DESTINATION WEDDINGS

How To Start Planning a Destination Wedding

December 28, 2020

A step-by-step guide to planning a destination wedding at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico or the Caribbean.

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I'm an ocean-obsessed Midwesterner with a travel agency specializing in all-inclusive resort vacations & destination weddings.

My signature accessory is dog hair. My love language is witty sarcasm. I could eat Chipotle every day. I listen to Guns n Roses while decorating the Christmas tree because Welcome to the Jungle works in any situation. Try as I might, I just can’t quit the Real Housewives.

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how to plan a destination wedding

Cue the confetti & pop the champagne because you’re engaged!! Girl, show off that ring and soak up the attention. This is your moment & you deserve to relish in it.

If you’re reading this then you’ve probably decided you want to get married on the beach in Mexico or the Caribbean. I’d like to say kudos for choosing the most fun and relaxing way to get married. A destination wedding at an all-inclusive resort is the perfect way to start your lives together.

Check out a few reasons why by reading 7 Reasons to Have a Destination Wedding.

If you’re starting to feel a bit overwhelmed by planning a wedding bash in another country, don’t worry…you’ve got this!

I’m a travel agent that specializes in destination weddings at all-inclusive resorts throughout Mexico and the Caribbean and today I’m sharing my tips for how to start planning your destination wedding. Ready? Here we go!

VISUALIZE YOUR DREAM WEDDING

Close your eyes and picture your wedding day. What do you see? What does your venue look like? Toes-in-the-sand beach ceremony? Gorgeous gazebo overlooking the ocean (you’re the kinda gal that wants to wear heels)? Maybe a private rooftop terrace at sunset? Or an intimate garden ceremony?

Keep your eyes closed. Who is there? Do you envision a huge bash or an intimate ceremony with only your closest friends and family? Or maybe it’s just the two of you.

What’s your wedding vibe? Boho chic? Elegant and classy? Modern and contemporary?

Open your eyes & write it all down. This is a great starting point.

TALK ABOUT BUDGET

Ugh, I know. The dreaded “b” word. How did we go from visualizing your perfect wedding day to thinking about money? Ew. But we live in the real world & we’ve all got a budget. Talk to your fiancé and come up with some numbers. 

Ready for the good news?? A destination wedding at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico or the Caribbean is super affordable! 

According to The Knot, the average cost of a hometown wedding in 2020 was $33,900. A destination wedding starts anywhere from $0 (yes, I said zero) to $3000 for the simple base package, which includes a lot. Our average destination wedding client spends about $10,000 for their ceremony, reception and photography. Now that’s a big savings!

MAKE A GUEST LIST

How many people do you want to invite to your destination wedding? Make sure you and your fiancé are on the same page when it comes to how big of a bash you plan to throw.

Refer back to your visualization exercise. Who was there? Write it down.

As you’re coming up with the guest list think about family, close friends, professional friends and significant relationships (those people who remain significant in your life even though you may not see them very often….childhood friends, etc). 

Here’s a very important tip: The size of your guest list will impact the amount you spend on your wedding more than anything else.

Most all-inclusive resorts have very affordable wedding packages for approximately 20-30 guests. Once your guest list grows beyond that number you can expect your spending to increase. There are some resorts that are much more budget-friendly than others when it comes to large guest lists, so be sure to discuss these options with your travel agent.

Struggling with your guest list? I have a great guest list template that I share with my destination wedding clients. It even helps you figure out who will actually attend your destination wedding so you have realistic estimates to work with as you plan your wedding.

PICK A DATE

Choosing a date sounds fun, right? Turns out this can be one of the more difficult decisions to make. Not to worry, here are some tips to help you narrow it down:

  • Are there any significant dates in your relationship that jump out at you?
  • Are there any significant dates in either of your lives that you want to avoid?
  • Think about the most important people in your life that you want to be there. Check with them to see if there are dates you need to avoid.
  • Do you need to work around a school schedule?
  • What is the weather like in your preferred destination? Is it hurricane season?

Here are some money-saving tips to keep in mind when choosing a date:

  • The most expensive time of year to travel is festive season (the last couple weeks of the year)
  • Other expensive travel times are Spring Break and holiday weekends
  • The high season for Caribbean travel is December-April, so prices are higher during these months
  • The Fall months tend to be the least expensive time to travel (keep in mind hurricane season runs June-November)
  • Many resorts charge a premium for Friday and Saturday ceremonies

PICK A LOCATION

All right, you’ve got your guest list and a date. Now it’s time to choose a location. Things are starting to get a lot more fun now!

This is definitely an area where I recommend working with your travel agent, who will know the ins and outs of each destination.

