While driving in my area today, I saw a sign from another local travel agency. Their sign said, “Island weddings are stress-free”. I love the imagery since destination weddings are my favorite to plan. Who doesn’t love the idea of getting married on a warm beach and celebrating under tropical starlight?!
While a destination wedding might be a little less stressful than a regular wedding, there are still a lot of moving pieces! Picking the destination is the first of many steps to creating the wedding of your dreams. But, if you work with a Destination Wedding Expert, they can help alleviate this stress by pairing you with the right property for your dream wedding! Here is a list of things for you and your fiancé to sit down over a glass of bubbly and discuss before you start planning your destination wedding.
1.THE GUEST LIST
Write down everyone you want to invite. Then cut that list in half, as that will most likely be your true guest list. Statistically, on average, 60% of your guest list will attend a destination wedding. This will save you a lot of money compared to what you will spend at a local wedding with double or even triple the guest list!
One thing to note is that post-pandemic, we are seeing an increase in traveling – which is incredible! But also means that more family and friends will say “Yes” to your RSVP. They want to see all their family and friends they haven’t seen in years and make your wedding a vacation for themselves. For 2023 and 2024 weddings, expect a “Yes” rate of 75-80%.
How to determine your guest list:
I use the A, B, C, D rule:
A-list: Guests you must invite. These are the people that must be there! Your parents, siblings, closest friends and/or your own children.
B-list: The guests you really, really want to invite. Grandparents, aunts, nieces/nephews, and your wider circle of friends.
C-list: The guests you will invite if your budget and venue allows. This is basically everyone else – all your aunts and uncles, all your cousins, plus ones, travel buddies, old friends, college friends, work friends, etc.
D-list: Basically, everyone you feel obligated to invite to your wedding. Neighbors, friends of your parents, children of guests, people who invited you to their wedding and so on.
Most recently, I had a few couples send out their save the dates in waves to gauge who was actually committed to going. They went in order from A through C, then tapped into D if they felt needed or wanted to. Remember to account for the “No’s” – but don’t over-invite and end up with too many guests!
2. THE BUDGET
Let’s talk money. Most of my couples have no idea what an all-inclusive destination wedding costs, but they no it’s a lot less than having a wedding at home. And they are right!
Destination weddings can be a lot less expensive than a local wedding. According to The Knot, here in Chicago, the average wedding costs $50,934.
Let me tell you, you will NOT be spending that on a destination wedding (unless you absolutely want to – it depends on your vision). Most resorts have fairly inexpensive packages, but they have a lot of upgrades (aka enhancements) that can add up very quickly.
TIP: PACKAGES INCLUDE A CERTAIN NUMBER OF GUESTS, SO YOU HAVE TO PAY A PER-PERSON RATE FOR EACH GUEST OVER THE PACKAGE GUEST ALLOTMENT.
There are two budgets to consider: your actual wedding budget and your guest’s travel budget. I’ll break down both for you below:
This the actual cost of what you want to spend on your wedding, including your travel. All-inclusive resorts have wedding packages that include almost everything to give you an idea on cost. The biggest “extra” that isn’t included is the photographer and videographer. I always recommend budgeting $5k+ for this component, especially if you are flying in your photographer and videographer.
Here’s an example of a wedding cost to break this down:
Let’s say you plan to have a 75 person wedding, with welcome party, rehearsal dinner, ceremony, cocktail hour and 3 hour wedding reception with basic decor that’s provided in the wedding package, string lights, dance floor, photographer and mariachi band…all in, this would be around $20 – $25k. A wedding of that size in Chicago would easily be $50k!
Don’t forget your room comps!
This is money back in your pocket for the number of rooms you booked into your room contract. This is paid out after your wedding. Let’s say you booked 30 rooms, and you were getting every 6th room free with a max of 3. This could easily be $5k+. I can’t give you an exact number here since there are many variables to consider (ie total length of stay, lowest room category booked, cost of actual room, etc). But it means incredible cash back.
My last wedding in Aruba got $10k back for her comped rooms! That is HUGE! That money can easily be spent on your incredible honeymoon!
Guest Travel Budget
You also want to consider what you want your guests to spend on their travel arrangements, including accommodation, transportation, flights, meals, and drinks, etc. This can add up quickly, so it’s best to have a number in mind.
