Don't let logistics get in the way of your dream destination wedding. Our wedding etiquette experts weigh in on how to plan a drama-free getaway.
What's more romantic than jetting off to a beautiful location for a destination wedding? Having your friends and family there to celebrate with you! Destination weddings are a festive way to say "I do," whether it's on a tropical island or across the ocean in a foreign country, but they also pose tricky logistical problems. Brides and grooms often have to figure out how to pay for their bridal party's accommodations or narrow down a guest list. We asked our wedding etiquette experts how to navigate the line between exotic and expensive to help you have a destination wedding to remember.
My fiancé wants a giant wedding and reception; I prefer a small beach wedding with family. To compromise, I suggested going away for an intimate ceremony and then throwing a big bash when we return. Is my plan tacky? I don't want it to look like we're just in it for the gifts.
Not at all. Many couples who opt to have a small destination wedding throw a larger celebration when they return home. It's a good way to involve friends and family who couldn't make it to the ceremony. Also, a wedding invitation is just that—an invitation to a celebration, not a request for presents; go ahead and have the wedding of your dreams and the reception that your fiancé wants.
How much information goes in a destination wedding invitation?
When choosing your invitations, order reply cards that list each hosted event; that way, guests will understand the overall structure and the events you're paying for, and get a sense of how much of the trip they'll have to finance. You'll also want to include separate cards that explain the accommodation situation. The wording can go something like this: "We have arranged for group rates at two local hotels: the Pleasant Arms (moderate; 888-888-8888) and the Gracious Inn (deluxe; 777-777-7777). When calling for reservations, be sure to mention the Burton/Khan wedding."
Should we still send invitations to everyone on the save-the-date list, even if some of them told us they can't come?
You can invite whomever you wish to your destination wedding, but you can't expect all your guests to able to afford the trip. Even if they could, many may not be able to schedule that much time off. So be realistic. Do you want lots of friends and family at your wedding, or will you be happy having just your immediate family, attendants and a few close friends? You can always have a small, intimate destination wedding and then host a party or second reception for friends and relatives after you return.
Even if they've told you they can't make it, you should still send wedding invitations to close friends and family members. Plans change, and those who had a conflict may decide later that they can attend. They also might feel slighted if you don't invite them, even if your intent is to spare them from having to send a gift. Some may simply wish to have the invitation as a keepsake, even if they can't come. For a non-destination wedding, I would normally recommend you skip invitations for colleagues or casual acquaintances who've said they can't come—or you might look like you are trolling for presents. (You could send them wedding announcements or second reception invitations instead, which don't require the recipient to buy a gift.) But with the rare exception, destination weddings are small affairs for close friends and relatives in the first place, so do send invitations to the whole save-the-date list.
I have to fly to my wedding. What's the best way to transport my dress on the plane?
You should plan to carry the dress in a garment bag onto the plane with you. It can be stowed either in the hanging space for first class, or in the overhead space above your seat. Or, you can fold the garment bag into a carry-on suitcase for easier storage. Either way, your dress will wrinkle, so plan to have it steamed when you arrive at your destination.
Do I have to pick up the tab for my bridesmaids' airfares?
The good news: You're not obligated to foot the bill for any of their travel expenses. That includes plane tickets, car rentals, accommodations and any meals and activities that aren't included in the wedding festivities. But you should hook up your girls—and the other guests, for that matter—with a reasonably-priced place to stay. Do some research, ask about group discounts, even look into renting a villa or two for the bridal party. Of course, if you have the funds to offset some of your bridesmaids' other expenses, there's no reason not to, and they'll love you even more for your thoughtfulness.
Do we have to cover the bridal party's meals? That would really throw our budget out of whack.
Any meal that's part of the festivities should be covered—in most cases, that would include a welcome dinner and/or a rehearsal dinner, the reception itself, and a day-after brunch. If you can afford to, pick up the tab whenever possible—treat your pals to a daily breakfast, for example. After all, they're making the trek to be a part of your wedding on their own dime, so anything you can do to offset some of their expenses will make them adore you even more.
I'm having a destination wedding. One of my bridesmaids has confided that she can't afford to make the trip. Should I pay for her? I really want her to be there, but it seems unfair to the others.
