We all know that it's impossible to put a price tag on love, but many are trying. With 2.5 million weddings in the US alone last year, the domestic wedding industry raked in and astounding $120 billion--a number that includes everthing from flowers to tuxedos to furniture for the couple's new home. Are weddings big business? You bet. "The average affair costs $22,000," says Gerard J. Monaghan, president of the Connecticut-based Association of Bridal Consultants, an organization that claims 3,500 members in 26 countries.
And that price does not include what the guests pay to attend. At the average wedding, 40 percent of the guests fly in to attend the ceremony. They usually also shell out for hotel rooms and car rentals.
With this in mind, a number of couples are turning to destination weddings or "weddingmoons". "The idea of the destination wedding is a movement that's grown up out of the disintegration of the family nucleus with family members scattered all over, and not necessarily living the same town. First came wedding weekends, and now we have destination weddings--a concept that really started to take root 15 years ago," says Monaghan.
The cost of a weddingmoon can be much lower for the happy couple--starting at $2,500 for a three-day weekend, including airport transfers, accommodations, food, drink and everything you'd need for the ceremony and reception. Guests pay an average of $900 for their accommodations, transfers and non-wedding food.
Location, location, location
For those who can avoid familial pressure, the decision where to have your wedding will be personal, and likely one shaped by cost. It's sometimes but not always the case that the farther you go, the more you'll spend. In recent years, the number of resorts and hotels offering one-stop wedding shopping in such popular easy-to-get-to tropical destinations--Bahamas, Bermuda, Caribbean islands, and Mexico--has grown exponentially. (We'll get to some in just a moment.)
"We decided to do a destination wedding for a lot of reasons," says Kim Frye, a resident of Atlanta who married her husband Tom in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico a few years ago. "We figured that guests would spend just as much to visit and stay in New York (they lived there at the time) as they would in Mexico. While it was the cost that got us started on the idea, what meant the most to us in the end was that instead of just the four to five hours spent at a normal wedding, our good friends and families really got to know each other, and most stayed for five days."
If you decide a destination wedding is for you, then be prepared to apply the flexibility you've acquired in yoga class to planning your wedding; it won't always be possible--or affordable--to fly to your wedding reception site every time you need to make a decision, i.e. you might have to let someone else figure out the flatware or leave the seating assignments to email. Those experienced in destination weddings say micro-managers bent on control should definitely think twice before embarking on the long-distant odyssey of planning a wedding from hundreds, or thousands, of miles away.
Frye adds, "Destination weddings are probably not for those people who've planned their wedding in their minds for years, and they're certainly not for control freaks. I liked the idea of doing something different, and I loved the idea of not having to interview a hundred florists. Our wedding wasn't free but we were able to negotiate a great rate at La Jolla de Mismaloya. We even had a huge mariachi band for the event."
Rules, regulations and hurricanes
Just a few of the important questions to ask before you decide where to have your destination wedding are: When is the best time of year to visit? Is there a hurricane season? Are there enough activities for family and friends to enjoy between planned events? Can you choose from wedding packages or is everything ala carte? And, is there an on-site wedding coordinator to help you with your long-distance arrangements? Wherever you decide to have your destination wedding, it's imperative that you get everything in writing and have agreements for catering, cake and flowers to refer to should problems arise.
For ideas on where to plan your weddingmoon, check out the book The Most Romantic Resorts for Destination Weddings, Marriage Renewals & Honeymoonsby Paulette Cooper and Paul Noble. There are also travel companies that specialize in destination weddings--The Wedding Experience/305-421-1260 and Weddings on the Move are two prominent ones--that will not only help you make the most of your budget, but work with you to find the best possible locale. Additionally, these agencies tend to be knowledgeable about local marriage laws, a very important factor as these can vary greatly from country to country. You don't want to be caught at the altar without the proper documentation, which can run the gamut--from blood tests to residency requirements. For example, in the Bahamas there's a 24 residency requirement (easy enough to abide by), a $40 fee, and proof of arrival on the islands, among a handful of other official documents. In England there's a seven-day residency required and the fees can vary depending on region and the type of ceremony. St. Maarten tips the scales with fees reaching as high as $204 and a 10-day residency, a rule that's perhaps inspired some to take their honeymoon before going to the altar.
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