Pros and Cons: Saying "I Do" to Caribbean Destination Weddings
Imagine yourself at a luxury hotel on the soft white beaches of the Caribbean, married just as the sun slips below the horizon with your very closest family and friends nearby. It sounds like a fairytale dream, and what bride isn't tempted by the thought of a perfect destination wedding? The sun, the sand, the tropical beauty, the convenience of a luxury resort that can double as your honeymoon - it's hard to see where things could possibly go wrong. But destination weddings are not perfect for everyone, for a multitude of reasons better to realize sooner than later. The list below offers a jumping off point for deciding if a destination wedding is the right option for you.
Surrounded by beauty
Anyone visiting the Caribbean may agree - nothing compares to the beauty found on these islands. The clear blue water, year-round perfect temperatures, and stunning beaches, combined with a laidback island charm you won't find anywhere else, make for an incomparable experience you'll treasure for the rest of your life. And although white sand beaches and gentle blue waves represent the stereotypical image of Caribbean beauty, they compose only a piece of all the things couples can see. Some Caribbean beaches feature dramatic, wind-swept shores with stunning cliffs and dramatic boulders, which you can find only at the end of bumpy dirt roads. Some remain completely isolated and pristine, while others border rows of luxury high-rise hotels, shopping centers, and restaurants. Hang out at a traditional white sand beach, or explore a striking black, golden, or soft pink stretch of shore. And don't think for a moment that the beauty stops at the beaches of the Caribbean Islands!
Dine near stately and exquisite plantation ruins as the sun sinks below the horizon, or head into the rainforest to hike through the lush greenery. Hold your wedding in a botanical park, or marvel at the vibrant colors of an underwater world during a submarine trip. The colors, the excitement, and the stunning views of the Caribbean remain unlike anything else in the world, offering limitless opportunities for a gorgeous destination wedding backdrop!
A variety of locations
Many couples choose to hold their destination wedding ceremony right on the beach, or in one of the many luxury Caribbean resorts or hotels. But these by no means include your only options, and the Caribbean provides a number of different venues for your special day!
Select something intimate, such as a private villa, where you can plan your destination wedding with virtually no one else around to interrupt. A variety of other accommodations, ranging from full-service resorts to small boutique hotels, typically offer a range of different ceremony locations from which to choose. These might include elegant ballrooms, romantic terraces, or gazebos overlooking the ocean. Some offer private beach locations, or you can head off to a deserted island or public beach and hold the ceremony all on your own! Explore botanical gardens and museums, forts, historical sites, and national parks, all in a lush Caribbean setting with stunning scenery and often a unique and colorful history. With the entire Caribbean to choose from, a venue exists to suit every couple's tastes!
Wedding and honeymoon in the same place
One great convenience of a destination wedding is that the honeymoon and the wedding often take place in the exact same location, which usually helps to cut back costs. (Destination weddings are sometimes known as "weddingmoons", just for this particular benefit.) Instead of paying for a large wedding facility with all the frills at home, hold a simple seaside ceremony and wake up the next morning already in paradise. Choose a luxury resort, many of which offer honeymoon packages including special rooms, discounts, and romantic activities for two. These are usually available regardless of where your wedding takes place, even if you choose not to marry on the hotel grounds. Rent a private house or villa, and relax in your own private home away from home the day after the ceremony takes place, with views of a tropical paradise from your swimming pool. It does pay, however, to talk things over with the people attending your wedding - are they planning on staying a few days after the ceremony as well, or are they heading home directly after? If you're looking for time alone, it might be best to discuss things ahead of time before you end up hanging out with your parents at the pool.
A tendency to run small
For those with a small and close group of family and friends, or those who dislike the thought of a huge wedding with hundreds of people to worry about, a destination wedding may hold quite a bit of appeal. Destination weddings, because of the complexities of travel, cost, and lodging arrangements, tend to run small - anywhere from a close friend and family member or two to perhaps 20 or 30 people. This is a guideline to make life easier rather than a restriction, though, so feel free to adjust to your personal needs!
The idea is to celebrate in an intimate setting where you can spend time with the people who truly matter to you. Head to a romantic, posh hotel with your wedding party, or take an even smaller group and retreat to a private hill or beachside villa. Cutting down on the guest list eliminates a certain amount of worry from anyone's plans, and ensures that you focus on the most important day or your life rather than managing a huge crowd.
If you prefer the romantic thought of just you and your future spouse, you may even want to consider eloping - an option where you and your partner travel to the destination alone, with only as large of a ceremony as absolutely necessary. This romantic alternative maximizes your time together, and for some couples, creates the perfect romantic escape from the stress of life and obligations at home.
Relaxed and fun atmosphere
Whether you choose a wedding on the beach, a garden, a unique venue or in a glamorous hotel ballroom, Caribbean weddings have a sense of island charm and relaxation different from any other location. There's something about the sun, the sand, and the friendly faces around you that invite your guests to forget their worries and frantic schedules, and join you in your special celebration.
Of course the level of formality remains entirely up to you - a black tie affair in a glamorous hotel ballroom is an event to remember. But little touches can pull in the island vibe regardless, and bring smiles to everyone's faces. Try a barefoot sunset ceremony in the sand, or create a wedding favor that's a signature of your island (rum cake or mix tapes of Caribbean music played at the reception, for example.) Nix the suits and fancy dresses in exchange for lighter, more beach-appropriate clothing, and embrace the warm weather by buying a short, simple (less expensive!) wedding gown. Find ways to channel the island atmosphere through your ceremony -- you've come here for the completely unique and fabulous setting, so utilize it to your advantage!
