Soooo where do I begin?? Here’s a little story about my desti-wedding and how I went about planning and execution from engagement to the altar all in the same year. Feel free to forward this to any brides and grooms that are considering a desti-wedding. This will help them tremendously as I'm able to share my experience as both a bride and as a travel agent/coordinator of desti-weddings!
Engagement & Deciding on a Desti-Wedding– We got engaged on my birthday in Hawaii after hiking to the top of Diamond Head Mountain – the irony. We had already discussed having a desti-wedding, so a desti-engagement was only appropriate. Our love for travel and the idea of vacationing with our closest family and friends was a no brainer for us – additionally, the cost of having a nice venue, sit-down dinner, and open bar wedding in Atlanta would have cost us upwards of $60k to invite as many people as we invited. With a desti-wedding, you can invite errrrbody because it is almost a guarantee that most people won’t be able to make it. And that’s totally fine. My dear friends - Becoming ok with this in the beginning will save you from lots of hurt feelings down the line when and if you receive a regret from someone you most certainly thought would never miss your big day!
Picking the Resort – We selected Dreams Playa Mujeres for many, many reasons! And I tell all of my brides and grooms that picking a resort and date is like picking a house. It is THE HARDEST PART of desti-wedding planning. You have to make sure that price, location, aesthetic, ease of travel, inclusions and amenities, and food all align with your taste and budget. This resort fit all of those buckets for us! Guest affordability was at the top of our list, so picking a date was easy – we were not committed to any particular calendar dates and played around with flight schedules to find the cheapest weekend between March 2020 and December 2020 because we knew we wanted to get married and start our family ASAP. We’d traveled to this resort a few times previously and loved many things - The food is amazing. We liked that the majority of our guest list could fly there nonstop. The wedding packages were within our budget and included everything we could ever want or need. Our guests could enjoy all-inclusive amenities – all you can eat & drink, 24-hour room service, luxurious suites, a beautiful stretch of beach, day and night time entertainment, and even certain watersports was included. We figured that if our guests could budget the money for the flight/hotel package, they could literally show up with no money and still buy the bar! (But please advise your guests to bring tipping money.)
Budgeting – Desti-weddings are the best because you can plan an amazing wedding on any budget. Certain desti-wedding locations have complimentary ceremony packages. Those are the best for smaller groups with semi-private dinners following the ceremony. For us, we had 107 guests in attendance and we knew that we wanted a private sit-down dinner. Our package was $11,999 and it was inclusive of 100 guests. It came with the following inclusions: beautiful ceremony decor with a wedding gazebo and drapery, white chairs, ceremonial table, the aisle runner, private reception in a ballroom, wedding cake, sparkling champagne, sit-down dinner with premium meal selections like fish/scallops and shrimp/steak, a private welcome dinner the night before with a Cuban theme, a cocktail hour with wait service and hors d’oeuvres, sound system, sweetheart table, and a bouquet and boutonniere! Do you hear me?? ALL OF THAT WAS INCLUDED IN OUR STANDARD PACKAGE for 100 guests! We pretty much had two weddings. Our welcome dinner was a wedding in itself. We elected for a few optional add-on’s in addition to our wedding package to spice things up a bit. We paid additional for a photobooth that printed pictures instantly, a multi-colored LED dance floor, indoor fireworks, indoor sparklers, centerpieces for the tables, and a really cute “Take a Shot, Take a Seat” setup at our ceremony. But listennnn --- It was a movie! We normally schedule virtual Zoom calls with brides and grooms during the initial planning phase to help them come up with a realistic budgeting plan for their wedding - this is where I put my CPA background to good use.
Décor – So listen – I’m cheap. My hubby’s cheap. Flowers die. So yes – we did not spend much on floral and décor. In fact, we dual-purposed the bridal bouquets as centerpieces on our reception tables to save money. (See pic further below) No judgement zone 😊 But another benefit of a desti-wedding at a great location is that you really do not need to have much décor. The location itself is décor. When you have palm trees and beaches behind you, the scene is set for free. For my brides that take the decor situation very seriously, I recommend building a PowerPoint vision board with inspirations for your wedding. We can make ANYTHING happen - if there is a vision, there is a way.
Travel Planning for Guests - This is where Just Book It Travel's work came into play. Each of our guests had the ability to make a $50 deposit for the resort or a $200 deposit for the flight/resort/transportation package. Those that opted for the $200 deposit saved the most money and had the most payment flexibility because they were able to make partial payments for the months ahead leading up to the wedding. I had one guest that budgeted by making a $107 payment monthly and that was her way of ensuring that her pockets were not significantly hit all at one time! With the right travel agency / coordinator / planner, you can literally plan a desti-wedding with a date, destination, and list of invitees - and you're done!
Welcome Party – We had a theme welcome party and the setup resembled a wedding reception (all included in our package). We told everyone in advance to rep their decade, and for our generation, that is the 80’s / 90’s. It was so much fun seeing our friends and family dance and party in their best costumes. We told our guests in advance that the winner of the 80’s / 90’s party would become our flower girl and ring bear in the wedding. And that’s exactly what we did – we had Eddy’s adult-sized cousin Patrice (who traveled all the way from Paris) carrying the pillow and my good friend, Carmen, dropping the roses. The two of them took their roles super serious as well! Honestly, my lifelong dream is to be a flower girl one day, so if you need a flower girl, I’ll be there 😊 #seriously (See pics below of Carmen and Patrice in their costumes, followed by pics of them at our ceremony in action.)
Wedding Party – We went a different route with this too! We made all of our siblings our "entourage". Technically, we didn’t have any bridesmaids and groomsmen. However, I had three matrons of honors (two close friends and my mom) and Eddy’s brother was our best man. All of our first cousins walked in during the procession as our entourage as well. It was a largeee group – family style! We wanted to reduce the cost and burden to our closest friends by not having a wedding party since everyone had to budget for the actual trip, especially since our engagement and desti-wedding all happened in the same year.
