Sunday, December 13, 2009

Location Report: The Biltmore in Asheville, NC

For us, when we think about destination weddings, they are usually intimate gatherings on some beach somewhere. However, one of the nicest wedding destinations we’ve seen recently is The Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina.

We went to The Biltmore in Asheville for some personal relaxation time, but while we were there, we observed several weddings. It dawned on us – wow! This place makes a great wedding destination.

The Inn on Biltmore Estate makes the perfect home base for your wedding. It’s on the property, offers stunning views of the Great Smokey Mountains, has several nice restaurants and offers all the amenities you’ll need for your wedding. The hotel is rather large, but has a quaint charm since it is decorated in this French renaissance style. The staff is quite friendly and attentive.

The Biltmore House is the main event. This was originally the Vanderbilt Family’s country estate and they advertise it as America’s Largest Mansion. It is a huge mansion, meticulously maintained and thoughtfully presented. As we took the tour, we were able to look out onto the grounds and noticed there were several weddings going on. It dawned on us – this is a very romantic spot for a destination wedding.

For your ceremony and reception, there are a number of locations on the property – the lawn in front of the house (where the Biltmore serves as the backdrop), a terrace just off the house (looking out on the Great Smokey Mountains) or down in the Walled Garden (where you are surrounded by immaculate gardens and millions of flowers).

There is one downside to a destination wedding at the Biltmore – it doesn’t appear that they close down part of the facility for you. So, as you’re getting ready for your wedding, you could have tourists gawk at you (just as we gawked at folks on our visit).

Now, fair warning, we have no idea on the expense of a destination wedding at the Biltmore. I’m betting those weddings cost a pretty penny. They are gorgeous, but surely expensive. They have a wedding website, but it doesn’t have much information on it.

For the day after your wedding, consider having a brunch for you and all your guests at the Deerpark Lodge on the Biltmore property. They serve a decadent brunch in charming converted stable. It’s both rustic and sophisticated.

The Biltmore Estate is a wonderfully beautiful place and would be a romantic place for you to tie the knot.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Travel Insurance for Destination Weddings

One aspect of destination weddings that people often neglect is travel insurance. Destination weddings involve travel and sometimes the worst case can happen – a trip gets cancelled due to weather, illness or something else.

Travel insurance can protect you from these cancellations and problems. If your trip gets cancelled, you can get a refund. If you should encounter a medical problem, most travel accident insurance can get you good medical care. Personally, we both carry International SOS coverage through our employers for emergency medical. However, that wouldn’t help us with the financial piece of a cancelled trip.

If you purchase travel insurance, make sure it covers trip cancellation, trip delay and medical coverage. Most insurance coverage also covers lost or stolen luggage and personal property.

Do your homework to make sure you’re getting a good policy. Be sure to read all the fine print and ask lots of questions. Also, make sure your policy will cover the wedding (or "event") portion of your trip, not just the travel part.

From our perspective, travel insurance is mandatory for a destination wedding. Given the amount of money you’re spending on your big day, it’s better than taking any chances.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Destination Wedding Planning – Organization

One of the single most important things you can do in your destination wedding planning is staying organized. As you find shoes you like, locations you like, etc., you’re going to continue your research. As you pour through The Knot, how do you keep track of ideas you like?

However you want to stay organized, it’s important you do so. We recently were talking to a friend planning her destination wedding and we’re shocked at her casual “I’ve got it in my head attitude.” It’s not going to work.

How you keep organized is up to you. We utilized a project management file in Microsoft Excel to keep timelines on track. Then we pasted links and photos into a Word document to come back to later. This worked for us. A lot of ladies like to go hardcopy – keeping a big binder of printouts.

Whatever method you choose, your organizing technique should allow you to keep track of the following details:
  • Budget planner
  • Location selection (country, etc.)
  • Destination venue (hotel selection, etc.)
  • Transportation logistics
  • Wedding planner (if you hire a separate planner)
  • Wedding party and guest list (including all contact details, e-mail addresses, etc.)
  • Save the dates
  • Invitation
  • Ceremony scripts (sample ceremonies you like)
  • Reception ideas
  • Music/DJ
  • Cake ideas
  • Photographers and/or videographers
  • Wedding dress ideas (other apparel)
  • Hair and makeup suggestions
  • Wedding registry ideas

Having all of this in one place will make your life a lot easier!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Summer Sales

As summer winds down, stores are having their end-of-summer sales. If you’re having a destination wedding next summer, now is a great time to stock up on things for your out-of-town bags and decorations for cheap.

This is one of the ways we saved really significant money for our wedding. The year before, we bought all of our decorations, favors and out-of-town bag items on clearance sale and then stored it over the winter before our June wedding.

Act quick before the sales disappear!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Crate & Barrel Wedding Parties

Crate & Barrel is one of the more popular stores for couples to register. As readers of this blog know, we also registered at Crate & Barrel and were thrilled with our experience.

Couples should be aware that Crate & Barrel is having several wedding parties on September 13, October 4 and October 18. These events are parties with food, drinks and they usually give out a small gift if you attend.

More details can be found on the Crate & Barrel website.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Our Lucaya Resort Changes Owners

As long-time readers of this blog know, we got married at the Our Lucaya Resort in the Bahamas. At the time we got married there, it was Sheraton/Westin property (Starwood Resorts). However, as of July 2009, the Our Lucaya Resort on Grand Bahama Island is now a Radisson property.

Maybe it’s just us, but we’ve always viewed Starwood to be a mid-market to high-end company. They certainly did an excellent job on our destination wedding – it was a relaxed affair, but totally classy. And we’ve always viewed Radisson to be a bit down-market. Radisson’s are the hotels near airports or corporate centers and are typically older properties. Of course, our assessment could be completely off-base, but that’s just our impression based on our travels around the world.

With Our Lucaya changing from Starwood to Radisson, it remains to be seen how this will impact the resort as a destination wedding venue. While we had a tremendous experience at Our Lucaya, we’d recommend asking a lot of questions about this property and its new management (and doing a site visit in advance) if you are considering doing a destination wedding here.

More about our wedding at Our Lucaya:

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Honeymoon Registries

For couples doing a destination wedding or just a standard honeymoon, a resort registry can make a lot of sense. It works like this – you register, friends and family give money to the overall honeymoon or to specific activities.

This concept has been around for a while and we looked into it for our own destination wedding. We briefly considered this approach but, at the time of our wedding, thought it wasn’t as sophisticated as we were going for.

There are two kinds of registries – a general registry and a specific registry. General registries, such as the numerous websites all over the Internet, don’t provide services for specific businesses/locations. They charge fees (some are pretty hefty at 9%) for the opportunity and then commit you to working with their “partner companies” (presumably they get a kickback from the partner companies as well). It just feels kind of cheap. And be extra weary, as some of these companies spam your guest list with repeated pleas to pony up cash (very obnoxious!).

The other kind of registry is specific to a business. Companies like Starwood, Marriott and Hyatt all have specific registries that help couples offset aspects of their honeymoon or destination wedding experience. And over the last 5 years or so, these registries have evolved into fairly classy affairs. One that we like is the Hyatt Registry because it is well run, professional and classy. It gives friends and relatives an opportunity to offset activities you might not otherwise do, but it doesn’t have a high-pressure sales pitch feel.

