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Are You Destined for a Destination Wedding?

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The gorgeous beaches of Bali. A snowy mountaintop in Switzerland. The romantic wineries of Napa. Before you book your dream of a destination wedding, check to see if any of the following statements relate to you.

1. As a little girl, you just didn’t see yourself walking down the aisle in a big church, wearing a fluffy confection.

2. You and your fiancé consider a barefoot beach vacation with family and friends much more you, than a buttoned up black tie affair.

You’ve always felt connected to your family’s vacation home, more than the house you grew up in.

3. If you said yes to any of the above, a destination wedding may be just what the doctor ordered!

According to TheKnot.com and WeddingChannel.com’s 2011 Real Weddings Survey, 24% of the brides polled had destination weddings.

This figure isn’t surprising to event planner Alison Hotchkiss, author of Destination Wedding Planner: the Ultimate Guide to Planning a Wedding from Afar. A number of factors can shape a couple’s decision to jet off to a destination versus throwing a traditional wedding at home.

“There’s usually an association with that location that is special to the couple. It can be where they had their first date, or where they first met; maybe it’s a childhood vacation home, or they’ve just always liked the space,” says the author.

As someone who had their own destination wedding in Bermuda, I can tell you I had a plethora of reasons for doing so.

For one, my husband and I had moved a lot in the ten or more years we had been out in the working world as single people. So we didn’t have one particular home base that we felt this elaborate connection to.

Secondly, Bermuda had long been one of the constants in my life, having vacationed there with my family, following my folks’ 1959 honeymoon.

Mix in a short plane ride for guests, gorgeous ocean views, and elegant British style, and you had an ideal location that would give our guests as well as us, happy memories for years to come.

THESE WERE THE BEST OF TIMES AND THE WORST OF TIMES…

A number of factors can shape the place and date of your destination wedding. Hotchkiss’s experience has shown that there are better times of year to throw a destination wedding than others. If removing one more layer of possible stress can be avoided, by heeding her advice, you’ll be that much further ahead.

Hotchkiss says a good wedding planner will be able to tell you the worst and best times, in terms of transportation, weather, costs, etc. to throw a destination wedding here in the US or overseas.

1. SUPERBOWL WEEKEND – “Without a doubt, this has to be one of the best weekends to have a wedding, in terms of travel and costs. Many of my clients don’t think about this weekend as a possibility.” says Hotchkiss.

“Beyond the football fans attending the game, airports are quieter, roads are less congested, and vendors aren’t booking much business. All of this adds up to big advantages for a destination wedding in the U.S.”

2. NEW YEAR’S EVE WEEK – Mom’s turkey platter has been put away. People are pooped from holiday partying. And most of us are back home and back to work. This means vendors don’t have much business to chase. Why not take advantage of this quieter part of the holiday season by kicking off the year with a bang and some lower rates?

3. LABOR DAY/MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND – While you might think you’re doing your guests a favor by giving them more time to travel thanks to a national holiday, you’re not. Remember sweating away in your hatchback while stuck in traffic on the LIE? This the biggest road travel holiday of the year. Plus, hotels, airlines and other costs can be higher on such a prime weekend. Why put yourself, and your guests through that?

4. AUGUST IN EUROPE – While you might think spending your summer vacation in Europe seems like something out of a dreamy Sophia Lauren movie, you’d be half right. It is a beautiful time, for the folks who live in Europe that is. August is generally the time that many Europeans take their own vacations, causing a mass exodus of shop owners, vendors, and hotels closing their doors for a siesta. Hotchkiss suggests making sure you won’t be given the cold shoulder during this Roman holiday.

CPLL or CLIMATE, PACE, LEGALITY AND LANGUAGE

Experienced planners say there are factors that should be considered, when choosing a location for a destination wedding.

CLIMATE – What’s the weather like during the time of year you’d like to have your wedding? Is it hurricane season in September? Wet and rainy at Christmas? Hellish hot in July?

If the prospect of your outdoor wedding turning into a national disaster is too much to handle, don’t chance it. Hotchkiss advises brides to look into less traditional times of year, when you can take advantage of off-season rates without losing the charm of your chosen destination.

PACE - What’s the pace of your destination? Is it a laid-back island paradise? Or a congested, constantly moving city? Keep in mind that the parts of your destination that turned your head to begin with, can also create havoc for weddings. If you can’t handle the slower pace of an island destination to get things done, or the higher prices of a major city, you’ll be frazzled before you know it. Manage expectations and try to go with the flow. If not, suggests Hotchkiss, think about lesser-known spots, such as Palm Springs, where great rates, style, and beautiful vistas are plentiful.

