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What You Need to Know About Planning a Destination Wedding

A beach wedding with white draping on the arbor and floral sprays lining the aisle. Flower are white and yellow daisies.

NOTE: I've asked my good friend and travel advisor to write a blog about destination weddings. He has some great tips continue reading!

Weddings are meant to be joyful celebrations of love, usually witnessed by family and friends. They can be small and intimate or they can be large and extravagant affairs. No matter the size or style, a wedding can be quite stressful, especially as others “help” with the planning. My wife and I decided early on we would have a small wedding in September – approximately 80 people at the most. But, as our families began to “help” plan, we found our wedding moved to November and 200 guests invited. Thankfully there was an ice storm and only about 80 showed up. It may be the only time in my life I was thankful for winter weather.

Many engaged couples now choose to avoid the stress of planning by instead choosing a destination wedding at an all-inclusive resort. While this can certainly make things simpler in some respects, it doesn’t eliminate all the planning or the stress. Here are some things couples should keep in mind when considering a destination wedding.

A bride and groom taking a tricycle bike to get to their hut on the beach. There are beautiful blue skies and sea green water


Some couples think a destination wedding will save them a lot of money. For many, it’s true. Weddings these days can be tens of thousands of dollars whereas a destination wedding can be much less. However, there are still expenses to consider, many that may not be anticipated. So, it’s very important to consider budget before even beginning to search for the right resort. Consider what is affordable and start from there. When considering affordability, remember there is a travel component and also a wedding component.

And remember guests will also need to spend thousands of dollars to join you at your destination, so you want to keep their budgets in mind too. It’s no good to invite family and friends if many of them will be unable to attend due to the cost.

A bride and groom hugging each other while the bride holds a flower bouquet. There is a lake and view of a town in the background.

Know What You’re Getting

When getting married at an all-inclusive resort, usually there are two different aspects: the travel and the wedding. Many resorts have wedding departments and couples are assigned a Wedding Coordinator. But, that’s separate from the room booking.

So, you need to plan for your travel (airfare, transfers, and resort accommodations), usually sold as an all-inclusive vacation package. You need to separately plan for the resort’s wedding services, which can cost thousands of dollars. Many packages included bundled services such as a specified amount of time at one of the resort’s wedding venues, an officiant, decorations, photography, and more. While the costs add up, they are still usually a lot less expensive than a traditional wedding. Just don’t make the mistake of believing your resort wedding is going to be cheap.

Some couples think they will get a free vacation if they can get enough family and friends to join them for their destination wedding. While, that may happen, it’s typically when a very large group books rooms to be at the wedding, but then the increased size of the wedding adds more costs to seat all those people and feed them at the reception. Typically, a couple will earn some discounts or special amenities like a romantic dinner on the beach or chilled champagne delivered to their room.

Dining table decorated for reception located on a dock out by a lake.

Plan for Some No-Shows

When making your invitation list, include more people than needed to secure discounts or other desired benefits. First, your destination wedding may be too expensive for some family and friends. Others may be able to afford it, but may not want to spend their money to attend your wedding. Typically, we advise brides and grooms they should expect no more than two-thirds of their invitees to actually attend their wedding. And, even some of those will cancel before the wedding.

A few years ago, we were invited to friends’ destination wedding, but had to cancel two weeks before departure due to our daughter’s medical emergency. Life happens, and cancellations will occur. By inviting more than you may intend, you might avoid losing discounts and benefits due to cancellations.

Plan Ahead

A calendar with two wedding rings, a pen and flowers covering the outer edges

The earlier you plan, the better chance you have for getting what you want. Don’t think you can just show up to a resort and have a wedding. If you decide to marry on a specific date, you definitely need to plan early because your resort may not have available wedding slots. Choosing a high season can also make it difficult to find the capacity needed for guests or wedding slots. We recommend planning at least 9 months in advance. In October 2023, we worked with a couple for a July 5, 2024 wedding in Mexico. They wanted to marry on that specific date. By the time we booked the wedding package, there was only one venue slot left for the day. This couple was lucky that the venue they wanted was the one still available. If not they would have had to be married on the beach.

Plan to Plan

Don’t think that just because you are having a destination wedding that there is no planning required. The resort’s Wedding Coordinator will be in touch leading up to your arrival at the resort to plan for your wedding setup, offer photography sessions, discuss music, and plan for reception catering and drinks. It’s your wedding and you still have to make decisions for it to be a successful event.

A beach wedding with guests standing ina row along the aisle.  THey are clapping as the bride and groom come down the aisle after saying their vows.

A Beach Wedding May Seem Nice, but…

Everyone has seen photos and videos of a beach wedding, and they always look romantic and elegant. But, if you haven’t been to one yourself, you may not realize it’s like other visits to the beach, except you’re in formal wear. A beach wedding will mean sand in your shoes, clothing, and hair. You will be in the sun and the wind, so those beautiful wedding photos will hopefully be snapped during a break in the breeze, but before you start burning. And definitely plan ahead to know when it’s the humid season or expect to sweat through the ceremony.

I saw a wedding party on an island in the Bahamas in February 2023. They all looked amazing in their suits and dresses as they walked toward the beach. Less than an hour later, they all paraded by again. Most had drooping hair and sweaty faces. Women were holding their dresses up to cool off and the men had their shirts untucked. Nearly all had removed their shoes. They looked like a hot mess, literally.

Book with a Travel Advisor

Of course it seems self-serving for me to write that you should work with a Travel Advisor. But, it genuinely is to your advantage. Now, I think you should especially book with our agency – now, that’s definitely self serving.

A female travel agent handing airline tickets to a couple across the desk. A laptop is in the background

You may be tempted to book directly with the resort, and many resorts will offer discounts if you do so. But, most resorts also expect you to book 10 or more rooms to earn group discounts. Travel Advisors, however, work with a variety of travel partners. We can book directly with the resorts or we can book through a number of travel partners with special agreements with better terms or additional amenities. Currently, I’m working with a wedding group headed for the Caribbean. The resort they chose offers amenities and room discounts if 10 or more rooms are booked. However, I work with a travel partner that enables the group to receive the same amenities and discounts for every six rooms booked.

Also, booking directly means you are responsible for coordinating with friends and family to make sure they know when to book, how to book, what to expect price-wise, and when deposits and final payments are due. A Travel Advisor should be able to handle this for you as well as working with the resort and/or travel partners to ensure you receive your discounts and amenities.

Most of All…

More than anything and most important of all is to be flexible and patient. Choosing to have a destination wedding does not allow you to avoid decision making and planning, and it doesn’t eliminate all stress as you prepare for the big day. But, with an experienced Travel Advisor and a good Wedding Coordinator at a nice resort, your destination wedding will be a memorable and enjoyable experience for you and your guests.

About Chris Lay: I am Co-Owner of Lay Travel Group, a Dream Vacations franchise in Roswell, GA with local travel advisors in Bloomington, IL. I love to travel and love helping others to travel and see the world. Please visit and contact me for your next vacation.


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