Regardless of whether you do a registry or not, or what kind of registry you do, you should thoroughly research it. These registries work well to offset your existing plans. You could ultimately wind up paying more if you committed to something just because of the registry. So be smart and ask some key questions to ask: Do you need to pay for the honeymoon upfront? What kind of fees do they charge? Does it lock you into working with specific vendors? How flexible are they? Does the gift expire after a certain period of time (if you don’t use it all on your honeymoon)?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Meet the Expert: Cynthia Conde, Fitness Expert

In this week’s Meet the Expert column, we interview Cynthia Conde, fitness expert and creator of Bridal Bookcamp®. She is a National Academy of Sports Medicine certified trainer and has helped hundreds of brides slim down for their big day.

I don’t think there is a bride in the world that doesn’t want to look great on her wedding. How do you counsel brides to slim down?

First thing I do is have my brides do a 2 week cleanse and detox. Week 1, they begin to cut caffeine, cigarettes, processed foods, sugar and red meat from their diets. Week 2, they begin their cleanse. Week 3 and forward, its on the clean eating and hard training, until the W-Day, then its on to maintenance.

What are the biggest problem areas for brides that they should focus on before their wedding?

Biggest problem areas will always be thighs, butt and abs for most women. Although a wedding dress will cover these areas, there is still the destination wedding at a hot locale and honeymoon (bikini time) to think about. The bridal focus is to blast the upper back, biceps, triceps and forearms, and give equal attention to the butt, abs, and thighs. I teach my brides to dig deep and get in touch with their inner athletics by staying focused and training hard.

In light of the economic climate, how are brides and grooms shaping up and slimming down on a budget? Many gyms are increasing their rates and brides are finding it difficult to cope.

It's funny. There was a recent article in the New York Times that stated the fitness industry is recession proof, and I couldn't agree more. I have not experience a huge drop in brides signing up for my Bridal Bootcamp program. Although I will admit that instead of doing private Bridal Bootcamp with our instructors, some have opted for the more economical Bridal Bootcamp group program. The reason, brides will anything to look good on their wedding day!!!

As you work with brides, they talk about their destination wedding plans. What trends do you see in destination weddings as you work with your clients? How have the needs of engaged couples changed over time?

I am seeing more brides choosing destination weddings for two reasons. The idea of a getaway wedding is super romantic especially on a warm tropical beach and its sure a lot cheaper than paying for a traditional wedding. The needs of engage couples change dramatically. After, the honeymoon, the trends is to be more relax with one another, that usually leads to more eating and less activity. The winter holiday season rolls around, and add 10 to 15 pounds of excess weight. Also, when a bride become pregnant, her hubby usually gains weight as well.

What's the most dramatic change you've seen a bride make/go through?

The most dramatic change I’ve had was my first client, Pandora Kinard, who lost 100 pounds in 8 months!

How important is it to incorporate weight training?

Incorporating weight training is super's the only way you will be able to harden your body. Remember to leave no area untouched.....train on every crevice of your body. The hardest areas to hit are the inner thighs, lower abs and the crease of your butt.

What's the best way to maintain once you've reached the weight/fitness level you want before your wedding? Do you ever see whole wedding parties come in together?

The best way to maintain your body is to incorporate push ups, assisted pull ups or military, pop squats (jumping squats), abs - (best exercise leg raises and twisting crunches) and cardio (I love jumping rope and doing the strainmill, 3 to 4 times per week).

What is your important of incorporating weigh loss medication like Alli in your pre-wedding program?

I'm an organic girl. I don't push weight loss supplements. I do like whey protein, folic acid, and green drink (aloe vera juice and liquid chlorophyll) and berry drinks (antioxidant). Safe and healthy cleansing programs are the way to go. Being an efficient pooper is the key to getting rid of belly bloat and losing weight.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Meet the Expert: Steve Kemble

In this week’s Meet the Expert column, we interview one of America’s top wedding planners and self-styled “America’s Sassiest Lifestyle Guru.” He’s hip, he’s funky and he’s none other than Steve Kemble. Steve is a star of several TV shows on the Style Network (Whose Wedding Is It Anyway and Married Away), We (Platinum Weddings, Married By the In-laws, and Bling on the Bride) and ABC (Extreme Makeover: Wedding Edition). He’s also the author of the Dash of Sass Blog (note: this isn’t totally wedding related).

What Trends do you see in destination weddings for 2009-2010?

The strongest trend that I am seeing in destination weddings is that couples are taking their guests' travel expenses more into consideration when selecting their destination. In years past, a couple would select a romantic and exotic destination that they had always wanted to go to, without giving much thought to how or if everyone else would be able to feasibly and economically get there. Given the current economic state of the world, I feel the trend of selecting a more budget (yet still romantic and exotic) conscious destination to travel to for all of the guests will continue to be a very strong trend.

How are the needs of engaged couples changed over time? What are they looking for now that they weren't looking for a year ago?

I feel couples today are planning their special day truly for themselves. In the past, couples were planning their weddings based more on family or cultural traditions and customs, than what they really desired. Today, couples are selecting arrangements for their wedding that truly represent themselves, versus doing what simply may be trendy or hip at the time, or related to family traditions.

If a couple is on the fence about having a destination wedding, why should they consider it?

Not to continue all the doom and gloom about the economy, yet a destination wedding can be a sound financial decision for a couple that is struggling with how they are going to pay for the wedding of their dreams...especially if they are in a big city! A destination wedding allows you to cut your guest list drastically. You can leave off a lot of business associates and friends of friends. A smaller guest list allows for a more lavish affair! Additionally, destination weddings are perfect for the couple who has family and friends scattered all over the country. If these people are going to have to travel to your wedding anyway, why not have them travel to a wonderful, fun and romantic destination to share in your big day!

What is the single biggest source of wedding drama that you see and how can couples minimize it in destination wedding planning?

When planning a destination wedding, the biggest source of drama I see is when couples select a destination they are not familiar with. As I tell all my couples, a destination wedding takes a tremendous amount of trust, or you will have an overwhelming amount of stress! To alleviate the stress, I encourage the couples to travel to the destination a minimum of one time and engage the services of, and trust a planner in the destination of their choice. In addition to having a planner in the locale of their wedding, I feel it is equally important to also have a planner to work with them at home. The advantages of having a planner in the destination are numerous. Most importantly they will help you with language and cultural barriers in addition to knowing the best vendors in the destination. Additionally, a planner in the destination will be able to help you with the best all inclusive rates at local hotel properties because you have to remember the local planner most likely plans numerous weddings at a hotel property or other venues in their home destination, whereas you are only planning your one wedding. Local planners are volume buyers and can get you the best price possible. Personally, I feel there are no disadvantages to engaging the services of a local planner in the wedding destination.

What is the most interesting and unique destination wedding you ever planned? What made it so memorable?

The most interesting and unique destination wedding I have ever planned was in Ireland. Not only is Ireland one of the most beautiful and romantic locations in the world, the couple had Irish ancestors so it made it even more special. What made the wedding so memorable was that the wedding was held in a historic castle. I actually stayed in the castle along with the couple (all in separate rooms of course!) for three days prior to the wedding. Is there anything that could be more romantic than getting married in a castle in Ireland! Additionally, the castle was located in a very small town and everyone in the community celebrated the wedding of this couple they did not even know! We went from pub to pub dancing and singing with all the locals, Irish rugby players included! It was amazing, you would have thought it was the wedding of royals! The bride said she truly felt like a fairy tale princess getting married in a castle!