Should you decide to hold a small and intimate wedding celebration, a ceremony in the Caribbean can actually save you quite a bit of money. The traditional, formal 500-guest ceremony you might hold at home quickly rings up a bill, whereas Caribbean ceremonies tend to focus on smaller affairs with only close friends and family (or even just the two of you.) Even if you choose a luxury resort as your venue, or even if you splurge on that designer dress you wanted, a wedding with only 20 guests in an exotic setting may still help to keep the final price reasonable! Of course, this is by no means a rule - some people spend thousands on their Caribbean destination weddings, and transport hundreds of people to their ceremony site. But if you stay smart and plan carefully, you can hold a destination wedding in one of the most beautiful locations in the world and create wonderful wedding memories, all without breaking your wallet!
Many locations provide wedding services
Throughout the islands, couples find a range of different wedding services offered by companies and venues - hotels, resorts, independent wedding planners, and even locations that offer packages for your convenience. Because so many people travel yearly to the Caribbean for their destination weddings, the islands have responded to the demand for these services, and couples easily find any assistance they might need with planning, getting supplies, or setting up their ceremony or reception!
A wedding planner in the Caribbean can be your best friend, and absolutely comes highly recommended- they know the island, the requirements, the weather, the people, the popularity of certain venues, and much much more - all the little details you have no way of seeing until you get there. Seize on this chance, and use it to your advantage! Planning from far away gets the best of even the most organized of couples, and you need someone on the other end to give you a helping hand. Use the planner that comes along with your hotel, or select one of the many independent and experienced wedding planners found across the Caribbean!
Depending on their size, many hotels and some alternative venues, such as gardens, historical sites, or parks offer services in the forms of various packages, which might include florists, music, catering, officiants, and anything else necessary. Hotels and resorts in particular usually offer just about anything you might need or want, in an effort to remain completely self-contained. Some places may require you to use their services, while others won't care if you bring in outside help - but check first to save yourself any trouble! Many wedding packages include flexibility, and couples have the option of either choosing what services they don't need or upgrading to higher levels.
Keep in mind that the Caribbean sees hundreds of weddings every year, and many of the people working in the wedding industry can lay claim to plenty of experience. They come fully prepared to make your Caribbean destination wedding flow effortlessly, so you can enjoy your time without worries in the lovely island of your choosing!
Planning from a distance
Perhaps the most obvious challenge in planning a destination wedding is not being at your location. For some couples, the experience of trying to meticulously work out every detail over the phone, without physically being able to see the location, may only lead to feeling frazzled and frustrated. While many locations in the Caribbean have years of experience handling weddings, and a wedding planner definitely makes life easier, at the end of the day the uncertainty may prove too much for some couples. Decide what works for you, and it seems like too little control over the proceedings, perhaps consider something closer to home.
Destination weddings provide a unique challenge for couples in finding vendors. Some prefer to bring a favorite vendor from home, but in this case, they are expected to pay for the vendor's transportation, lodging, food, etc. However, researching and planning a wedding from far away, as well as putting complete faith in vendors you have never met, may also be unsettling to some couples. Advantages and disadvantages come with both options, but spend some time reviewing the resources offered by the hotel before making your decision - in some cases, they may even require you to use certain vendors, if you decide to marry on the hotel grounds.
Getting your guests to the destination
Moving large groups of people from one country to another is no easy undertaking, and this is where cutting down on the guest list might help a bit. Organization is key here - the more organized you are with getting the information out, the less bumps encountered when it comes time for everyone to travel.
First, if your destination wedding is outside of the country, consider what documents your guests might need to enter the new location, such as a passport, proof of citizenship, etc. You need to make it clear what they should bring with them before hopping onto the plane.
Some visitors may need to obtain passports or papers, depending on where they're coming from and in what country they're considered citizens of. Remember that flight cancellations, delays, and other travel difficulties are always a potential issue, so a certain amount of flexibility might be required. Your responsibilities also include letting everyone know addresses and times for where they need to be, and getting them directions for how to get there.
Marriage rules differ by island
Finding a beautiful spot in the Caribbean won't present a challenge, but know that each island has its own specific rules, list of required documents, and methods of providing marriage licenses. Some, such as Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, and the Cayman Islands require no waiting period or required residency, while other islands request that the couple stay for multiple days before the ceremony. Some islands file your paperwork on the same day, and some request it months in advance. It's important that you find a location whose rules fit with your wedding itinerary - especially if you're marrying on short notice, some requirements may prove very difficult, if not impossible, to meet.
A smaller guest list
When planning a small destination wedding, you often have to decide who you would like to join you on your special day. There may be friends and family who won't be invited because you need to keep the guest list short, or those who would love to come but can't because of the cost, distance, or some other unforeseen factor. The guest list here requires a lot of thought, and if you have a very large family, or would prefer to celebrate alongside a crowd of your best friends, than a destination wedding may not be feasible(or the best choice) for the two of you.
It's important to remember that this is your day, and if you prefer a small destination wedding, trust that your family and friends will underst