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Destination Weddings: Everything You Need to Know

Do you dream of saying your vows in paradise, perhaps barefoot on a stunning white beach by the sparkling waters of an exotic ocean? Or in a fairy tale setting like a European castle?

If your fantasy ceremony takes place in a far-off location, then here is all you need to know to plan a wonderful destination wedding.

Tip: Consider working with a destination wedding travel planner—this can be really helpful! If that’s not in your budget, choose a resort with an onsite wedding coordinator.

How much do destination weddings cost?

Many people wonder, is it cheaper to do a destination wedding? Or is it more expensive? The answer is, it depends.

The cost of a destination wedding can vary widely depending on what you plan. How long it lasts, how many guests you have, where you have it and what time of year it is, what activities are included, and the local currency exchange rate all play a factor in the final price of a destination wedding.

What is the average cost of a destination wedding? According to Brides.com, the average cost is around $35,000. Included in this estimate is the full range of usual wedding elements—rings, dress, invitations, venue, catering, cake, photographer, florist, music, and officiant—plus travel, accommodations, activities, and wedding planner. However, it’s up to you as to what you want to include in your own wedding.

It can be cheaper to have a destination wedding if you plan it right. Having fewer guests is one way to decrease costs. Also, if you want to honeymoon in the same place you’re getting married, that can save money as well. There are some incredible deals available at all-inclusive resorts, so if you want to plan a destination wedding on a small budget, be sure to look there first.

For example, Sandals Resorts, which are adults-only all-inclusive resorts located throughout the Caribbean, offer a free wedding package with a three-night stay. These include a wedding planning team; bouquet and boutonniere; 5×7 wedding photograph; cake; table settings; cocktail reception; marriage paperwork; and some honeymoon treats. Sandals also offers add-ons and other packages if you have more guests or want more amenities.

Want to explore the cost of weddings in the Caribbean? You can find a list of wedding resorts and packages here. Costs, packages, and venues for most of the popular wedding resorts in Mexico and the Caribbean.

Do you pay for guests at a destination wedding? Usually, it’s the guests’ responsibility to pay for their travel and hotel. But if you’re only having a few guests—say, if just your parents are coming—you may want to cover their costs.

If you’re not covering guests’ travel expenses, it’s suggested that you plan some extra events for them, such as welcome meals, happy hours, or brunch the day after the wedding. Also, if transportation is needed to and from any wedding activities, it’s nice to pay for that so they don’t have to. It’s also a thoughtful touch to request “no gifts” since they’re paying extra to attend.

When should I start planning my destination wedding?

You should start planning your destination wedding as soon as possible! You want to be sure you give guests plenty of time to make their plans, and wedding venues tend to be booked way in advance.

What are the steps to planning a destination wedding?

Plan Your Schedule

First, determine when you’re going to schedule your wedding. (See “When should I have my destination wedding,” below.) That may come at the same time as you choose your location, or choosing the location for your destination wedding may be the next step.

Plan Your Guest List

You’ll probably want to decide who will be on your guest list at the same time, so you can have a feel for how large your wedding will be and how many people will be traveling. That will affect the venue you choose.

Research Venues

Once you have the guest list in mind plus the time frame and location chosen, contact venues to determine availability. See what they offer and what their costs will be based on the type of celebration you want (how many days it will cover, what sorts of activities you want to have, where you want the ceremony held, where you want the reception, etc.). We recommend talking to at least three places so you can comparison shop.

Tip: If at all possible, visit a venue before booking it and make sure it’s what you want. If you can’t do that, try to go at least a few months before the wedding date so you can finalize details in person and scout out any potential issues.

You’ll also want to arrive three to five days before your wedding activities start. (Many countries require you to be there for a certain amount of time before you can get married, so make sure you check that detail when you’re making your travel plans!)

Book Your Wedding Venue

Once you’ve found the perfect venue for your wedding, book it without delay! Especially if you’ve chosen a popular area or time; you don’t want to lose it to another couple. Be sure to reserve your accommodations at the same time, and those of anyone else you’re responsible for. (Tip: Talk to the venue about reserving a block of rooms for guests, or even getting a discounted rate if you have a group coming.)