Here are a few things to consider when choosing your location:

  • Do you want a legal or symbolic ceremony? The vast majority of destination weddings are symbolic. Symbolic ceremonies are easier and less expensive. If you have your heart set on a legal/civil ceremony then be sure to check the requirements. You’ll need to arrive at your destination x days prior to your ceremony. You may need blood tests. The ceremony will be performed in the country’s official language, so if you don’t speak Spanish then you can probably cross Mexico off the list. Having a symbolic ceremony? Then you don’t have to worry about any of that!
  • Where do most of your guests live? For example, if you’ve got a lot of people coming from the West Coast, then the Caribbean islands are not very convenient.
  • How much do you think your guests will spend to attend your wedding? Typically, the smaller the island, the more expensive it is to reach. If you want to keep it affordable then consider Cancun, Riviera Maya, Cabo San Lucas or Puerto Vallarta in Mexico and the Dominican Republic and Jamaica in the Caribbean.
  • Check the average weather trends. And don’t let hurricane season scare you off. The most active season for hurricanes is August-October. Every resort has a Plan B location in case of inclement weather.
  • Think back to your visualization exercise. Were there mountains? Were you in the rainforest? Does your vision match up with your chosen destination?

PICK A RESORT & VENUE

You’re getting closer! Now that you’ve honed in on a destination, it’s time to choose your resort! Again, a travel agent that specializes in destination weddings will be a lifesaver during this step. We know the resorts like the back of our hand. We’ll listen to your vision and immediately come up with our top recommendations.

There are tons of things to consider when choosing an all-inclusive resort for your destination wedding, but here are just a few to get you started:

  • Adults-only vs couples-only vs family-friendly. Are you inviting children? Are you sure? Generally, the adults-only resorts are nicer than the family-friendly resorts. It’s also important to know the difference between an adults-only resort and a couples-only resort (which only has king beds).
  • Do you want a large, sprawling resort with multiple pools, restaurants, bars, etc? Or do you prefer something more boutique, intimate and easygoing?
  • What is the maximum amount of time you want your guests to spend traveling between the airport and resort? Some resorts are nearly 2 hours from the airport, so this is important to keep in mind.
  • What kind of vibe do you want in a resort? Contemporary and modern? Authentic and tropical? Upscale and classy?
  • What quality tier do you want? Are you OK with a budget resort with very basic accommodations, subpar service and mediocre food? Do you want to step it up with a more premium resort that offers top-shelf drinks and gorgeous suites? Or maybe you want to knock it out of the park with 5-star luxury accommodations and service.

You’ll also want to think about your wedding venue when choosing your resort. If you have your heart set on a private rooftop terrace, then make sure your chosen resort offers that option. Definitely a toes-in-the-sand beach bride? Then you’ll want a resort with a beautiful beach.

Once you’ve chosen your resort & venue it’s time to reserve your wedding date and room block. Your travel agent will help with these very important details. Typically you’ll pay a nonrefundable deposit to hold your wedding date. Then you’ll put down another deposit to hold a block of rooms at the resort. This will lock in the inventory and the rates for your guests.

BONUS: After 7 years of planning destination weddings, I’ve compiled a list of questions that will help you choose your perfect location, resort and venue for your destination wedding. This guidebook goes way more in-depth than this blog. Grab your copy today. P.S. It’s free!

SEND OUT SAVE-THE-DATES

Before we go any further, give yourself a huge pat on the back because you’ve made the most difficult decisions. You’ve got your guest list made, your budget set, your date picked, and your resort and venue reserved. YAY!!

Now it’s time to give your friends and family the details. It’s save-the-date time!

We recommend sending save-the-dates for your destination wedding about 10 months before your wedding date. You’ll want to give your guests ample time to plan, book and make arrangements.

You’ll want to include the destination, resort and next steps such as a link to your wedding website and travel agent information.

Hot tip: KP Travel Group destination wedding couples receive a complimentary wedding website. Your guests will find all the info they need to book their trip….without ever bothering you! 

Here’s a cool thing about destination weddings: You don’t have to send formal invitations and RSVP cards. When your guests book their room that serves as their RSVP. I have a live spreadsheet that I share with my wedding couples so they can always see their latest RSVP info.

CONSIDER A SITE VISIT

Many resorts will allow you to come down for a few days at a highly discounted rate (and may even apply it to the cost of your wedding). This is the perfect time to visit the resort and meet with the wedding team. You’ll be able to scope out all of the venues and see your decor options in person. Think of it as a dress rehearsal! Talk to your travel agent if you’re interested in learning more.


And there you have it! A certified destination wedding specialist’s guide to planning your destination wedding.

Still have questions? Need a travel agent you can trust to handle your big day? Schedule your FREE no-obligation one-hour consultation call with me. I’m here to help make planning your destination wedding as fun & stress-free as possible!

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I'm Kathryn, travel advisor & owner of KP Travel Group 

I’m your boots-on-the-ground, been-there-seen-that resort expert. In an age where the right angle and Instagram filter can turn a pigsty into a palace, I'll help you plan a vacation that really delivers on that picture-perfect promise.

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