by Alexandra Hill Speciale
Destination weddings can be the most magical of experiences for you, your betrothed, and your cherished family and friends.
As a professional wedding and event planner, I’ve orchestrated many a destination wedding for my clients, to dreamy and romantic places like the sea swept coast of Honduras and a French chateau in the Loire Valley.
I heart destination weddings so much that, when my special day came, I also ventured afar and tied the knot at a medieval church on the Croatian island of Hvar.
These types of weddings look fun, fabulous and carefree in photos, but, undoubtedly, there is a lot of planning, logistics and information dissemination going on behind the scenes.
Whether you plan to hire a wedding planner or DIY, here are my top tips on how you can plan an unforgettable destination wedding that is perfect in every way!
WEDDING DAY PREP
Hire a Pro
Preferably someone other than your venue representative. This is a really important tip. Generally, most venues have an ‘in-house’ coordinator who will be able to assist you with local information about the destination as well as finalizing details for your particular venue, be it ceremony, reception or both.
However, very often these representatives are dealing with multiple events surrounding yours and may also be overseeing other venues within their company or tour operator. Their time is limited and ultimately they represent the venue, not you.
Find a planner who can be there for you! You can find planners in your hometown, or at the destination who will ensure that everything runs smoothly and free you up to enjoy your day and watch your vision become reality.
There are various price points for planners so you can always find someone to fit your budget and will work with you on price! Add this item to your budget. The relief of knowing you have someone on your side to help you plan, offer advice and contacts and handle all of the details, so you can relax and enjoy your day, is frankly priceless.
Choose Vendors Wisely
Use your wedding planner or in-house coordinator to hire local vendors who offer excellent services at fair prices. Make sure these vendors come highly recommended with great reviews.
As you don’t have prior knowledge of their work, you need to rely on recommendations. Also, make sure you are clear about fees, any deposits or a payment plan to be agreed and what the arrangement is for final payment.
Currency and exchange rate also should be confirmed. Usually vendors will want an up front deposit to hold the date, and then payment ‘day-of’ or 24 hours in advance of your event. Personally, if you have a planner then ‘day-of’ payments are fine but if not, I’d recommend discussing a mutually agreeable date that is NOT your wedding day and confirm this in writing.
Please also look into whether there is a gratuity policy in place and if you are expected to tip your vendors, or provide to them any vendor meal, dependent upon hours spent on location.
The venue can offer you discounted vendor meals, usually a pre-made dish of some items from your wedding menu at a reduced per person price. If you are in a remote location and have any vendors that will also need to stay overnight, it’s likely you will need to cover this cost. This is usually your DJ, wedding photographer and videographer – anyone you need to stay late.
Awe With Natural Décor
Destination weddings are very often in a picturesque surrounding. You can use the natural beauty of these stunning surroundings, architecture, coastline, view or vantage point to enhance the ambience of your event. This can help you save a lot of money on decorating and reduces the need for increased costly flower arrangements.
Consider a palette that works with the natural flora and fauna of the area. Your planner can advise local florists that can assist you with flower choice and seasonality.
Also, think realistically about how you will get various décor items to your location. What are your luggage restrictions and what can you physically bring with you?
If you need décor items or gifts, bomboniere/ favors, decorations, place cards etc. delivered to a destination, try to consider this well in advance to avoid pricey shipping costs and taxes, and/or consider paying for an additional bag to check at the airport and bring with you. Check with the airlines for baggage weight limits and costs.
Cater to Impress
There is so much to consider when choosing an excellent menu for your guests, especially if you are hosting at an international destination.
Some venues can be quite rigid about their offerings, but don’t be afraid to ask to include a particular dish that’s important to you.
Also, nowadays, dietary restrictions are prevalent and go well beyond a few vegetarian dishes being requested. You will want to consider allergies, dairy and gluten free options, vegan, vegetarian, pescetarian and so forth. Find out dietary restrictions from your guests in advance. Then work with your venue coordinator and planner to come up with a menu that will make you happy and accommodate your guests.
You guests will be grateful that you cared enough to make sure they were thoughtfully catered for, and let’s face it – people always critique the food at weddings. Be sure yours impresses!
On this point, try to arrange or negotiate a food tasting prior to the event, so you can ensure everything tastes and is presented to your liking. Take photographs of the food at the tasting (for comparison at the wedding) and make sure to check salt and garlic levels are not excessive.
Throw an After Party
During destination weddings, people are always looking for something to do after you say, “I, Do.”
So pre-planning a fun reception or after party for them is a total must. Perhaps there is a private beach, villa, hotel ballroom, tiki bar or dance club nearby where your guests can eat, drink and boogie into the wee hours of the night.
Even if you and your betrothed only plan to join in for a few hours or so, an after party is still a fantastic way to top off your dream destination Wedding Day!
FUN FOR EVERYONE
A destination wedding is more than just a wedding. It’s also an adventurous getaway for your guests! A chance for them to let loose, have fun, R&R and dive into adventure… if they so desire.
As you plan your wedding, also take the time to pre-plan a variety of things for your guests to do. Depending on where you’re staying, you may be able to work with your hotel’s concierge to create a list of activities and excursions nearby.
A few of them can be group activities for all to partake in, which is a great way for everyone to bond, catch up and get to know each other.
Others can be activities and day tours people can do on their own, as a couple or in small groups.
Once you’ve created a ‘menu’ of fun things to do, add it to your wedding website—with pricing and payment options for each, so your guests can plan, budget and daydream accordingly!
For activities that require pre-payment, you can direct your guests to RSVP by booking with the vendor directly; booking via your hotel’s concierge desk; or sending funds to you directly via PayPal or the like.
Alexandra Hill Speciale is an international party, wedding and event planner with 20+ years experience bringing beautiful and unforgettable events to life.
Her company, Fête & Flower Entertainment, is based in Los Angeles and is a christened homage to her father’s nickname for her, Flower (cue the ahhs!)
Boasting heritage in Australia, England and Croatia, Alex is an avid traveller, wine lover and foodie who loves discovering new flavors, cooking techniques and cuisines as she journeys around the world. So far, her gastro faves are Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, Croatia and Italy.
Photo: Cherry Yellow Photography