Send Save-The-Dates

Now that you have the basic details set, finalize your guest list and send out “save-the-date” cards or emails so everyone can clear their calendar and start making plans. A year in advance is ideal, but at least 9 months out is recommended. If guests will need to make their own room reservations and travel arrangements, be sure to make that clear.

Create a Wedding Website

Setting up a wedding website is a fantastic way to easily share important information with everyone, especially if you have a large or far-flung group. You can also start a Facebook group or group chat. If there’s a lot of travel to be coordinated, consider finding a travel agent to help everyone, or see if the venue you’ve chosen can assist with that.

Decide on the Details

Then you get to have some fun! Working with your wedding planner or the wedding planner at your chosen venue, you can pick all the delightful details for your dream destination wedding. Choose your ceremony location and what it will include (Music? Readings? Your own vows?).

beach wedding set up with flowers on chair on beach

Line up all the people and vendors you’ll need—officiant, florist, caterer, photographer/videographer, DJ or band, etc.—if the venue doesn’t do that for you.

Decide on flowers, decorations, menus, cake style and flavor, and entertainment. Find your wedding clothes and make sure that any alterations will be done way in advance of your departure date. Get your rings.

Plan additional activities such as a welcome party, rehearsal dinner, post-wedding breakfast/brunch/lunch, and more. How about incorporating local flavor with an excursion, group tour, or special tasting? Your venue contact can help you with suggestions and plans.

Also, think about welcome packages. These can be super simple or deluxe, but they will be a nice touch for your guests to find in their rooms. Consider adding items that are local to the destination or will come in handy on the trip (like sunscreen at the beach). You may also want to have favors, and gifts for your wedding party.

Tip: Get a wedding insurance policy. These cover unforeseen circumstances and can be a lifesaver if an emergency happens. But be sure to choose a reputable company and make certain you understand what’s covered.

Create Your Wedding Registry

If you want to receive gifts, go ahead and set up wedding registries, and share that information with your guest list. Request that gifts are shipped to your home, not the venue! However, many people who have destination weddings don’t ask for gifts, since their guests are paying extra to travel. If that’s the case, let guests know that “their presence is their present.”

Prepare Your Paperwork

If you’re going to a foreign country, see if there are any vaccination, testing, or health certificate requirements to enter (and if there are, share those with your guest list). Check your passport expiration dates (or get them ASAP if you don’t have them!). Some countries won’t let you in if your passport expires within a few months. Also, check to see if your driver’s licenses need to be renewed beforehand.

Prepare For Travel

Tip: Before you depart for your wedding, notify credit card companies that you’ll be traveling, and get some cash in the local currency (or bring cash with you to exchange when you get there). It’s best to be prepared for extra expenses!

If you’re flying to your destination, carry your wedding clothes, rings, and anything else that can’t be easily replaced on the plane with you. You can also pack half of each other’s items in each checked suitcase. This way, if a piece of luggage is lost it won’t be a complete disaster.

When should I have my destination wedding?

The timing of your destination wedding depends on many factors—your personal schedules and the availability of important guests is probably the first place to start. Also, do you have your heart set on a certain holiday, like Valentine’s Day, or season? Do you want something specific, like a beach wedding or a snowy setting? The answers to these questions will help you decide the time frame.

If you are completely flexible, a great way to keep costs low is to schedule your destination wedding during the offseason or shoulder season at a resort. Keep in mind, though, that this may mean certain attractions are closed or activities are unavailable, so be sure to ask questions before you set your date.

Once you’ve chosen a time frame and location, check the weather forecasts for that area during that time of year—you don’t want to plan an outdoor wedding during the rainy months, and if the destination is somewhere that gets hurricanes or monsoons, you want to avoid that season if possible.

How much notice should I give guests to my destination wedding?

Twelve months in advance is the ideal notice to give guests to your destination wedding, but nine to twelve months is usual. You want to give them plenty of time to prepare and make sure their calendar is clear, as well as be able to get the best deals on airfare and other travel expenses.

