Friday, August 21, 2009

Tips To Ensure Your Destination Wedding Goes Smoothly

Ahh, paradise! The waves gently wash up on the sugary white sand. The sun is just starting to set slowly over the horizon, creating a magnificent sunset backdrop for the ceremony. Your closest family and friends have travelled from near and far to join you on this special day. It’s your wedding, and everything is going perfectly according to plan, or is it?

Destination weddings, just like regular weddings, are prone to obstacles. One of the problems that occurs is due to the distance involved, many destination couples hope for the best and assume everything will go perfectly in paradise. The challenge lies in making sure you’ve got all of the details covered, just like planning for a regular wedding. Furthermore, you want to ensure that you are prepared to handle any possible situation that may arise. After all, avoiding any unnecessary surprises is half the battle!

Lost Luggage
You’re travelling to a destination which often involves suitcases and airplanes. Anyone who has lost their luggage will tell you what a terrible experience it is. There is a limited amount you can do to avoid this from happening, but there are some steps you can take to make things easier if it does occur.

First of all, ensure that all bags that you’re travelling with are clearly labelled with your name and contact information. If possible, put a second tag on it as well. Also check the luggage tags yourselves to ensure they are properly checked through with the correct airport codes. If your luggage does get lost, taking these simple precautions will make it easier to be identified.

Secondly, put some of your clothes in his bags, and vice versa. This way, if one of you does lose your luggage, you still have some items to work with in the meantime.

Third, if you plan on carrying your wedding dress onboard, check with the airlines in advance about making arrangements to do so. Most brides have no idea that these arrangements often need to be made ahead of time, sometimes risking huge fees at the airport at the last minute in order to bring their wedding attire along on the flight.

Proper Paperwork Filed
What could be worse than getting ready for your wedding only to learn that the proper paperwork wasn’t filed on time, and therefore, your ceremony won’t be legal? Try and keep smiling with that going on in the back of your mind!

To start with, I recommend that you check with your resort wedding coordinator for the requirements of a legal ceremony in your destination location, but I wouldn’t stop there. I would also encourage you to check out other websites, including government ones for the most up-to-date regulations and requirements. Also check with your own government if a wedding from your destination country is considered legal and if there is any special paperwork that may be required. Especially when the legality of your wedding is at stake, it is better to be safe than sorry.

In addition, make sure you note any important dates and set yourself a deadline well ahead of the final cut-off. For example, a number of countries require the paperwork to be registered 30 days prior to the ceremony. With that in mind, I would aim for getting it there two months ahead of time, giving yourself extra days to allow for transportation of documents, and possible any translations that may have to occur.

Officiant Hired and Confirmed
Most often, the onsite wedding coordinator will book your officiant. To safeguard yourself, I would ask for the contact information and confirm it myself just to be safe. I heard of one couple whose wedding ended up being delayed for three hours waiting for a back-up officiant to arrive because the onsite coordinator had made a mistake and forgot to book one.

Secondly, make sure that you clearly understand what the ceremony will be like. In many Hispanic countries, the language spoken throughout the ceremony will be in Spanish, although it can be arranged for a translator to be present at the ceremony.

It is also important to find out if you are able to have some personal touches in the ceremony. Are you allowed to have other friends or family perform readings? Are you able to have a sand ceremony or a candle ceremony (harder to do if you’re outside in the breeze)? Your onsite wedding coordinator can probably answer some of these questions for you, but you may want to take the initiative and either ask her to confirm the details on your behalf or speak with the officiant yourself.

Poor Weather Alternative
As much as us hope for perfect weather on our wedding day, we can’t always get what we want. My motto is to prepare for the worst, and that includes bad weather. When you are booking your wedding, make sure you know what the contingency plans in case of poor weather. Don't just let the onsite coordinator tell you it is covered. Ask her for specific details. If you’re moving to an indoor location, what will happen in terms of décor, etc? Who makes the final decision about whether it is outside or inside? When is the latest that decision can be made? You will want to ensure that the alternate location is suitable for the size of your wedding and that it can be quickly adapted into a nice location.

If a poor weather alternative is not provided, then I would seriously consider another resort or get the coordinator to come up with a suitable plan of action before you commit to anything. If the plan is in place and you don’t need it, great! If the worst happens and there is a torrential downpour, the wedding can still continue and everyone will stay dry and happy!

Heat and Humidity
Perhaps one of the biggest obstacles couples aren’t prepared for is the difference in the heat and humidity that they face compared to the climate they’re used to at home. If possible, book your wedding ceremony for either early or late in the day to avoid some of the extreme temperatures that are experienced from 11:00 AM until 3:00 PM or so.

Encourage your guests to dress in clothes more suitable to the climate. At a recent wedding in Costa Rica, the couple asked everyone to dress in white (color reflects the sun) and to choose clothing in fabrics of cotton or linen that are cooler and breathe easier. Of course, these were only suggestions that were made, but gave guests permission to dress more casually and make suitable choices for the climate and location.

