Planning a Destination Wedding

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Photo Credits:
Wedding -- Starwood Hotels and Resorts
Tropical Sunset -- Ron Dalhquist
Beach Run -- Julie Dreelin
Italian Bride and Groom -- Wolfgang Freithoff
Bride and Bridesmaids -- Amity Mason

Planning a Destination Wedding

Whether you've dreamed of a wedding in a small adobe church in Arizona, or on a balmy beach in the Caribbean, making your fantasy destination wedding a reality isn't as difficult -- or as expensive -- as you might think. More and more couples (including celebrities!) are heading to exotic locales to say, "I do." What is causing this massive exodus? We've got the low-down on why couples famous and non-famous love destination weddings, and what to expect when planning your own.

It's intimate. Couple's today are much more mobile than they were in the past, so they're likely to have friends and family scattered across the country. With the average wedding lasting only four hours, how can a bride and groom spend time with everyone? Having a destination wedding is like taking a mini-vacation with your closest family and friends; instead of one fleeting night, you have several relaxed days to enjoy the company of your nearest and dearest.

It's easy. The thought of spending the day before the wedding relaxing on the beach instead of running hundreds of errands has caused more than one bride to choose a destination wedding. Brides worry about the difficulties of planning a wedding from thousands of miles away, but the truth is, destination weddings are often far less work than traditional weddings. Most hotels and resorts offer wedding-planning packages and services, meaning the details get taken care of for you. You will have to price tickets and rooms for your guests, but you'll probably avoid the frenzy of last-minute preparations.

It's often less expensive. Add up the travel, the dress, the reception bill, and you may be surprised to find out that destination weddings are often less expensive than traditional weddings. This is because they generally involve many fewer guests, and resorts and hotels offer all-inclusive deals. For couples looking to create a really memorable occasion without breaking the bank, destination weddings are a perfect option.

Your Budget
Do you want an elaborate bash with all your friends, like billionaire Bill Gates, who rented the Hawaiian island of Lanai for his bride and multitude of guests? Or would you prefer the Cindy Crawford approach? The supermodel invited only close friends and immediate family for her Paradise Island wedding to Rande Gerber. The size of your guest list will determine the size of your budget.

If you're watching your dollars, opt for less expensive destinations or destinations that offer a wide range of dining and lodging options. If you wed in at a top travel spot, consider choosing an off-season date, and explore local neighborhoods with less touristy price tags for other aspects of your event, like your rehearsal dinner.

Your Guest List
At every wedding, there's usually someone who has traveled some distance to be a part of the festivities. At a destination wedding, nearly everyone travels, including the bride and groom. That being the case, unless you're Madonna (who footed the bill for all of her guests at her Scotland wedding) it's best to accept the fact that your wedding may not be large. After all, not everyone can afford the expenditures of hotel and airfare. But that doesn't mean you should count on guests declining your invitation. Some wedding destinations, particularly fabulous vacation areas, are just too tempting to resist -- even if they are expensive.

Give Your Guests A Heads Up
It's important to give your guests as much advance notice about your wedding as possible. That means sending out save-the-date cards a minimum of five months in advance so your guests can make the necessary travel and vacation arrangements. Reserve a block of rooms at two hotels in different price ranges, and direct all your invitees to your Wedding Website, where you can post all your wedding details and out-of-town guest Information. If your wedding is in another country, consider reserving a block of seats with an airline. Many carriers offer discounts to passengers with groups over ten.

On Location
Unless you plan to hop on a plane once a week, you should have someone physically at your wedding location to help you plan, scout for vendors, and handle meetings and details. This person can be a professional wedding planner, a friend or family member who lives nearby, or most likely a resort or hotel wedding coordinator. Whoever you choose, your on-location contact must be reliable, familiar with your wedding style, and aware of your wedding budget.

If you are getting married at a resort, tourist destination, or hotel, consider asking your concierge or ceremony/reception site contact to recommend a wedding planner, or help coordinate the details. Even better, some hotels and resorts have on-site wedding coordinators and customizable wedding packages, so your event can be perfectly planned while you're literally worlds away. If you have the option, be sure to take advantage of all the services you have available to you. Determine which decisions are best left to your coordinator, and which you prefer to make yourself. However you split up the tasks, it is imperative you make your requests as specific as possible. You will probably visit your location before the event, so make the best of your time "on location." You might want to have your coordinator screen several possible vendors, so you can make a quick, final decision.

Details, Details If you are getting married in another state or country, you will need a local marriage license, and possibly a passport. The passport is simple; just be sure to apply well in advance of your wedding date. Getting the marriage license can be slightly trickier, especially in a foreign country. Contact the local city hall (if you don't speak their language, get an interpreter!) and get permission to be married in the location. Some places require blood tests, immunization certificates, or doctor's certificates in order for you to legally marry. No matter where you are getting married, it is best to find out as much as possible in advance. There may be unexpected requirements, such as an established residency, a waiting period, or a certain number of witnesses. For more information about the specifics of getting married in different countries, visit the US State Department at www.state.gov