Send “save-the-date” cards or emails and give guests as much detail as you can about the location and plans, especially the dates of when wedding activities will start and end.

If you can’t manage 9-12 months’ notice in advance of your wedding date, give guests as much notice as possible.

Do you have a wedding shower if you have a destination wedding?

It’s up to you. Many people don’t ask for gifts when they’re having a destination wedding, since guests will have to pay for travel. However, if you have a group of friends or family members who won’t be able to come, they may want to throw you a shower.

Tip: A pre- or post-wedding party is a nice way to include friends and family who aren’t able to make it to your destination wedding. It doesn’t have to be fancy—just a chance for everyone to gather and celebrate with you.

Where to have a destination wedding

The world is your oyster when you’re choosing where to have a destination wedding. The only constraints are time, budget, and personal preference.

Here are some considerations to keep in mind when picking the perfect place. It should be able to accommodate the type of wedding you want and the number of guests you’re having, plus any special issues (like older guests who can’t climb steps, or the need for childcare). It should be safe and easily reached (while you may not mind a 12-hour flight plus a taxi, then a boat ride, your guests might). And if you’re looking at a foreign destination, check to see if there are any health concerns, political issues, or travel warnings.

Tip: If you’re planning a small budget destination wedding, you may want to consider doing it in a location that’s driving distance from your home (or where most of your guests live) to cut down on travel expenses. Another option is to book in the offseason or shoulder season for lower rates.

Here are some suggestions for where to have your destination wedding, from exotic locales to places that are closer to home but still special.

The Caribbean is a very popular area for destination weddings. It’s easily accessible and offers plenty of romantic, beautiful places that are perfect for both the celebration and the honeymoon. You can choose from a wide range of islands, atmospheres, and activities. Here are some top Caribbean islands for destination weddings, as well as a few resorts that offer destination wedding packages.

Jamaica is consistently voted one of the best places for destination weddings. Not only is it an incredibly gorgeous island, with almost 700 miles of beautiful beaches, but it’s extremely affordable and offers all sorts of activities, from water sports to golfing to nightlife. If you’re planning an inexpensive destination wedding, look at resorts here. There are plenty of all-inclusive that offer affordable wedding packages.

In Europe, there are so many beautiful destinations like Paris, Rome, Santorini, Ireland, and many others.

There are so many beautiful islands to consider. Hawaii is the ultimate dream wedding destination for many couples. With multiple islands, you can find the perfect spot for the type of celebration you want, whether it’s upscale and luxurious or casual and laidback. If you have a big budget, you can consider Fiji, Bora Bora or The Maldives, but keep in mind this may limit some of your guests.

Closer to home there are plenty of wedding destinations locations. You can get married at Graceland, get eloped in Joshua Tree or get married in NYC.

Sandals South Coast Resort (Whitehouse)            

Nestled in a 500-acre wilderness preserve on a quiet two-mile stretch of pristine beach, Sandals South Coast is an adults-only all-inclusive resort that exudes romance and sophistication. A big attraction here is the gorgeous overwater wedding chapel.

You can stay in a swoon-worthy overwater bungalow (set off a heart-shaped walkway!) with a private outdoor soaking tub, a swim-up suite with a private plunge pool, or an oceanfront room or suite.

Sandals South Coast has 9 restaurants and 7 bars, and you can also book private candlelight dining for two. There are 3 pools plus unlimited watersports and land sports, scuba diving, entertainment including live music, and a full-service spa. You and your guests can explore the area or just relax at the resort.

Sandals Resorts offers “Customizable Weddings,” including an option that is free with a minimum stay of 3 nights. This includes a wedding planning team; bouquet and boutonniere; 5×7 wedding photograph; wedding cake; table settings of white linen, silver, and crystal; cocktail reception with sparkling wine and hors d’oeuvres; marriage paperwork; romantic turndown service on the first night of your honeymoon; breakfast in bed the first morning; and a honeymoon dinner.