As a bride, you will want to make sure you have your make-up bag on hand as you may have to freshen up often to avoid looking wilted. Dry powder will help keep you looking fresh, but you may have to take a few moments to remove some of the old make-up and reapply so you avoid the look of having it caked on. Anything that is “oilfree” may also help reduce the amount of shine that can come with perspiration.

For the groom, you may want to make sure you have an extra shirt or two, or even a second pair of pants. At a recent wedding in Costa Rica, the groom perspired through three shirts. (He brought five so that wasn’t a problem.) But he never anticipated that he would sweat through his pants as well. Thank goodness one of his shirts was a little longer and covered the “wet spots” on the back of his pants!

Finally, this may seem like common sense, but make sure that you drink lots of water to stay hydrated and possible even avoid long sessions in the sun on the day of your ceremony. You certainly don’t want to get heat exhaustion on your wedding day!

Wedding Coordinator
I always advice couples to have someone on hand to handle and coordinate all of the details of a wedding. The last person who should have to be dealing with these things is the bride herself. The bride and groom should be able to enjoy their wedding day without people constantly asking them if they should start serving the tapas or dealing with the musicians that have not yet arrived.

Many of the resorts have a onsite wedding coordinator. This person is usually designated to looking after the weddings that happen on the resort property, but while many of them are quite good, you often don’t know the experience of this person. Check websites, such as to get current and updated information about other couples who have gotten married at the same resort. These people can be a source of great information and insight. Also good information source is Google to check out what other people have said. Now, you do have to edit and filter the information that is out there, but it should give you an idea fairly quickly of whether people are pleased with the services they received or not. Even if everything has been arranged ahead of time, make sure you book an appointment with your wedding coordinator early in your trip to review the details and ensure that everything is as you requested and pictured. It's just one more step to confirm and review the details to make sure your wedding is what you planned and envisioned it to be. You certainly don’t want any surprises!

If your wedding site location does not have a coordinator, it would be in your best interest to either hire one from the location or bring one from home experienced in destination weddings. Having someone who can confirm and own all of the possible challenges that may arise will be worth every cent that you end up paying, as the other option is that you end up doing it all yourself.

My philosophy has always been that if you have a back-up plan, you won’t need it. Planning a destination weddings has just as much potential for problems as planning a regular wedding, if not more as so many of the details are looked after long-distance. The key to making sure things go smoothly is to get the details looked after and confirmed ahead of time, and have alternative solutions to some of the more possible problems. This care and attention to detail ahead of time will ensure that your wedding celebration goes off without a hitch!

Cathy MacRae is a certified wedding and event planner, and owner of Creative Weddings and Occasionsand Del Sol Destination Weddings. Located in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, she plans wedding for couples in and around the Calgary and Banff area. She is also a destination wedding and honeymoon travel specialist helping couples plan their weddings in paradise all around the world. For more information about planning your own wedding or for advice from Cathy, please contact her at

Monday, August 17, 2009

Make Your Reception Rock!

Great receptions don't just happen. And it's certainly something you don't want to leave to chance. A great reception is planned well ahead of time and is full of ideas to increase the fun factor and guest involvement. After all, the wedding is over and your reception is the opportunity to kick back and celebrate!

One of the first things you want to consider is the appropriateness of the venue. Does it provide the type of atmosphere you’re looking for? There is a lot you can do with décor and lighting to completely transform the venue and create the ambiance you're after. You may even want to assign a theme. What about recreating the glamour of a classic Hollywood movie premier, or perhaps you want more of the party atmosphere associated with Mardi Gras. Think, you could decorate the room in colors of purple, green, and gold and have masks available for your guests to help get them in the spirit!

Choosing your source of music is equally important. Personally, I've always been partial to a live band, but a great DJ can be equally as effective. Whoever you hire, you want to be assured that they are able to read and react to your guests. In particular, you want to make sure that they have a playlist guaranteed to get your guests in mood. It is important to think of what types of music your guests are going to enjoy and respond to. Take the time at least a month ahead of time to work with your band or DJ to create a playlist that will match the mood and ambiance you desire for your wedding reception.

The other essential element is to come up with ideas that will encourage guests to become more involved. For example, at the recent wedding reception we did in Costa Rica, a Tequila Shooter table was set up in the middle of the dance floor as the band started their third set of music. In addition, members of the wedding party (arranged ahead of time) started handing out props, such as Hawaiian leis, straw hats, and maracas engraved with the newlyweds’ names. Combining the party props, the tequila, and pre-arranging with the live Salsa band to kick the music into high gear, allowed the partyto takeon new life and become totally reenergized.

Finally, you may want to make some plans with your wedding party ahead of time. Get your groomsmen and bridesmaids to start conga lines and keep the dancing going. Maybe even be more direct with your attendants by asking them to invite “wallflowers” to dance, giving everyone a chance to get more involved and have some fun.

Your reception should be a festive occasion and something that everyone can enjoy. It will take careful planning, but with the right attention, it can be the culmination of a great day and a fantastic celebration that you and all of your guests will remember fondly for years to come!


