When it comes to planning your special day - a.k.a. a massive party for your closest family and friends - there are a myriad of choices to make. From the bridesmaids' toenail polish to the filling of the cake, countless decisions compound to ultimately create the perfect event.
One of the first decisions, that will ultimately set the stage, is the location. Have you always envisioned a traditional wedding ceremony in a century-old church? How about outside underneath a pergola draped in Spanish moss?
Well, my groom had only one request for our special day: to be wed on the beach with the ocean waves as a backdrop. With that in mind, we started the journey of planning the ultimate destination wedding.
Destination Selection. Countless locales can serve as the idyllic setting for your destination wedding. Thankfully having narrowed our search to the beach, we were able to rule out the castles of Scotland and hills of New England and focus on tropical vacation destinations with a surplus of sun and sand. After probing the internet, I consulted "The Knot's Guide to Destination Weddings." The manual detailed the most ideal locations for a beach wedding: from Central America and the Caribbean, to the remote islands of the Pacific Rim and wild coasts of Australia.
My groom and I had two factors to consider: 1.) We wanted a destination that would be as easily accessible as possible for our family and friends in the U.S. and 2.) We also needed it to be a country in which neither of us had ever been. (In addition to the destination being the setting for our exchange of nuptials, it also marked my 100th country!) We sifted through the contending locations and narrowed the search to Bermuda and Jamaica. After researching flights, costs and venue selection, we landed on a well-known resort chain in Ocho Rios, Jamaica.
Timing. Several factors were considered when selecting our wedding date: event planning time, guest travel arrangement preparation, work schedules and, maybe most importantly, hurricane season in the Caribbean. I elected to be a June bride and crossed my fingers that the seas would remain calm and the afternoon rains wouldn't roll in until well after we said "I do."
Guests. Prior to our wedding and still today, my groom and I are in the unique situation of living abroad and far from our family and friends. Therefore, our wedding was the perfect excuse to lure all of our favorite people to the same location for - as my little sister enthusiastically referred to it as - "the party of the century." Due to the distance and cost, not all of our loved ones were able to attend the festivities but those who did had a blast and got along marvelously. Many of our 60 guests elected to lengthen the trip and make it their summer vacation.
Festivities. I received two sage pieces of advice from yet another sister regarding the whole wedding planning gig: 1.) Invest in a solid photographer and 2.) Plan to make your destination wedding a multi-day affair. From her destination wedding experience on the cliffs over-looking the ocean in Big Sur, California, and I'm sure many brides would agree, the wedding day is a blur and it all goes by so fast. If you are able to schedule a few extra wedding-related events involving all of the guests, it'll provide for more opportunities to spend time with people and enjoy yourself.
Aligned with that thinking, we hosted three-days of activities in which all wedding guests were invited: 1.) The Welcome Dinner: Basically a meet and greet in a picturesque setting: formally dressed tables on a pier stretching into the ocean with a plated meal at sunset followed by a slightly deranged fire dancer performance. 2.) The Wedding Ceremony and Reception: As requested by the groom, we were married on the sand with the ocean behind us at noon. (The wedding time was strategically picked so that the majority of our fun-loving friends and family would be in the right state of mind to remember the nuptials.) Following the ceremony, we ushered our guests off the beach and onto a veranda to enjoy rum cocktails and a steel drum band before heading indoors for the reception. 3.) Catamaran Cruise: The day following the wedding we rented a large sailing boat and invited our entire 'wedding party' on a two-hour sunset cruise with music, booze and appetizers.
Details. Details. Details. Destination selection, timing, guests and festivities are a few of the important decisions you'll need to line out early for your destination wedding, but there are no less than twenty-five thousand other choices and preparations you'll encounter leading up to your special day. Because I am a list person and find intense satisfaction from scratching off my completed to-do's, I was guided through the process with help from "The Knot Book of Wedding Lists."
A destination wedding is not unlike any other where the following needs to be considered:
Save-the-Dates. Invitations. RSVPs. For our wedding we combined the save-the-date magnet, invitation and RSVP into one mailing and sent it to our guests as early as possible to ensure them ample planning time. (And plenty of time to secure a valid passport ... Claudia!) For this piece, I enlisted the help of an extremely talented graphic designer at Socially Inked which made the process a dream. Not only did my friends at Socially Inked craft the perfect pre-wedding communications, they also helped to make my visions come to life with our wedding favors and bridesmaids gifts.
Location Scouting Trip. While nearly every wedding website dictates this as crucial, because both my groom and I wanted the wedding trip to be our first time on the island, we skipped this step. However, I can see how this would have been helpful in determining venues and meeting with the resort staff early. I'm also confident it would have alleviated a lot of stress involved with tackling resort issues prior to the event and helping the guests with their travel arrangements.
Caterer. Cake. Flowers. Decor. Musicians. Videographer. The one benefit of hosting your wedding at a resort whose business is weddings (pulling off up to nine each day!) is that they serve as the primary interface with local vendors. While we made the selections and footed the bill (nothing is really included when you have a wedding at an all-inclusive - FYI), the resort assisted with the coordination of the food, cake, flowers, reception logistics and provided a videographer. In many cases we made our selections from a pre-set list without a lot of wiggle room after the resort wedding contract ink dried.
Photographer. Although outlined in the aforementioned contract in bold print as strictly forbidden, we flew in our own professional photographer from the States under the guise of family. Wedding photography is just too important of a detail to be left to chance and the resort provided no opportunity to vet potential vendors. And before long, our talented photographer "cousin" Brian did become part of the family (he is currently one of my Mom's fiercest competitors at online scrabble) and captured our special moments beautifully.
So yeah, there are a lot of decisions that come with planning a wedding and a destination wedding is no different. Not to mention the details involved with bridal attendants, the gown, gift registry, the ceremony and reception agendas, seating charts, the honeymoon ... Once in a lifetime is certainly more than enough for me and that's enough wedding reflection for this afternoon. The anxiety is slowly creeping back. Time to grab a cocktail!