If you stay 7 nights or longer, you get Premium Perks, and if you book 5 or more guest rooms, you can add extras like a sangria bar or lobster wedding dinner. You can also create a completely custom wedding celebration by choosing from a wide variety of options and ceremony locations.

Here are a few resorts and destinations perfect for a destination wedding.

Half Moon (Rose Hall, Montego Bay)            

This luxury oasis set on 500 acres is perfect if your guests include a larger group or families, as it truly has something for everyone: gorgeous beaches, a championship golf course, an equestrian center, a tranquil spa, and a children’s village, in addition to the usual water and land activities. Oh, and it also has Jamaica’s best restaurant, the Sugar Mill, which features a modern take on traditional Jamaican cuisine.

Half Moon has several options including all-inclusive packages. Guests can stay in rooms, suites, or beachfront villas with private pools (good for families or large groups).

There’s plenty to do onsite, with 3 private beaches; a family-friendly pool with a swim-up bar, a saltwater infinity-edge pool overlooking the ocean, and an Olympic-sized lap pool; golfing, horseback riding, water sports, tennis, squash, a fitness center, a full-service spa, and live local music.

Choose from 3 fine-dining restaurants, several bars and cafés, and a beach barbecue with nightly entertainment; private dining is also available.

Half Moon’s team of wedding planners can assist you in designing the celebration of your dreams; they say “no request is too great or too small,” and they specialize in creating unique occasions, so this is the perfect spot if you have something particular in mind.

You and your guests won’t waste much time traveling if you plan your destination wedding in The Bahamas; they’re just an hour’s flight from Miami. And with hundreds of islands and resorts that range from bustling to secluded, you’re sure to find the spot that’s perfect for you.

Sandals Royal Bahamian

Sandals Royal Bahamian  is located near Nassau, just a short distance from the airport. Recently reopened after a $55 million renovation, the glamorous all-inclusive adults-only resort now features new Beachfront Swim-Up Butler and Club Level Suites just steps from the ocean plus all-new Crystal Lagoon Swim-up Suites with butler service, giving you and your guests plenty of luxurious options.

In addition to a beautiful beach and two amazing swimming pools, you’ll find a wide array of water sports, land activities, and excursions available. For a truly unique wedding activity, how about sailing the group over to a private island?

The resort also offers the full-service Red Lane Spa. For meals, guests will enjoy 10 delicious options including a beachfront lounge shaded by coconut palms, a gourmet French restaurant, a sushi bar, fun food trucks, and an open-air seafood restaurant perched over the water.

As with every Sandals resort, Sandals Royal Bahamian has a range of Customizable Weddings packages (see details above under Sandals South Coast, Jamaica).

The Ocean Club, a Four Seasons Resort

The Ocean Club has long been a top destination for weddings and honeymoons. Famous (and popular with celebrities) for its beautiful oceanfront, idyllic grounds, and excellent service, it is exclusive and dreamy.

Located on a 5-mile stretch of white-sand beach on Paradise Island, The Ocean Club is a secluded enclave with incredible features like Versailles-inspired gardens and Balinese-style spa villas. The elegant accommodations range from oceanview rooms with private balconies to multi-bedroom beachfront villas with private pools.

There’s an onsite golf course, 3 pools, 3 restaurants, and 2 lounges. You and your guests can sip cocktails in the elegant Martini Bar and feast at Dune Restaurant, featuring the creations of internationally acclaimed chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. You can even opt for a memorable sunset dinner right on the beach with a personalized butler at your service.

The resort only hosts one wedding at a time, so the planning team will be dedicated to your special day. They offer a range of packages and can create whatever you desire, from intimate to impressive. You’ll be amazed at the incredible settings you can choose from.

Aruba is not in the hurricane belt, so you can plan a wedding here anytime without risk. It’s also a beautiful, friendly, safe island, making it a great Caribbean destination wedding location.

Divi Aruba & Tamarijn Aruba

The Divi & Tamarijn Aruba are sister all-inclusive properties located next to each other, which gives you and your guests double the facilities to enjoy. Each resort offers an array of packages that will create a once-in-a-lifetime destination wedding and honeymoon. Professional planners will ensure a stress-free experience.

