Kevin and I said I Do this past June, at the oceanfront Villa Vista Ballena in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Standing under the gorgeous orchid and lace strung canopy, surrounded by 125 of our closest family and friends, I realized at that moment, that the past one and a half years of planning, organizing, sweat (and occasionally tears) were all worth it.
We knew when we began the process that planning a destination wedding would have its unique challenges. However, we were not expecting the end result to be so profoundly fulfilling, far exceeding anything we had envisioned our destination wedding to be. Here I share my own experiences and advice about the planning process, in hopes of inspiring other destination wedding brides.
Taking the First Step
Kevin and I debated long and hard whether a destination wedding was for us. Did it convey who we were as a couple? Would our guests be able to make the trip? How would we plan everything from 1500 miles away? We made a list of pros and cons. Of course, the pros certainly outweighed the cons, as we felt that a destination wedding reflected our adventurous spirit, would allow for quality time with guests over an extended period of time, would be unique, and of course, so much fun! From that moment on, we never looked back.
Narrowing Down the Options
While exotic locales such as The Cayman Islands or Bali certainly topped my list of dreamy destination wedding settings, we had to be realistic and practical. We had two criteria in selecting a destination wedding location: (1) the cost of the flight and hotel rooms to be manageable, to relieve the financial burden on guests (2) the flight from Northern California had to be less than 4 hours, so that our older grandparents would be comfortable and our guests would have to sacrifice too much time en route.
Geographically, we narrowed the possibilities down to the western coast of Mexico and quickly decided on Cabo, as it offered a wide variety of hotel options. Next, I spent a lot of time researching online. Our demands were lengthy as we needed a hotel that with a variety of price points for rooms, large enough to accommodate all our guests (as we wanted everyone to stay at the same hotel), close to the main attractions and downtown scene, quality service, food and ambiance. We felt the hotel would reflect us as a couple and the tone we wanted to set for the wedding weekend.
Picking the Right Hotel
Once we had narrowed our search down to about 5-8 hotels, we booked a trip to Cabo to see them in person. Of the three we liked, I began getting into the nitty gritty of pricing, availability, the bridal suite, minimum blocks, concessions, etc.
Once we chose the hotel we wanted to work with, we negotiated a fair room block rate. We also wanted to give our guests options, so we made sure that the hotel also had flight+hotel packages on popular online travel sites and wholesale vendors such as Costco, which offered ‘kids eat free’ package deals ideal for families.
Hotel contracts can be tricky, so read them carefully and seek out advice. And always negotiate!
On Site or Off Site Wedding
Having the wedding and reception at the hotel where we were all staying was certainly the more practical (and cost effective) option, as guests would already be there, we wouldn’t have to arrange for transportation, pay a separate venue rental fee, etc.
However, we decided to go with a private Villa about 5 minutes away from our hotel, as I simply loved the change of scenery, the elegance of the authentic Mexican Villa, the excitement of shuttling guests to our secret wedding location, and the complete privacy the Villa would offer.
Hire a Wedding Planner
Navigating the sea of foreign vendors can be difficult. Many vendors operate solely by word of mouth, without websites or being listed in wedding directories. Without resources like Here Comes the Guide to rely on for references and reviews, a wedding planner is your best investment. Having a planner that was familiar with Cabo and had strong connections in town was the best decision we made. While I was personally involved with the decision-making, design and concept, the wedding planner played a crucial role in executing everything to perfection!
Did You Get That?
Working with Cabo vendors was challenging for two reasons. First, the language can be a barrier. While the vendors and I could talk basics, the details of texture, color, taste, etc was often lost in translation. I quickly realized that words carry a variety of interpretations, so I relied heavily on photos to explain what I wanted. I also enlisted our wedding planner to act as liaison, as she was the one who took the extra time to ensure that we were all on the same page. It was certainly frustrating at times not being able to just pick up the phone and call our florist or caterer and ask a simple question, but it was the price we paid of doing business in a foreign country, and we knew we had to accept this.
Put Everything in Writing
The second challenge we faced was the lack of written contracts. As we were selecting our officiant (the most popular one in Cabo, mind you), we were told that in Cabo, verbal agreements were the standard. Of course I understand that much of this tradition was based on culture and trust, however I am a skeptic (and an attorney at heart) so I still insisted that everything be in writing. I’m pretty sure the vendors all thought I was nuts, but it gave me the peace of mind I think all brides should have when planning such a significant event.
Keeping Everything Else Low Key
Six of our close friends were also getting married the same summer. With so many weddings and wedding-related events, we were nervous about asking guests to travel to a destination wedding. So we made a decision early on not to have a large engagement party or over-the-top bachelor / bachelorette parties. Our pre-wedding events were low key, near our hometowns and limited to close family, to alleviate the burden on extended friends and family. I know everyone appreciated the gesture.
Rallying the Troops
This was certainly not hard. Our friends and family shared our love of travel, and appreciated the chance to get away and be pampered over 3 days of organized events. With everyone’s busy schedules, our wedding was a great excuse for guests to make use of those unused vacation days. We were honored that the majority of invited guests made the journey to Cabo San Lucas. Every single person had a blast, and we have the video footage to prove it!
Follow Your Instincts
The destination wedding planning process is about you and your partner. Listen to your gut instinct, as it is often right. Don’t hesitate to ask questions, be insistent about what you want. After all, it is your day.