What is a good size to strive for in a destination wedding?

I feel the best size for destination wedding is 80-100 guests'. This is a very manageable and cost effective size for many fabulous resorts and venues around the world.

In light of the economic climate, how are couples adjusting their destination wedding plans to cope?

They are reducing the size of their guest list and are selecting destinations that are more reasonably priced.

What is the next big thing in destination weddings that you see couples doing?

I am seeing more and more couples incorporating the traditions and cultural of the destination in which they are getting married into their wedding ceremony. Additionally, couples are doing projects with their invited guests in which they are giving back to the local community. I anticipate the aspect of helping the local community and the people that live in those destinations in some way, as the next big thing in destination weddings!

What is the single best piece of advice you would give couples prior to planning a destination wedding?

A Save the Date card is critically important if you expect your desired family and friends to attend! Most people will need to plan ahead for budget reasons and additionally to request vacation time from work reasons.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Win a Honeymoon - Jade Mountain Resort

Jade Mountain Resort in St. Lucia is offering the chance to win a Honeymoon Vacation / Destination Wedding in St. Lucia. I’m not totally clear what the rules are, but you can check them out and also enter the sweepstakes here. The sweepstakes is being offered by Jade Mountain Resort and Chronicle Books.

We’ve never been to St. Lucia, but it’s high on our list! We’ve entered and will definitely post a review if we win!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Meet the Expert: Richelle Albrecht

In this week’s Meet the Experts column, we interviewed Richelle Albrecht, owner of Girl Metro, Inc., a specialty invitation company in Chicago, Illinois. She is lover of beautiful paper and translates that love into specialty wedding invitations. From Maui to Barbados, Las Vegas to Cabo San Lucas, Richelle has designed invites for many of the most popular wedding destinations.

What trends do you see in destination wedding invitations?

There are several trends that are specific to destination wedding invitations - generally, a couple has chosen the destination for some unique feature that they loved - whether it's tropical weather, gorgeous scenery, or local culture. Most of the time, they want their stationery to reflect that feature though color, paper, or illustrations (or some combination of those three).

In addition to stationery that reflects some special aspect of the destination, there's a trend toward making a few days before and after the ceremony a multi-event vacation for guests. As a result, much more information must be relayed to guests, to ensure that they know about all the events that they may want to take part in, and so they can plan their trip accordingly.

For example, we've created additional invitations and enclosures for events like deep-sea fishing trips, pre- and post-wedding cocktail parties, brunches, professional baseball games, golf outings, tours, and more. Additionally, once guests arrive at the destination, we often recommend that an itinerary, map, and customized favors (with tags that match the stationery, of course) be provided in their hotel room, so that guests who are unfamiliar with the location can do some exploring and stay aware of what's going on each day.

Do destination wedding invitations tend to be more thematic than traditional weddings? What are some of the common motifs?

For tropical weddings, themes definitely seem to be more popular. We've created invitations with beach scenes and palm trees, sea shells, and the like. One of my favorites, however, was a "sea and sky" theme, which was carried out only in the use of Caribbean turquoise blue and textured turquoise, cerulean and pale blue papers which represented the sea's rippling surface.

We thought about printing our invitation in a certain way and then attaching it to a pair of flipflops and sending it to our guests. In the end, we opted for a more traditional approach. Are you seeing couples doing anything truly unique and different?

Although couples have come in with visions of invitations printed on Frisbees, paper fans, pirate maps, and playing cards, most of the time we end up creating a more traditional invitation. I think that ultimately, couples see their wedding -- wherever it takes place -- as an event which is too important to make light of. As a result, they turn to a more traditional format, or sometimes, just more traditional wording for the invitation text to illustrate that importance as well as the seriousness of their commitment to each other.

What are the most common color schemes for destination weddings?

Most often, the color schemes are suggested by the location that couples choose for their wedding.

For couples planning tropical-locale weddings, we see a lot of bright colors - Caribbean blue, vibrant greens, oranges and fuschias. For desert weddings (in Santa Fe, for example), rich terra cottas, deep reds, and deep yellows are often predominant, along with cerulean blue (for the perfect, uncloudy blue of a sunny desert sky).

Some couples prefer to go with a color scheme that reflects their personality and the tone of their wedding, however, regardless of the location. We've done black, white and red velvet for a New Year's Eve destination wedding, and black and cream for a desert wedding, too. There aren't any hard and fast rules, so we tend to look to the couples' personalities and vision for their wedding for color inspiration in addition to the colors suggested by the location.

One of the things we wondered about for our destination wedding was how far in advance to send the invitation. We sent a Save the Date about six months in advance and the wedding invites about two months in advance. Do you have any advice on timing for Save the Dates or invitations?

Sending information to guests early is crucial for a destination wedding... Guests need time to request time off from work, make travel arrangements and babysitting or pet boarding arrangements, and for truly far-flung destinations or in a rocky economy, to save up some cash. Giving guests ample time to take care of those necessities will result in more of them being able to come to the wedding.

Save the dates should be sent out at least 6 months before the wedding, and should include some basic travel and accommodation information if possible. If the wedding is going to be part of a weekend- or week- long series of events, it's a good idea to let guests know that they may want to stay on after the wedding, or arrive a few days early (or both!). Some couples also include a few notes in the save the date as to why they chose a specific destination, or things to do in that locale, as well.

The invitation should go out between two and three months ahead of the wedding, so that those who didn't take advantage of the save the date card's information can get in gear and make their travel plans. If accommodation and travel information didn't go out in the save the date cards, that's a must with the invitation. It's wise to let guests know things which will make their trip smoother, like how far the location is from the nearest airport, whether the hotels where rooms are blocked are walking distance to the ceremony and reception or if a shuttle is available, or whether guests should plan on renting a car or hiring taxis, etc.

Another timing issue to consider is response time - it's vital to get responses back well before the couple must leave for the destination! I always recommend that the "respond-by" date leaves ample time to make phone calls to those who haven't responded, and to get a final count to the contact at the ceremony and reception locations.

How do you recommend couples disseminate accommodation and travel information? We put together a website to keep couples informed, but this was very informal. However, we spent a lot of time questioning whether to include the website URL on the actual invites?

It's always better to include as much information as early as possible - either by including the specifics with or on the save the date cards, or by including a web address on the save the dates for guests to visit and stay up-to-date on travel and accommodation information.

If, when the save the date cards are sent out, the accommodation and travel information isn't finalized, it's perfectly fine to include that on an enclosure card which is mailed with the invitation. In such cases, though, I generally recommend mailing the invitations out as early as possible.

Beyond invites, what else do couples need to remember to bring for their destination weddings?

