination Wedding

Destination weddings are increasingly popular choices for that special day in many bride and groom’s lives. They’ve fallen in love. They’ve committed to their future. They truly want a unique experience to start their married life.

Today, so many couples want their wedding in a place that reflects who they really are. Millennials, especially, are trending towards weddings in exotic locations. They may be large and lavish events in tropical resorts or small and serene ceremonies in remote mountain settings.

Destination weddings aren’t only popular for first-time “knotties” who want to share their pledge of a lifetime together with family and friends. Many middle-aged couples are choosing fascinating destinations to renew their vows in front of special guests. Moreover, those who are starting a second married life also seek the top destination wedding locations — maybe even without guests.

No matter what the couple’s circumstances are, the choice in having a destination wedding requires immense organization and planning. Many find arranging a destination wedding to be overwhelming. It’s easy to feel overcome with endless details, worries and risks that come with their first time experience trying to make sure their special day comes off without a hitch.

There doesn’t need to be worry and strife in destination wedding planning. A tremendous amount of information is available on destination wedding ideas and locations, whether the couple decides to plan it alone or perhaps makes the wiser choice and hires a destination wedding consultant or event planner.

The key is in being organized, prepared and realistic in what’s affordable, available and achievable.

To help take the stress out of destination wedding planning, the best piece in planning is having a process guide with a checklist of steps and considerations. Call it “Destination Wedding 101.” The guide needs to follow the logical sequence that event planners use, whether the couple plans their own wedding or works with a destination wedding planner or professional.

Here is an overview of what to expect when planning a destination wedding.

Getting Started

The single most important part of planning a destination wedding is getting an early start. A year in advance is probably sufficient as long as the sequence of planning events follows within a scheduled countdown.

Planning starts with engagement — announcing the marriage. Usually, it’s not a surprise to anyone who might be invited to a destination wedding, but timely destination wedding announcements subtly let them prepare for time off, travel, costs and their own vacation that’s also attached. An early start also works well for the bride and groom’s individual planning.

So much wedding stress stems from a failure to plan and waiting until the window of time is closing. By starting to plan well in advance, all the details — big and small — can be compartmentalized into manageable blocks. This includes choosing the location, planning the theme, organizing the venue, setting the budget, researching the laws and customs of the host country, hiring the vendors, selecting the bridal party and attire, making the guest list and considering their needs, figuring for contingencies, hiring and working with a destination wedding planner and — of course — fixing the date.

Fixing the Date

Some couples plan their entire wedding around a certain day they’ve picked. That date might have a special meaning or nostalgic connection to them and the ceremony is planned for that day and becomes the center of all organizing tasks.

Then again, many couples are flexible in their wedding date and set it around many factors, such as their vacation time from personal work schedules, available time for guests, vacancies in the venue they’ve selected or budgetary concerns when venues offer deals and discounts.

Probably the biggest deciding factor for destination wedding dates is the season. Weather is a huge issue in most people’s choice, with the warmer seasons and locations being at the top of the list. What goes along with peak seasons at most of the best wedding destination spots is the premium attached to booking those dates. Rooms are in the highest demand, as are the venue resources, and the rates are naturally adjusted upwards.

Fixing a wedding date is a primary starting point but needs consideration with other parts of the planning process.

Planning the Theme

Really, at the core of a destination wedding is its theme. A beach ceremony in the Caribbean may perfectly capture one couple’s image while another might properly fit with a mountain or forest scene.

While the lights and shows of Las Vegas were once the raves for quick and easy destination wedding spots, couples are increasingly moving towards luxury locations like private islands, chartered yachts and even courtyards in castles.

Picking the wedding theme is one of the first boxes to be ticked on the destination wedding checklist. It’s also one of the first things a destination wedding planner will want to know in order to get a handle on the couple’s vision.

Setting the Budget

Yes, finances. Setting a realistic budget is paramount in the planning’s early stages. Having a general figure is a good place to start, as is setting a reasonable contingency aside for inevitable overruns and last minute extras.

It’s not necessary to have the entire budget as cash in the bank. Couples can save much of it over the course of a year, or arrange backup credit if need be. The budget size is the factor that will decide the big-ticket items. Specifically, the location, travel, accommodation and length of the stay.

A realistic budget can be set from two approaches. One is the amount of money available to the couple. This will set the limits on just what’s affordable. The other approach is for more affluent couples. Once overall plans for the destination wedding are made, then they’ll start to set aside funds for payment.
Working with a professional destination wedding planner goes a long way towards fitting perfect plans within a realistic budget. It will be one of the first discussion points when starting a relationship with a wedding consultant.

Finding the Consultant

Destination wedding planners go by a few different professional titles. There’s Destination Wedding Consultant, Wedding Venue Coordinator and simply Wedding Planner, to name a few. What these names have in common is that they’re qualified in the detail-oriented world of planning destination weddings and they have an extremely valuable service to offer.

Primarily, destination wedding planners have contacts with resources and vendors in many of the top destination spots for weddings. They’re able to negotiate rate and services that just aren’t available to the one-time wedding planner or someone who isn’t familiar with the local scene. That goes for being able to recommend who to deal with and, just as importantly, who not to deal with.

Finding a professional destination wedding planner takes some time and research on the couple’s part. Recommendations may come from friends or acquaintances who’ve used that person or company’s service. They may come from travel or wedding magazine articles. Alternatively, they may come from today’s best source of information — the Internet.

Choosing the Location

Finding the perfect wedding location really starts with a reflection on the couple’s part. Some see their wedding outdoors on a white sand beach with a warm turquoise water backdrop. Others opt for a humid rainforest with the sounds of nature accenting their vows.

