Guide to planning a destination wedding

Destination weddings are what dreams are made of: lush locales, balmy beaches or exotic extravaganzas. The bride may have always harboured a secret fantasy of getting married like royalty – in a castle, like Madonna did! – or saying ‘I do’ in a quaint church tucked away in the mountains, on board a cruise ship or the ever- popular beach wedding. And it doesn’t have to remain a dream, because destination weddings are gaining popularity as they are more affordable and manageable than they initially appear. In fact, a destination wedding might just be ideal for you if you want…

1. Intimacy 

If the couple isn’t in favour of a huge wedding and would rather savour their special day in the presence of just family and their closest friends, with the added advantage of staying on and enjoying their honeymoon at the same location, a destination wedding is just for them.

2. To relax

Rather than be hassled on your wedding day, with all the preparations you’ve been scrambling around for and be stressed with last minute glitches or what could go wrong when you’re having a fancy reception, a destination wedding probably offers you a greater chance to unwind and enjoy your day with a select guest list.

3. To have your cake and eat it too

Those couples looking for a great wedding and a fantastic honeymoon, can have both at their dream destination, and at a more affordable and less expensive budget, than a traditional reception in a swanky hotel.

Things to consider before deciding on a destination wedding

Your dream

So where have you always dreamed of getting married? Scout around, surf the net and talk to people, to narrow down your preferences of what fits into your idea of a dream location.

Your budget

Sit down together, as a couple, and discuss your budget. Based on how much you have decided to spend or allocated towards the wedding, you will have to further pare down your search to a location that works best for you, both in terms of living up to your dreams and being tailor made for your budget.

Your guests

When a couple is getting married, there are certain guests they would definitely like to have around them. Unless you’re rolling in it, guests have to finance their own airfare and, in most cases (though there are exceptions when the couple covers accommodations), their lodging. It’s wise to tally a rough estimate of what the expenses might work out to and sound out your favoured guests as well as check their tentative availability, based on your preferred dates. You will then have a fair idea of who you can expect and whether the ones you most want to be around, will make it, before you decide to go ahead with your destination wedding, to save yourself disappointment and heartache if the guests you’re most looking forward to attending, won’t be able to.

Some advice

If you are choosing to get married in peak season, try a location that isn’t too exclusive and offers a variety of choices to suit varied budgets – from good hotels to cheaper motels. But if you have your heart set on a popular destination, think of getting married in the off-season, when you can avail of some good discounts. Of course, if you’ve decided this is not the time to count the pennies, just simply go with your heart, because this is going to be a day you will cherish for a long time to come.

Planning the destination wedding

1. Research

Once you’ve decided on a few locations that match both your dream and your budget, surf the net, ask around and start making a comparative study to figure out where you can get the best deal. If it’s not your area of expertise, get somebody from your family, who has good negotiation and bargaining skills, to drive a good bargain and negotiate the best possible discounts and rates available. Once you have a comparative price list, you’re now ready to narrow it down to the destination that’s going to make your dream wedding a reality. If you don’t want to do all the ground work yourself and don’t have the patience or the time for these details, you could contact a wedding planner at this stage itself. Be sure you opt for someone with sufficient expertise and know-how, who can advise you on a choice of destinations, assist you with legalities, documentation, bookings and has a good database of contacts – both in terms of hotels as well as vendors like caterers, music, florists etc.

2. Taking care of the guests

You must now confirm to guests or send out informal invites to the ones you are counting on, or are sure will make it, sufficiently in advance. Don’t wait till your formal invitations are ready – it will be too late for guests to make bookings and adjust their schedules. If you are taking care of the accommodation, try and get a bulk discount for booking multiple rooms. Alternatively, if you’re leaving it to your guests, they might appreciate it if you provide them with a list of hotels in a varied price range, so that they can choose what best suits their pocket. Or you could block rooms in two or three hotels in different price ranges. Once you have received definite confirmation from a majority of the guests, you could also help out further by blocking seats on an which gives you the best deal, as there are often great group discount fares available. Booking early may also get you a better fare than towards the peak season, when rates are higher.

3. Wedding planner

Perhaps the most cumbersome task – or so it is thought – of planning a destination wedding is the actual wedding planning. But there’s always a solution at hand - unless you’re planning to commute to the location on a regular basis - not a practical option both in terms of being time consuming and rather wearing on the nerves. Some of the options available are…

Choose a place that offers you an all-inclusive deal and takes care of everything – the decorations, seating, flower arrangements, wedding cake, music, solemnizing the vows etc. If you and your guests are planning to stay longer than a few days, you might even be able to negotiate a really good deal with the hotel or resort itself, with a number of freebies thrown in. The best part about all-inclusive deals is that you pay a flat rate and there’s little chance of too many extra costs cropping up that you haven’t budgeted for or thought of.
Cruise ships are another popular choice, because they often take care of all the arrangements with no hassle or inconvenience to the couple. For those not too picky and choosy and reluctant to get into the details of wedding planning, a cruise is a good option for a destination wedding.

Ask your hotel manager to recommend a wedding planner or if he has one on his staff (some popular destinations have it all thought of in advance!) who will do all the ground work for you, get the best possible deals, source vendors etc.

You can work through a local wedding planner who may have a contact at the destination site, but this could cause a few operational problems, as having two people involved in the planning can sometimes result in a lot of loopholes in communication.
If you’re not too particular and dont have too many definite ideas that will need executing to the minutest detail, you could ask a friend or family member who lives in the area, if they would help you out.

