Destination Wedding Tips
Hey guys! As many of you already know, I got married this past May in beautiful Mexico! You're probably well informed that I'm lover of travel and sunny rayed weather, so when it came to picking a wedding location, there's no doubt that we were searching for venues away from home. My husband and I agreed that we both wanted a low-key, vacation style, outdoor with our family+closest friends oriented celebration so choosing a destination wedding wasn't a difficult choice for us! Today I'm happy to share some of my opinions and tips learned from my own wedding experiences. All of the photos you'll see were taken by our very talented photographer, Vienna Glenn Photography.
First things first, before choosing a destination wedding - make your priorities clear. Our celebration was decided that we would ultimately choose a destination that we loved without anyone else's opinions. We did check in with our immediate families that they would be willing to travel out of country because having our parents and siblings there with us was a top priority. Of course we wanted all of our friends and family to come celebrate in the sunshine with us, but we were also able to accept the fact that if it was only our parents and us, we would be okay with that. If you aren't okay with certain people not being there (i.e. you will not marry without your dad but he refuses to leave the country) - you may want to reconsider a destination wedding and choose somewhere closer to home. Just don't let anyone control what you truly want to do and is important to you.
Secondly, we had to make a decision on location. We spent hours scouring the web for locations on the beach that were safe for all and within a fair travel budget. We did hire a wonderful travel agent who specialized in destination weddings that eventually helped us decide that Mexico was the perfect location for us. With a close proximity to the USA and plenty of travel + lodging rates within our budget, we gave our families the heads up to acquire passports. (Make sure if you're headed out of country, you give your guests enough notice to get their passports ready!) Our travel agent booked all of our travel and accommodations (as well as our guests free of charge) for us and helped the booking go smoothly. She was a saint when we changed our dates to arrive 4 days earlier less than 2 months prior to the wedding.
Selecting the date. We planned for our wedding to be in early May for a handful of reasons. We were two years out and wanted a slow and relaxed engagement. Beau was in college and we wanted to start our marriage after we were both out of school. May had a record for being excellent weather while having little to no concerns for hurricane season. It was after spring break prices, but before summer family travels. It was pre-wedding season so it wouldn't affect my work too much. Many friends our age were graduating that year too and we didn't want them to have to choose between our wedding or attending their own graduation. You can't make your decision based off of others schedules, but you can play around with time frames that seem to be commonly easy to get off in advance!
Next, we had to narrow down the resort and check availability, but first (and this may or may not come as a surprise to you) we contacted our photographer. I knew who I wanted to photograph my wedding for the past couple years so this part was easy peasy! I contacted her ASAP and still it turned out, she was already booked on our date! Thankfully, we hadn't locked anything down yet and had the flexibility to re-select a date that fit her schedule. May 14th it was! This was a Thursday, but we were totally cool with that. If your schedules allows you flexibility, be flexible! Don't forget weekdays may limit your guests availability. Keep your priorities in check!
Choosing a resort was where I got a little picky. A handful of our guests had fears about Mexico and I knew we had to choose a place our guests would feel comfortable and safe at. Although we aren't ultra touristy people and would prefer waterfall hiking and sampling local tacos, when it came to our wedding we wanted an all inclusive experience that would both wow our guests and leave any complaints back home. I highly suggest doing lots of research on your resort and share any tips you find with your guests (i.e. we read online that you have to request a fridge in your room if you want one so we notified our guests about this in advance). We also opted to skip the room block as it turned out we would be stuck paying for any guests rooms who initially wanted a room and then ended up not being able to make it... umm, no thanks! Be sure to check out the guidelines about room blocks if you go this route and if you don't - encourage your guests to book early!
I also really wanted a place that had a wedding setup that stood out to me. I've always imagined a beautiful beach wedding with ocean views and after reading some frustrated reviews about sketchy beaches, speedo photo bombs and no privacy - I had to select somewhere that would help us keep our goal of having it be very intimate. We also needed them to have a wedding package that would include seating, setup/takedown and simple decor for us so we wouldn't have to travel with much or try to find trustworthy vendors in a foreign country.
Lastly, it had to allow us to take care of our own photography services/not have their own designated photographer. Being a photographer myself, our photographs were our biggest priority and we didn't want to have the worry of a resort photographer fining us for not using them or even worse, having photos we hated taken by a stranger. Can you imagine being forced to use a vendor's work who you didn't even like? Our photos were the only mementos we have from that special day and I needed someone I trusted to create and provide them to me. If you want to bring your own photographer, I strongly suggest you find out the resort rules in advance!
Thankfully, our travel agent found us exactly what we wanted, the Sandos Cancun resort. Not far from the airport, great reviews, stunning wedding setups to choose from and met our conditions. The wedding collections they offered fit our budget and came with an on-site wedding coordinator, heck YES! It was an 18+ resort that allowed a handful of kids total (perfect for us because we only allowed our nieces and nephews on the guest list). We wanted our guests to feel free to relax in a (mostly) kid-free environment and join us on any extra activities they desired (i.e. we rented a catamaran and went snorkeling in an underwater museum one day) that would be quite difficult if they had kids in their care. If your guest list includes the teeny tots, be sure to look for resorts that specify being family friendly. Bonus for resorts that offer highly recommended babysitting services.
Next, remember to send out save-the-dates, RSVPs and invites in plenty of time! We notified guests of our upcoming wedding date over a year in advance and followed up with the formal invites as soon as we had the details. As soon as you narrow down your date and confirm it with your resort and photographer, let your guests know so they have plenty of time to plan.
