We love destination weddings. LOVE them! Here at Claire Duran Weddings & Events, we are pretty evenly split between local US and destination based weddings – namely, in the tropics and Caribbean. So, we proudly consider ourselves experts when it comes to planning a tropical or island wedding – not just in the best locations and venues and with the most amazing vendors, but also in all the nitty-gritty behind-the-scenes work that goes into creating and producing gorgeous, elegant, and grace-filled destination weddings. We are here to guide our couples along their journey and to make the process easier for them, whether their wedding be 5 or 5,000 miles away.
With this being said, there are several important things to take into account when it comes to planning a destination wedding, that we have found many couples overlook or simply don’t think about or realize until after a date is decided and venue is booked. These have the potential to completely turn a wedding on its head if you do not go in with an accurate expectation, and so we wanted to share some of our insider tips of things to “know before you go” destination!
This is probably one of the most common misconceptions we run into when chatting with our destination couples; simply because you have elected to have a destination wedding does not necessarily mean that you will be saving money. We don’t say this as a means to scare anyone away from going destination, but rather as a bit advice so our couples can go into their planning process with accurate expectations.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to your expectations and the nature of the events that you are comparing. For example, if you are looking at an elegant ballroom wedding whereby all your family and friends are invited – compared to an intimate, all-inclusive beach wedding with just your closest friends and family – then yes, you will most likely be saving money if you go destination! However, if your vision is to have an equally elaborate celebration – a unique venue, perhaps an outdoor marquis, lush florals, lots of friends and family present – you will be likely spending more than a local wedding.
This is really the most important thing to remember as you begin planning your destination wedding, and almost all the following tips can be traced back to this one!
When inviting guests – whether 30 or 300 – it is typical to host events and celebrations surrounding the wedding day, as a way to welcome and entertain those who travelled to help celebrate your big day. While a more local wedding may host a small Rehearsal or Welcome Dinner for immediate family and friends the evening before a wedding, most destination couples will opt to host Welcome Cocktails, Welcome Dinner and/or Post-Wedding Brunch (or group excursion) for all guests in attendance. These events can be big or small, but either way they will inevitably add to your budget – so it just something to be conscious of in planning.
We tend to have this notion that a destination wedding means an inevitably smaller guest count – but this really hinges on several factors. First, you must consider location. If you decide to host your wedding relatively close, at a place that is easily accessible and affordable to get to, and give enough advance notice, there is a high chance that most people will make it work! And why wouldn’t they? They have a chance to not only celebrate you and your love, but tack on an easy few days away as well. However, if you choose a location a bit farther away, at a typically difficult time of year (holidays, beginning of school year, etc) – there will naturally be more guests unable to attend.
However, even with this scenario, people are much more travel savvy these days. Say you have a block at a high-end hotel – one that some guests may not assume they could afford – they are now able to simply research an alternative local hotel, AirBnB, or other vacation rental. The options are endless, thanks to the internet and plethora of ways to travel and book stays.
All this is to say – don’t necessarily assume that your actual guest list will be much smaller than your invited list. You must know your guests, and take all factors into consideration. If you want small and intimate, you should invite in the same fashion. And if you want a big party with as many guests as possible – go for it!
Not all countries have the same vendors and supplies available to them, especially in comparison to the States. When choosing a location for your destination wedding, it is prudent to try to embrace what is available locally, or recognize that you may need to set aside an additional budget to fly in the vendors you truly want.
One of the best examples is flowers – these not only vary from season to season, but also of course country to country. Not all florals may be available in your destination’s local market, so you will potentially need to import these depending on your vision. You will be hard-pressed to find peonies in the Caribbean, but if your vision has always been to have a bouquet lush with peonies alongside the beach – it is absolutely possible, but will need to be imported and will come with a price.
Other aspects to consider are music and photography – are you envisioning a local music or a cover band to perform, or were you lusting after a Top 40-style American band to dance the night away? Do you have a particular love affair with fine artistic film photography, or do you prefer a more photojournalistic approach capturing stolen moments of you and your loved ones? We ask these questions, as a reminder that not all vendors are available in all locations. While you can find incredibly talented acts and artists across the globe in every country, your tastes and preferences may bring you to decide to fly in a vendor from a different location. With this comes fees for travel, lodging, and a per diem – on top of the cost to hire the vendor for the wedding itself. So don’t forget about your local options, and keep an open mind.
