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Vetting Locations for Destination Weddings

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When it comes to planning and preparing for a wedding, Google is the best man, the father of the bride and the maid of honor.

This is especially true of planning destination weddings today, when long distances often require a welcoming virtual shortcut. Before Google and other search engines arrived, destination weddings were vetted through glossy brochures, bridal magazines, family vacation photo slideshows, and random word-of-mouth references.

But today, you’re always a click or two away from learning about when monsoon season happens, how favorable the dollar is to the euro, and what the legal requirements are for getting married in Barbados.

That said, the best destination wedding planning also includes a healthy balance of phone calls, emails, texting – and maybe even faxing. (Just be sure to mind the time zone so you’re not walking up a B&B owner at 3 a.m., local time.) Site visits? Yup, those still happen, too.

Why Destination Weddings?

There are a number of reasons why couples might be married to the idea of saying “I do” somewhere exotic. It might simply be that the bride and groom’s hometowns don’t offer the dream backdrop that they always envisioned for their big day. Landlocked towns borne of suburban sprawl and boasting many a strip mall may be perfectly nice places to live and raise a family, just not so perfect for a wedding day.

Additionally, maybe the couples haven’t been on a vacation since Spring Break ’99, which was totally awesome, but still a few decades ago when their hair was longer and their list of responsibilities much shorter. A destination wedding shouldn’t be viewed as vacation in and of itself – factors ranging from managing nerves to accommodating guests are in play – but it certainly injects some of the best characteristics of a traditional getaway into a wedding.

But one of the biggest drivers of whether or not to exchange vows in one’s home town often comes down to budget. While the average destination wedding rings in at $28,000,1 the average traditional wedding cost couples more than $31,000. That may not seem like a big difference – just $3K savings – but it could be the difference between a crowded hotel ballroom and a wide open, private beach ceremony and reception.2Couples certainly get more bang for their buck when it comes to bringing their wedding on the road.

Finally, destination wedding provide an advantage that bundles the benefits of cost and convenience, which might appear a bit counterintuitive. Many popular wedding destinations many times come with onsite wedding coordinators included. This makes it possible to avoid this expense while avoiding costly travel and time to vet one or more potential locations first hand.3

Plotting Your Destination Spots

Who wouldn’t want to get married somewhere that looks like a screen saver? For many, the problem isn’t whether or not to embark on a destination wedding, but just where to point the matching compass rings toward. Throwing a dart at a map is one option, but that’s also how couples end up getting married in Gary, Indiana. Couples can seek out the aid of travel agents, solicit friends and family for input, or even cross-reference a list of what every potential destination has to offer against a list of the top qualities you’re seeking. But other than the big day itself, this is the most fun part of a destination wedding. Take your time, soak in the possibilities and choose wisely.

Where and How to Find Wedding Destination Details

Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to travel review sites and online wedding communities to tap for advice. Sites such as tripadvisor.com and theknot.com, respectively, are critical and credible resources for planning a successful destination wedding.

The popularity of your location will go a long way in determining how many reviews, photos, maps and more couples have at their disposal to coordinate the event logistics. A word of caution: some well-trafficked destinations may be so popular that they feature a large quantity of marketing content passed off as third-party reviews. Be sure to scrutinize any reviews that are too positive or simply read like sales jargon. You want to hear from real people.

One tactic brides and grooms may be tempted to try out is floating the idea of a destination to their social media networks, and listening to what they have to say. Be careful to consider the invitation list before doing so. The average destination wedding only has 48 guests; if couples are asking folks who won’t make the cut for their input on a destination, they’re setting those who didn’t make the cut up for disappointment and themselves up for a future awkward encounter.1

Finally, there is the big question to answer: Do I need to visit the site? Many wedding industry professionals answer with an unequivocal “yes” to this question. But times are changing. Virtual tours, social networks (noting the above warning), plus Skype and FaceTime apps bring couples closer than ever to their potential destinations. In the end, it’s all about how comfortable folks are selecting a site unseen, and potentially having something slightly amiss on the wedding day.

What to Ask and Look for

Once couples have found a venue for the ceremony or get a hot tip on a rehearsal dinner location, it’s time to ask some important questions. Here are some areas to be sure to probe with contacts – and some to research independently:

  • Cancellation policies: It’s not something anyone wants to think about, but it is something that every destination couple needs to consider. What happens if inclement weather – the type that impacts travel and closes venues – strikes? Or the guest list outgrows the venue that someone has already made a deposit for? Don’t just get answers; get it in writing.
  • Changes to guest list: What are the cut-off dates and extra costs associated with changes to the guest list, especially of the last-minute variety? Sure, this is a big concern with traditional weddings, too, but smaller guest lists and larger out-of-pocket guest costs raise the stakes for destination weddings guests and the couples planning them.
  • Laws and requirements: If the bride and groom are seeking to be legally wed in a foreign country – and not just have a ceremony for show before visiting city hall after the return flight – they’ll need to do your homework. Hoops and hurdles to navigate through may include everything from fulfilling residency requirements to chest X-Rays, which are mandatory for marrying couples in Mexico.4
  • Weather or not: Many couples select destinations for their ideal climate. That’s why so many destination weddings occur outdoors. And why weather can play havoc with not only making it to the wedding, but having it. As much as anyone can study weather trends and patterns affecting the far side of the world, those who work in the industry locally are the best qualified to help travelers avoid the rainy seasons. Of course, with clear skies and moderate temperatures come the crowds of other couples and travelers. So securing reservations and holds 10 to 12 months in advance is recommended as a general rule of thumb.

With so many factors left up in the air, it’s clear to see that services such as travel insurance and assistance can both provide destination wedding couples peace of mind – and help them in a pinch.

Couples pursuing destination weddings are making a unique choice because they’re, well, unique. The typical destination wedding bride is 29, or two years older than a traditional wedding bride. Plus, 60 percent of these couples will be paying their own way.1

With these facts and the challenges of planning their wedding remotely, it’s clear to see why engaged couples want to make all those hours of effort add up to a very special day.


Apr 07, 2015