Couples who decide to book their nuptials at the Divi Aruba All Inclusive or the Tamarijn Aruba All Inclusive will receive a complimentary Honeymoon Package including an upgrade to an Oceanview or Beachside room. You need only to have your wedding guests reserve up to 10 double occupancy rooms for five nights. The Honeymoon Package also includes a bottle of champagne, candlelight dinner for two, a certificate for a free night’s stay on your anniversary, and a gift.

Both resorts feature beautiful beaches and pools, spacious accommodations, and plenty of activities and amenities (including a full-service spa and oceanfront fitness center). The beachside Red Parrot restaurant serves fresh local cuisine, and there are multiple other delicious dining options. You can also enjoy relaxing drinks at the beach bar or several other bars plus nightly entertainment.

Ashford Castle, Ireland 

Have you dreamed of a fairy tale Irish wedding in a castle ever since childhood? Check out the 800-year-old Ashford Castle Hotel in County Mayo, Ireland, often named the most romantic hotel in Europe. The service here is spectacular, and you will feel pampered every minute of your stay.

Imagine being tucked high in a turret, enjoying sweeping views and plush décor. Ashford Castle offers a range of rooms and suites, including the ultra-luxury Bridal Suite, as well as a Hideaway Cottage. There are multiple restaurants and bars to choose from, all in stunning settings. And of course, there’s afternoon tea. Explore the castle and its grounds, go off on a local adventure or indulge at the spa.

Weddings here can be intimate or lavish, but whatever you desire, be assured that it will go off without a hitch. Their planning team has worked with royalty and heads of state! You can get married in a local church, in the elegant Drawing Room, or outside in the beautiful gardens. If your budget allows, you can rent out the entire castle for your wedding and host up to 160 people!

Canaves Oia Suites, Santorini, Greece

Say “I do” on one of the most romantic Greek Islands, Santorini, with its unforgettable scenery and sunsets. Located in Oia, Canaves Oia Suites welcomes couples in love with luxury and opulence. Every view is breathtaking. The spa is located in a 17th-century wine cave! The pool is infinity edge and overlooks the Aegean!

There are few better places to exchange your vows while the cool sea breeze of the Aegean caresses your skin. Combining the dramatic scenery of Santorini, divine fine dining, and the extraordinary service of one of the best hotels in Santorini, a wedding at Canaves Oia Suites promises to be memorable.

Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea

This glamorous oceanfront resort is an amazing place to stay and to get married. It delivers the top-notch service you would expect from a Four Seasons, plus spacious rooms and suites, beautiful bathrooms with soaking tubs, plenty of amenities and activities, no resort fees, and great snorkeling right off the beach, and complimentary pool and beach cabanas.

four seasons resort hawaii

Four Seasons Maui has 3 pools including an adults-only infinity edge pool, a full-service spa, and a fitness facility. There are also 3 amazing golf courses available. Dining options include a Spago plus several other restaurants. You can also get in-room dining or have food delivered right to the poolside!

Your destination wedding in Maui can take place on the famous golden sands, on the resort’s Oceanfront Lawn with the beach and mountains as your backdrop, or in an elegant ballroom. The Four Seasons offers curated packages and expert planning to help make your Hawaii destination wedding dreams come true.

Seattle, Washington is a great starting point to explore the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest. If you and your guests enjoy outdoor activities, consider a lodge in this area.

Salish Lodge & Spa

Just 30 minutes from Seattle, this soothing sanctuary is perched above Snoqualmie Falls, a huge waterfall that is one of the most popular attractions in Washington State. There are beautiful hiking trails all around, or you can go fishing, golfing, horseback riding, and more.

This romantic resort offers an award-winning spa and two restaurants featuring delicious Pacific Northwest cuisine (and incredible views of the falls). Spacious rooms provide comfortable luxury with gas fireplaces and oversized soaking tubs.

