Caribbean destination weddings enjoy a recent growing popularity with many couples, and as with any new trend, etiquette must adapt accordingly. When couples decide on a Caribbean wedding (or any other destination, for that matter) traditional rules sometimes cease to make as much sense, and new and unexpected situations may throw you curve balls - the last thing you need added to already-stressful wedding planning.
Use these guidelines for navigating potentially touchy issues such as guests, costs, invitations, and more, all far away from home. However, at the end of the day, remember to use what no amount of rules replaces - your own good sense. After all, at the end of the day everyone wants to feel comfortable, have fun, and celebrate the most important day of your life by your side!
Etiquette for the Couple
How soon will people need to know about our destination wedding?
In any situation with travel involved, the sooner the better! Send out save-the-dates 6 months before the wedding, or even earlier if you like. It may take some people time to set aside the budget or plan around work and home to attend, and advance notice goes a long way towards increasing the number of friends and family able to join you!
Who should I invite?
The majority of destination weddings remain small affairs, ranging from a few close friends and family members on up to 30 or so people. Because of the nature of the wedding - the travel, the accommodations, the intimate setting - many couples find it easier to manage a smaller crowd, rather than hundreds of travelers.
Keep in mind, however, that destination weddings present challenges for potential attendees, as well. When sending out your invitations, stay prepared for a smaller group of guests than you might receive under other circumstances. Some of your friends and family may try and plan with the best of intentions, but the travel, the time commitment, or the cost may simply be outside of their means.
Alternatively, some people may surprise you and decide to commit, even if they initially show reservations. Therefore, it's a bad idea to invite everyone you know, or someone you feel obligated to invite, on the premise that "most of them probably won't come." You might find yourself surprised. To avoid potential issues, invite those you would definitely like to see at the wedding, regardless of whether or not you think they can make it.
How can I help make the trip and costs easier for guests?
Never hesitate to enjoy your special day and make it everything you always dreamed of. If you want to splurge on that hotel or choose this bridesmaid dress over that one, forget hesitation and go for it! You only get this day once, and who wants to look back and regret a part of their wedding? With that said, although it never hurts to indulge, taking time to make things a little easier for the guests pays off for everyone at the end of the day. Help them save money by looking into reduced rates for hotel blocks and large group activities, or think about choosing a hotel you know fits into everyone's budget. Provide all of the information needed for your guests ahead of time, such as flight info, addresses, lists of activities, names of hotels and any transportation, and so on. Once at the hotel, ensure that they remain comfortable and stay informed of any planned activities - breakfasts, snorkeling trips, or whatever else the couple decides!
Make sure to consider the location for your ceremony and reception, and the comfort level of your guests in that particular setting. Are you marrying on a boat, or on top of a dramatic cliff poised over a beach? Do you have family members with limited mobility, or a close friend who's deathly afraid of water? With the unique settings of many destination weddings, it helps to take potentially hairy situations into account. A little research for your guests goes a long way towards making everyone feel comfortable!
What costs do I cover for my guests?
Generally, guests pay for their own transportation and lodging. You cover the cost of any events you invite them to, such as the ceremony, receptions, dinners, or other activities centering around the wedding. If guests wish to enjoy extra activities on their own time, they take responsibility for those costs. Your attendants prove the exception - for them, expect to pay for transportation and 2 days of lodging.
Note that some guests, no matter how diligently you research or how many people you try to cater to, may not want to stay at the hotel or resort you choose. If you invite guests who insist on staying elsewhere, note that some hotels charge you a "day pass fee" for allowing them to enter the property hosting your wedding. Because the couple covers the cost of wedding events for the guests, you take responsibility for paying this fee, even if you informed your guests of the situation.
Am I responsible for paying for any vendors I bring from home?
Yes. If you bring a favorite hairstylist or photographer from home, for example, you take responsibility for their lodging, transportation, food, and so on, except for activities they pursue outside of wedding events.
Should I still send an invitation to someone who can't make the trip after receiving their save-the-date?
Yes. It's polite, and you never know - that person might change their mind, particularly if it means the world for them to be with you on your special day!
We invited a small group of people to our destination wedding. How can we still celebrate with a larger group of friends and family who couldn't make it or didn't make the guest list, and what's the etiquette for inviting them?
Many couples choose to hold a post-wedding reception once they return home. Style this however you like, from a black tie affair to a backyard get-together - it provides a wonderful way to enjoy the beauty of a destination wedding ceremony and still celebrate with all of your friends and loved ones. Don't expect gifts at the reception, though - guests bring these only at showers and weddings, and they need not, nor should you expect them to, provide gifts elsewhere.
If you hold an at-home reception separate from the destination wedding, you need 2 separate sets of invitations. Send the reception-only invitations 8 weeks before the event, minus any information about the wedding ceremony.
Can I invite people to my wedding shower but not to my destination wedding?
When following good etiquette, no. Many consider this rude, and some might see it as a play to receive more gifts. A wedding shower is not the appropriate place to celebrate with these guests for just this reason - when attending the shower, you bring a gift. By inviting non-wedding guests, you send the message that you would love to take their presents, but that they aren't good enough to come to your wedding.
Because of the expensive nature of destination weddings, you may want to simply forgo the shower altogether, especially when planning a very small wedding. The travel may tax some budgets enough already, without the additional cost of gifts, shower preparation and rentals, and so on.
The exception: if you choose to hold at-home reception after returning from your wedding. If you plan on inviting your guests to the reception, consider it appropriate to also invite them to the shower (guests need not bring gifts to the reception, which balances everything out.) However, ensure that they receive a save-the-date for the reception before the shower invitation - some guests may take offense if it appears they've been invited to only the shower.
Should I include registry information in the invitations?
No. It's considered rude to hint at or discuss gifts in your wedding invitations. When trying to share registry information, let it spread by word of mouth with the help of your bridal party. Some view it as acceptable to place registry information in the bridal shower invitations or on your personal wedding website.
How can I share news about our marriage with people not attending our wedding or the reception?
Use a wedding announcement to inform any remaining friends or family of your marriage. Announcements only go to those not invited to the ceremony or reception, and let the happy news to circulate among the rest of your acquaintances.
Etiquette for the Guests
Am I obligated to attend an expensive destination wedding?
You should not feel obligated to attend an unaffordable destination wedding, or one inconvenient or impossible for you to travel to. If a couple plans a destination wedding and chooses to invite several people, they should fully expect that some might not make it (possibly even a few close family members). Many couples plan intimate destination weddings with reasonable pricing, but some include elaborate ceremonies and luxury resorts that quickly stretch a budget. Factors such as cost, children, limitations on travel, and length of time may cause issues for even the best of friends, so try not to beat yourself up about missing a Caribbean ceremony! Make your best effort, but if things just refuse to align the way you need them to, send your congratulations and stay at home. And remember, you need not explain your reasoning to the bride and groom unless you really want to - your inability to attend remains your own private business. They should understand!
How do I dress appropriately for a Caribbean wedding?