How to Prevent Destination Wedding Disasters

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When you hear the words “destination wedding” what feeling comes over you? Do you think, “Oh yes, I’m in! I’m saying “I do” in a white dress with white chairs lined up behind me on a white sand beach, thousands of miles from home!”

And if you’re a wedding “goer,” do the words “destination wedding” conjure up those same dreamy thoughts?

When we asked readers what they thought of destination weddings, it really triggered some agitated responses regarding the costs and the planes, trains and automobiles required to get to remote places.

If you have a destination wedding you should offer to pay for a portion of the tickets for the guests who are planning to be there, suggests Victoria Block who lives near Delray, FL. “So instead of welcoming them with baskets of stuff in their rooms, give them gift a Visa or Amex card to help defray the costs.”

Gloria Bauer of San Rafael, CA shudders when recalling some destination weddings she’s attended. “The remote locations are terrible because getting there can be a real problem, ” she said. “One was in a mountain location that required three hours of driving after a flight. Another was in Daufuskie Island off Hilton Head. It required a car service, two flights, taxi, water taxi and a golf cart!”  She advises brides and grooms, “Sometimes the best wedding is the one you have at home. Go to the destination for your honeymoon. Take pictures to send friends!”

As she books tickets for a destination wedding right now, Brenda Gaines of Boston, MA is getting frustrated. “It sounds fun being invited to a destination wedding when you get the invite, but by the time you pay for all the needed parts, flight, hotel, etc, you realize how much of an impact it will be,” she said. The plane ride is also typically long, and there aren’t any direct flights to the locations. “I have to go a day early to arrive in time for a special dinner the night before the wedding, and the costs are a bit higher than I would have imagined.”

If we haven’t scared you away from having a destination wedding yet, check out these tips from experts before you grab your passport and ask others to do the same.

Caribbean destination wedding planner Sandy Malone of Weddings in Vieques, who also starred in TLC’s reality show “Wedding Island”, has these tips to help avoid planning pitfalls before you decide to go barefoot on the beach:

  • Make sure you’ve found a legitimate wedding planner to help you. On tiny islands, especially, you’ll find that people become Jack-of-all-Trades, master of none. When the lady who owns the guest house you’re considering tells you she’s also your caterer and florist, take two steps back and ask yourself how that’s even possible. Not everybody can be an expert at all things.
  • Don’t put down deposits more than a year in advance unless you’re dealing with a reputable wedding planner or hotel chain. I won’t even book vendors on this island unless they’ve been in business for a solid year – turnover is too great in the island.
  • Never pay a deposit by check unless there’s no option (my minister requires $50, for example). You can’t fight charges if the business suddenly disappears and you don’t have a credit charge history of it. A paper receipt mean nothing. Who are you going to sue? And where?
  • If you’ve hired a reputable wedding planner, take her advice. She’s already vetted the best vendors. If you’re doing it on your own, research the heck out of them and contact some couples who have used them that you find online. You never know if the references they give you are actually their cousins.

Event planner Tasha Bracken of SD Events based in Boston, MA advises that you do your headcount and destination homework:

  • With destination weddings it’s important to have a good sense of head count. You might think only close friends and family will come, but some will make a vacation out of it and that could increase your count. Make sure your venue and budget can accommodate.
  • If the wedding takes you abroad, know the country’s marriage laws: Witnesses, marriage license applications, blood tests, proof of immunization and residency requirements.
  • Make sure to look into policies in terms of passports, visas and lodging. Block rooms for guests and send out a save-the-date with all pertinent information at least nine to ten months prior.
  • Check the weather; some destination countries such as Costa Rica have a rainy season. You might get a good deal, but it might not be the paradise you envisioned.
  • Try to visit the location at least two times before the wedding so you know the location’s limitations and possibilities.

Of course not all readers had bad experiences attending destination weddings. “I was the maid of honor for one in Jamaica and it was AMAZING,” says Susan Pedicini of Boston, MA. “It was gorgeous, stress-free (since they planned everything for us) and inexpensive for the couple. We all paid our own flight and all-inclusive hotel. But for the couple, the wedding was only $18 a person (as opposed to $200+ at regular weddings). Some people just stayed for a few nights, while some stayed for a week. It was at an Iberostar resort and it was the best wedding I’ve ever been to.”

Skye Schulte, also from Boston, says going to a destination wedding was the most fun she’s ever had being part of a couple’s nuptials. “We did a complete takeover of The RockHouse in Negril, Jamaica and the hotel and couple anticipated all our needs,” Schulte said. For example, the couple gave out individual fans to each attendee so they could stay cool during the HOT ceremony. They also had the right balance of planned activities, optional planned activities and free time. “Heck, they even had a shuttle waiting for people as they arrived — and there was COLD BEER AND SNACKS inside for us to enjoy on the way to the resort”

What didn’t work? “Ever having to leave…”

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Mary Schwager is a national consumer journalist with more than 17 years experience. She’s won more than two-dozen local, regional, national and international journalism awards for investigative, consumer, feature reporting and writing including 11 Emmy Awards and 7 Edward R. Murrow Awards and numerous Associated Press honors. Follow her on Twitter @WatchDogMary and “like” her on Facebook.


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