You can get married on the Hidden Terrace, just steps from the falls, or in the resort’s elegant ballroom. There are several wedding packages to choose from, or create your own custom celebration. The wedding planning team at Salish Lodge & Spa will take care of all the details for a totally stress-free experience.

Le Blanc Spa Resort Cancun

Le Blanc Spa Resort Cancun, known widely for its elegance and its all-inclusive amenities, makes for a perfect destionation wedding in Cancun. It is an adult-only resort and spa, whose white sand beaches and Caribbean waters are its main attraction. Its amenities will surely make your wedding unforgettable. You and your guests have spa treatments at your disposal, as well as 3 outdoor pools.

Grand Hyatt Playa Del Carmen Resort

Grand Hyatt Playa Del Carmen Resort offers couples a private and luxurious destination wedding venue in the Riviera Maya. The resort has remarkable architecture and offers a great selection of services, accommodation and location spaces on your big day.

Built-in beautiful Mexican culture, this hotel will ensure your wedding experience is nothing short of magical. The natural details and lighting will take your breath away, as will the bold colors and distinctive textures.

The maximum capacity in this resort is 3,509 guests. You can choose to exchange vows in the ballroom, oceanfront, and beach, or patio setting.

They offer all-inclusive wedding packages, giving you options to meet your needs. They also have in-house services for guest accommodation. Other wedding services provided at this resort include cakes, get ready rooms, event coordinator, wireless internet, setup/cleanup, and lighting/sound.

The Edge 

If you want to have a memorable and opulent destination wedding in Bali, enjoy the view from the top of a cliff at The Edge. Favored by many celebrities, this perfect venue awaits you and your loved one with breathtaking views of the Indian Ocean, a great range of wedding packages that are also customizable, and professional in-house organizers.

There is nothing that limits your dream wedding at The Edge, except your imagination. 

The Punta Cana Resort & Club

If, when it comes to your destination wedding in the Dominican Republic, you dream of elegance and simplicity, The Puntacana Resort & Club is your answer. 

With two vibrant hotels located on several miles of private beach, this high-end resort promises couples an elegant ceremony, a relaxing, memorable stay, and choices to fit every desire. 

Whether you choose the intimate Tortuga Bay Hotel designed by Oscar de la Renta, or the sumptuous The Westin Puntacana Resort & Club your destination wedding in the Dominican Republic will be paradisal, not only thanks to the magnificent settings but also because of the lavish hotel amenities and exemplary services. 

Coral Sands 

Coral Sands is a magical place for a destination wedding in the Bahamas. The fashionable hotel on Harbor Island is graciously overlooking the pink-sand Dunmore Beach and waiting for love birds with plenty of surprises. 

Beautifully decorated beachfront cottages with private pools, luxurious amenities, and flawless services are some of the things you will enjoy at this high-end hotel. 

The world-class team of special event professionals promises love birds the most exquisite day of their life. Whether you are interested in organizing the ceremony and reception, or you also want to have a Bahamian honeymoon, all you have to do at Coral Sands is relax, and let the experts take care of all the details. 

Your wedding reception will take place at The Beach Bar, a gorgeous venue directly overlooking the famous Pink Sands Beach. It can hold up to 150 people comfortably, and it promises a memorable experience with a custom-designed menu, a diverse selection of premium liquors, champagnes and wines, and many surprises. If this is your dream wedding location, contact the hotel’s team for more information about the location and the wedding packages available. 

El Convento

Located in the beautiful San Juan region, Hotel El Convento perfectly combines luxury and romance, offering love birds unique wedding venues perfect for a destination wedding in Puerto Rico.

The hotel welcomes couples with a few gorgeous areas where they can celebrate their love, depending on their desires and the number of guests. Whether you prefer one of its elegant salons or the superb interior courtyard surrounded by tropical foliage, your wedding at El Convento will be sumptuous and exotic. 

Besides the sensational location and delicious menu available, Hotel El Convento also offers couples fantastic event planning services as well as splendid guest accommodations. As soon as you decide if this is the place for you, contact the hotel to receive a personalized quote.