When travel consultant Shana Brewer advises clients at Carlson Wagonlit Travel in Medford to consider a destination wedding, she speaks from experience. Five years ago, Brewer tied the knot at a tropical Jamaican resort, complete with candlelit dinners and sunset walks on the beach.
"It was probably a $3,500 vacation package that included our wedding and honeymoon combined. It might have made everybody mad at home, but it was nice," Brewer says.
While destination weddings are a far cry from the cost of traditional, formal affairs, a great deal of money is still involved in travel and resort accommodations abroad. Consider issues such as weather — hurricanes are common in tropical areas — or even unexpected sickness or injury of an important member of the wedding party (including the bride or groom!).
"To be honest I've not had anyone cancel an event other than due to weather," says Medford travel agent Jane Pollard. "The hurricane that hit Cancun last year struck right before a wedding I'd helped plan. The bride was stuck with last minute planning. The more reputable places will postpone if weather sinks it, but the best idea is to have insurance."
Event insurance, common for high dollar weddings, insures everything from airline rescheduling fees to hotel cancellations and lost deposits. Event insurance costs a mere $49 to $129 — a bargain indeed.
"If you have to cancel for a valid reason, you get your money back with no hassle," Pollard says.
"In the case with the hurricane, some of the guests didn't purchase insurance and it was a bigger hassle for them and for me!"
"They took care of all the details like candlelit dinners, breakfast in bed, photographer, flowers... it was great."
Events like Brewer's are far from a rarity in an era where vacation accommodations are a mouse click away and extended families are scattered around the globe. Destination weddings are ideal for couples who want to combine their wedding and honeymoon or those who don't plan a traditional affair with hordes of relatives.
"They're actually becoming more and more common with the way young couples are nowadays, how everyone is scattered around," says Medford's Trips R US travel agent, Janie Pollard.
"Often you'll have a case of, 'They met in Seattle but his family are in New York and hers are in Houston.' A destination wedding pulls them all together and they have a great vacation."
While destination weddings can be arranged anywhere, common vacation hot spots like Bermuda, Mexico and Europe are courting young couples with all-inclusive packages. Travel agents, in person or online, can be hired to book destination weddings, which include as simple a ceremony as a minister on a sandy beach or a formal affair in a castle with a large guest list, roses galore and a gourmet meal.
Costwise, the actual "wedding portion" of a vacation ranges from no-cost — some resorts offer a free wedding package for guests — to $3800 or more for a lavish ceremony; still a bargain compared to today's $20,000 or more wedding events! As an added bonus, special "destination wedding" sites offer a web presence for couples-to-be and payment plans to fund the big event in advance.
Typically, all-inclusive wedding packages cost anywhere from $600 to $1,800 per person. Wedding add-ons are common, too; such as extra flowers or photography, special foods or ceremony locales, and so on. Off land, some cruise lines offer wedding-at-sea packages — get married on the boat or on the shore at sunset.
"Some cruise lines actually have chapels on some of their ships for an extra cost," Brewer says. Wedding cruises start around $1,000 per couple.
As for wedding etiquette, expect some relatives to be unable to travel abroad to see the happy event. Send invitations, regardless of the likelihood to attend, out of courtesy. For guests who opt to make the trip, give plenty of advance notice and consider helping with some accommodations, Brewer says, but don't feel like it's expected.
"I don't know what's politically correct, but when I've helped people with it, they've just paid their own way. Depending on budget, people can opt to pay for the best man and maid of honor," Brewer says. Another consideration, some couples opt to cover food and hotel expenses for members of the wedding party.
A side note, whether planning to wed at a tropical resort or in a romantic castle, check into local marriage laws. Requirements to apply for a wedding license can range from simple to impossible, with some countries requiring residency and blood tests while others making minimal fuss. If push comes to shove, apply for a license at the courthouse close to home, then have the ceremony where you please. Celebrities do it all the time, says Brewer.
For tradition, be sure to save photos for friends and relatives and to host a wedding reception when you get home. Brewer did.
"It gives everyone a chance to feel like they were still part of the wedding," she says. "And you come back from a great vacation."