What I learnt planning a destination wedding

Wedding Travel Agents
So the first thing I want to discuss is your first port of call, calling round various Travel agents who specialise in weddings. We did this 1 year before the wedding. Please check reviews on each travel agent you speak with, then once you have a found a good one make sure you have a direct point of contact, with his or her direct contact number and keep confirming dates. Although we chose a company with an extremely high ratings we still ended up having lots of complications going forward.

My husband and I were undecided on the location of the wedding. We originally wanted it in Barbados, but after speaking with various agents they talked us into Jamaica due to costs. We then starting writing lists of pros and cons for various countries and the hotels included. Fortunately we soon realised we did prefer the wedding to be in Barbados and actually the hotel that we chose was so small it would be less ‘commercial’ and more personal. However the con to that was if any family members did not get on, it would have been more awkward to avoid each other. The hotel was also all inclusive so no one had to worry about paying for meals and drinks, right next to the beach (we wanted a beach wedding) and also no children, which was a tough decision but the overwhelming response from the adults wanting a child free holiday led us to agree on that.

At this point we didn’t know how many people would be coming, and so now is a good time to phone round and get costs of paying for a group of people and costs of paying for maybe a few. We decided to send out a group email and see who would be interested, unsurprisingly everyone said yes. So, originally, we were going to cover the costs of 25 people. However that night I woke up in a cold sweat having it suddenly hit me that really that money could be better spent towards a mortgage, a new car etc. Why on earth was I spending nearly 30k on one day of my life when I can use it to better my future? I say ‘I’ here because I am not convinced my husband ever really wanted to cover the costs of everyone, however I have always stated that I feel it’s unfair for people to feel pressured into attending a wedding they cannot afford. So this then changed things. I sat down with my husband, he agreed and we changed it to pay for parents only. Of course we had the mortifying task of informing people they were no longer getting a free holiday to Barbados. But we made it abundantly clear that they were not under any obligation to feel they had to come and actually we would much rather see people put the money towards their own family holidays than break the bank to spend a few days with us.

Once we had settled on location, hotel and guests. We then sat down and organised dates. We knew the date of the wedding would be 29th August, we just had to think about what time guests arrived and left. You have to take into account the Jet-Lag for those coming in from overseas and how much time you want together as a couple. We opted to travel 27th August – 4th September and invited guests to join us 27th August and leave 1st September. Giving us a bit of a honey moon. However our parents decided to extend their holidays to the 4th September too, which in turn led to us extending the beginning of our vacation instead. Which initially I was concerned about not having enough time together but it actually worked out really well.

So everything booked, deposit paid, no need to worry for a while.

Hidden extra costs
10 months before the wedding – So stupidly, I had no idea about hidden costs, when we booked the wedding it included the ceremony, a cake, the meal and flowers. It was not until a friend of mine (who is getting married in the Dominican republic next year) asked me how much the dinner was. Well I assumed it was free, it’s an all inclusive after all? So a few days later I contacted my travel agents with a few questions (I wont go into how useless my travel agents suddenly became after we had paid our deposit, if you want more details on that then please message me) So anyway, after a few more months they responded. With, yes, a list of ‘extras’ I was extremely angry when I read they wanted an additional $75 per person for the wedding dinner. The other expenses were fair enough – things like $260 for steel band. $50 for a bouquet. $100 for hair and various costs for nails, bridesmaid flowers etc.

So after talking it through with my husband we decided that perhaps we would have the wedding dinner elsewhere and it would be a nice opportunity to explore local food.

So if you are still at point 1, then I urge you to find out these extra prices up front. My friend did, and they managed to book a wedding meal, renting out an entire restaurant, for $300. But most places will expect a per person charge, regardless of whether they are all inclusive or not!

Exporting the wedding dress
Assuming you have sorted out your dress and husbands suit, ushers and bridesmaids. Then the next thing you will want to do is find out the best way to transport your dress to your destination. Everyone I spoke with, at the bridal shop, at the alterations, at the various wedding expos. All told me “You can call the airline 2 weeks before hand, tell them you are bringing the dress and the captain will put it in the cupboard up front”

Well this may be true for those coming from a long distance but as we were only flying from New York to Barbados the plane was not big enough to even have a spare cupboard. So when I called Jet Blue, 2 weeks before the wedding, the lady was very honest and explained they didn’t have a cupboard but I could put it in overhead storage however ‘that would probably annoy other passengers’ She had a good point to be fair and my husband and I agreed to just fold it and take it as luggage. The one helpful thing my travel agent did do was organise a steamer to be the other side incase I needed to get out any creases, but to be honest my dress was lace so I wasn’t too worried about any creases happening in the first place. What I was now worried about was my suitcase arriving with no issues. When we arrived at the check in we expressed a deep concern for the suitcase and explained our situation. The check in staff were very helpful, slapped a load of priority and fragile stickers on the case and I am pleased to say that it did arrive the other side, all safe and sound. I have since heard that you can also buy a wedding box, so you can still take the dress on as hand luggage, but it will still need to be folded.

Getting there early
So I am really pleased we arrived at the destination early. By this point I was so upset with my travel agent I wasn’t even sure the hotel existed, never mind it looking anything like the photos. No one was at the airport to meet us from the travel agency as promised, but after speaking with other agents (Who were amazingly helpful) 30 minutes later our agent arrived and notified us that we were a day early! Either way, they arranged transport for us to our hotel.