Dress Code – We’re crazy. Yep. The more I think about it – the more I realize that we really ARE crazy. We wanted a formal reception. Since it is not often that we see the bulk of our friends and family, we wanted everyone to look their Sunday best! So we asked for all of our guests to wear black. Yep. To the beach. Listen up, brides and grooms – DO WHAT YOU WANT TO DO! Those that love you will conform. People complained in advance about this, but we never changed our minds. And we live with no regrets. Our pictures are beautiful and everyone looked beautiful. And uniform! So all-in-all, we pretty much controlled what everyone packed LOL! Themed outfit for the #throwbackparty and #allblackeverything for the wedding! If I can give any advice, do what YOU want to do, and again, those that love you will conform.
Color Theme – We told our wonderful on-site coordinators to do whatever they thought was beautiful with keeping in mind that all guests would be in black. And it was beautiful. If I had went down the rabbit hole of picking colors, I would have wound up going over my budget with table runners, more floral, décor etc etc. So yeah – we did not really have a color scheme, and that is perfectly ok.
Entertainment – The resort does a great job with entertainment! But because we have a family DJ and MC, it was only appropriate for us to let them have at it! Eddy and I stayed on the dance floor all night long. Funny enough – I do not have pictures with many, many people because we danced all night. We told each other in advance that we were going to enjoy our wedding, and we did.. on the dance floor. The photobooth was closing when we finally realized that we did not have any pictures in it. We made it for the ‘last call’ and got a few shots in. We were super sweaty and worn out by then!
Preparing for the Unexpected - Not everything will play out exactly as you envision, but your desti-wedding day will be far more beautiful than you've ever imagined. For us, we tripped and fell on our entrance to the reception. We truly gave our guests their money's worth. Yep, both the bride and groom were surfing the ground. The pictures below are immediately after we got up and laughed it off. (My hubby would kill me if I posted pics of us on the ground. But to me, those are the best ones) What was supposed to be our first dance, turned into us falling flat. Roll with the flow, things will happen unexpectedly but these things turn into beautiful memories.
Invitations - So I ordered a few hundred paper invites. And then... I never found the time to put together a few hundred stamps and physical address labels. So I'm still sitting here looking at my wedding invites. Virtual invites was clutch. No stamps. No stationary. And it was free. I would say that about 99% of my brides prefer for me to send off their virtual e-invitations for them. A few of them send paper invites along with the virtual invites. But this is totally a matter of preference.
Food – Our wedding package came along with amazing food selections. Guests had the ability to choose from Steak & Shrimp or Salmon & Scallops. We collected food selections along with our RSVP's and followed up with those that didn't input their selections. Also, the resort was very accommodating for those guests with food allergies and restrictions (gluten free, vegans, pescatarians, vegetarians, etc).
Group Excursion - The day before our wedding - 59 of us gathered together on a private yacht. Ok it was more like a catamaran, but yacht sounds more fancy! We collected funds in advance for those that wanted to attend and it was amazing! It was seriously just as fun as the wedding itself. We danced, laughed, snorkeled and just hung out together in the middle of the ocean. I highly recommend groups of all shapes and sizes to rent a private catamaran.(The picture below is a few of my favorite ladies in all red on our private boat excursion - there I go dictating what people wear. I'll say it again - those that love you will conform.)
Table Numbers - Instead of having table numbers, we preferred to arrange tables by the names of our favorite places that we had traveled to together... Cuba, Paris, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Dominican Republic, Mexico, etc.. We also had an honorary "Haiti" table since Eddy is Haitian :)
Pictures - The resort's photographers do a great job! But we wanted to meet our photographer in advance and discuss things that were important to us. My hubby is a photo snob, so picking an external photographer that we could cherry pick was his mission. Santiago Gabay Photography did an amazing job shooting photos and video to capture our special moments. If you are getting married in Mexico, I highly recommend that you reach out to my good friend, Santi, to capture your day!
Officiators - The resort will provide officiators, however, we had an amazing couple in mind that was honored to officiate our ceremony and also legally marry us state-side. This was totally our preference. I'm happy to discuss the pros and cons of legal ceremonies versus symbolic ceremonies for desti-weddings. We chose symbolic. I think it makes things more memorable when you give friends and family members a role in your wedding. Those memories last a lifetime.
Vows - We decided to write our own vows in addition to the cookie cutter vows. This worked out perfectly until my mom accidently took my cell phone and I had to completely wing it. If there's anything that I need a wedding re-do for, it is my vows (hands down). I honestly had one too many shots in the dressing room and was not prepared to totally wing it. My hubby whispered to me at the alter, "How many drinks did you have?" and I whispered back "You SHOULD have had a drink! You're way too stiff!" What a memorable day - I was typsy and he was beyond sober. His vows were in his phone and mine were supposed to be in my head, and far from memorized. (Have a backup plan ladies)
Have Fun!! My biggest advice is to have fun. Have fun planning. And have fun on your wedding day. And keep that same energy throughout your marriage.
Choosing a Travel Agency - Just Book It Travel would love to assist with your desti-wedding plans. Here are some additional Q&A's as it relates to planning desti-weddings. Our team is ready to help you throughout the entire process from selecting the perfect resort, to customizing your wedding package according to your budget, creating a wedding website, sending virtual e-invitations to your guests, arranging flight and hotel itineraries, setting up flexible payment plans for all guests, and equipping guests for success from the time they book to the time they take off for your beautiful wedding. All you have to do is set the date and select a venue, and we'll seriously handle the rest!