LEGALITY – For many couples, the ceremony at a destination wedding is symbolic only…more of a reason for a party, than a legally binding contract. For others, it’s essential to have a confirmation of their vows that will be recognized when they return to their hometown. If its super important for you and your fiancé to make it legal, and your destination makes it virtually impossible to do, Hotchkiss recommends getting hitched at home in a civil ceremony, so you don’t miss the fun of a destination wedding in an exotic place.

LANGUAGE – Nothing can complicate a wedding more, than not being to speak or understand the native language. While you can usually locate vendors or planners in foreign countries that are used to speaking English to clients, in some places, you’ll be on your own. Unless you can speak in their native tongue or have a reliable friend who is willing to be your eyes and ears, don’t let language be a barrier to a wonderful event. Consider carefully before you book, because remember, your guests may have to deal with the same issues as well.

TIPS AND TRICKS FOR A HAPPY ENDING

After years of working with all kinds of brides, in all kinds of locations, on all kinds of budgets, Hotchkiss says there are tried and true tactics that every bride can follow, to help insure their own happy ending.

1. Site visits are critical to ensuring the success of any wedding. In a destination wedding, Hotchkiss recommends “one to two visits at a minimum, three if possible.” While they can seem like a headache and add expenses to your bottom line, the benefits of peace of mind, outweigh the costs in the end.

2. During a site visit, it’s critical that you develop “an emotional relationship with your vendors,” says Hotchkiss. Whether its with your wedding planner, food and beverage manager or even your DJ, “if you meet face to face and share your story on a personal level, they become emotionally invested as they get to know you.” With dozens such events on their plates at once, having that emotional connection turns you into more than just a number.

3. Don’t know where to find vendors at your location and don’t have a wedding planner? Ask your food and beverage manager at your hotel. Better yet, borrow this tip from Hotchkiss. “When I’m working at a new location, I simply call the best, most well regarded hotel on the island and ask them to send me their vendor sheet. Even if you’re NOT having your own wedding there, hotels are happy to share their list of vendors with potential customers.

4. Keep an eye on costs! Many hotels have estimated costs that may not end up being the same at the end of the day. Hotels may change their policy on site fees, liquor pricing and other such costs in the weeks leading up to your big day. “Stay on top of the folks who make up the bulk of your costs and ask for copies of budgets from previous weddings,” recommends Hotchkiss. “Also ask for two references of previous clients, so you can ask them how the hotel did staying on budget, service etc.”

5. During your site visit, ask lots of questions, take notes and take a ton of pictures. Hotchkiss advises even taking video if possible, of everything from the dining room décor, to the entry and exit areas for guests. Better to be over-prepared, than underprepared, as you may forget certain mental details once you’re back home.

6. Don’t forget your passport. That little piece of identification is critical for travelling to the Caribbean, Canada and other destinations around the world. Whether you need to renew, or your guests need to get one, make sure you take that process into account months in advance, or you’ll be going nowhere, fast.

7. Be nice. Hotchkiss can’t stress enough, how important it is to just be decent. Don’t become THAT bride, who’s demanding or ignorant of local customs. If you get married on a tiny island or in a small town, people will talk. Its true you get more bees with honey and for happy brides that can mean extra special attention everywhere you go. Hello upgrade!

And one final tip, from one former bride to another; embrace change management! Weddings can bring out the worst in all of us. By getting caught up in the small details that we just can’t control, you don’t allow yourself to enjoy the real reason you’re there; to celebrate love.

My wedding was a case in point. On the morning of our ceremony I about had it. After dealing with our food and beverage manager being hospitalized, our photographer being called up to military service, and learning that two of our wedding party would not be attending due to passport problems, we learned that a tent from the prior evening’s event, would NOT be removed in time for our ceremony overlooking the blue-green waters as planned.

Was I ticked? Yes! Was I worried about how our guests would enjoy themselves? Yes! But after my wise mother reminded me of the silver lining…a free tent that would be protect our guests if it rained, I let it go and went on to enjoy one of the best days of my life.

And isn’t that what its all about?

Alison Hotchkiss’s newest book, All the Essentials Wedding Planner: the Ultimate Tool for Planning Your Big Day comes out January, 2013. In the meantime, check out her website: www.AlisonEvents.com

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