5 Tips For Couples Planning a Destination Wedding

My name is Arthur and I am a recent groom.  Believe it or not, I am also a wedding planner, and shockingly enough – 100% straight!  You’re probably asking yourself how in the world I became involved in such a female, gay dominated business.  Truth is, I LOVE fabulous weddings.  C’mon, who doesn’t?  Wedding planning came quite naturally to me after I spent years performing as part of a band at various weddings. As the years went by, I began to organize wedding entertainment, which eventually evolved into full-blown wedding planning.  And now?  I own a successful wedding planning firm in Toronto.

I recently (or many would say, FINALLY) married Laura, my girlfriend of 7 years, in gorgeous Jamaica at the Grand Palladium and Lady Hamilton Resort and Spa. I planned the entire trip and wedding from start to finish. Laura was more than happy to let me take the reigns, without even the slightest idea of what to expect over the many months leading up to our big day. The entire extravaganza was a complete surprise.

As a man, wedding planner and recent groom, it’s no shock that I have a bit of insight to offer when it comes to planning a destination wedding.  And to help all of you somewhat clueless couples out there, I’ve put together my top 5 tips for those of you who are about to take the plunge!

1 – Hire a Professional Travel Agent Who Has Experience in Your Chosen Location 

Country Signs

The last thing you need as you plan your destination wedding is added stress!  Even with a relatively small group of 20 some odd guests, a travel agent eliminates the need for YOU to micromanage all the fine details.  Our travel agent was instrumental in making sure we were well taken care of and she allowed us the opportunity to focus on the part where we (okay, mostly ME) could really add value: the wedding!

Get this, my mother in law, who doesn’t speak English (never mind Jamaican Patois) grabbed the wrong suitcase at the airport. Because we travelled as a group, our transfer waited the extra 30 minutes it took to sort out the issue at no extra charge!  While our tour operator ran around the airport in a huff, we had a far more urgent issue at hand … do we order the Mai Tai or the Rum Runner at the outside bar?

2 – Hire a Professional Destination Wedding Planner 

A planner with experience in your specific location is paramount.  The right candidate has visited your location, networked with vendors in the area and dealt with the complexities of weddings in remote locations.  Most resorts offer a “wedding coordinator” but it’s critical that you recognize the fact that this is not a wedding planner!  A coordinator works for the resort and a wedding planner works for you.  Experience and confidence aside, even I consulted with a wedding planner who specializes in Jamaican weddings.  And I’m so glad I did because I was able to hire some fantastic local talent thanks to excellent vendor recommendations from my fellow planner.

3 – Visit the Location Before You Book

Find a location that is private!

Find a location that is private!

I realize not everyone can afford to do this but it is a worthwhile expense.  During our planning process, we couldn’t have been more confident in the resort we’d chosen (based on online reviews, pricing, packages and website information), and yet our pre-wedding visit proved that it wasn’t nearly all it was cracked up to be!  The “intimate beach ceremony location” they advertised so eloquently on their website was invaded by European tourists in their speedos!  Not sure how romantic Laura would have found such a sight.  And don’t get me started on the “Ocean Front” rooms!  Oh sure, there was an ocean view – with a 6-foot balcony wall covering it!

4 – Entertain Your Guests … But Not Too Much!  

Live Mento Band on the beach for our pre wedding celebration

Live Mento Band on the beach for our pre wedding celebration

Your guests are making a big time investment to be with you at your destination wedding. There is a fine line between organizing just enough activities and going way overboard to the point where you’re taking up nearly every last minute of their time.  Remember, it’s their vacation too!

At our getaway wedding, instead of a wedding rehearsal with the bridal party we had a beach party and bonfire with live music, an open bar and tons of delicious food. Dancing, drinking, eating, more dancing, cigar smoking – you name it, we did it and it ended up being the perfect setting for our guests to loosen up (maybe a little too much) and get to know one another before the wedding. By the end of the night, the bride ended up in the ocean – with me following closely behind her along with several of our guests!  Our photographers followed suit and you wouldn’t believe the pictures we captured (I would venture to say they’re almost better than our wedding shots)!  Spontaneous, crazy and downright ridiculous, it was the most incredible night and a celebration we’ll remember for the rest of our lives.

5 – Make Sure Your Wedding Attire is Appropriate

lovely shot...but my wife is trying to jam the shoes on her swollen feet here..didn't happen!

Lovely shot…but my wife is trying to jam the shoes on her swollen feet here..didn’t happen!

When you choose a hot destination like Jamaica, you need to remember that you’re not inside a cool, refreshing, air-conditioned banquet hall!  Give your chosen gents a few shirts to change into. On my wedding day, I sweat through 3 shirts!  For the ladies, keep in mind that some women tend to swell and retain water in humid locations.  My wife’s feet were like giant potatoes on the day of the wedding and she couldn’t even wear her beautiful (and expensive) Jimmy Choos!  If you know you tend to retain water in the heat, buy a shoe size bigger or bring a backup pair that is slightly larger.

The right planning can go a long way to make sure your destination wedding runs smoothly and that your guests – who likely paid a nice chunk of change to join you – are happy!

It’s all in the details.  Happy planning!


Photo Credit – Jamieson Dean Photography