Six Tips for Destination Wedding Planning

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Six Tips for Planning a Destination Wedding
special series by guest expert Larissa Banting  
We've decided on the location, have a travel agent on board and have teamed up with a local planner. Meetings with the couple are going swimmingly and you're a Mai Tai away from 'Destination I Do'. It's smooth sailing from here.

Or is it?

One thing I've learned over the years is to be prepared for the really unexpected. Part of the challenge (and fun) of planning destination weddings is the reality of working in a different country and culture. You may think you've got everything covered only to find a giant herd of cows blocking the only road into town. Life happens, sometimes in the craziest ways. Different countries have very different ideas of what looks nice or how long an hour actually is.

Here, then, is my list of things that you'd never think you'd have think about but need thinking and my tips on how to sidestep possible disaster:

1. Legalities
Just as every State has different wedding rules, so do countries and sometimes, regions within a country. Mexico, for instance, requires couples to be in the country for at least three days and they have to take a blood test.

Tip - Check with the officiant who will be handling the ceremony's paperwork to find out exactly what is required. There is a lot of misinformation on the internet so it is best to get it from the horse's mouth.

2. Legalities Part II

Not every officiant is efficient at finishing the paperwork. For example, it was discovered recently that hundreds of foreigners' weddings in the Dominican Republic had not been filed  properly so the marriages technically weren't legal.
Tip - Check references of the officiant. Speak with hotels and planners who have used them to see if the officiant is trustworthy.

3. Cake
There are so many things that could go awry with a wedding cake, I've given this subject it's own subcategories.

A) Appearance
Never assume that your version of a 'basic white cake' is shared by the baker. I've seen four and five star hotels pump out some pretty hideous cakes, like a giant white heart with globs of whip cream and strawberry 'coins', topped by a plastic groom dipping his very plastic bride. Or a cream cake (badly iced) with tiny silver balls strewn all over that looked like buckshot from a tiny little rifle.
Tip - If the hotel is providing the cake, ask for a photo of what it will look like.

B) Chef's Creativity
Never assume that your instructions on how to decorate the cake will be followed to the letter. I once gave a marzipan-iced cake to the chef, with sprigs of orchids, and asked them to place the orchids on it. The chef did - and also added on globs of whipped cream with strawberry coins (it's a popular cake thing here, I guess) and wrote the couple's name in Hershey's Chocolate Syrup on top. Why did he get creative? Because he thought the cake looked 'boring' and wanted to spruce it up.
Tip - watch the chef like a hawk when they decorate. Better yet, put the flowers or decorations on yourself so you have it exactly as you like. Pull a Fox Mulder and trust no one.

C) Heat, Humidity
If your wedding is in a hot or humid place and won't be in air-conditioning, check with the cake maker as to the type of icing used. Buttercream will just melt off.
Tip - Only fondant and marzipan can withstand hot, humid conditions.

D) Bugs
If your wedding is in the tropics in a place without air conditioning, bugs are pretty much guaranteed to make a beeline for the cake. Little, microscopic ants seemingly arrive out of thin air to swarm the cake. It's maddening.
Tip - Spray the table that will house the cake with bug spray hours before you set it out. Then place a small place or saucer filled with water under each table leg - these will prevent the bugs from crawling up the table legs and onto the cake. I call it my 'anti-ant' system.

4. Flowers
In some cultures, baby's breath is used as filler in huge quantities. In some cultures,  an arrangement roses with baby's breath and birds of paradise is considered beautiful.
Tip - be really specific with the florist about what you want. Have them do a trial arrangement for you and send a photo if possible. Allow the florist their creativity but be sure they are clear as to what your 'NO' list is.

5. Flower colors
I asked for blue hydrangeas - my florist, for some unknown reason, spray painted all 500+ stems navy blue. One word - Smurfville.
Tip - Be very very clear with colors. Send photos of flowers in the color you want or color swatches as soon as possible to the florist and follow up to make sure they understand.

6. Officiant
Saying you speak English and being able to speak it well are two very different things. A poor grasp of the language and you could end up with one strange-sounding ceremony.
Tip - ask the officiant to send you  a copy of the vows beforehand. Then ask him to recite them to you over the phone. If there are any words they trip up on, try to help them learn the proper pronunciation.

In a nutshell, rethink everything and take extra precautions to ensure there is no room for miscommunication. Take absolutely nothing as a given or an assumption. And relax. I've found that brides who opt for a destination wedding are usually pretty relaxed and know upfront that things may be slightly different than they would be at home. If you're relaxed, everybody around will pick up on the good vibes and things tend to have a way of working themselves out (even after a 5.9 earthquake, but that's another story).

It's an adventure to be sure but one of the most enjoyable ones. Have fun and good luck!

© 2008 Larissa Banting for The Smart Planner™

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