Couples should think through their celebration, and pinpoint items that would be helpful both to guests, and to their plans. For example, here's the stationery needs we determined for a Cabo San Lucas wedding last year:

- Save the date cards
- Wedding invitation, including: weekend itinerary information, travel information (airline discount code, shuttle info from airport to hotel, hotel reservation information), response card including attendance options for pre- and post- wedding events, and a note about the location and why it was special to the couple
- Hotel welcome kit: weekend itinerary with taxi, shopping and restaurant information, directions to all of the pre- and post- wedding events as well as the ceremony, start times for pre-wedding events, ceremony, cocktail hour and reception and post-wedding events, contact information for the wedding planner (who was fielding guest questions), tags for bottled water and a note thanking guests for traveling to the wedding
- Custom name tags for welcome cocktail party
- Sandalwood fans for the outdoor ceremony, with small ceremony programs attached with ribbon
- Escort Cards (directing guests to their table) with ribbon for hanging
- Menus
- Charitable donation cards with wide ribbon which wrapped around each dinner plate, keeping the card and the menu in place at each place setting (the dinner was held out of doors, so wind was a concern)
- Additional wide ribbon, by the spool, which could be used as decor on chairs, pergola frames, and added to the bride's bouquet
- Thank you cards to send out to guests after the couple returned from the honeymoon

How have the needs of engaged couples changed over time? What are they looking for now that they weren't looking for a year ago?

We're seeing a trend toward more intimate weddings, with couples looking for fewer invitations and more announcements, particularly for destination weddings. Additionally, the over-the-top luxury which many couples wanted for their invitations last year seems to be falling out of vogue - simplicity and elegance is definitely back in style this year.

What is the next big thing in destination weddings that you see couples doing?

I see a couple of trends for destination weddings - a big trend this year is couples moving toward eco-friendly materials for all aspects of the wedding. We've had tons of requests for seeded (plantable) paper, which guests can plant and have a living reminder of a couple's wedding, as well as environmentally-friendly favor options.

A second trend this year is couples using vintage postcards with images of the wedding destination as save the date cards, with the save the date information printed via letterpress in the "message" space on the back. Each card is unique, and some couples go so far as to use vintage postage stamps, as well.

As a wedding vendor with your company Girl Metro, what is the single biggest piece of advice you would want to give couples prior to their destination weddings? What do you wish couples who contact you would know about working with a wedding vendor?

Wow, that's a big question! I think the single most important thing for any couple is that they have a clear idea of what the wedding will be like (which is easier said than done!). If a couple has a clear vision of their wedding, it becomes easy for them to decide which items fit that vision, and which do not -- whether it's the stationery, the bridesmaid's dress, or anything else.

There are a few things that I wish couples knew when they contacted me about creating their wedding stationery:

Budget is really important - I don't want a couple to fall in love with something that won't fit their budget. It's heartbreaking for them, and it's an awful feeling for me. That's not to say that a couple must be explicit about how much money they want to spend, but it's much easier for me to gauge what will be appropriate if I have some parameters. ("We want to spend about $12 per invitation suite," for example, or "We expected to spend between $2000 and $2500 for all of our stationery.")

The second thing is how many invitations a couple truly needs. Many, many couples mistakenly request a number of invitations which is actually the number of invited guests, not the number of invitations they must mail. Even it the guest list isn't 100% complete, having a good idea of how many invitations will be needed will allow a vendor to give the couple a more accurate estimate of cost.

Finally, it's a good idea for a couple to talk through the process with each vendor that they are considering, and to request samples (particularly for an invitation vendor), so that there are no surprises. For the same reason, couples should be sure that there is a written contract with the estimated cost, what that cost includes (exactly), as well as any terms and conditions, before they make any final decisions. Having that information up front will help a couple determine how efficient a vendor is with communication, how professional he or she is, and how responsive he or she is to their needs; all of which will help alleviate stress for the couple.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Meet the Expert: Lara Weiss

In this week’s Meet the Experts column, we interviewed Lara Weiss, the Managing Director of K Hotels. As a veteran in the hospitality industry, Ms. Weiss directs operations at this collection of boutique hotels around the world – many are popular with couples having destination weddings.

What trends do you see in destination weddings?

Destination weddings are small, around 40 people, and currently I am seeing a lot go to Costa Rica. Previously Mexico, Puerto Vallerta and Cabo, were the hot spots but with the negative publicity Mexico is receiving, Costa Rica’s popularity seems to be growing. Also flights to Costa Rica are at a great price point for the attendees.

How have the needs of engaged couples changed over time?

Couples seem to be older now, late 20’s early 30’s and now they don’t want a huge extravaganza, but rather close friends in a amazing location. Luxury at a value is very important.

From Greece to San Francisco and from Brazil to Bali, K Hotels has luxury, boutique properties all over the world. Which K Hotel locations are the most popular for destination weddings?

Costa Rica, we have amazing hotels in several cities all over the world but the majority of our clients are US based and for the US traveler it’s not feasible to do a wedding in Bali with the cost of flights, but Costa Rica, on the other hand, is a great value for an incredible destination. Puerto Rico is another popular destination.

If a couple is on the fence about having a destination wedding, why should they consider it?

How many guests they really want at their wedding, but making the decision to have a destination wedding you significantly cut down on your guest list. Couples should also consider, flights, hotel accommodations, distance from airport, because then the guests will have to rent a car, or hire transportation. All in all it comes down to who you really want at your wedding, and making it as easy as possible for those that do make the trip. At K Hotels we are happy to assist from the moment each guest lands in their preferred destination to the moment they leave. We work with world class concierges and have partnerships globally that allow us to offer first class service to our clients.

What is the typical size of a destination wedding at one of your properties?

About 40 is a typical wedding.

In light of the economic climate, how are couples adjusting their destination wedding plans to cope?

Destination weddings typically are less expensive for the bride and groom because the guest list is significantly smaller, however the cost falls to the attendees. In my experience, I have seen several attendees make the destination wedding the family vacation as well, to help justify the cost, and the hotels are always willing to work with the guests offering the discounted group rates pre and post.

What is the next big thing in destination weddings that you see couples doing? (spas, themed weddings, etc.)

Destination Weddings seem to take a more modest approach. Barefoot on the beach, tan suits instead of tux’s, casual meals, a more relaxed and inviting environment.

What is the single biggest piece of advice you would want to give couples prior to their destination weddings?

Think of your guest list, who do you really want to share your wedding with, and know that destination weddings will generate a lot of “no responses” to RSVP’s. Pick a destination where someone can turn it into a vacation.

What do you wish couples who contact your firm would know about working with a wedding location?

Be specific with what you want, and be willing to go out early and check out the location, I do not recommend planning wedding based on photos. Interview vendors, florists, photographers, and be sure to see examples of their work at your specific property and be open to working with the on property team, they know their hotel better than anyone and will be honest with their answers.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Meet the Expert: Larissa Banting

In this week’s Meet the Experts column, we interviewed Larissa Banting, APR, PBC, President of Weddings Costa Rica. Banting has been doing destination weddings in Costa Rica for several years. After struggling to plan her own wedding in Costa Rica, she decided to start a company that could provide full-service destination wedding services. Banting also writes The Lazy Bride blog.

What trends do you see in destination weddings?

I see couples looking for ways to make the wedding more personal, adding in unique touches. Signature cocktails are big as are bringing in unique experiences for their guests during the reception, such as having a cigar roller or a coffee expert to lead them in a mini-coffee tasting experience. We also see couples providing group excursions (such as zip lining, sunset boat cruises, sport fishing) to help bond their family and friends, many whom are meeting for the first time at the wedding.

