Congratulations! You’re newly engaged and floating on cloud nine. The excitement continues as you and your fiancé decide to have a destination wedding; however, as the questions of planning such an affair begin to pile up, stress inevitably starts to trickle in. Don’t worry; Anna’s here to help! Vice President and General Manager of Special Events, Weddings, and Entertainment at Atlantis, Paradise Island, Anna Schmid has nine years of destination wedding experience under her belt and an abundance of knowledge to offer, from the questions that need to asked in choosing a venue to all the itty-bitty details destination brides often overlook. And, as a bonus, we’re pairing her insight with the stunning “Destination Wedding Style” pictorial from our all-new Summer 2014 issue, a shoot that proves whether your dress style is classic, whimsical, enticing or dramatic, a destination affair can truly be for the everybride! So take a deep breath and plunge into this sea of destination wedding wisdom and style, the photos from La Playa, Mexico brought to you by Carla Ten Eyck Photography!
Is there a better time of year to book a destination wedding than others?
There are always advantages to booking off-season at any destination. Of course, you’ll find better rates and more aggressive offers during these times, but in addition, in many cases, you and your event will also be the main focus of the resort and its employees, giving a much more exclusive vibe to your big day. I recommend booking dates that fall just a few weeks before or after any destination or resort’s peak season. If you’re considering a family destination, the weekends immediately prior and following the start and close of school usually allow for much more flexibility in rates and availability. Questions to ask: If you do choose to book off-season make sure to ask if all activity and dining options will be available during that time. Sometimes resorts scale down their amenities in slow season. Also, check into flight availability and pricing. Airlines will decrease their lift into certain destinations when the busy season ends and prices will go up. So, if you’re saving money on rooms but spending more on flights, you may want to consider another destination.
How far in advance should I book my destination wedding?
This depends entirely on the size of your event, the destination, and your personality, but I believe six to nine months is a fair amount of time for 95% of destination events. If it’s just the two of you eloping with maybe a couple of friends, most resorts can accommodate you 6-8 weeks out or even closer to your travel date. If you plan to relish in the planning phase of your wedding and dive into every detail then I would definitely give yourself at least 6 months. If it is at all possible to include an arrangement visit prior to your wedding into your budget, try to make it happen. It will put you at ease in the weeks leading up to your wedding and allow you to truly enjoy every minute of the magical destination that you’ve chosen.
How do you suggest communicating with guests any travel details they need to get in place like hotels, flights, money and passport?
The fun part of planning a destination wedding is that every piece of communication that your guests receive is exciting because while you’re planning a wedding, they’re planning a vacation… so go all out. Save-the-dates with hotel and travel information, followed by chic destination-themed invites, and wedding websites are all great ideas. Think about incorporating a countdown with fun little tips for travel and your specific destination or resort so everyone will get even more excited as the date grows closer.
How do I choose my destination when there are so many options?
Besides the easier decisions that come naturally like choosing beach, mountains, city, or lake settings, asking yourself the following questions about how you envision your dream wedding will help to narrow down your search quickly:
1) How many guests do I realistically believe will be able to travel to my wedding?
If you’re expecting 50 or more guests, a destination with varied and affordable flight options will definitely make it easier for your guests to get there. Also, consider the activities that the destination or resort have to offer. You want your guests to have plenty of amenities. Remember, your guests will have free time and you don’t necessarily want to be playing concierge in the final planning stages of your wedding. If it’s just going to be a small group, the sky’s the limit. Be as creative and adventurous as you’d like. If you give those close set of family and friends enough time to plan, most will consider this a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see an amazing part of the world that they may have never considered.
2) Will kids play a large part in the overall event?
If the answer is yes, this may eliminate destinations with flights over 3 hours and remote locations and resorts that do not offer activities for kids. A larger resort with kid’s clubs and babysitting services might be an important “must have.”
3) Are you a bit of a control freak? Is it going to be important to you to have frequent conversations with the on-site wedding planner?
If the answer is yes, you may want to consider resorts that have an established wedding program and not just a concierge or restaurant manager that has been tasked with planning weddings in addition to the regular responsibilities. And, while this does not eliminate some small resorts that have invested time and resources into weddings, you may find that larger resorts will be a better fit, and it’s an important question to ask.
Dress: Bali by Amsale | Jewelry: Deepa Gurnani
Is there an important detail that people often overlook when it comes to considering locations?
