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Get Out of Town?

Things to consider before making the commitment to a destination wedding

By Laura Leon

‘Nantucket?” The question sputtered off the lips, like something foreign in a mouthful of chocolate, of many of my family members when told that this was location that my niece Holly and her fiancé David had chosen for their October wedding.

“What’s wrong with home?” was the next inevitable question, and, because home here refers to the Berkshires, who can blame us? “The weather is beautiful. The locations are beautiful. Everybody and their brother wants to be in the Berkshires. In leaf season to boot! We’re here!”

Perhaps that last bit was the deciding factor for the lovebirds. Now more than ever, bridal couples are opting to get married in exotic locations, some of them throwing an elaborate multi-day affair, and others simply tying the knot elsewhere in front of God and a handful of guests, before trotting home to a larger, more traditional reception or party.

According to Lisa Light, a full-service destination-wedding producer and CEO of, and author of the definitive Destination Bride: How to Plan Your Wedding Anywhere in the World, destination weddings really took off with the advent of the Internet. “That made it much more possible for people to find information, learn about and shop for locations,” she explains, “not to mention how it made marketing and promoting wedding services and packages much easier.” (The Sandals Resort was a pioneer in this type of marketing.)

Light also attributes the increase in destination weddings to changes in baby boomers’ mobility, the increase in frequency of travel, young couples’ expectation of excitement and glamour, and the general trend of spending more money on weddings. “These factors really open up possibilities,” says Light. “A bride might want a Cinderella wedding, but she’s already been to Disney World, so, she thinks, ‘Why not a real castle in Europe?’ ”

Seemingly gone are days when a destination wedding meant elopement, a getaway from the frills, festivities, and cost. About 20 years ago, my attention-shy cousin married his bikini-clad bride on a beach in Jamaica, with just a minister presiding. Our French teacher married her second husband (also on a Jamaican beach) during a long weekend break. Typically, these ceremonies were followed by some sort of party at home or a local restaurant for family and friends.

Light warns about the dangers of viewing a destination wedding as a cost savings. The national statistic says that it costs $28,000 for a wedding with 150 guests. According to Light, the average for a destination wedding is $28,000 for a guest list of 80. Again, however, that’s because today’s bridal couples aren’t thinking so much elopement as they are exotic gala.

But what about those guests? Remember my Nantucket-bound niece? Turns out that family and friends had to penetrate the logistics of getting ferry tickets to and from, or flights on and off, the island. OK, that’s doable, but when the oceans and winds turned so rough that October week so as to cause the cancellation of all ferries for two days, with the remaining scheduled departures on “standby,” guests had to scramble to figure out what to do. I was nearly eight months pregnant, so the thought of driving four hours to Hyannis, not knowing if the ferries would be running or where my husband and I would house our three kids while we waited indefinitely, sank us. I’m embarrassed to say, we missed the wedding.

Light stresses the importance of taking into consideration your guest list before committing to a destination wedding. “If your family and friends are the type who travel a lot, who are likely to have frequent flyer miles, then by all means, go for it. If, on the other hand, your guest list does not include many people who travel frequently, limit your destination to something that is attainable by a three-hour direct flight at no more than $400 per ticket per person.” Consider, too, the budgets for things like room reservations and meals of the people on your list.

The key, she says, is prioritizing what you want, and who you want to share it with.

It’s not just the guests, though, who need to consider travel expenses. A bridal couple should take at least one and preferably more visits to their ideal destination. Light urges that the bride and groom go with a mission plan in hand, and be prepared to measure, taste, take pictures, do trial runs with hair-and-makeup people, interview locals. When it comes to actually choosing the destination, she says it is essential that the bridal couple not rely simply on Internet postings, but instead get referrals, talk to users, wedding planners, florists . . . basically anybody who can give an honest and straightforward opinion of the potential site. “If the name Ritz Carlton keeps coming up as someplace that does great events,” advises Light, “consider that a strong possibility. There’s a reason people are recommending it.” Light’s Web site ( features information on many possible destinations. Other good sources include and

Another significant detail is to investigate the legalities; in other words, can you and your fiancé legally get hitched in your chosen destination? If not, a simple civil ceremony performed near home can be accomplished, with nobody being the wiser.

As with any wedding, it’s absolutely necessary for the bride and groom to conceptualize what exactly they want for their big day, and how much they are willing to spend. It’s also important to consider whether or not you want to do all the planning yourselves, or to make an investment in a qualified wedding planner, particularly one with destination-wedding experience. A destination wedding could be for you, but you need, as Light often says, “to think before you leap.”

2007 Bridal Guide Home

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