As we drove past hundreds of run down hotels and derelict houses I had come to the conclusion I had been well and truly scammed. But then we pulled up to the Soco Hotel, it was like a diamond in the rough. As we were led into the hotel we were met with happy polite staff, I rushed through the lobby to see the beach and it was amazing, pure white sands, deep blue sea. I think we were both very relieved! Our room, location etc was beautiful, nicely decorated, all looked brand new. We quickly took out the dress and suit and made sure both were all ok and no creases etc. After that we walked down and checked out the pool and restaurant, it was much smaller than we had even been used to but somehow felt so much more cosy. Within only a few minutes we had met some other people staying at the resort. Some had booked through the same company as us and had a completely different experience. The meal that evening was amazing, very a la carte, a proper relaxed sit down menu with waiter/waitress service, not a rush to the buffet like I was expecting!

The next morning we had our introduction morning and whilst there, the manager asked us if we would like the wedding dinner in the hotel. “Oh no,” I explained “It’s just to expensive for us” She looked confused “It’s free if you just want the normal menu?” I was so happy! I had no idea we could have just had the set menu, of course we still have to pay $75 per person for those coming in from different hotels, but it still worked out more cost effective. So we went ahead and booked the dinner for saturday night. Soon after we were called into the office by a different manager to explain what the mix up was. Essentially our travel agent had emailed over all our dates COMPLETELY incorrect (Both for us and our guests). I don’t even know where they had plucked the dates from?! We had 12 people staying in total and not a single guest was booked in correctly. So after a few hours we sorted everyone out and all was well again, they even took time to put the elderly guests in lower, easy access rooms. That evening the wedding coordinator arrived at the hotel to talk through the ceremony, colours, cake and flowers. She was also extremely apologetic for the problems we had with our travel agent, so gave us a free bouquet upgrade which I thought was very nice of her. Shortly after we met with the priest, who talked through the ceremony itself and prayers etc. I felt so much at ease after this and could relax again. The day after this all the guests arrived and we were both so happy to have all our close family and friends around us again.

Stay out of the sun
1 day until the wedding. My husband had managed to get sunburnt, despite sunscreen and being careful. I started to worry, what would the photos look like with him and a red face. I kept applying aloe and kept my fingers crossed. Although, it wasn’t just my husband, I looked around and saw lots of pink faces starting to emerge! So I started to re-think, maybe we’ll just have black and white photos?

People started to talk about the clothes they were wearing and asking me what time the ceremony was, what time the dinner was etc. I wish I could have printed out an itinerary for them however we didn’t even know till 2 days before hand what was going on for dinner. Fortunately as there was only 12 of us it was quite easy to just explain to everyone what was going on. If you have a big guest list I highly suggest you print something out for people to look at so they don’t feel so lost and confused. The ceremony was at 4pm and dinner at 7pm. Not too much to remember.

Unforeseen circumstances (weather and environment)
So something we had no idea about, couldn’t predict, and couldn’t change was all the Caribbean islands were hit with a massive seaweed explosion. Which decided to show itself the day before the wedding, the staff assured me the sea would take out most of the seaweed overnight, but I was still disappointed. Hey ho, there was nothing I could do now, but sit and wait and hope. By this point I was more worried about Hurricane Erika that was making it’s way through the islands. I kept telling myself we knew before hand it was hurricane season, though again, the staff assured me they hadn’t had one for 50 years. I just felt it would be our luck that it hit on the wedding day… I tried not to think about it and relax, but it was tough, it’s all well people keep telling you there is nothing you can do and just enjoy the day, but its not easy to do.

I just kept trying to laugh it off and find ways to alter the wedding if the worst happened. As it happened, the day of the wedding there was a huge downpour at 2pm, worst we had seen. I sat there looking out the window gloomily, it suddenly started to clear. By 3pm it was sunshine again and by 4pm it was nearly clear skies and most of the seaweed had washed away! Although there was also a slight cloud cover, this actually worked out very well as when we go to the photos, nobody was squinting their eyes like they would if the sun was at full strength.

Climate and make up
Which then leads me to your choice of dress and make up. So on our wedding day, after the rain had gone the humidity went up to nearly 40 degrees. I hadn’t chosen the most appropriate dress if I am honest, but I am very glad I was not talked into wearing a tonne of make up. I am not someone who ever wears make up anyway but the lovely ladies I had with me decided that I needed some, after some trial runs I decided on mascara only, and I am so pleased I did. By the time I had got the the ‘alter’, sweat was pouring down my face. I remember at one point my husband wiping my brow with his hand. I laughed and felt sorry for him too as he decided to wear a full suit. But it didn’t matter by this point, I was just so happy the sun was out and smiling faces of all the guests, parents both beaming with pride. And other guests of the hotel hanging over their balconies taking photos. I even had a chuckle as one of the other guests decided to walk past us in just his speedos on his way back down to the beach. The priest kept calling my husband by the wrong name (His middle name), but everybody laughing really cut the tension and really made everything much more relaxed.

And that leads me to my final point

Fun and Relaxation
After the ceremony was through, I could grab that champagne and just breathe. My sister kept running over with tissues to mop my brow. But overall the photo’s all came out beautifully and really showed the fun we had, we didn’t manage to get all the pictures I had hoped for as the sunset wasn’t the impressive burnt orange that evening, but we made the most of it and I think everyone was relieved when the staff decided to set up the meal inside, in the air-conditioning and we all watched the beautiful storm unfold outside.

So there you go, this was my experience for my destination wedding. Hopefully outlining some things you will experience and worry about. And its natural to worry, no one can force you to think other wise. But for the most part the best bit about a destination wedding is that it isn’t so formal and outlined and strict, I didn’t really have to worry about where I was at certain time lines. The people who did turn up were our close and best of friends and everyone got along much better than we could have hoped for. I could swim in the morning, drink rum punches in the afternoon and walk down the isle to my wonderful husband in the evening. All in all I wouldn’t have changed a thing, not even Barry from Essex walking past in his speedos.

Any questions about prices, favours, wedding gifts, dress styles, more details on the hotel, the travel agent, the airline please send me a message.

 

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