Check out this interview with professional wedding planner Kelly McWilliams, plus our Destinations Wedding Worksheet and a Jamaica wedding Trip Coach.
According to a recent study by the Conde Nast Bridal Group (the folks who publish Brides, Modern Bride, and Elegant Bride) the number of destination weddings has grown 400 percent over the last 10 years. And considering I've made travel arrangements to attend three this year alone--in Florida, Colorado, and Italy--it seems that the 1,600 brides who were polled for the 2006 survey were on to something.
Destination weddings are a big business, and a big headache if you don't have the right people working for you. So we had a chat with Kelly McWilliams, a professional wedding planner in Cape Coral, Fla., and owner of Weddings by Socialites. Ninety percent of her business is planning destination weddings, and when she's not tracking down photographers or tasting cakes, she blogs about her wedding-planning experiences.
Are you in the market for a far-flung celebration? Read on for some tips.
What's the best way to save money when planning a destination wedding?
McWilliams: There are two ways to look at this: Do you want it to be cheaper for the hosts or cheaper for the guests? If you want to make it inexpensive for your guests, plan during the nonpeak weeks. Meaning, avoid spring break (including Easter), the winter holidays (Thanksgiving through New Year's), and the summer holidays (Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day). These are times when a longer stay is required and flights cost more. To save yourself money, plan a midweek wedding when you'll be able to save on site fees, music, and possibly photography. Also, it's important to consider the off-season and slow periods. In Florida, for example, if you plan your wedding in January, February, or late-June through September, you'll save oodles.
What are some of the major pitfalls that couples run into when planning a destination wedding?
McWilliams: First of all, marriage rules vary drastically. In some regions, you have to reside in the area for up to six weeks before you can legally get married there. Then there's the new passport law: Any U.S. citizen traveling to the Caribbean, Mexico, or Canada needs a valid passport. This can be a big hassle for your guests, so it's important to find out all the rules before you decide on a location. But the biggest issue is finding the perfect location only to later find out that it can't accommodate the number of guests you want. So before you make any reservations, decide what's more important: your guest list or your dream location. To avoid all these issues, however, start with a destination-wedding planner who can do the legwork for you and narrow down your options to places that will best suit your celebration.
How important is it to scout out your location beforehand?
McWilliams: Very, very, important. I can't stress this enough. As wonderful as the Internet is for researching, websites can be extremely deceiving. What looks great on the Internet does not always give the full picture. Also, reviews really throw people off. You might come across one bad review and cross a location off your list, and really, that isn't fair. There could be 250 fantastic reviews to that one bad one from a guest who came down with chicken pox the week of her friend's wedding and held a grudge because she couldn't go in the pool. Again, call and talk to a local wedding planner. It's worth it to pay for a one-hour consultation and get the truth before you waste $1,000 traveling to a venue that would never work.
Do you recommend using a travel agent?
McWilliams: If the majority of your guests are traveling from overseas or are going to be traveling out of the country, then yes. Also, if the majority of your guests are not Internet savvy, or you're planning a big wedding, take this route. However, if you're having a smaller wedding (under 50 guests) or planning in a major metropolitan city that's easily traveled to, your guests should be fine without a travel agent.
Planning a wedding in Italy is especially difficult. Do you have any advice for folks who'd like to get married there?
McWilliams: Italy. So gorgeous, yet so complicated. When planning a wedding in Italy, not only will you deal with extensive legal issues, but you'll also be faced with complicated travel issues (and let's not forget about language barriers!). You would be insane not to hire professional help when planning a wedding in Italy. But you know what? It's totally worth the hassle.
Where are your top three picks to have a destination wedding?
McWilliams: All three for the same reasons: They have amazing local sites and great food, and provide equal amounts of romance and fun.
1. Captiva Island, Florida 2. Tuscany, Italy 3. Paris, France
Besides your website, where can folks go to learn more about planning a destination wedding?
McWilliams: I like DestinationBride.com. Also, be sure to hit local chamber of commerce sites for cities you're exploring. There are some great books, too. Hit the travel section at Barnes & Noble and then go to a travel agent and grab all their books on the locations you like best. If you're looking for a photographer, the Wedding Photojournalist Association website is a good place for finding photojournalists in the area you're considering. (See here.) Don't forget to look at their wedding pictures to see what the weddings in the area actually look like. Finally, peruse the local wedding planners' galleries so you can see what some of the venues you're considering look like in a real wedding. Just keep in mind that not everyone's vision of a beautiful wedding is going to be like yours! You'll find more good tips on McWilliams' website, Weddings By Socialites.