Cathy MacRae is a certified wedding and event planner, and owner of Creative Weddings and Occasionsand Del Sol Destination Weddings. Located in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, she plans wedding for couples in and around the Calgary and Banff area. She is also a destination wedding and honeymoon travel specialist helping couples plan their weddings in paradise all around the world. For more information about planning your own wedding or for advice from Cathy, please contact her at

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

How To Choose Your Perfect Destination Wedding Location

What happens after you decide to have a destination wedding? Most newly engaged couples are excited and absolutely thrilled about about the opportunity to get married abroad, but then hit a snag as they struggle how to proceed. With so many options, how do you even begin to choose the destination that is perfect for you?

The first thing to do is decide what type of wedding you’re planning have. That in turn will help pinpoint the geographical location that you want. For example, those considering a beach wedding are more likely to look at areas in Mexico, Central America, or areas of the Caribbean, while the person with their heart set on getting married in the mountains will look towards the majestic Rockies or the Appalachians.

Possible locations to have a wedding include:

  • Beach Wedding: Mexico, Hawaii, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Bahamas, and even parts of Florida
  • Castle Wedding:Europe, Canada (Casa Loma in Toronto, Ontario), United States (Biltmore Castle in Asheville, North Carolina; Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California)
  • Mountain Wedding:Numerous locations in Alberta (Banff, Canmore, Lake Louise, Jasper) and British Columbia (Fairmont, Golden, Revelstoke, Whistler, Vancouver’s Grouse Mountain); Colorado
  • Winery Wedding:Napa Valley in California, United States; Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, Canada

The next important step is to carefully consider what the majority of your guests, made up of close family members and friends, will be able to comfortably afford. Remember to include travel expenses, accommodation, and meals and drinks in your estimate. You don't want people to come to the wedding, but not be able to afford to eat or participate in other activities while there. All-inclusive resorts packages are extremely popular with those wishing to do a destination wedding for the simple reason that everything is included in the price. If the majority of your friends are still students or just starting out in their careers, they are likely to have little discretionary income, so choosing the best five-star resort in the area might make the trip out of their price range. In the same vein, if you decide to experience a rustic eco-lodge with no electricity or even a ceiling fan, a number of your guests will really struggle with the experience and end up having a terrible time which in turn will put a damper on your wedding experience. To best meet with success, most couples should aim for something that is rated a minimum of 4 or 4.5 stars. Cruising is another "inclusive" pricing option, in that it includes accommodation, all meals, activities and entertainment, although alcohol and air transportation is extra. Other options to consider may include renting private villas with kitchens to cook your own food, or some have staff that will prepare all of your meals if so desired.

When choosing a resort, you need to carefully consider its location, its amenities, and the crowd that it caters to. For example, if some of your guests have children, you will most likely want to stay away from the “adult only” resorts. Other important questions that you need to consider include:

  • Are there choices for dining?
  • Is there a pool and a beach for swimming?
  • Is the resort completely isolated or near a town that is easy to get to?
  • What types of activities are there to do? Is it easy to access local activities?
  • Will guests need a vehicle for transportation or be able to survive without?
  • Are there evening activities or a nightclub for the younger crowd?
  • Is there an age limit for guests? Some possible restrictions include 13+, 16+, and 18+.

Probably the other most important piece of information you require is what types of weddings are offered at the resort or location of your choice. Most resorts offer specific wedding packages, beginning with a simple ceremony for two, all the way up to ones complete with receptions. It is important to check with the resort about what types of packages they offer and the costs associated with each. As well, I would encourage you to check if the resort has “a la carte” options, allowing you to upgrade and personalize your ceremony a little more. For example, many couples want a better photography package or wish to use a different photographer entirely. Some resorts will allow this if you buy a day pass for the photographer. Finally, you need to verify that the resort has an opening to perform your wedding at the time period you're looking for. There is no point booking your trip if the resort is unable to schedule your wedding.

A destination wedding is supposed to be easier to plan, but the stress can quickly escalate if you don't do your research in advance. Check with internet sites, such as to hear from actual people who have stayed at the resorts you're considering for "real" opinions, but read a number of them to get an overall impression from a number of guests. I would also encourage you to check with someone who specializes in destination wedding planning to advise you and help you find the destination best suited for you and your group. This person will also most likely be able to assist you in getting group pricing and better rates for you and your guests.

It's a big commitment, and can seem more than a little overwhelming, but I promise you that a destination wedding can be everything you dreamed of and more with the right research and preparation. Do your homework and you can find the perfect location for your dream wedding!


Cathy MacRae is a certified wedding and event planner, and owner of Creative Weddings and Occasions and Del Sol Destination Weddings. Located in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, she plans wedding for couples in and around the Calgary and Banff area. She is also a destination wedding and honeymoon travel specialist helping couples plan their weddings in paradise all around the world. For more information about planning your own wedding or for advice from Cathy, please contact her at