How have the needs of engaged couples changed over time? What are they looking for now that they weren’t looking for a year ago?

Well, if I didn’t say the economy has had a huge hand in changing how people approached anything in Life, I’d be negligent. Cutting costs, finding ways to make the dollar stretch and keeping the guest list to a minimum are all the catch phrases we’re hearing on a daily basis. I think this is why destination weddings are gaining in popularity, since it’s an easy way to cut the guest list down dramatically.

If a couple is on the fence about having a destination wedding, why should they consider it?

A destination wedding offers couples many advantages. Foremost, marrying away cuts down on the guest list, since usually only the closest family and friends will attend. And a smaller guest list means less strain on the budget. Etiquette-wise, you are NOT expected to pay for your guests’ travel or hotels.

Marrying in a foreign country is usually much cheaper than marrying at home. For example, here in Costa Rica, our clients say they would have paid anywhere from 2 to 4 times the money they did for a similar wedding in their home town. Being a ‘developing nation’, prices for food, drink, flowers, décor, etc. are much cheaper.

A destination wedding usually means a beautiful location (ie a beach or rainforest) that you cannot find ‘at home’. A stunning locale makes for amazing wedding setting and photos. Much more memorable than a hotel ballroom. And a unique location means you can save a lot of money on décor.

Undoubtedly, though, the wonderful thing about destination weddings is having a unique travel experience with your guests. This is the thing our clients tell us over and over – how much they’ve enjoyed having the time to spend with everyone, creating lifelong memories. And best of all, the bride and groom are able to be guests at their own wedding, rather than running around dealing with all the last minute details they would have had they had the wedding at home.

We’ve been to Costa Rica before, visiting Tortuguero, Tambor, San Jose, Arenal and Monteverde. What the most popular destination wedding locations in Costa Rica?

While each of those areas are lovely and unique, none of those locations are super popular. We do the odd wedding in Arenal or Monteverde but by far, the beaches are where people want to marry. We have done some weddings in Tambor but given the difficulty of travelling there (either by ferry or small plane), it’s not on the top of the list. By far, the beach areas of Manuel Antonio (with it’s gorgeous beaches fringed by the rainforest), the beaches around Jaco/Playa Herradura (home to Los Suenos Marriott Resort and the incredible Villa Caletas boutique hotel) and the beaches up in the northwest area of Guanacaste (Tamarindo, Flamingo, Ocotal, Papagayo) are where 95% of the weddings take place. Other popular spots are Mal Pais/Santa Teresa (up from Tambor – difficult to get to but beautiful foilage and beaches make the journey worth it).

What are the marriage requirements for Costa Rica? Is it easy to obtain a marriage license? Is there a residency requirement, or could someone get married during a shore excursion on a cruise?

Unlike other locations, Costa Rica has very straightforward marriage requirements. You could marry literally the moment you walk off the plane or boat (our firm plans weddings for a luxury German cruise ship where they are in port for only a few hours here). By law, any wedding performed outside of a Catholic Church requires a lawyer to witness it and prepare all the paperwork. Our lawyer sends a questionnaire to the couple before the wedding (name, profession, if they’d been married before and if so, details on the divorce, etc.) and they just need to send that back with a scan of their passport photos. The lawyer can perform the ceremony or a family friend, pastor, rabbi – whomever the couple wishes as long as the lawyer is present to witness it. And you can have the ceremony totally personalized – feel free to include sand ceremonies, hand fasting, readings, whatever you want to make this day special for you. At some point (either during or after the ceremony), the couple and two witnesses sign the paperwork in front of the lawyer, who then registers the marriage in the civil registry of Costa Rica. It can take up to 90 days for this process but the couple is legally married from the moment they sign the papers. After the papers have been stamped and registered, they are sent to the couple’s home and they just present them to their local bureau of vital statistics to register their marriage took place abroad. That’s it. Very straightforward.

What makes Costa Rica unique as a wedding destination? What are things that can be done only in Costa Rica?

I think Costa Rica is unique for a wedding destination for the same reason it’s a one-of-a-kind spot on Earth. Although it’s small (about the size of West Virginia), it is the most bio-diverse place on the planet. We have 13 micro-climates here, so the landscape is incredibly varied. With two oceans, a mountain range, rainforests, cloudforests, volcanoes, vast savannahs, jungles, small towns and modern cities, there is something for everyone. It is an eco-paradise, with 26% of the country protected via national parks or reserves. Where else can you be on a beach, surrounded by rainforest as white-face monkeys chatter overhead while you exchange your vows against a heart-stopping sunset?

In addition to the flora and fauna, Costa Rica is a safe destination. We have the longest-running democracy in Latin America and have had no army since 1949 (prompting the nickname ‘The Switzerland of the Americas’). The water is potable so you can eat and drink without concern. And the Costa Ricans are some of the nicest folks you’ll ever meet. They love their country and are more than happy to share it with travelers. Lots of things to do, from white water rafting to zip lining, hiking, bird watching, golfing, sportfishing, spas, lounging by a beach, mountain biking, and, of course, surfing!

Unlike other tropical locales, the focus is on boutique hotels, rather than monstrous chains. And by law, all beaches are public. We are not encumbered by rules and regulations about beach use (so you can have that cocktail hour on the beach). The one law that is enforced is no permanent structures within 50 metres of the high tide mark – which means the beaches are not choked by buildings. You can stand on the beach and all you’ll see is palm trees.

We have two very distinct cultures in Costa Rica – on the Atlantic side, you’ll find strong Caribbean influences (reggae) and the rest of the country has strong Latin roots. Popular Costa Rican touches for weddings include Latin guitar trios, Salsa bands, traditional marimba bands (wooden xylophones which are the national instrument) and carnivale (similar to what you see in Rio de Jinero).

What is the most interesting and unique destination wedding you ever planned? What made it so memorable?

Wow, tough question! We’ve coordinated over 300 weddings so it’s difficult to just choose one. A recent wedding had the groom ride in on a white horse which was pretty amazing. Another wedding had touches of East Indian wedding traditions (as the groom was part Indian). We had an amazing rehearsal dinner at a private residence’s backyard on the beach. Lots of bright tropical colours, we used fruits filled with orchids to decorate and lights strung from the trees overhead. Delicious bbq with local fare (fresh dorado, local beef) and then the bride and her friends donned gorgeous saris and surprised the groom (and guests) with an expertly choreographed Bollywood number!

The wedding the next day was in the gardens in front of the beach. We had a bamboo ‘mandap’ and the country’s only sitar player accompanied the couple as they performed a modified Hindu wedding ceremony. After the ceremony, a local Latin guitar trio entertained during the cocktail hour. Then, after the sun had just set, a fire dancing troupe performed and then, with drums beating and torches blazing, led the 102 wedding guests across the street to the open-aired reception around one of the largest pools in Central America. Talk about an entrance! After dinner, everyone danced around and in the pool. Truly magical. What made it so memorable was how effortlessly we were able to weave in touches of the groom’s culture without it seeming ‘forced’ or obvious. And the unexpected touches, like the Bollywood number and the fire dancers leading the celebrations, are the things of a Hollywood movie. Different and truly memorable.

