Couples come to a planner with visions of sun and fun or snowflakes and hot toddies for their destination weddings. I write the following as a guide to the potential perils… not as a deterrent, but as a way to help you make an informed decision about whether a destination wedding is right for you.
1. Too much togetherness can be… Too much. You love your family. You love your friends. But, as adults, you typically have them in small doses. At a destination wedding, you may be together for long periods of time, and it doesn’t mean that all will vie for the Miss Congeniality title. Make sure to schedule some “off” time where you and your guests can have private time. And let your guests know what their options (and costs) are if you have scheduled this down time for all.
1A. You might be tempted to have your family around you at the destination for several days before the big event. Think twice. Know your crowd. Do you really want to deal with egos and personalities before your big day? Having family around you for, let’s say, a week prior to the wedding, which is always an emotional time, can compound old family issues. If you want a family vacation, it may be better to have most of it fall after the wedding ceremony.
2. It costs money to attend a destination wedding for not only you but also your guests. And lots of it. More than you think. Travel, hotel rooms, and at least some meals. But it may also mean a resort or cold weather wardrobe, a trendy new beach bag or suitcase, new shoes to fit the occasion, sunscreen, bug spray, and other cosmetics, taxis, car rentals, and of course the obligatory incidentals and souvenirs.
3. And a note about bringing children to a destination wedding. You want your nieces to be flower girls? Lovely. Just a reminder that jetlag affects everyone, that new beds, blankets and pillows may present a challenge, that air conditioning or heat may be different from that at home and, as adaptable as children are, it may take some time for them to settle in. A nanny or babysitter is an absolute godsend. You can party, drink, stay out late, get up late, sit by the pool or go down the slopes with the knowledge that your little one is well cared for. It is wonderful if you can take someone you know and trust with you, wonderful for both you and the child. But see number 2, above.
4. A destination wedding is, above all, about the guest experience. It is not just about saying I DO and a party. You will want to consider guest comfort the whole time. Tell your guests ahead of time about weather and mosquitoes, how much local currency they may need, and exactly what you are providing regarding food, drink, transportation, entertainment, touring, and anything else. Let your guests know what is expected of them. Are they invited to a rehearsal dinner? Is their attendance optional or do you require them to be there? Can they change their minds and opt out of a particular event at the last moment if they are tired (or hung over)? What do they need to wear? You can say “summer chic” on the invitation as long as guests know if they will be in direct sunlight for most of the party or if a pashmina will be required at some time. And that brings us to number 5.
5. Comfort. Guest comfort. That means, depending on the location, having plenty of cold drinks available or hot drinks at the ready. It means parasols in strong sunlight or pashminas for the women in the shade or night. It may mean bottles of water under ceremony chairs or washcloths in ice for a quick refresher. It may mean fans (hand and/or electric) or heaters at the ready. Examine where your guest will be seated and what conditions they may face. The guests will not remember how beautiful the décor is if they are melting in the heat.
6. Of course I will tell you that you need a planner, even if the venue assures you they have a planner on site. It will be so helpful to have a “go-to” person to answer questions, check every last detail, and take care of YOUR needs. And this includes someone with an extensive emergency kit, the same kit that a planner would provide in your home city. There may be no pharmacy nearby, or it may be hard to reach, or you may not speak the language. The planner’s disposable razors, bandaids, and fashion tape will be simple pleasures that make a difference for you and your guests. And a planner is used to “herding cats” and will know how to get the guests in place for your first dance or have the family ready for photos.
7. Do all of your guests know each other? If not, help them mix and mingle. A successful way to have the crowd interact is to randomly assign seats at tables for various events. Have the guests draw numbers from a basket with table numbers… so they don’t sit with their partners and can freely mingle at a meal or two. That way, when the guests see each other at the various events planned, they know more guests than they did when they arrived. You will want your guests to feel that this is a vacation and not an obligation, and walking into an event and seeing people you know is a pleasant and welcoming experience.
8. A separate note about transportation is necessary here. If guests are not all staying at the same hotel, plan for a shuttle to transport them to the main and required events. The central consideration, of course, is drinking and driving, but certainly another one is foreign roads and customs, car rentals, foreign currency, and costs. Again, it is about the guest experience. And a reminder that it can take a whole day to reach a destination… and that car rentals can take some additional time and effort. And make sure to provide written directions for anywhere you want your guests to be if they are driving themselves.
9. Let your guests know ahead of time about internet access, passwords, and potential costs. It is easy to run up huge bills if you haven’t experienced charges for data roaming before.
10. Reserve a quiet space for the couple getting married. This retreat should be available to them in the days leading up to the wedding and during the wedding day. With guests surrounding them day and night, they may just need a bit of privacy and quiet.