The average guest will stay 3 nights, which is the minimum night requirement in a room contract. Here are examples of what a 3-night stay could look like per person based on two guests sharing a room at different price points:
- Low-Quality Resort (3 stars or less): $150-$200 per person per night
Total of $450-$600 per person for a 3-night stay
- Medium/Average Quality Resort (4 stars): $250 – $300
Total of $750 – $900 per person for a 3-night stay
- High Quality/Luxury Resort (5 stars): $350 – $500 per person per night
Total of $1,050 – $1,500 per person for a 3-night stay
These prices do not include flights, so be sure to factor that in as well. That comes into play when you’re picking your destination as well. Discuss with your fiance what you think your guests would pay and can afford to travel to your wedding. It’s important to have your guest’s costs figured out as well when you are venue shopping!
Note: A single guest staying in a room by themselves will basically be the cost of 2 people sharing a room.
3. THE DESTINATION
Most couples have yet to go to the resort they chose for their wedding. Luckily their destination wedding expert, like me, has most likely been there and can advise them on what the venue locations look like and what to expect. I have traveled to dozens of the best resorts around the world and can tell you from my own experience what it is like to vacation there and host a wedding!
Most resorts do offer a ‘test drive’. This is where you can travel to the resort at a discounted rate for a few nights and meet with the wedding coordinators to make sure it’s a right fit. If you end up booking your wedding with the resort, they will most likely apply the funds you spent for the test drive towards your wedding. Cha-Ching! It’s practically a free trip!
There are many things to consider when it comes to picking the right destination for your destination wedding. Luckily, I help couples like you every day and will narrow your focus down for you.
Location- How far do you want to travel? 3 hours? 6 hours? How far do you want your guests to travel? Depending on where you and your guests live, this can eliminate quite a few destinations. While a wedding in Bali is incredible, it also means a 12+ plane ride! That is why many of my Chicago couples chose resorts in Mexico and the Caribbean. You can get to most destinations within a 5-hour flight!
Scenery – Scenery varies throughout Mexico and the Caribbean. Do you want a lush destination with the perfect white sand beach, mountain backdrop or desert vibes? These are all things to consider. I am an expert in picking out scenery since I’ve seen it all!
Budget – This is the biggest part to consider when picking your destination. Some places will instantly be scratched off the list if you don’t have the right budget.
For example, if you have a minimum guest budget of $1,500, you can easily eliminate Turks & Caicos, St Lucia, Barbados, Antigua, etc. Any of those higher-end islands will not work due to the cost of the actual trip itself.
Destinations that cover a wide variety of budgets are: Mexico, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. For example, Brooke and Lesley, whose wedding is featured in this blog, had their wedding at Sandals Wild Orchid in Jamaica!
4. THE PLAN
Wedding planning is primarily done 3-4 months prior to your wedding date. And a lot of last-minute decisions are made during your walkthrough three days prior. The reason being is that the resort is working with 100s of brides and work on them based on the couple’s wedding date. If you are detail-oriented and want to get started sooner, send the wedding planners your vision so they can get started on your proposal. This is one of the reasons you need a destination wedding planner, even for all-inclusive resorts! We can help walk you through all of these decisions so that you are prepared before you arrive for your wedding.
It’s also important to let the resort know of any specific requests. For example, if you have a specific ceremony arch that is not offered by the resort or a vendor and has to be custom-made, then you should send your vision over right away so they can find a vendor to create it for you.
Also, keep in mind that response time in Mexico and other Caribbean destinations can be very slow. They are on “island time” so to speak. It may take them 5-7 days or longer. Be sure to copy your travel specialist on every email so they can step in and escalate a response, if needed.
The ideal time to book your destination wedding is 16+ months out. There is a destination wedding boom right now. Factor in covid and delayed weddings, rising prices on EVERYTHING, and more people are turning to destination weddings.
Most resorts are booked out well over a year in advance. Pre-covid we could easily plan a wedding with 6-9 months notice. These days, you need at least 12-16 months.
Pro TIP: You have to consider room availability on top of wedding date availability. When I book a wedding for a couple, I check the wedding date availability and room availability. We must ensure the resort has enough rooms left to block in your room contract! The last thing you want is to fall in love with a resort only to find out the weekend you picked doesn’t have enough rooms available for your guests.
It seems like a lot – trust me I know! But working with someone like me, a destination wedding specialist will help you every step of the way, from finding the right resort to creating your wedding website and handling all of your guest bookings so you can focus on the wedding!
It’s time TO book YOUR DESTINATION WEDDING planner!
It seems like a lot – trust me, I know! But working with someone like me, a destination wedding specialist, will help you every step of the way. From finding the right resort to creating your wedding website and handling all of your guest bookings so you can focus on the wedding!
I would love to chat with you to discuss your dream destination wedding. Feel free to schedule a complimentary, no-obligation, Destination Wedding Design Session with me! Let me help make your island wedding planning stress free!
Photographer: Emily Brock Photography