Destination weddings

Thinking about a destination wedding?

Whether your choice is to get married alongside the ocean in Hawaii or the Florida Keys; atop a ski hill in Aspen, Colo.; in a California vineyard; in a Las Vegas wedding chapel; somewhere in Mexico, such as Cancun, Rivera Maya, Los Cabos or Puerto Vallarta; Jamaica; Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic; the Bahamas or taking a cruise, there’s a location for every couple.

To help with the planning, we’ve gleaned some info from top destination wedding websites, including travel-bash.com and theknot.com.

What is a destination wedding?

A destination wedding is defined as the ceremony taking place more than 100 miles from where the couple lives.

According to travel-bash.com, destination weddings now account for 25 percent of the wedding market, an increase from just 5 percent a few years ago. The reason for this big increase is that couples wait to get married until after they’ve graduated from college and worked in their career for a few years. Couples can afford to pay for the wedding themselves rather than the bride’s father paying. And, since the couple is paying, they opt for the destination wedding.

Are they more costly than a traditional one?

Recent studies have shown the average destination wedding costs approximately $25,000. According to a Brides American Market Study, the average cost of a traditional wedding is $26,500, so a destination wedding can be more affordable than a traditional wedding.

How do I plan a destination wedding?

It’s best to work with a travel agent who specializes in destination weddings or group travel, rather than trying to make all of the reservations and do the negotiations yourself. Agents listen to the couple’s vision and budget, then make recommendations.

Agents provide industry knowledge from around the world. They can tell you which resorts provide the best wedding and reception service and which ones to stay away from, because they or their staff have visited the resort and can tell you firsthand about it.

And the best part, you don’t pay the travel agent a dime.

The agent negotiates with the airlines, resort, hotel and reception location (if different from the wedding location). They assist travelers with flights from multiple departure cities.

The agent works with the on-site wedding coordinator at the resort to ensure the couple is getting what they want to make their day special. The agent can also plan excursions for guests who are staying on a few extra days after the wedding.

They will reserve blocks of rooms at the hotel or resort for guests and often get a better deal than if you booked yourself.

Locally, House of Travel and Travel Headquarters work with couples to plan destination weddings.

Travel agent options online include travel-bash.com and theknot.com specifically for destination weddings.

How far in advance of my wedding date should I start planning the destination wedding?

Travel agents recommend a minimum of 12-months because the popular resorts get booked far in advance. And, it’s best to lock-in prices early to help make budgeting easier.

Are there ways to save money on a destination wedding?

Choose an off day such as a Tuesday or Wednesday to get married instead of the popular weekend days.

Go with the all-inclusive option. You can choose the options that you want and remove the options that you don’t want.

Who pays for what?

Members of the wedding party pay for travel, hotel rooms, formal attire, hair and makeup appointments, excursions and activities and meals outside of wedding events.

Guests are responsible for their hotel rooms, transportation to and from the airport and destination, excursions and activities and meals outside of wedding events.

While the couple isn’t required to cover lodging for their guests, it is a very generous option if couples can afford it. Thirty-eight percent of couples actually pay for guest accommodations at destination weddings, according to the American Market Study.

How can I make my destination wedding more affordable for my guests?

Reserve one or more Airbnbs nearby the resort for larger families as this is usually less costly than a hotel.

Consider providing a welcome basket for your guests with sunscreen, bug spray, snacks, flip flops, water bottles, batteries and other essential items so that guests don’t have to pack these items or purchase them once they arrive at the location.

I want our elderly grandparents and other older relatives to attend the destination wedding. What should I think about in respect to their comfort?

Take into account the length of time it will take them to travel to the destination. If they have to travel several hours, change planes, wait through long layovers, to arrive late at night, and take a ferry, they will be exhausted by time they arrive at the destination.

If you are planning to get married in a location that isn’t wheelchair or walker accessible, such as atop a mountain, relatives that need these accommodations wouldn’t be able to attend.

Is the trip affordable for them?

What things do I need to think about for my wedding party and guests to travel to the destination?

Think about how long it’s going to take to travel to and from the destination from the wedding parties’ and guests’ location. Do they have to take a couple extra days of vacation that they might not have built up to take in order to attend your wedding? If a guest has to take unpaid time off from work, chances are they won’t attend.

Are the lodging, airfare and meals going to be affordable for everyone?

If traveling outside the U.S., consider the currency exchange rate.

Will the travel agent help find a photographer and florist at the destination?

The travel agent should work with the wedding coordinator at the resort for these services. Some brides choose to bring a photographer from home and pay their way to ensure they get great photos of the most special day of their life.

Jill Carlson is a freelance writer from Madison, Wis.

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