It would certainly be nice of you, and no one else needs to know. Before booking her ticket, though, you should consider whether your other bridesmaids might be in the same financial boat and are too embarrassed to speak up. Instead of bankrolling one bridesmaid's whole trip, it might be more fair to offset some of the travel expenses for the entire bridal party—even if that just means paying for taxis from the airport and breakfasts each day. If your poverty-pleading bridesmaid still can't cough up the dough to make the trip, ask whether having a roommate (it's up to you to find one) to split the hotel costs would help her out.
Do we have to pay for our guests' plane flights and/or hotel rooms if we're having a destination wedding?
You are under no obligation to foot the bill for these costs. If guests can't afford to attend your faraway celebration, they will decline. But, before you send out save-the-date cards (which you should do at least six to eight months before a destination wedding), see if you can ease the financial burden for your guests.
Call a few airlines and ask about group rates. Often if you tell an airline that a bunch of folks are flying out for a wedding, it will offer a discounted group rate. Next, call the hotel you're staying at and get the scoop on group discounts there, too. Group rates tend to be based on availability, so book your reservations as early as possible. Also, if you plan your celebration in the off-season, hotel and airfare prices could be significantly lower.
After all that cost-cutting, don't forget to investigate other aspects of the trip that will sweeten the deal for your guests. What are some great activities they can partake in while they're there? Show guests that along with watching you get hitched, they could turn the trip into a great vacation.
One final point to consider: If you can't imagine getting married without certain guests present, you might want to rethink your wedding plan. Rather than inviting 50 guests to join you in Jamaica, consider knocking the list down to about 10 and paying for guests' airfare or hotels to guarantee that key people will attend. By throwing a small reception at your destination, you might free up enough dough to spend on getting friends and family there. If you do decide to pick up the tab for your guests, by all means forgo the fancy extras. Guests and wedding-party members don't need favors and thank-you gifts on top of a free ticket to paradise.
How do we tell guests we aren't paying for their hotel rooms?
Start by including hotel information in your save-the-dates, with your invitations and on your wedding website, says Peggy Post, an etiquette expert from the Burlington, VT-based Emily Post Institute. Wording such as, "A block of rooms with various rates is being held under the Smith/Jones wedding" makes it pretty clear that you're not taking care of hotel costs. This should do the trick for guests, but it can get a little dicey with your bridal party, and that's often where the confusion happens. "It's really important to be clear with attendants on who's paying for what, since the guidelines continue to change," notes Post. If you sense the potential for a misunderstanding, try saying something like: "We're not able to pay for your accommodations, but we've researched a lot of places and hope we've found some that fit within your price range." (It's important to offer different price points because it shows you're trying to make your wedding affordable to them.) To end the conversation on an upbeat note, Post suggests a couple of closers. Tell your attendants, "We'll treat you to some great meals there!" or, "And of course, the fact that you're coming is absolutely your wedding gift to us."
How do we politely let guests who come to our destination wedding know that we want to be alone after the reception?
You can't very well demand that everyone fly home after they've come so far—know that most people will respect your privacy, even if they're staying on a few days after the event. If you're really concerned about hangers-on, head to another place. Some hotel companies, like Sandals, SuperClubs and Wyndham, have sister resorts that you can combine in a single package.
I've been invited to a destination wedding, and while I'm excited to go, it's going to a cost a lot. Do I still give a wedding gift to the couple too?
Every wedding invitation carries the obligation to give a gift. Ideally you should send it before the wedding, to either the bride or the couple, if they live together. You can also mail it to the newlyweds within a month after they return from their honeymoon. (It's a myth that you have up to a year to give a wedding present.) If you're spending a lot to attend the event, you may go for a less expensive item or something you've made yourself—often the most meaningful present costs very little. But do get the couple something. While your attendance at a wedding so far from home is a wonderful gift in itself—the idea that "your presence is your present"—a small but heartfelt token is always appropriate, even if you opt for something less costly. There is no price range, as it's too different for each person and their situation. Let your travel-reduced budget and your relationship to the couple be your guide.
Our dream is to get married at an exclusive private-island resort, but there are no other accommodations nearby. Is it rude to expect people to fork over $375 per night (and that's just for a garden room!)?
It's not exactly rude, but unless most of your friends have money to burn, be prepared to get a lot of regrets on your RSVP cards. You may want to consider throwing a low-key bash when you return so your landlocked pals can celebrate your marriage with you.