Far Away on Your Big Day

Far Away on Your Big Day

Destination wedding planning made easy with tips and trends from industry experts.

Photographs by SARANI ESTRADA

I MUST HAVE DOZED OFF. My morning dive off Mexico’s Isla Cozumel took more out of me than I expected, and the refreshing post-lunch chelada (beer and lime juice, with salt caked on the rim) finished me off. I blinked in the golden Caribbean sunshine and searched in the beach bag for my watch.

It was almost 2 p.m.—time to go to the Iberostar Cozumel’s spa for my pedicure. And to get my hair done, because in just three and a half hours, I was going to marry my soulmate on the beach.

At the time, my idea of a destination wedding included a few friends gathered on a sunset beach, a ring from a local jewelry store, a breezy flea-market dress with embroidered flowers on the waist and a cozy dinner at the resort restaurant.

But what I learned is that whether you’re looking for an intimate experience like mine or a larger, more traditional wedding, finding a destination and resort that will exceed your wildest expectations is easier than you might think.

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Ashley Morgan of Weddings by Funjet says that roughly 75 percent of couples prefer a simple wedding or a slightly upgraded package with some custom elements. The remaining 25 percent are interested in what she calls the “full-blown version.” Moon Palace Golf & Spa Resort in Cancún offers a horse-drawn carriage to carry the bride to the wedding gazebo, and can accommodate a bride’s most elaborate requests.

“We see mainly American-style celebrations, but we’ve also had Hindu, Asian, Jewish, Persian, and Mexican weddings,” says Lisbeth Cruz, wedding coordinator at Live Aqua Cancún. “Groups vary a lot in size, but the most common are weddings of around 50 people.”

However big or small your destination wedding will be, you can avoid the year (or more) of list-making, phone calls, decisions and stress that seem to plague too many engaged couples. Morgan says you don’t need to start the process a full 12 months in advance, which has long been accepted as standard. A wedding concierge (see page 45) will help monitor your timeline and keep the process running smoothly.

“If you’re thinking of a peak season wedding between February and May, you might want to lock in your dates further in advance. Otherwise, even a few months gives you plenty of time for planning,” she assures. “You don’t need to be anxious or feel pressured—we can even handle last minute weddings.”

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WHAT’S HOT in destination weddings these days? Insiders say there are new trends emerging all the time that allow couples to infuse their special day with personality and ensure that guests talk about it for years to come.

“Resorts are offering more, because brides don’t want to just take a package deal,” Morgan says. “They want to personalize their weddings.

“Gift bags are huge,” she adds. “I’ve seen some really creative ones that include sunscreen, a beach book, even flip-flops. We can help deliver them to the rooms before the guests’ arrival.”

Wedding photography even has its own trends. “Trashing-of-the-dress photos, showing the brides in the pool or in the ocean, have really taken off,” Morgan notes.

Giovanna Alonzo Riveroll, marketing manager with Riu Hotels and Resorts, says they’re seeing a trend of more Sikh destination weddings. Morgan and Tovilla both note an uptick in fall weddings. There’s slightly more risk, as the Atlantic hurricane season doesn’t end until November, but rates are lower. And wedding sizes are increasing, according to Rafaela Lantigua, wedding manager with Weddings by Lomas Travel.

“More and more couples have families and friends that live in different cities, making a destination wedding location more attractive,” she explains. “They’re also staying longer, and combining more of a vacation experience into the wedding.”

“Groups are growing every year,” says Valeria Martinez, wedding supervisor for Mexico-based Weddings by Lomas Travel. ”We’ve had some weddings with 300-plus guests.”

“Weddings also are becoming more elaborate and elegant,” adds wedding manager Rafaela Lantigua, who works with Martinez. “We no longer do as many casual beach weddings. Now, most weddings have chandeliers on the beach!”

Then there are the highly memorable add-ons to the festivities, including beach campfires, fireworks displays, live entertainment at dinner and more.

“We have our unique barefoot elegance, plus the personal touch of each couple,” Cruz says. “Photo booths, wave runners to bring the groom to the ceremony, mariachi bands to set the Mexican mood.” Custom décor also has taken off, according to Morgan and Martinez, who note that pastels and blush pink are the ‘in’ colors right now.

“There has been this stigma attached to destination weddings, that they’re all starfish and seashells,” Morgan explains. “But we’re seeing a lot of simple, glamorous weddings. One bride incorporated fall colors and the colors of her destination—whites and greens, but also burgundy. These brides aren’t theming to their destination. They’re theming to themselves.”

Tovilla agrees. “Couples add elements that are meaningful to them, which makes the event unique,” she says. “It’s their wish for everyone to remember that day, so our wedding packages are designed in such a way that brides can completely personalize them according to their needs.”

Many couples are extending their creativity to excursions. While many groups will stick with golf outings, spa days, fishing trips and boat tours, a couple definitely can go outside the box.

“One large wedding flew their entire group to Chichén Itzá for the day,” Morgan recalls. “And one bride went ATVing with her bridesmaids.”

All the experts agree: Do your research, whether you’re doing it on your own or with a wedding concierge. Understand the scope of what the resorts offer to ensure that they can make your vision a reality. And relax.

“Remember that you are in the hands of experts who have overseen more than 1,000 weddings annually,” Martinez advises.

“The journey is part of the ride,” Lantigua adds. Although each destination wedding is unique, they all have one thing in common: you can fully enjoy your exotic getaway, knowing you’re in good hands. You can even go diving in the morning and nap by the pool until it’s time to get ready for the biggest moment of your life.

To learn more, contact your Vacation Coach or visit WeddingsbyFunjet