Just picture it: Friends and family gathered together in some picturesque vacation spot. Everyone retelling old stories and making new memories while sipping on piña coladas – toasting to the lovely couple at every opportunity, of course. Then, after the vows are said and the dances are danced, that lovely couple (hint: you) stays right where you are to begin your honeymoon.
Doesn’t it sound dreamy? Well, the good news is, it’s actually possible to make that your reality. And we’re here to help make that come true!
The biggest reservation people have about a destination wedding is that it seems too big a hassle to plan such a big and important event like this from a distance. But the truth is, with some good guidance and resources, it doesn’t have to be so daunting. That’s why we’ve put together a handy-dandy guide you can turn to as you navigate the decisions and details of planning a destination wedding.
Your Guide to a Dream Destination Wedding
Let’s begin with the tried-and-true method of comparing the awesome stuff with the “ehh, I’m not crazy about that” stuff.
Pros (AKA The Awesome Stuff):
The aforementioned dreaminess of it all. Be prepared for unforgettable moments and flawless pictures (no filter necessary). Plus, it’s a little escape from reality for you and your loved ones.
An untraditional setting. If you’re looking to do something a little different, a destination wedding will definitely do the trick.
More ways to keep costs in check. The biggest expense when it comes to wedding is providing food and beverages to all your guests. So, the easiest way to save money is by keeping your guest list as lean as you can.
A built-in honeymoon! Wake up the next morning, store your wedding dress in the closet, and bring out the swimsuits – because the honeymooning has officially begun. No need to mess with the stress of airports and TSA checks when you’re already at your destination!
Cons (AKA The “Ehh, I’m not crazy about that” Stuff):
Travel expenses (airfare, hotels, food). Well, that’s fare. (Get it?) But luckily, there are tons of resources that can give you the best rates. Apple Vacations is great for finding destination wedding packages including affordable flights and hotel rates – and some good all-inclusive options, too! Also (speaking from experience here), the place where you do your ceremony or reception might offer a discounted rate for groups, especially if some will be staying with them or their affiliates. Tip: If you go abroad, prices are cheaper in, say, a Caribbean country because the cost of living is much lower.
The planning logistics and seeing it all unfold from a distance. Unless you have a large wedding budget, you probably won’t get to see your wedding venue before you arrive for the actual thing. This can be stressful for some, but it can be easier than you think thanks to to Facetime and Skype and WiFi being available pretty much everywhere on Planet Earth.
Communicating with your guests while phone-less abroad. If you travel outside your country, be prepared to deal with phone carriers and data rates. WiFi can be spotty, and you might not be able to rely on your smartphone for all your usual comforts like GPS. (Remember that you don’t have to go abroad! There are plenty of beautiful spots right in your home country!)
It just seems like a lot of work. Destination weddings are still weddings after all, and weddings are a ton of work. Tip: If you’re having your ceremony at a resort, they often have wedding or event planners on staff that could basically do all the heavy-lifting for you! We’re just sayin’ – it doesn’t hurt to ask. ?
What to Wear
Not shoes, for starters. Kidding, you can totally wear shoes if you want to. But how great is it that, in most of these places, you don’t have to?
When choosing dresses for you and/or your bridesmaids, the first thing you may want to first consider is the heat factor. Nobody wants to be uncomfortable and sweaty during your wedding, which should be a carefree, stress-free and sweat-free experience.
Whether you go short or long is totally up to you! We just have some suggestions about the material. For example, a floor-length satin gown for your bridesmaids might not be the best choice. Silk is not salt water-friendly and netting is not tree- or branch-friendly. So, most women we’ve spoken to agree that chiffon is the best choice when it comes to tropical weddings. It’s light and airy, and it comes in almost every color and style imaginable.
Read our 10 top tips for beach wedding dresses & accessories and our guide to beach bridesmaid dresses for more helpful info!
