16 For 2016: Tips for Planning the Perfect Destination Wedding

- by Kimberly Steinberg

The dates went well, the question was popped and you said yes with more enthusiasm than you’ve ever answered anything. Now comes the planning for your big day. You know the who and why, but you can always use some tips on the where, when, how, and the wow. The day is yours and it’s one you can’t, and hopefully wouldn’t want to, do over, so I’ve compiled some useful tips and suggestions from both industry professionals, and brides who have walked the destination wedding aisles before you. Start planning!  

•    Discuss and be clear on your “perfect day” vision. 
Set down with your fiancé and talk about your ideas for your destination wedding. Cover as many details as you can: small or large, formal or casual, indoors or out, as well as, the reception theme.  Be sure to discuss it all before charging in cards, writing any checks or booking any vendors or venues. And while we’re on the subject of planning your wedding, take note that hiring a reputable professional wedding planner, in the area where you choose to have your destination wedding, is a great idea done correctly will save you way more than money.
•    Find your style before you book a single appointment or make wedding related purchases.
Browse through magazines of all types, and wedding related websites.  You will find great inspiration from fashion, home décor and travel publications. Be sure to utilize the wide array of wedding ideas on Pinterest too.  As with most things all of these sources are great for generating ideas about how you want your wedding and reception to look. Just remember to be true to your sense of style, while also having fun doing it.
•    Establish a budget and stick closely to it.
No matter how much you might want it all, most brides have a budget to work within.  By deciding ahead of time what you, or your families, can spend it will be much simpler for you to enter the negotiations for your planner, venue, vendors and other associated service providers.
•Dare to be different, but not too much.
By making your celebration stand out from all of those cookie-cutter weddings we’ve all been to, your guest are sure to remember important and interesting aspects of your special day.  This could mean anything from incorporating family or ethnic traditions, to having your bridesmaids choose their own dresses, or making your favorite pet a part of the occasion.  Your own imagination is your only limit with this. Just be sure that what you choose at least flows well with your other decisions. You can make it work while still making it interesting and unique.
•Enlist the help of a professional wedding planner.
Can you plan a small wedding without one? Sure, but you probably won’t save as much money as you think, and you certainly won’t save the headache. We all have that mother, sister, aunt, or best friend who would love to help us plan the wedding we, and they, have always dreamed of, but trust me, this isn’t the best time to rely on favors from family and friends.  Do you really want to trust the most important day of your life to amateurs, even if they are close to you?
•When at all possible, meet your service providers ahead of time and in person.
Make the calls, do the research, get the references, then, after all of that, and even if you feel you trust them completely, have at least one face to face meeting if possible. This will make you feel so much better about each aspect of your big day, and it better insures that things go off without a hitch. This isn’t always simple and it’s just one more great reason to hire a planner to do all of this so you don’t have to.

•Make it a point to visit your resort, hotel, beach house, park, or other venue ahead of time.
Don’t trust the web, it’s amazing how much better some things look online. When choosing your venue make sure that the amenities that you see online, or in person, are exactly what you can expect to receive. This may sound strange, but lots of resorts and venues charge additional fees for many amenities.  Remember that “luxury” or “near the beach” doesn’t mean the same to everyone, so see for yourself and make sure what you think you get and what you really get are the same things.
•Make sure about what you will need in order to get your marriage license, and where and when to get it.
In most counties of most states, this process is simple, however, you don’t want any surprises right before one of the most important days of your life. Especially if these can be avoidable without much extra effort.  Make a call and ease your mind, you’ll be glad you did.
•Make sure you have a “Plan B” for less than ideal weather.
This one is so simple, however, it’s one of the most important pre-planning items to discuss with your planner or the venue. This is especially important if you are planning your wedding on the beach, or your reception is outdoors.  Most people don’t think they need this…until they really do.
•When dealing with any vendors, planners, or venues make sure you are crystal clear on all associated costs.
I think it’s safe to say that no one likes sudden surprises… at least not the ones that include thinking you’re paying one amount, then getting billed enough. Ask for an itemized list that  includes deposits, due dates, refund policies, and anything else that could cause your cost to change. 
•Choose your photographer carefully…ditto for your videographer.
Remember the old adage, a picture’s worth a thousand words? It’s so true. The photos and video of your destination wedding day, are perhaps the one visible link to your happiness, your look, and your overall experience. Trust me; you’re going to try to save money on any one segment of your destination wedding, this isn’t where you want to do it.  Remember, these are your memories and you only get one chance to capture and hold them for generations to come.
•  Find some fun.
Family, friends, and business associates will likely be traveling in from various spots, and spending lots of their own money, all so they can celebrate you. Think about this and plan some fun area options for them too. Do some research, ahead of time, on area attractions, and other ways to ensure your destination guests will enjoy their stay around your big day.  The articles and advertisers in Beaches, Resorts & Parks is a great place to start.
•Leave a gift basket and a note in your guests’ rooms. 
They have come a long way to share in your special day, and this is a great way to say thank you. It’s simple, it’s beautiful, and it’s a classy thing to do.
•Consider making your wedding destination, your honeymoon spot too.
You are at the beach, your friends and family are with you, and you’re already having a great time. What a better plan than to stay all week? It used to be that couples would almost always go to another destination for their honeymoon. Sometimes this still happens, but more times than not, at least when it comes to destination weddings, the bride and groom simply decide to do it all in one place, or at least very close. If you’re tying the knot anywhere along the serene beach towns of Northwest Florida, or the Alabama Gulf Coast, then you already realize why you would want to stay for week in the same area. 
Make necessary seating arrangements
Think about it... you don't want any faulty relationships between your family, friends, or in-laws ruining your special day.  It may take some time to make these seating arrangements, but it will be well worth the trouble. Try and keep everyone happy, and if happy means “away from” somebody else at your wedding then by all means make that happen for them, as it will make the day go better for you too.
Plan out the Food
Whether you are going with the theme of your wedding or calling guests ahead of time to acquire their taste, just make sure that you have spent your money on food that people will actually eat.  And if you don't want to spring for the fancy stuff, you can't go wrong with the delicate finger foods. Remember, it’s your wedding day, but also remember that your guests are going to be the ones eating your reception food, so give them what they will want.
Remember the Thank You cards
Don't forget the Thank You cards!  Make sure you send one to every family that attended your wedding, even if it was someone that your spouse made you invite.  Also remember not to forget anyone on your Thank You list, because you don't want your friend calling you asking why so and so got a thank you card and they didn't. This is an area that requires being classy and careful at the same time. An ideal time for sending these out is within two weeks after your wedding takes place.