By: Hillary Ogle of Paradise Weddings and Travel
As a newly engaged couple, it’s easy to get lost or overwhelmed with all the options! You’re probably getting a lot of questions about where/when you’ll tie the knot. And don’t forget the unsolicited advice!! It seems like just about everyone, even your friend’s dad has some idea for you. I have been there myself. I started planning my own destination wedding and I’ll be honest… after hours of scanning photos online, it was nearly impossible to tell one beach picture from the next. And how do you know if the property will actually look like that when you show up? I just remember thinking, I wanted an easy process, relatively stress free. Would it be so awful if the wedding planning process was even kinda fun? 24% of millennials are choosing a destination wedding so it’s worth your time to look into it! As a past destination wedding bride myself and now a travel consultant, I’ve compiled my top 7 recommendations for newly engaged couples.
- Find a Travel Consultant who specializes in Destination Weddings: Save yourself time and go straight to the professionals. Choose a Travel Consultant who specializes in destination weddings. They will connect you with the right people and walk you through the process. They will make recommendations based on your “must haves”, wedding budget and vision for your day. I remember when I first met my travel consultant (one of my travel besties now). I had this overwhelming sense of relief, I knew I could trust her. She listened to our dream and helped match us with the perfect property. She made it easy and fun to plan a wedding. Exactly what I was looking for. Now I get to wear that hat and meet with newly engaged couples! Find an agent that receives the advanced training from the resorts themselves. A few qualifications to look for include WOW (Weddings on Water) Specialist, GIWC (Gourmet Inclusive Wedding Consultant), AM Resorts Master Agent, Sandals/Beaches Certified Agent, Destination Specialist Programs and more. They will have the added value and expertise of that destination.
- Picking the Perfect Destination: Let’s face it, a simple Google search will bring up lots of options for a vacation or pictures of a lovely hammock on a beach. What you will not be getting from Google, Trip Advisor, consumer direct companies is a personal recommendation from a travel professional. A travel consultant’s job is to research AND visit destinations first hand. We stay on property, meet the wedding planners, eat the food, sleep in the beds, drink the wine… it’s a tough job but someone has to do it! We receive online and in person training in weddings and honeymoons. You will not get that from a google search. We tour the areas around the resorts as well, experiencing the culture so we can get a sense of what our clients will experience.
- Time it Right: Make sure to consider the weather. Many tropical destinations have a rainy season with hurricane potential, depending on the time of year. I would recommend the shoulder months of April-May and November-December. This is the lowest season for hotels so rates are often slashed. High season can bring high rates and crowded resorts. You will want to secure your venue and set the wedding date 10-12 months in advance so guests can plan and save for the trip.
- Securing the Best Value: Group travel has perks. You can earn free private functions, upgrades, lock in your hotel rate or even qualify for a group discount code. A group typically starts with 10 people or at least 5 rooms or more. If you are planning a wedding, select properties will include a wedding planner to assist you in all the details for your special day. There are also perks to being a honeymooner or celebrating your anniversary abroad. Be sure to mention this in the planning stage! A free couple’s massage or romantic dinner on the beach is a nice added value for a romantic trip with your loved one. You don’t know until you ask!
- Discuss Wedding Requirements: Many of my couples choose to do a symbolic ceremony if they are getting married in another country. Some countries require a blood test or expensive marriage licenses only obtained by going to a local courthouse in that country. In certain countries you will receive your legal wedding certificate in Spanish and then have to try to find a place in the US to get that translated. It’s quite common for couples to get married at home before or after they leave for the destination to save money. You’re guests don’t need to know the details! You could also hold a small ceremony at home for grandparents or friends who aren’t able to make the trip.
- Wedding Packages and Inclusions: It’s important to consider wedding packages when planning for your special day. Some properties will even offer a complimentary wedding or free nights for the couple. Not all destinations specialize in weddings so you could find yourself paying out the gills for your wedding when you could have saved big bucks. I planned my own wedding for half the price of the at-home reception we hosted when we returned. I think couples today are starting to realize they can plan a destination wedding for a fraction of the cost of an at home bash. Plus, your friends and family will be making memories to last a lifetime! The other nice part is that you have an entire week to make memories together, rather than just 1 short day.
- Make it Unforgettable for your Guests: Your guests have traveled from afar to be there for your special day. Find ways to surprise them and say thank you! Personalized mugs, sunglasses or beach bags are a fun way to set your group apart at the resort. Some couples host a private welcome event for everyone to get to know each other. Surprise your guests with a sunset boat cruise. Customize welcome bags for all the guests and greet them when they arrive on property.