Karen Bussen Dishes on Destination Weddings

The planning guru gives her top tips on how to wed away.

What should a couple consider when choosing a destination?
First, think about your priorities. Factors like your desired guest list size, the season, and total budget will all come into play, as will details such as convenient flights for guests to make the trip as easy and economical as possible. Also consider the environment or setting you're envisioning. If it’s a beach celebration you’re dreaming of,do you prefer Nantucket, Florida, or the Caribbean, for example? Or would you be happier in an autumnal setting at a rustic farm?  Or at an historic villa or castle in Ireland or Spain?

How far in advance do I let guests know about the wedding?
Whenever travel for your guests is involved, you want to give them an ample head start on booking flights and accommodations. Before you announce the details, make sure you have a signed contract with your destination and research options and accommodations in case guests have questions. A save-the-date card for a destination wedding is a real gift to your guests (send it out a year in advance or give as much notice as possible), as are pre-negotiated travel packages and/or room block rates to help them save money.

What should I pay for, and what should my guests pay for?
Typically, guests are expected to pay for their own travel and accommodations no matter where the wedding takes place. And just as with a wedding at home, you’re expected, as the hosts of the celebration, to pay for any reception costs, including all food and beverages. If you are staying at an all-inclusive resort like the Grand Palladium, your wallet may stay heavier as food and/or drink costs may be a part of what your guests pay for in making their accommodations reservations.  But a destination wedding can also involve more celebrations, such as a welcome barbecue or cocktail party, and a farewell brunch after the big day, so keep these costs in mind.

Airfare and hotel blocks: A do or a don't?
Speak with your local planner to find out what is best at your destination. If you can take advantage of better rates without being held financially responsible for rooms or flights, then go for it. Some travel agents specialize in helping to get guests on combined flights and select specific rooms at your resort that are just right for them. Just make sure you clearly understand policies so you don’t get stuck holding the bag for rooms or travel you thought you needed.

How should I pack my gown and any other items that I'll be bringing from home?
Anything that is essential—especially your gown—should be treated with extreme care while you’re traveling. Some dress boutiques will ship your dress directly to your destination, but my advice is to travel with it. Speak to your airline to find out if they can hang the dress for you in the first class coat closet.  If you must pack it in your luggage, use a hanging bag and ask your dress shop for tips on best packing practices for your specific dress. Also inquire as to whether the dress can be pressed or ironed when you arrive at your destination if necessary. I suggest carrying all of your important accessories with you in your hand luggage. If you’ll want to bring favors or gift bags or other decorative items, consider shipping them in advance, to the attention of your local wedding coordinator. That way, you’ll have less to schlep and your items will be waiting for you.  Just make sure to clear this with your coordinator so they’re expecting your items and have a plan for taking care of them.

When planning, is it necessary to visit the location in advance?
This really depends on you as a bride and what you’re envisioning.  If at all possible, I do suggest taking a visit to your intended location.  After all, the last thing you want on your wedding day is surprise or disappointment with any element! You can also make a real connection with the local planner and/or vendors if you meet them in person in advance of the wedding, which can work to your advantage when you are communicating remotely. However, if you can’t visit for yourself, ask for at least three references, and check the place out thoroughly via online guides and review sites such as tripadvisor.com.

Next: Vendor recommendations, guest list advice, and dress code options >>

photo: Allan Zepeda