25 Tips for Planning a Destination Wedding
AS SEEN ON TOWN & COUNTRY MAGAZINE: If you and your spouse-to-be are planning on leaving your hometown to walk down the aisle, then technically speaking what you are looking at a destination wedding (this includes both domestic and international locations alike!) For expert-approved advice on how to throw a seamless and stress-free event, we narrowed down 25 of the best planning tips to make sure you can check off everything on your travel list before making your way to your destination—and spectacular big day.
1. Embrace local traditions.
“In New Orleans, we do something called a ‘Second Line,’ which is where a traditional New Orleans brass band leads the bride, groom and wedding guests in their own parade down the street,” says Sarah Worsley, Director of Operations at Race + Religious. “The bride and groom hold black and white parasols, respectively, and sometimes they’ll even have a Mardi Gras as part of the celebration,” she adds. Immerse your guests in the music and dance traditions of your chosen location.
2. Lean into the natural surroundings.
“If you’re already at a beautiful destination venue, there’s nothing more impactful than really leaning into the natural surroundings for your color palette and decor inspiration,” advises Marie Artale, Creative Projects Manager at Cedar Lakes Estate. “We love to use wood elements, such as barn wood and live-edge tables, and greenery organically cascading throughout the space to create a seamless transition between the outdoors and indoors,” Artale adds.
3. Showcase your skyline.
Highlight the iconic skyline of your chosen city on paper goods. “We love integrating a sketch of the skyline on things like menus, napkins, programs, and place cards,” says Kelly Cavanaugh, Owner & Senior Event Consultant at Clementine Custom Events.
4. Consider your RSVP list.
Carefully consider how many guests you want and need to celebrate with, “is this a small, intimate occasion or as large an affair as it would be in your hometown?” says Melissa Paul, Marketing Director at Elena Damy. “Understanding each other’s expectations, as well as taking into consideration both families’ expectations, will give clear direction on budget and planning on all other decisions to follow,” Paul adds.
5. Let the destination be the backdrop, not the story.
Your wedding is the story of you and your future spouse. “The destination sets the stage, but it is not the main event,” says Dave Robbins, Owner of Dave Robbins Photography. “Be careful of taking too many photos where the backdrop steals the show, and you can barely be seen,” Robbins adds.
6. Strategize a site survey and site visits.
If hosting a tented wedding in a location that gives you the ability to customize every feature, make sure to do a site survey with a professional, experienced tent company to evaluate the feasibility of an elaborate wedding. “Important things to cover on your site survey: accurate measurements to inform to-scale floor plans, getting a sense of the ground level, evaluating roads into and out of the property for vendor trucks and guest shuttles, and assessing power & water needs for generators and restrooms,” says Laurie Arons, Founder of Laurie Arons Special Events.
7. Anticipate and plan for delays.
“Differences in time zones, national holidays, and annual vacation days can drastically impact the amount of time it takes to plan an event,” says Tracy Taylor Ward, President & Principal Designer & Planner at Tracy Taylor Ward Design. “Plan ahead for delays in vendor communications too,” she adds. The more time spent planning for the unexpected before your big day, the more likely you can remain stress-free when it actually arrives.
8. Take advantage of your venue’s most scenic spots.
“Be sure to capture all of your special moments on your wedding day with amazing garden settings surrounded by succulents and palm trees,” says Jennifer Rebello, Director of Catering at Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills who encourages couples to embrace the California venue’s picturesque backdrop. Make sure to set up your ceremony, or schedule a photography session, around the most picturesque areas of your location.
9. Keep the season in mind.
Consider the season of your locale when setting your wedding date. “Certain islands have hurricane seasons that should be avoided, while they also have prime times for sunny, warm days with a cool breeze of the ocean,” says Diana Chouinard, Senior Event Planner & Designer at Jubilee Events.
10. Let your landscape inspire your design.
“Avery & Sam’s destination mountain wedding incorporated all the elements essential to a mountain wedding while keeping things fresh with bright and colorful florals,” says Eatherley Schultz, Owner of Floressence Flowers. “Whimsical tree stumps adorned with vibrant florals embellished the ceremony while an unexpected suspended arrangement anchored the reception,” Schultz adds.
11. Always consider guest comfort.
When you are hosting a destination wedding in a tropical climate, keep in mind that most of your guests are probably not used to the weather. “Keep your guests hydrated and refreshed by incorporating a local go-to into your celebration or cocktail hour,” says Rachel Abrams, Director of Weddings and Celebration Sales at Dorado Beach, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve. “A favorite amongst our clients is a fresh ripe coconut, filled with chilled coconut water and a splash of local rum,” she adds.
12. Follow the sun in your time zone.
“The timeline for a beach wedding starts with tide & sunset,” advises Meghan Cox, Owner of Mil Besos. “Your photographer will thank you!” Cox adds. Do the research and work with your photographer beforehand to make sure that you don’t miss the golden hour at your location.