10 Fun & Unique Destination Wedding Locations:
1. Las Vegas, Nevada
I’m sure you had a feeling that Vegas would be included on this list, and with dozens of chapels along its famous strip, why wouldn’t it be?
The Vegas wedding is ideal for couples who want to elope quickly, but can also accommodate brides and grooms with full bridal parties and guests attached. Want to be married by Elvis? No problem. Rock on over to the Graceland Wedding Chapel. Really can’t wait to marry your honey? Head over to the “Tunnel of Love” and up to the “drive-thru” window at A Little White Wedding Chapel. Your nuptials can even be broadcast over the Internet for loved ones who couldn’t make the trip.
If you are planning a more traditional ceremony, Sin City has plenty of beautiful settings located in many of its hotels. A lot of hotel chapels offer packages that will help you save money on flowers, caterers, photography, and more—and many even have coordinators in-house who will help you with all of your arrangements.
One thing to note about a Vegas wedding, though, is to plan accordingly to season. As we all know, Las Vegas is located in the desert, so be prepared for the time of year in which you visit.
Viva, Las Vegas!
Cabo isn’t just for spring-breakers—the Mexican city remains one of the most popular places for Americans to get hitched. You can pretty much plan for beautiful and perfect weather no matter what time of year it is, and if you’re inclined to have a beach ceremony, it’s not unheard of for unannounced guests like humpback whales and other ocean life to make an appearance.
It’s relatively easy for guests to find a great place to stay because of the city’s plethora of hotels and resorts for a variety of different budgets, and you’d be hard-pressed to find locals who don’t speak at least some English. Even when the nuptials are over, bridal party participants and guests alike will have plenty of activities to keep them entertained like beach volleyball, snorkeling, hiking, golfing, and more.
And brides, let us not forget about the many spa treatments available! A massage on the beach sounds pretty heavenly.
Photo by Kayla Groehler
Another unique spot to tie the knot includes the beautiful city of Florence. Deemed as one of the major art and history capitals of Europe and the birthplace of the Renaissance, you can find romance in Florence around just about any corner. For the more dramatic affair, la Salla Rossa or The Red Hall, is the most popular place in Italy for weddings and it’s easy to see why: The hall is decorated with incredible red carpets, drapes, and wall art dating back to its renovation in the 1860’s.
Photo by Kayla Groehler
If you get a chance to explore amidst your plans and celebrations, check out the many exhibits and museums located in Florence, including the infamous Uffizi Gallery featuring art by Leonardo di Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, and more.
Florence is also home to some of the best Italian cuisine in the world, which could be the perfect touch to your dinner and wedding reception.
Well, besides the fact that almost every spot in Hawaii is breathtaking and would make for gorgeous photos, there’s always good weather! Dry season runs from May through October, and after that, rainfall (if you get any at all) is short-lived and mild. If you could avoid going during tourist season (winter through early spring), even better. Also a big bonus: there are endless options for fun things your guests can do, no matter what their ages and interests.
5. Door County, Wisconsin
Besides the beautiful lakefront backdrop, this spot is convenient in so many ways. It’s a four-hour drive from Chicago, Illinois and Madison, Wisconsin. There are wineries and farms all around the area, making for the tastiest beverages and freshest meals of your own choice. This quaint little vacation spot, located between Green Bay and and Lake Michigan, has earned the title of the “Cape Cod of the Midwest.”
Photo by Eileen K Photography
Fall is gorgeous in Door County, although summer is usually the most popular time to wed here. If you choose to go the summer route, we recommend booking early. Winter is not ideal, as it often brings snow, frigid temperatures and icy roads. But hey, if you’re going for that Game of Thrones vibe, don’t let us stop you! (Just be sure to travel safe.)
What better spot to kick off the start of your marriage than in Jamaica? This destination is definitely catered to the island-and-sun-loving among us. Couples have been traveling to Jamaica to get married for decades due to its beaches, mountains, waterfalls, and colorful culture. Jamaica offers plenty of options for lodging, and features many all-inclusive varieties—great for guests on a tight budget.