What is the typical size of a destination wedding that you see in Costa Rica?

Although we work with clients with weddings ranging in size from just the couple to celebrations of 200+, the average wedding we see is around 40 – 50 people.

In light of the economic climate, how are couples adjusting their destination wedding plans to cope?

Many are lowering their expectations for the final guest count, understanding that a trip abroad just isn’t in the cards for many people right now. Some clients have graciously paid for different aspects of their guests’ travel experience. One very generous couple paid for the group excursions (zip line tour, sailing tour) as well as their transport to/from the airport/hotel and then subsidized each hotel night by $50 to help their guests. Other couples have paid for hotel rooms, transport or a tour. This is not expected but for some couples, given the guest list for their wedding in Costa Rica is smaller than what they’d have had in North America, choose to allocate the money their saving by having a destination wedding to aide their guests’ travel.

What is the next big thing in destination weddings that you see couples doing?

We’re seeing more rehearsal dinners with everyone included and more farewell brunches. I think couples are really trying to make the most of their wedding weekend and maximizing the time people have together. Also, having a group excursion is gaining popularity.

As a wedding vendor with your company, Weddings Costa Rica, what is the single biggest piece of advice you would want to give couples prior to their destination weddings? What do you wish couples who contact you would know about working with a wedding vendor?

My advice is to go with the flow (guess that applies to any wedding anywhere though, eh?). Remember that you’re coming to what is still considered to be a Third World country. That means that things don’t happen in a New York minute. While we work with the most professional vendors and hotels, we aren’t in North America so be prepared for things to happen at a more generous pace than you may be used to. And once you get down here, you’ll more than likely fall into ‘Tico Time’ as well. People who are relaxed have a much better time and I find the Universe conspires beautifully to create magic for them.

Be realistic about where you’re coming to. If you want a big church wedding with a reception in a loft filled with Lilies of the Valley and ice sculptures, this isn’t the place for you. Embrace what Costa Rica has to offer and use it to its fullest. Doing so will not only lower everyone’s stress level but will make the wedding unique and memorable.

My other advice is to hire a wedding planner. I know that may sound self-serving but I’ve had brides who decided to ‘save some money’ by going through the hotel directly or trying to do it on their own and have written me afterwards saying they’d wished they’d hired us instead. Costa Rica is not Canada or the USA. This is likely the biggest, most expensive party you will ever throw so why not leave it to a professional who knows the country, knows the vendors and knows how to ensure everything runs smoothly on the day? Doing so will not only save you money in the long run but time and a lot of stress.

Hire a planner that you have a good relationship with. You’ll be working with them a lot so you want to have someone you trust, you like and feel comfortable with. And once you’ve hired that planner, trust them that they are going to make the best recommendations and choices for your wedding vision. Give them feedback and be honest and open if you aren’t sure about something. No one is a mind reader so be upfront about what your expectations are since disappointment occurs when they aren’t met.

Finally, partner with a good travel agent in the country to look after all the travel as this is usually the biggest barrier guests have to attending a destination wedding. An agency in-country will be far better equipped to handle questions, transport, tours, etc. than an agency in another country. The last thing you as a couple want to deal with is travel logistics for all your guests – leave it to a pro.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Meet the Expert: Jennifer Carfagno

In this week’s Meet the Experts column, we interviewed Jennifer Carfagno, the wedding planning expert at The Weather Channel. She writes the “Ask Jen” section on the Wedding Planner tool on and is also the travel analyst on TWC’s morning program, First Outlook.

What trends do you see in destination weddings for 2009-2010?

I definitely have noticed more requests for weather information for outdoor weddings near hometowns vs. island or other exotic destinations. It seems like Brides are still making the event a weekend destination, but instead to a location that perhaps is easier to travel to for the wedding.

Since most destination weddings are held outside, weather obviously plays an important part of the wedding. What things do couples need to consider?

Of course, every bride would love a sunshine guarantee for their wedding day! We can't do that, but we can help couples focus on the typically dry times of year for their location. It's also important to keep in mind not only the average temperatures for the date, but also how far the temperature can swing above or below that average - we can help with that too.

Are there general rules-of-thumb about areas or regions to consider with respect to weather?

There are definitely some rules of thumb to follow. The rainy season in the Caribbean (whether due to summertime thundershowers or hurricanes) is in the later summer and early fall. Hawaii's rainy season is during the winter, but even then, the weather is usually quite nice. Europe can be cold and wet during the winter, but August can also be quite hot, too. We have a great guide on - Where to Go When: Best Weather by Wedding Month.

How can couples minimize weather-related difficulties for their destination weddings?

Couples should definitely try to plan their outdoor wedding during the dry and mild season. But they should also find out the possible weather extremes, and have a contingency plan for those as well. For example, the possibility of a record-breaking 95 degree day when you were expecting 70 degrees will be much easier to handle if you at least know that the tent can be air-conditioned.

When we were planning our destination wedding in the Bahamas in June, we spent a lot of time thinking about the weather. As much as we enjoyed planning the wedding, we didn’t like to think about the contingency plan in case of rain. How do we get past it?

No one wants to plan for rain on their wedding day! But in an island location, it certainly is a possibility. Embrace your wedding day weather. Make it fun, make it part of your day. Give umbrellas as favors! Get pictures in it - rain or shine. After all, it's the backdrop for your wedding story.

How have the needs of engaged couples changed over time? What are they looking for now that they weren’t looking for a year ago?

Weather and weather forecasting is so much a part of our pop culture. And everyone seems to be savvier about the limits of weather predictions. When we first launched Wedding Planner on, I received a lot of requests for specific forecasts a year out, even two. Now, most brides and couples are inquiring about the rainy season, dry season, and "odds" of a bad weather day. Those requests we can answer!

In light of the economic climate, how are couples adjusting their destination wedding plans to cope? Are couples looking at different locations?

More and more brides and couples have been requesting weather information for destination weddings close to home, as opposed to on island or exotic locations. They still very much have a "destination wedding" feel to them, just at a local lake instead of at a white-sand beach, for example.

Is there anything that we haven’t asked that you want to share your thoughts on?

June is known as the most popular month for weddings, but I see October as the new June. Especially in light of more people planning destination weddings in the continental U.S. October is one of the driest months of the year across our country, humidity is often low, temperatures are comfortable, and it often boasts that brilliant azure blue sky that is a great backdrop for pictures.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

God Awful Wedding Presents

We recently posted about couples giving each other wedding presents. Some gentleman posted a comment asking about giving his wife a Babylicious necklace of himself. Babylicious are engraved etchings from designer Barry Kronen. Our initial reaction was that this was probably a joke. However, at the risk he’s serious, we need to address this.

Big gold jewelry is either very ethnic or very dated (circa 1990s). If ethnic jewelry fits your cultural demographics, OK. If not, seriously rethink this. A wedding present should be either extremely meaningful or classy. A Babylicious necklace of yourself probably doesn’t qualify.

You’re going to get enough god awful wedding presents, you don’t need to add another one. Our worst wedding present was a couple’s devotional – great if you’re Christian, embarrassing if you’re not, super awkward when the author is a Christian minister in the midst of having an affair…with a man.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Meet the Expert: Donnie Brown

In this week’s Meet the Experts column, we interview Donnie Brown – wedding expert and host of the Style Network show Whose Wedding is it Anyway? Donnie has planned and executed more than 2,000 weddings, including many destination weddings.

