Considering a destination wedding? AAA Travel Counselors have answers to your questions about booking and planning a wedding in your dream vacation spot.
Getting married in a place you and your partner have always dreamed of visiting or somewhere that has a special meaning to you is the perfect way to make your wedding unique. We sat down with five AAA Travel Counselors—Veronica Sharp of Mountain View, California; Lori Reilly of Clovis, California; Nancy Hayes of Redwood City, California; Yvette Taylor of Folsom, California; and Toni Snyder of Citrus Heights, California—to answer some frequently asked questions about planning the perfect destination wedding.
BEFORE BOOKING A DESTINATION WEDDING
Vacation Now: How do I decide on a location for my destination wedding?
Veronica: Logistics for the guests plays a big role in which destination a couple should choose. If most of your guests are coming from the West Coast, it would be easier to schedule flights to Hawaii or Mexico. The Caribbean is a great option for couples with family and friends on the East Coast.
Lori: You should take a few things into account when considering a destination wedding. Do you want the ceremony in the destination to be legal? Getting married outside of the country can come with a lot of legal hoops to jump through. If having your ceremony include your official marriage vows is important, you can opt for a domestic destination. Couples who get married internationally may decide to have a legal ceremony in the U.S. before or after the destination wedding to keep things simple. You should also consider the expense for your family and friends to travel to your destination options. When you’ve narrowed down your options, you’ll need to look at the destination wedding packages offered by resorts in those locations.
VN: Is there a time of year that is better for destination weddings—taking in to account weather, pricing and availability of rooms at hotels?
Nancy: The best time of year varies depending on where you plan to travel. A good rule of thumb for finding the best combination of weather, pricing and availability is to travel during the shoulder seasons in late spring and early fall.
Veronica: If you’re considering the Caribbean or Mexico, hurricane season can come into play. You may get a better deal from June to November, but you could also be facing unpredictable weather.
Lori: As with all travel, the best value for wedding travel can be found while school is in session, as these times are less popular for travel. Summer and holiday weddings will come at a premium.
VN: How can I help my guests organize their travel for my destination wedding? Should I provide flight details? Do I reserve a hotel room block just at the resort where the event will take place, or provide other options nearby?
Toni: Working with a AAA Travel Counselor is the best way to ensure travel is easy and enjoyable for you and your guests. We work with the vendors to arrange hotels, flights, tours, rental cars and anything else you need. The best part? There is typically no cost involved with booking travel through a AAA Travel Counselor.
Nancy: I always sit down with my clients and look at flight options and resort availability before we plan travel details for their destination wedding. Whether or not we reserve a block of rooms depends on the size of the wedding and the nature of the guests’ travel. Since guests may arrive earlier or stay later for a destination wedding, I always ensure group rates are flexible for the length of the stay (anywhere from three to seven nights).
VN: Will I be able to negotiate a group discount at the resort?
Yvette: Yes, we can negotiate a group rate, although the number of rooms required to make a group varies by hotel. You’ll typically need at least 10 rooms to qualify. If your party does not meet the room requirement, we can still book a block of rooms for your guests at the regular rate.
VN: How far in advance do I need to start planning my destination wedding?
Toni: You should start planning your destination wedding at least 10 months in advance at a minimum. Not only will this timeline ensure you have your choice of resorts and rooms, but it will also allow you and your guests time to save money for the trip and request vacation time.
VN: Should I book a destination wedding package or simply use a wedding planner to organize the event?
Nancy: The resort you choose may dictate your options as far as bringing in an outside wedding planner. Some resorts allow outside planners. Others will only allow you to use the on-site planner.
VN: What type of extras are typically offered by the resort (i.e. videography, photography, cakes, hair and makeup, etc.)? Can I bring in vendors from the U.S., or do I have to use local vendors?
Lori: Again, this is determined by your destination. If you are getting married at a resort in the U.S., you will most likely have to use their vendors. If you’d like to use your own vendors, the hotel will most likely impose a surcharge. Getting married outside the country does not always come with such restrictions. You can inquire about which vendors you can bring in when working with your resort location.
Nancy: Most resorts offer all the extras as mentioned: wedding cake, photography and videography, hair and makeup, etc. The last destination wedding I booked had to use the resort’s photographer, but they were also allowed to bring in their own as long as they booked a minimum package from the resort as well. So it really depends on the resort. Your AAA Travel Counselor can help you sort out those details.
VN: If I have things I need to send to the venue, should I ship them or check an extra bag?
Lori: I personally recommend traveling with your supplies, unless they are heavy or breakable. This way you can ensure their arrival and avoid any last-minute surprises. Be aware that airlines will charge you for checked luggage. If you are bringing supplies, consider packing your clothing in some type of collapsible bag (such as a duffel bag) that can be stuffed inside your suitcase on the way home to save on luggage fees. This also gives you an extra bag for souvenirs and mementos, just in case!
VN: I want to plan activities for my guests throughout the week. Is this something I can add to my package, or should I plan these activities separately?
Nancy: If you really want all of your guests to participate in a group activity, it should be planned ahead of time. This can absolutely be added to the package. Many packages also offer discounts on individual activities through the use of discount vouchers when booked through a certain designated ground operator.
Toni: Your travel planner will help plan activities for the wedding guests and wedding party.
Veronica: Couples usually book a cocktail party the night before for the guests.
Lori: Your activities can be added into the initial package. Keep in mind that these activities will be booked for all of your guests, and last-minute cancellations may not be refundable.
Yvette: Your Travel Counselor will be able to book activities for you and your guests as part of the package.
VN: What type of legal documentation do I need before I travel to ensure my marriage is legal?
Nancy: The answer varies by country, and it’s up to the bride and groom to check the legal documentation needed if they want the destination wedding ceremony to be the official ceremony. Many couples choose to have a small legal ceremony in the states before the destination wedding to avoid the complicated legalities that can arise when getting married outside of the U.S.
Lori: If your destination wedding is taking place in the U.S., then just a standard marriage license is required. Weddings performed in another country can require blood tests, document translations and more. Be sure to do your research well in advance.
ON THE TRIP
VN: What is the proper etiquette on tipping for a destination wedding?
Nancy: Most resorts will add gratuities to the package, so it’s not necessary to tip while on site. Certainly, if guests feel the porter, room steward, bartender, etc. has given extra service, they are welcome to add a few extra dollars.
Toni: The wedding coordinator at the hotel can advise which tips are included and which are not.
VN: What if my wedding on the beach—or another outdoor location—is affected by the weather?
Yvette: The hotel always provides a backup location, so be sure to consider this when choosing the resort where you’ll be getting married.
VN: If I’m staying at a different resort for my honeymoon, can the resort where my wedding takes place help ship my dress and other items home?
Nancy: Yes. The concierge can typically assist with making arrangements to have extra items shipped home. You can also choose designated family members take extra luggage home while you jet off on your honeymoon.
VN: If my wedding planner does not work for the resort, who is my primary contact for wedding week questions?
Veronica: For destination weddings, I always suggest clients choose a wedding coordinator who is either affiliated with their chosen resort or at least on the ground in the destination so they can serve as the primary point of contact leading up to the wedding.
Inset photos: iStock