Tying the Knot Far from Home

By Polly Dean | Wedding Photography courtesy of JustWrightphotos.com; Welcome gift photo by Polly Dean

Though destination weddings are gaining in popularity, they are not always easy to pull off. One mother-of-the-bride shares her family’s experience.

Weddings are exciting times and when our daughter mentioned that she was thinking of having a destination wedding, I was a little surprised. The oldest of three girls, she was the one that I imagined would desire the more traditional, and perhaps, the most elaborate celebration. I must admit, I was intrigued and wasn’t opposed to the idea. I’m always up for an excuse to visit a warm tropical location.
My daughter Sydney’s and her fiancé’s reasons for wanting their wedding to be held at a resort was simple but meaningful. Not knowing when the opportunity would arise again, they wanted their families and friends – who are geographically spread out – to have the chance to spend time together and get to know each other.
The entire experience of planning a destination wedding was a learning one for our family. The wedding was wonderful, but not without bumps along the way. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone who is thinking of going this direction. However, we should have considered a number of things that were not on our radar initially.

Guest Experience
Overall, the experience was fabulous. Honestly, it doesn’t get much better than having your toes in the sand and dancing the night away while surrounded by family and friends. However, being in this little slice of tropical heaven was much easier on some of us than others.
We were fortunate that Sydney’s grandparents, who are in their early 80s, were willing and able to attend, but it was a great deal harder on them than we had imagined. Even in the best of conditions and health, travel can be difficult. Both my parents became ill and were not able to enjoy much of the food or functions throughout the long weekend. They were good sports, but in truth I was worried about them, especially when it took a few weeks for them to recover after they got home.
Navigating shuttles, airports, hotel transfers and changes in diet can be challenging. Keeping up with documents and passports is difficult and stressful, as well. There is also the possibility of coming down with a bug of some sort when traveling by air, especially during the winter months and flu seasons.
Another aspect of traveling to another country – in our case, Mexico – was the very real threat of Zika virus, a mosquito-borne illness that can produce dire consequences for unborn babies. It’s likely the majority of wedding guests will be young men and women in their 20s or 30s who are thinking of, trying to, or are pregnant. It kept more than a few of the bride’s and groom’s friends from attending and who could blame them? Again, this was something we did not anticipate prior to the invitations going out.

Hire a Travel Agent
In the early planning stages, my daughter and I attended a bridal show where we met Tiffany Hines, president and CEO of Global Escapes Travel Agency in Athens, Georgia. Initially, Sydney was thinking about the honeymoon arrangements but realized it would be smart to reach out to Tiffany for the wedding itself.
Tiffany’s services proved to be invaluable. She handled all of the travel arrangements for guests, including booking rooms, airfare, hotel shuttles and fielding the multitude of questions that arose – and we learned, that was only the beginning. Although she was not involved in the actual ceremony or reception planning (an on-site wedding coordinator handled those aspects), Tiffany was available by email or phone during the trip to handle any problems related to travel or accommodations. She made it her job to absorb any issues that arose and could cause the bride additional stress.

Choose an agent carefully. He or she will be a main contact for all of your guests. A person who is good with details, knowledgeable and competent, all rolled into a pleasant human being is a must.
Be sure that your travel agent has visited the resort and preferably recently. Misunderstandings in communications and terminology are common when traveling abroad, and the agent will help to dispel much of this as well.

Beyond Your Control
Planning a destination wedding requires family members and guests to prepare well in advance. Deposits must be made and airfare booked. Meanwhile, due to hurricane season or just the perils of travel in general – including travel safety advisories – your destination could be garnering more than its fair share of attention in the news. In our case, hurricanes ravished a good portion of vacation destinations in the Caribbean, Virgin Islands and more. Our chosen resort was spared, but many other vacationers were displaced and our destination booked up quickly.
As the wedding date drew near, a few safety concerns pertaining to our destination appeared on the news. Normally, these items may escape you, but when several dozen or more people are making a trip on your behalf, be ready to field comments and questions.
Of course, complications that are beyond your control can occur with any wedding plan. Your guests are friends and family who love and support you and will understand. A reassuring note from your travel agent to guests can soothe nerves as well.

Expectations
Naturally, when one plans to be wedded in a remote location, it is expected that many invitees will respond with regrets. Our daughter and future husband were knowledgeable of this fact. But, both admitted later, that they had missed those close friends and family members who did not attend more than they anticipated.
If you are a control freak, a destination wedding may not be for you. There are many aspects of the event that you will see for the first time either when you arrive at the venue or at the wedding itself. Food tastings, rehearsal dinner venue, hair and make-up artists, photographer, and officiant are just a few of the integral parts that you may have made decisions on from a distance. Having strong communication skills is a definite plus.
Most venues will assign a wedding coordinator to you. Ideally, they will have a meeting set up for the couple shortly after arrival to review event details.
All in all, our daughter’s destination wedding was a huge success. Sure, there were minor problems and plenty of them at times, but the warm tropical breeze, salt air and sunshine washed all those away. We blended and bonded with new family members, making friends and fond memories. We were able to accomplish what our children desired over a period of days rather than hours.
And in following up with the travel agent, who collected our comments and complaints – our daughter’s words that “she would not change a thing” is what really mattered.

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