How have the needs of engaged couples changed over time? What are they looking for now that they weren’t looking for a year ago?

A year ago people were less worried about the economy and their wedding expenses. They are definitely looking for better deals now than they were then. Everyone has had to pull back their budget due to the fact that so many people have lost money in the stock market. Therefore, good deals are at the forefront of their minds when planning their weddings. Last year it was about saving the ecology. Now it is still about green but more about leaving some green in their pocket.

What trends do you see in destination weddings for 2009-2010?

a. If you are getting married in a non-English speaking country, in order to forgo any hassles, consider getting married legally at home perhaps with a justice of the peace and then get married symbolically at your destination wedding.

b. There is a resort in Fiji that has been built totally underwater. You can actually reside at the upscale resort called Poseidon and get married 40 feet under water. There are 24 underwater suites as well as event venues.

If a couple is on the fence about having a destination wedding, why should they consider it?

Couples are opting for destination weddings these days due to the economy and their personal wedding budget and its limitations. When you do a wedding at a destination, you can generally control your guest list by virtue of realizing many of the guests that would have come to your wedding had it been local will not be able to pay for the extra related expenses incurred by traveling to a location. Many couples are alleviating the large cost by doing the wedding in the Caribbean or Mexico so that it is not so far for them, and the immediate family and closest friends will hopefully still be able to make it. If they go abroad for their nuptials, they may find that they have limited themselves to only a small handful of people.

On the show Whose Wedding Is It Anyway?, we see a lot of wedding drama and weddings are notorious for drama. What is the single biggest source of wedding drama that you see and how can couples minimize it in our destination wedding planning?

Many couples have problems making decisions about how many people to invite to their wedding. It is a real source of concern because the more people you invite, the more the wedding will cost. They are concerned about diluting their wedding funds with guests that they have never met or perhaps seen since they were very young. There are some things that cost the same whether or not you have a large guest count or a small one such as attire and entertainment. But the big ticket items such as floral/décor and food and beverage can increase greatly for every person added to the list. Another good reason for destination weddings. The one thing to note here is that you can lose a cherished family member by doing a destination wedding such as a grandparent who cannot afford or is unwilling to travel a long distance. As for the drama; I have seen more family and couple fighting over the guest count and budget than any other component of the wedding. It all boils down to the budget.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using a wedding coordinator for destination weddings?

When you plan a destination wedding there are many cultural and communication difficulties depending on where you plan your event. A wedding planner who is up to speed on these issues can alleviate the problems by cutting through the difficulties and ensure a trouble-free and perfect event. You don’t always have to hire the local wedding planner to travel to the wedding site and oversee the wedding implementation. Often, if the wedding is planned for you by your coordinator, you can then rely on the wedding expert at the destination to pick up the ball after the planning is complete and carry out your wishes with perfection.

What is the most interesting and unique destination wedding you ever planned? What made it so memorable?

I very much enjoyed the wedding we did on Married Away Season one. It was in Jamaica at Half Moon Resort and that is one of my favorite places on earth. It is a lovely location with people that treat every single person on property as if they were royalty. Celebrities flock to this resort every year because of the expert staff and incredible customer service. I recommend anyone looking for a tropical wedding to look into this resort. It is situated on 450 acres of private and secure land and has spared no expense in creating the perfect vacation and wedding location site for adults or families. And being in Jamaica, it is near the US and convenient for travel.

Destination weddings tend to be a little smaller than traditional weddings. In your opinion, what is a good size to strive for in a destination wedding?

Most destination weddings that I plan have between 25 to 40 guests including the couple. However, I have planned destination weddings with up to 175 people. It has everything to do with the couple, their guests, their pocketbook and their willingness to travel to be there for the wedding.

What is the next big thing in destination weddings that you see couples doing?

I think that more couples will be doing weddings on cruise ships. The cruise lines are becoming more interested in creating packages for larger groups that make the ticket price more affordable. As well, you can actually plan your wedding on one of the destinations the ship has scheduled on its itinerary. You can have your ceremony on the beach on a remote island all created and conducted by the cruise line’s personnel. Then, you can have the reception on board the ship. It is also a wonderful way for people to be able to be together when they want and have separation from the rest of the group when they want.

As a vendor with Donnie Brown Weddings & Events, what is the single biggest piece of advice you would want to give couples prior to their destination weddings? What do you wish couples who contact you would know about working with a wedding vendor?

A wedding planner is a must. You need a planner to insure your dreams are carried out perfectly. Don’t try to do this on your own. As well, try to have a list of questions pre-prepared for every person you are hiring to implement a component of your wedding. It is critical that you know everything you need to know about every vendor and insure that nothing slips through the cracks. I once had a local vendor on an island arrange for a disc jockey to supplement the steel drum band to cut costs. The DJ showed up with a two CD changer and no music. It was fun to run around finding music to actually have something to play for dancing. The African-American couple had Michael Buble for their first dance. Probably not what they had in mind, but in the end it worked.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Wedding Weight Loss

For many women, weight loss goes hand-in-hand with getting married. No one wants to wear a white (a notoriously slimming color, right?) dress and look unappealing in their wedding photos. Plus, most girls grow up waiting for their wedding day to be the best day of their life, so of course they want to look and feel their best.

An entire industry has been built around losing weight in preparation for the wedding. Everything from Bridal Bootcamp and Buff Brides to your local fitness club promise to help women get in shape for their special day. While I admit that my destination wedding (and particularly my wedding dress) was a huge motivation to slim down, I really wanted to get healthier and more toned as a life change. That meant the tried and true standby of eating less and moving more.

One tool that was particularly helpful in my journey to get healthy was SparkPeople is a totally free website that helps you keep track of what you eat and how much you exercise, but it allows help you set other goals such as drinking enough water, stopping self-critical thoughts and doing things for others. It's certainly a weight loss website, but it's also about overall wellness. The site also features numerous message boards that provide a lot of support from people going through the same experiences.

From the time of our engagement to our wedding, I lost 75 pounds. When I ordered my dress 9 months before the wedding, I ordered the size I was at the time -- I've lost and regained weight in the past and didn't want to get stuck with a dress that was too small. By the time my destination wedding rolled around, I couldn't have been more excited to have it taken in several sizes.

There are a lot of different programs out there. You just need to find the one that works with you and stick with it. If I can lose 75 pounds before my wedding, anyone can do it!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Wedding Presents

In some cultures, the giving of small gifts between the wedding couple is an important part of the wedding tradition. In recent years, that tradition has gone mainstream and many couples exchange small gifts. And in the bigger-is-better world we live in, the small wedding gifts have given way to larger and more elaborate tokens of affection.

For us, we decided that we would not buy each other presents for the wedding. Like many couples, we were paying for our own destination wedding ourselves and we did not need the additional expense. Dear husband decided to skip on our agreement and purchased me a beautiful pair of black Tahitian pearl earrings as a wedding surprise. And was I surprised!