Extravagant weddings might be set in the Mediterranean — maybe on a yacht or in a vineyard. Budget-conscious couples might opt for red rocks of the desert contrasting with southwest-inspired bridal gowns. Alternatively, adventuresome folk tie the knot high in the air or low under water.

No, there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to best destination wedding locations. The locations are as unique as the parties but one thing to make sure of — know the laws and the customs of the country where the wedding is going to be held.

Researching the Laws and Customs

This is something to consider right in the early planning stage. It’s also something a wedding planner will be a great help with. Their experience and knowledge with international weddings will be invaluable for avoiding trouble or impossibilities.

Many countries have specific, and sometimes seemingly peculiar, laws about marriages. The laws of the country will apply to both nationals and foreigners who travel to wed in their lands.

All foreign countries have their own regulations about entry and exit, the length of stay, certain travel restrictions, customs tariffs, marriage licensing requirements and even prohibitions on same-sex nuptials.

Safety is another concern. Part of selecting a location and the time of year is anticipated weather conditions. Couples should avoid hurricane season in the tropics, as well as any area with a high crime rate or political unrest.

Another point to remember is the country’s religious views and practices. Certain types of foods may be offensive and possibly not available. Tipping, too, is done in different manners and amounts depending on location.

Managing the Guest List

Limiting the guest list in a destination wedding goes with the territory. It really shouldn’t be a prime concern in planning, as the logistics and expense of holding a wedding in a remote location far from the couple’s primary residence automatically limits who’s able to attend.

Again, budget and location will dictate the guest list size. Most destination weddings are rather small. Invitations for 50 guests are the normal limit. However, some wedding planners are experienced in handling parties as large as 250 guests in locations like exclusive private islands.

Regardless of the size of the wedding party and the number of guests, their personal needs are important to make it a memorable occasion.

Considering the Guests’ Needs

Guest needs should be considered early in planning a destination wedding, but attention to detail comes as the final plans are worked out. A good idea is to compile a list of pointers for guests.

Older people likely have special needs like mobility aids or flying assistance. They might have medical issues and require monitoring. Passports and other legal documents are required for everyone attending the wedding. Travel insurance is necessary for international stays, and may require current medical checkups and certification.

Guest gifts usually aren’t presented in destination weddings. From a practical point, transporting gifts in and out of a foreign country will have challenges, not to mention an added expense. Destination wedding gift etiquette is generally unspoken — the fact that the guest is able to attend is the best gift they can give a marrying couple.

Figuring the Contingency

No destination wedding should be planned without contingencies for unforeseen changes and events. There must be sufficient funds set aside in the wedding budget to cover unexpected issues and expenses. How much depends upon the couple’s situation as well as the complexity. Many budgets set aside 10 percent as reserve funds and this is wise.

Contingencies extend beyond money. Plans should include what to do if there are delays, problems with vendors, transportation glitches, spills, stains and that ever unpredictable wildcard—the weather.

Follow the Checklist

The tips on this handy destination wedding checklist follow a logical sequence of events and are designed to help you understand what is involved in organizing a wedding by yourself or when you work with a professional wedding planner.

1 Year Out

  • Announce engagement

  • Discuss wedding plans and theme

  • Consider the budget

  • Isolate a date

  • Begin research on locations

  • Determine venues

  • Contact a wedding planner

10 — 8 Months Out

  • Secure the wedding planner

  • Hire a destination wedding photographer

  • Choose the bridal party

  • Develop a guest list

  • Notify guests of dates

  • Narrow the budget

  • Know local laws and customs

  • Select location and venue

  • Contact local vendors

  • Arrange for a site visit

8 — 6 Months Out

  • Visit site

  • Finalize budget

  • Finalize guest list

  • Send out RSVP invitations

  • Select wedding attire

  • Book accommodation

  • Book travel

  • Book vendors

  • Determine necessary deposits

  • Plan guest activities

  • Continue contact with wedding planner

6 — 3 Months Out

  • Verify guest list

  • Pay for venue

  • Pay for accommodations

  • Pay for travel

  • Ensure all legal documents in place

  • Order bridal party attire

  • Plan collaterals

  • Book assorted on-site rentals

  • Finalize menu and refreshments

  • Prepare final “to-do” lists

  • Keep continual contact with wedding planner

3 — 1 Month Out

  • Ensure all payments and booking are secured

  • Ensure all legal documents are secured

  • Verify guest list

  • Plan for guest special needs

  • Plan for on-site transportation

  • Plan for incidentals such as flowers and lighting

  • Follow-up on all wedding planner’s needs and recommendations

1 Month and Less

  • Expect last minute hiccups and respond

  • Arrange for on-site grooming

  • Create a packing list

  • Ensure budget is solid and includes contingency

  • Ensure travel arrangements are confirmed

  • Ensure accommodation bookings are confirmed

  • Respond to all minute details which wedding planner identifies

  • Relax and enjoy the process

Work With the Destination Wedding Planner

The relationship between a destination wedding planner and the client couple is vitally important in making sure that special day in the special place for special people is just that — special.

The insurance and reassurance that the right venue in the right location, along with including reputable vendors, is a cost that just can’t be measured when getting it right on that one big day.

A destination wedding planner will do that for you. They’ll professionally address the needs of both you and your guests. You’re free to relax. Free to enjoy your wedding day. And free from stress and worry that something may go seriously wrong.

Are you thinking of planning your dream destination wedding?

If so, Quintessentially People is here to make sure you’ve thought of everything. Visit our website and let us assist in any staffing needs for your destination wedding.