You must be comfortable with the planner you choose and clearly communicate the kind of wedding you envisage and the budget you would like to work within. Clarity of thought on your side, relaying requests accurately and ensuring your planner has understood what you want is crucial, so that there is no scope for misunderstanding.

4. Legalities

Depending on the location you choose, whether in another state, or overseas, there will be a number of legal formalities and documentation that you will have to look into. Make sure you contact the State department or, in the event of a location abroad, the local consulate or embassy of the country you are planning your destination wedding, or obtain information from the concerned websites.

Some of the requirements that you will have to take into account or documents that you may need…

Passport and a valid visa (if you are getting married overseas). Apply sufficiently in advance so as to avoid running around at the nth hour.

Local marriage license – you might have to contact the local marriage registration office.

Blood tests, doctor’s certificate and inoculation/immunization details – you should visit your doctor at least 4-6 weeks before your proposed departure to the destination site, to allow time for immunization shots to take effect.

Established residency – sometimes no more than a couple of days, or as in France, a 40-day period.

Proof of citizenship.

Proof of eligibility to marry – passport, birth certificate to determine you that are of legal age if marrying for the first time, or divorce papers or death certificate in the event of an earlier marriage and divorced, or widowed.

Various forms and documents to be filled in and submitted with a fee.

5. Guest Information

Whether you choose to do it informally or through setting up a wedding website you will have to provide guests with vital information regarding the following:

If your wedding destination is in another country, a valid passport, visa, mandatory immunizations. Inform guests about getting immunization shots at least 4-6 weeks prior to the wedding.

Tentative weather and temperature ranges, so they can pack accordingly.

Whether your wedding is going to be a casual affair or a formal do.

A range of activities that the destination is famous for, so that they can carry the requisite gear if they interested.

6. An outdoor wedding

In the event your destination wedding is outdoors, you will have to liaise with your wedding planner to ensure all conveniences are taken care of and nothing is overlooked. It is preferable to have some indoor arrangement available as well, in the event the weather doesn’t cooperate. Guests should also be informed that the wedding will take place outdoors, so that they can dress accordingly. The bridal gown and bridesmaids' outfits should also be designed appropriately, for instance, the fabric should be light, the style should be simple. Avoid long gowns for the bridesmaids and unwieldy trains for the bride that will get soiled with outdoor use.
7.  Additional Tips

Ensure you contact the embassy/tourist office of the country you are planning your destination wedding sufficiently in advance, as well as ascertain that your marriage will be legally recognized in the country you are resident of. Also confirm by verifying the antecedents of the person who will be conducting the marriage ceremony – that he is legally eligible to get you married.

If you have assigned a wedding planner or coordinator to manage the details, you have to clearly spell out the decisions you would like to make yourself and what you would like to leave to the planner. In case you are planning to visit the destination to make preliminary arrangements, let your planner know what you would like to run through so he/she can plan accordingly and if you would like to finalize certain suppliers like the caterer, florist, music etc. so that he/she can have a shortlist ready for you.

Elicit information from guests regarding special interests and activities they might like to pursue. And if you have the time, make their stay more enjoyable by charting out an informal itinerary of fun past-times from sports to dancing!

Ascertain all the rules of the venue of the wedding and have your questions ready, for instance, are there any permits required, any rules you should know of, any inclusions or exclusions, any restriction on serving alcohol or the maximum number of guests. It’s preferable not to leave anything up in the air, if you can help it, and get everything in writing – signed, sealed and delivered!

Even if the destination does not require you to arrive in advance and be resident for a couple of days prior to the big day, it is a good idea to arrive at least a couple of days in advance anyway, to allow you time to unwind, allow for any last minute delays and oversee the final preparations.

Caution: Preferably carry all your wedding day finery in your hand luggage, if possible, as you wouldn’t want any baggage hassles to affect your big day.

Don’t lose heart…

Finally, if you have your heart set on a destination wedding, but you discover that very few guests will actually be able to make it, maybe you don’t need to travel as far as you originally planned. Research closer destinations that are more accessible and will still provide you with a similar setting, like a beach or a mountain resort that is in driving distance and doesn’t require your guests to get on a plane. The most important thing is to enjoy your wedding day in a beautiful setting and create memories for a lifetime. A guide on immunization for you and your guests to some popular sites of destination weddings…

Caribbean (Includes Antigua, Jamaica, Barbados, Virgin Islands, Trinidad and Tobago and Cayman Islands)

Immunization required for Hepatitis-A, Polio, Typhoid, Yellow Fever for visitors to Trinidad and Tobago only

Dominican Republic

Immunization required for Hepatitis-A, Typhoid, Anti-malaria medication.

Africa  (Includes Kenya, Cameroons, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Chad, Gambia, Ivory Coast, Kenya and Tanzania)

Immunization required for Hepatitis-A, Polio, Typhoid, Yellow Fever, Malaria and Meningitis.

South Africa

Immunization required for Hepatitis-A, Polio, Typhoid, Yellow Fever, Malaria

Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia

Immunization required for Hepatitis-A, Polio, Typhoid

South America

(Includes Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela)

Immunization required for Hepatitis-A, Polio, Typhoid, Yellow Fever, Malaria

Asia ( Including Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and China, Thailand, India, Nepal, Pakistan)

Immunization required for Hepatitis-A, Polio, Typhoid, Malaria, Yellow Fever additional, Meningitis additional.

Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Korea

Immunization required for Hepatitis-A, Polio, Typhoid

Africa (Includes Kenya, Cameroons, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Chad, Gambia, Ivory Coast, Kenya and Tanzania)

Immunization required for Hepatitis-A, Polio, Typhoid, Yellow Fever, Malaria and Meningitis