There are a few important details that we notice are overlooked on a consistent basis:
1) Proximity between ceremony and reception location. Many couples do not have the time or budget to visit their destination/resort before the actual wedding weekend and are viewing venues on a website or resort map. You may see a beautiful waterfall backdrop that’s perfect for your ceremony and a charming restaurant for your reception. Ask the questions, how far will my guests have to walk, are there golf carts or other forms of transportation for those guest that are less mobile, what are the advantages and disadvantages to these locations.
2) Beach weddings are beautiful/Beach receptions are tricky. If at all possible, consider having your ceremony on the beach and then moving your reception inside or further away from the water. Many times breezes can pick up at night, and in some locations, it can even get chilly depending on the season. A gorgeous sunset wedding and cocktails followed by a dark, windy and sandy reception will bring dinner and dancing to an end much quicker than you planned. Plus, events on the beach at night normally require additional power and lighting that can be an additional cost to you.
3) Your resort wedding planner is not your destination wedding planner. If you have a busy weekend planned with several events and lots of moving parts, YOU NEED to hire a destination wedding planner. While the resort wedding planner may be amazing, remember that he or she is normally responsible for only what happens at the resort. If you are planning off-site excursions or dinners, elaborate gift bags or favors, specialty transportation, a destination wedding planner will be worth every penny.
4) Consider unexpected fees and ask your contact to provide everything in writing. Every country, destination, and hotel/resort has different taxes, fees, and gratuities. Some of these may even be negotiable, but some may be handed down by the government or labor unions. Make sure these are all defined clearly, especially in regards to room rates and gratuities.
Dress: Style 4533 by David Fielden | Jewelry: Deepa Gurnani
I’d like to have a destination wedding, but I’m afraid it will affect my overall guest count. How do I overcome this and be able to celebrate with all of my friends and family?
There is absolutely no doubt that choosing a destination wedding will affect your guest count, so your first task is to decide whether taking the show on the road is the right choice for you and your fiancé. Destination weddings are magical, memorable, and a true bonding experience for everyone, but if it’s more important to you to have a ballroom filled with 300 of your closest family and friends, it might not be the right call for you. However, there are a few ways that you can overcome losing part of your headcount for a destination wedding:
1) Consider a destination that does not require a flight. You may be surprised what you’ll find within 2-3 hours driving distance from your home. Then, your guests can make a weekend trip, carpool with other family and friends, or come up for the day and drive back if necessary. It might not be what you originally imagined for a destination wedding but it’s still a unique and unexpected experience for everyone.
2) Give your guest notice one year in advance. We will see guest counts double from what was expected when couples send out save-the-dates with plenty of information far in advance. Most individuals and families take at least a small vacation each year. If you’ve notified them before they start making those annual plans then they can allocate vacation dollars accordingly so they can be a part of your big day.
3) If money is no object….. offer to pay some or all of the travel/hotel expenses for your guests. Most people seldom say no to a complimentary vacation and then those that may be stretched for cash are enjoying the wedding festivities instead of watching every dollar they spend.
Best time of the year for an Atlantis wedding?
My favorite times of the year at Atlantis are immediately following Easter and the first few weeks of November. The weather is spectacular, you’re outside of any rainy season, and you’re just outside of peak season
Anything else you’d like to share about Atlantis or the new venue?
The new Ocean’s Edge wedding venue at the Cove is our newest addition to Love Atlantis and we couldn’t be prouder. You are actually just feet from the sand with a charming pavilion, patio, beach deck, and event lawn area. Even though you are a short walk from the Cove and Reef towers, you feel miles away from the hustle and bustle of the resort. Ocean’s Edge is our most exclusive and private venue, and it’s ideal for any size wedding from 40- 250 people. It’s been so exciting to see how our couples choose to use the space because there are so many options. This venue overlooks one of the most spectacular stretches of white sand beach and turquoise water that I’ve ever seen. We spent $1.4 million on this gorgeous seaside venue and there is nothing else like it in the Caribbean.
Concept: Candice Coppola of Jubilee Events | Photography: Carla Ten Eyck Photography | Fashion Styling: Beth Chapman of The White Dress by the shore | Locations: El Taj Resort, Aldea Corazon, La Azotea, and Mi Pueblo | Dresses: Amsale, David Fielden, and Ivy & Aster | Jewelry: Haute Bride and K. Brunini | Floral: Datura: A Modern Garden | Makeup: d.d. Nickel | Videography: Jeremy White | Paper Design: Coral Pheasant