Photo by Rachel Van Luyk
My personal favorite. This unique destination wedding location is geared toward the more rugged, adventurous couple—but don’t let the thought of snow and ice scare you—Alaska is one of the most beautiful places on earth offering scenic views of mountains, the ocean, rivers, waterfalls, lakes—really, you name it: Alaska’s got it. Even professional photography can’t do the view justice.
Photo by Rachel Van Luyk
Speaking from experience, I was a little wary to attend my best friend’s May big day in Alaska. Will it be cold? Should I be worried about bears? But everything was lovelier than I ever could have imagined. Alaska, believe it or not, is beaming with native culture and extravagant forces of nature—all at a cool 60 degrees in spring.
Before the sight-to-behold of a ceremony held on the beach of one of Alaska’s southern shores, we were treated to hiking, conversing with locals, a boat ride around the bay, and even halibut and king salmon fishing charters. Some of the guests actually rented an RV and drove into Denali National Park after the reception was over—if you love getting back to nature and spending time in the great outdoors, an Alaskan destination big day comes highly recommended.
8. Cartagena, Colombia
When it comes to destination weddings, the coast of Colombia is a little-known gem that’s likely going to become more and more popular with time. The country left behind its complicated past of the 80s and 90s, and is now a much safer and fun place to visit. Prices in Cartagena are much more reasonable than in the States, and if you pass through South Florida, it’s a short two-hour flight from there.
You can either have your dream wedding on a gorgeous spot on the beach, or in La Ciudad Antigua (“the Old City”) with its vibrant colors and distinct architectural styles. Cartagena is one of the most beautiful cities on the coast where the people are friendly, hospitable and thankful to have you there.
9. The Florida Keys
The Florida Keys are made up of a bunch of little islands – Key Largo, Conch Key, Islamorada, Little Torch Key, Sugarloaf Key and all the keys in between. So, you have tons of options you can look into! On top of the tropical allure and the many activities that come with it, the Keys also have some fascinating historical elements, too. Peak tourist season is between December and April, so you may want to shoot for some time in the summer or fall.
Pretty much any spot in The Keys would make for an unforgettable wedding destination. The region has all the beauty of the Caribbean with all the benefit of staying in the States. What we’re trying to say is, you don’t have to go too far to get to paradise.
10. Outer Banks, North Carolina
With its 130 miles of open beach, this region offers a picturesque location that might not be too far from home for you (but still feels like a vacation). The weather is best in the late spring, summer, or even at the start of fall. Of course, fall and winter will be most affordable for traveling, and the orange-y sunsets during those seasons will take your breath away.
You have the option of going with a tropical beach setting or a more rustic lighthouse backdrop – or both for different parts of the big celebration! Whichever route you choose, you can’t go wrong. Because even though it’s right here at home, it will feel like a scene out of a storybook.
Tips & Advice
Lastly, we wanted to leave you with a few tips for planning and pulling off a dream-come-true destination wedding:
* When you choose your venue, ask if there’s a wedding planner available that could help you coordinate everything.
* If you have friends or family that live near the destination, ask them to scope out the scene or meet with your planner/coordinator if need be.
* For the guests, make an itinerary that includes where they should be at what time, and the contact info for you or anybody else they can reach out to while there (maid of honor, best man, parents, etc.).
* Find out who will need special care and make arrangements for that.
* Give people a list of suggested activities they can do during their stay there (besides attend the wedding, of course). This could include places to eat, attractions to see, or tours to try out. Help your guests make the most of their time and fully enjoy the location you pick!
* Delegate tasks. If there’s ever a time to not feel bad asking for help, this is it. Plus, your loved ones will be thrilled to be involved in your special day and help in any way!
* Most importantly, take deep breaths, smile and have fun! You’re marrying your honey, and what could be sweeter than that?
Did you choose a unique destination wedding location? Do you have any ideas or tips? Share your memories with us in the comments below!