I recommend writing your own vows to keep it personalized. Our wedding package came with an ordained minister, but we didn't get to know what she was going to say or meet her in advance. For this reason, we decided to write our own vows and were happy with this decision. The woman who married us did a beautiful job, but had an accent so strong, some of our guests later said they couldn't understand everything she was saying.
We were ecstatic when we received the YES checked boxes on our RSVPs. Completely elated and overwhelmed with love that people were actually willing to fly to a foreign country to support our wedding meant the world to us. For this reason, we wanted to reflect our gratitude on our wedding party and guests. I told the girls my wedding color and allowed them to choose their own dress and budget for the big day. Beau found a great deal on dress pants and shirts for the guys (who said they loved the lightweight material for the sunny ceremony and would totally wear them again). The last thing we expected of them after traveling was to put hundreds into attire when it really didn't affect any part of our marriage. You can thank your guests by simply expressing it, just don't forget to do it! We opted to thank our guests with words and gifts and brought along special welcome gifts for for all who came. Our welcome bags were customized drawstring beach backpacks filled with mini sunscreens, vitamin C packets, ibuprofen, SPF chapstick, sunglasses, aloe vera and an itinerary with our lightly planned activities for each day. They were a hit!
Get legally wed in advance or after the celebration. Many couples decide to legally get married in the states to avoid the rules that come with out of country weddings. Mexico, for example, requires blood work, being in the country for x-amount of days prior to your wedding and has fees for translating your paperwork from Spanish into English. We decided it was too much hassle and signed the marriage certificate while in the states post wedding. We chose to do this afterwards so we wouldn't have to worry about a new passport and ID with the name change arriving in time. Our guests had no idea and we avoided the extra work (and saved money since "symbolic ceremonies" or "vow renewals" were less pricey than actual weddings). We still consider our ceremony in Mexico as our actual wedding date.
Reception planning. Our friends and family blew us away with support. We ended up having around 40 guests celebrating with us! For this reason, we opted to pay for a reception. If your wedding is smaller and your budget needs more room in other areas, you can save money by dining at one of your resort restaurants after the ceremony. We considered this as with the all-inclusive we would technically already have paid for the food and drinks, however, reservations aren't guaranteed too far in advance and with a group our size - we didn't want to take the chance that we would all fit in restaurant (and near each other for that matter)! We later breathed sighs of relief on our decision to shell out the extra money for a private reception as we watched another wedding party at our honeymoon resort try this technique. The bride was stressed to the max as the restaurant was filled and only a handful of their guests could join them at a table while all of their remaining attendees stood in a long line at the door watching them eat.
Ask the guests for any allergy requests prior to arriving and let the resort chef know well in advance. I had guests with gluten and dairy allergies and not only did they have substitutions at our reception dinner, but specially prepared meals tailored to our guests in each of the resort restaurants! These guests were thrilled!
Remember earlier when I mentioned how when we first started wedding planning, we wrote out our top 5 priorities for the budget? I highly recommend doing this with your fiancee. Decor was one of our lower end priorities. Knowing we would be in a beautiful location, we kept our details simple, low budget and easy to travel with and fueled that money into our top priorities.
To save money on flowers, we acquired the help of family and brought our own fake bouquets and boutonnieres for the wedding party (Bride and Groom's were include in our package). They looked awesome and did the job as well as the $50 per bouquet the resort would have charged. Again, flowers weren't our top priority.
Choose the dress/attire you want, but don't put your entire budget into it! Most people only wear it once. I found my beauty on a clearance rack! Bonus tip (I wish I followed) - choose a lightweight dress with no more than 2 layers if you're going to be running around in the sand/water; that baby gets hot and heavy!
RELAX. I cannot stress this part more. Mark my words, everything will not go as planned. There will be little mishaps. You won't get a chance to sample the food and find out the chicken would have been way better than the pork. You didn't see the cake in advance and it turned out nothing like the photo you sent the wedding coordinator. You will request absolutely under no circumstances will the DJ play Taylor Swift and he will play that annoying hit within the first 5 songs. They won't have anything close to the nail polish color you chose to have done at the resort spa a couple days pre-ceremony. You won't get to taste the food in advance - and the pork will be dry. And so on and so forth. But when I look back at my wedding, none of these things truly mattered. We kissed and wed, laughed and cried, ate and drank, danced and had an after party in the pool. I can honestly say we had the most beautiful and memorable time I could have ever imagined! If I had let the little things rain on my parade, I 100% would have lost sight about what we were really there for. Plan as best as you can in advance and allow yourself to simply enjoy the celebration as soon as your plane takes off.
Shout-out to the Sandos Cancun resort for the excellent hospitality, our wedding coordinator Miriam for all of her planning and hard work, our sweet and super helpful travel agent Shari, my sister Jessica for stunningly styling my hair the day of, my new sister Lindsey for the stunning florals and traveling with the extra suitcase of decor and gifts, our photographer Vienna Glenn and the second-shooting assistance from Claire, Homestead Graphics & Design for the awesome customization of many of our gifts, my mother-in-love Sue for custom making all of our save the dates and helping with a million other things, my mother Lisa for dealing with all of the contracts, transfers, and a million other things on the back end, my husband for his love and patience and all of our friends and family who celebrated our biggest day with us-you all made our day better than we ever could have imagined.
To those of you considering a destination wedding, get ready for a great time!