13. Research events happening in your area.
“When picking your destination wedding date, always research what is happening in the area to ensure that hotel rooms will be available for your guests,” says Ali Phillips, founder of Engaging Events by Ali. “For instance, picking a weekend when there is a marathon or a large event in the city you are getting married in may make it hard to get a block of hotel rooms and travel may be more difficult for guests,” she adds.
14. Consider a welcome dinner over a rehearsal dinner.
“It is nice to have a welcome reception or dinner to include all guests, as opposed to a rehearsal dinner with only certain members of the wedding party,” says Christina Gibson, Associate Director of Catering at Salamander Resort & Spa. “You want to make sure you have plenty of time to spend with your guests so that you can engage and create memories with each and every one of them,” Gibson adds.
15. More is better when it comes to guest information.
Give your guests the scoop as soon as details begin to be set. “A wedding website with continually updated travel tips, accommodations, directions, attire and weather insight and more will drastically help with the number of questions and will help your guests make their travel plans as easily as possible,” says Brandi Reiland, Owner of Soiree Weddings & Events. “Also, make sure to send save the dates with plenty of advance notice,” Reiland adds.
16. Utilize local vendors.
“Find local event professionals who are familiar with the area where you’ll be married, and then trust them to do their job,” advises Ashley Culicchia Cash, Owner of The Graceful Host. “It can feel very chaotic to plan a wedding from afar, so having a team that you can fully trust to execute your vision is a must,” she says.
17. Choose a location with sentimental meaning.
“Most couples who chose to have a destination wedding on Cape Cod have an emotional attachment to the area, and they want to share this with their extended families and friends,” says Florence Kiernan, Director of Communications for Wequassett. Select a destination spot where you and your spouse have fond memories of summer vacations or where you have shared trips before.
18. Think chronologically for catering.
Work through the day and the different events on the run of show to best understand what might be needed from a catering perspective. “If you aren’t sure what equipment you need, or if you are nervous about any gaps think of the day in chronological order,” says Bryn Dyar, senior wedding producer at Limelight Catering. “Start with the ceremony and consider what might need then mentally progress through the reception as your guests would,” Dyar adds, “It’s a lot less overwhelming this way!”
19. Embrace being in a different setting.
Make sure to embrace your destination and explore all that it has to offer. “Go on the water, rent a speedboat, do things you can’t do in your wedding dress before the wedding,” says Shawn Connell, owner of Shawn Connell. “If your photographer is in town, have them come along to capture all of the fun throughout your welcome events, beach parties, etc.,” Connell says.
20. Befriend your photographer.
If you can find a photographer that is flexible, have them come early and be with the guests for a few days, and capture some of the life and laughter of those casual moments before the big day. “You’ll get the best real moments in a beautiful way, and you’ll also have everyone warmed up to the photographer for extra happy and comfortable photos on the actual wedding day,” says Phillip Van Nostrand, Owner of Phillpvn Photography.
21. Enhance your guest experience.
As guests are essentially taking a vacation for your special day, enhance their entire experience for the duration of the trip. “Start with welcome gifts and a reception on the day of arrival and take a tour or plan an excursion for the next day,” says Lisa Newberry, Assistant Director of Catering and Events for Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows. End with a fun and festive brunch sendoff on departure day. “These extras are what make destination weddings so memorable!” Newberry adds.
22. Turn domestic into destination.
You don’t have to travel outside of the country to have a destination wedding. Host your guests in an iconic city that will still provide a unique experience for your guests. “One of the most beautiful and luxurious settings in the Empire state for an exquisite wedding celebration is arguably The Garden City Hotel, situated in the center of the quaint and exclusive village of its namesake,” says Jerry Rizzo Executive Director of Catering at The Garden City Hotel. Embrace a domestic location to host your I-Dos for an unforgettable destination experience.
23. Don’t miss a deadline.
“Review the state and country marriage requirements where the wedding is happening, so you don’t miss a deadline,” says Carina Gelman, wedding specialist at The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee. Requirements are different all around the globe, so make sure this is top on your list of priorities before you leave!
24. Opt for a professional.
“Definitely look for a planner who specializes in destination weddings as some of them might already know the best venues and vendors of the area, and that could get you a better deal,” says Carolina Moreno, Destination Weddings Manager at Banyan Tree Mayakoba. “Keep a local planner in mind as an option that could bring additional perks,” Moreno adds.
25. Treat your guests to brunch post-vows.
The festivities don’t have to stop after the reception! “Treat guests to a post-wedding brunch to make sure they are well-fueled before they begin a day of travel,” says Nicole Adland, Event Sales Coordinator at Red Pump Kitchen. “There’s no better cure than eggs and coffee!” she says.