When we returned from the honeymoon, I looked into buying my husband a nice leather briefcase (he’s a big fan of Bric’s bags). Even if you don’t want do something expensive, a small, meaningful wedding gift can be an important part of your wedding experience.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Meet the Experts

For the last several years, we have been sharing our experiences on this blog. But the commentary has been just that – our experience. However, over the next few months, we will be interviewing of experts in the field of destination weddings and sharing those conversations with you. We are extremely excited by this and look forward to sharing their recommendations with you.

Watch for our Meet the Experts column soon!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Destination Weddings 101

We want to revisit the basics of destination weddings.

For us, a destination wedding isn’t just a “wedding away” or “elopement.” Sure, it’s possible to get married someplace else (geographically speaking). And while that is a wedding away, it does not count as a destination wedding in our book.

For us, a true destination wedding is a wedding in which the destination itself becomes an important and essential part of the wedding experience. The destination itself ties into the overall theme of the wedding. And the experience of the wedding could not be repeated in a different location.

For us destination weddings differ from eloping because the venue itself is important. When eloping, the venue becomes secondary (or is not important at all). Historically, eloping meant getting married in secret. We don’t subscribe to that definition. For us eloping is just getting married “someplace else,” but the someplace doesn’t really matter. It could be Las Vegas or some other city because it is convenient. It could be a neighboring town or in a different country.

It’s important for you to decide if you want an elopement (wedding away) or a true destination wedding. It is critical for you to know in your mind exactly what you want. Some venues and locations try to sell “destination weddings” that are nothing more than elopements. You need to ask questions of the venue and ensure that their idea of a destination wedding matches yours.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Location Report: Destination Weddings in Dubai

We recently returned from the UAE and Dubai. Dubai is amazing and there are some fantastic beach resorts there. Of particular note, we enjoyed the Habtoor Grand resort and the One and Only.

However Dubai is located in the Islamic state of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Civil weddings are not possible. You need to get married in a church. It is extremely helpful if you are both of the same religion as mixed-religion marriages introduce a significant level of complexity. A blood test is required. And perhaps most difficult is that Dubai and the UAE explicitly prohibit those in the country on a visitor’s visa from marrying (effectively eliminating the country as a potential destination wedding hotspot).

This is a shame since Dubai and the UAE are so idyllic. Warm winter weather, killer beaches, tremendous shopping and amazing restaurants could make Dubai the must-go-to location for trendy destination weddings. If Dubai Ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum allowed his country to modernize, Dubai and the UAE could be a major center for destination weddings.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Legality of Destination Weddings

The first question we had in planning our destination wedding was whether the marriage would be legally recognized in the United States.

The U.S. State Department actually has a website for U.S. citizens interested in getting married in a foreign country.

You need to follow the legal procedures of the country where you will be married. Most countries have residency requirements (the length of time before the wedding you need to be in the country). In the Bahamas, the residency requirement was one day. However, Tahiti has a residency requirement of 30 days, essentially eliminating it as a potential location for destination weddings.

You will need to produce legal documentation (usually your passports), but could also include birth certificates, death certificates (widow/widower) and/or divorce decrees. Since this was the first marriage for both us, we only needed our passports and copies of our birth certificates. In the Bahamas, we also needed to go through a brief interview with a local official (about 10 minutes). We did not need to do a blood test, which can be a major issue for some people getting married in some countries (including Mexico).

The other major issue that people encounter is getting their marriage certificates/licenses translated into English (which is required for your marriage to be legal in the U.S.). The official language of the Bahamas was English, so we did not have any troubles. We wisely obtained multiple notarized copies of our license, which came in handy when we got home. We needed extra copies of the license for the name change.

Destination weddings can introduce some additional hopes you might need to jump through with respect to legal issues, but it is not a major problem.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Health Considerations for Destination Weddings

Given the tendency for ever more increasingly exotic destination weddings, health considerations can be extremely important. Some of the places where people have destination weddings are in remote places in the developing world. It is important to make sure your vaccinations are up to date. The more remote your wedding and honeymoon locations, the more critical this becomes.

There’s good reason to do so, more than half of Americans traveling abroad will become sick. Of these, about 8% will need to see a doctor. That’s almost a 1-in-10 chance of needing medical attention. The good news is that the most common illnesses are for diarrhea or skin conditions (rash, sunburn, etc.). When you travel for your destination wedding, you should take medication in case you get sick.

But there are other illnesses that can’t be treated with over-the-counter medications. All travelers should be up to date on their normal immunizations, which include: diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, polio, MMR (measles, mumps and rubella), penumococcus, H.influenza type B, and the annual flu vaccine. Different countries might require additional vaccines: Hepatitis A, hepatitis B, meningococcal disease, typhoid fever and possibly rabies. Of this latter group, hepatitis A is the most important since it can be transmitted by impure food or water.

This shouldn’t scare or alarm you. Most resorts, even in the developing world, are very safe and should not concern you. However, it’s your wedding and honeymoon – do you want to take the risk? The vaccinations are good for many years (some for life), so the temporary discomfort and inconvenience is worth the risk to make sure you are protected.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Has Ann Taylor Canceled Celebrations?

We’re going to a friend’s destination wedding later this month and I need a light blue dress. From past experience, we’ve had very good luck with Ann Taylor Celebrations line (both at our own wedding and for a friend's wedding). However, our local Ann Taylor store seems to have stopped carrying it and I’m wondering if Ann Taylor has cancelled the Celebrations line (seriously disappointing!).

The Ann Taylor Celebrations line has been a godsend to destination wedding brides. The dresses are good quality, relatively inexpensive, can be obtained at stores nationwide and come in a wide range of sizes so alterations are minimal.

I hope this is a temporary outage and not a full cancellation of the Celebrations line.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

U.S. Wedding Travel

Over the last few months, we have been traveling back and forth to Europe quite a bit. Through our travels, we’ve met many young people from Europe traveling to the U.S. for destination weddings.

If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. In the U.S., there are more locations, more options, more venues and more vendors. Given the weaknesses of the U.S. dollar against the Euro, it’s also a lot cheaper for them (although the dollar has bounced back a little over the last two months).

With that said, there are big changes to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program coming tomorrow. The Visa Waiver Program is for residents of certain countries to travel to the U.S. without a visa – mostly Western European countries.

Effective tomorrow, if you are part of the Visa Waiver Program (i.e., you don’t need a visa to travel to the U.S.), you must still register with the U.S. Government. This new registration system is called ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization). You can fill the form out on the Internet and approvals take seconds. Once completed, you will be able to travel to the U.S.

The program is designed to give U.S. law enforcement more time to screen for potential terrorists. Unfortunately, this means it takes more time for non-U.S. residents to enter the U.S. (and more hassles).

If you are thinking about a destination wedding in the U.S., you should be aware of this additional step you will need to go through. And if you are a destination wedding vendor in the U.S., you should consider mentioning this to your foreign clients so they aren’t caught by surprise.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Breaking the Silence

Happy New Year! 2008 ended very quietly for us. We received dozens of messages from readers wondering what happened. The truth is, we spent much of the fall traveling, including trips across the U.S. (Texas, Illinois and Florida) and also overseas (including Spain, Gibraltar and Morocco).

With all the traveling, it didn’t give us much of an opportunity to blog. Sorry about that!

We’re back. Hopefully we’ll get back on our weekly blog schedule soon. Thanks for your patience!