You’ll notice we focus a lot on tropical destination weddings, as they are some of the most popular choices for our couples. Sun, beach, ocean.. we can’t blame them! However, the yin to this yang is the unpredictable weather – namely, rain. First and foremost, you absolutely want to avoid hurricane season in the Caribbean (officially June 1 – Nov 30, unofficially end of June – beginning of Nov). The storms can be frequent and sporadic, and it is simply best to plan your tropical destination wedding between mid-November and early June.
With that said – rain can still be an issue, and often, an element of surprise. In many tropical places you will find a brief, 5-10 minute rain shower occur on most any day of the year, even when the radar calls for clear skies. For this reason, we always recommend our couples to invest in a tent or marquis for any outdoor celebration that requires a detailed set-up (mainly Receptions). These are elements that cannot easily be set up and torn down; there are hours, and more often than not days, that go into their preparations, and it would be a shame to have it ruined by just a few minutes of rain that no one saw coming!
This also brings up your “Plan A” and “Plan B”. In the US, and many other non-tropical locations, this is simply an outdoor plan vs an indoor plan. If rain / wind / other weather is in the forecast, it usually sticks around for a while, and you can simply readjust the location as necessary with enough advanced notice. However, having a true Plan A and Plan B in a tropical destination often means two full set ups in two different locations – everything from tables to chairs, linens to flatware, glassware to a dance floor. In other words: double the budget for these items. Five minutes of unpredictable light rain moving through has the potential to completely ruin an elaborate set up; but it is also not a justification for moving an entire event indoors if the weather is beautiful for the rest of the day.
Once again, this is not meant to scare you away by any means. The solution is simply to have a tent! There are some mighty impressive and gorgeous tents in the market these days, and you wedding designer and planner can also assist in making sure its aesthetic and decor match your vision perfectly, without detracting from your venue location. (As an aside – not all tents are available in all locations, per our earlier point, so this may require additional investment, depending!)
In today’s world, time is of the essence and we are more or less used to things happening immediately – Amazon has 2-day shipping, groceries can be delivered to you hours after ordering, and emails are sent back and forth in quick succession. This has become standard in the US, but – spoiler alert – this is not the case everywhere! Vendors and venues in tropical locations often do not operate on the same timeline we are used to. They are on island time, which is a real thing – it is simply the culture. So our best advice here is to balance persistence with patience – and utilize the assistance of a local or specialty planner to help facilitate communications.
This is especially important in countries that speak a different language. While English is widely used, especially in the wedding world across many countries, it is not ubiquitous – having a specialized planner will again help facilitate communication. This is a large part of the reason why CDWE has a prominent focus on Dominican Republic weddings; both Claire and Maja are originally from the island (Maja still resides there), and have an intimate knowledge of the culture and local vendors. Understanding the Dominican Republic, has allowed us to extrapolate our work to other countries like Puerto Rico, Mexico, Costa Rica, Turks & Caicos etc. We just get the Latin American an island culture in general. Seeing as many island businesses also do not have websites (focusing more on social media as their information provider of choice), it is almost crucial to ensure someone is on your team who knows the local markets and can simply, make your life a whole lot easier!
One last tidbit that falls under cultural differences and expectations, is service standards. In the US, the standard for an upscale, elegant wedding is usually a plated dinner (think: salad course, choice of entree, dessert course). However, this includes many moving parts and is not always the norm in other countries; many are much more accepting of buffet or station-style service, even for an elegant affair, and it is how they can provide their utmost best service and hospitality. So again, keep in mind, when to embrace the culture and not to navigate against the current too much – you may end up with bad plated dinner, simply because that is not what the locals are used to or best at. Explore your options, and keep those cultural strengths and differences in mind.
Well there you have it! Nothing too earth shattering, as long as you keep these things in mind. And if you find yourself in need of a destination wedding planner.. you know where to find us!