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Destination weddings

Marcel and Joan had a lovely wedding on the beach in Jamaica.

Even though I wasn’t technically invited and had no idea what their last names were or where they came from, I couldn’t help snapping a few pictures from the comfort of my beach chair. If I had known them, I might have even shed a tear or two. Their ceremony was the best of the four weddings we observed during our one-week stay at an all-inclusive resort in Montego Bay.

When it comes to destination weddings, Marcel and Joan have plenty of company — and I am not just talking about the wedding guests. Destination weddings are one of the hottest trends in the wedding and travel industry today. A recent survey by showed that in 2012, destination weddings represented 24 per cent of all North American weddings.

While Las Vegas is still one of the most popular wedding destinations in North America, beach locales have been gaining ground in recent years. Florida, California, the Caribbean and Hawaii are popular wedding destinations for Americans. Other places such as Cuba, Mexico and the Dominican Republic are also attracting Canadian brides and grooms. The Canadian Rockies and Niagara Falls are appealing wedding destinations closer to home.

Although you might think that a destination wedding is more costly than a traditional wedding, in most cases a destination wedding actually represents a cost savings. A destination wedding is generally smaller and more intimate and that often dramatically reduces the costs. Most wedding guests pay their own way and some all-inclusive resorts even offer to do the wedding for free. If the wedding group is large enough, brides and grooms can get additional perks such as free air tickets or a free room.

Destination weddings can also make sense when your family lives far away. Some brides and grooms figure that if most of their guests are going to need to travel to get to the wedding anyway, they might as well make it a vacation for all concerned. Regardless of the motivations, there is no doubt that more Canadian couples are opting to enjoy a destination wedding. The upside is that more vacationers can also share in their joy as they watch these ceremonies take place at their vacation hotels and resorts.

As Marcel and Joan were officially pronounced man and wife, I looked around and realized that I was not the only non-guest snapping pictures. At least 10 other vacationers attired in swimwear were also snapping pictures of the happy couple. More than a dozen more non-guests were standing around and observing.

Later that evening as my family and I dined in the all-inclusive formal restaurant, we had the pleasure of sharing the dining room with the wedding party. Some of the other diners who were also not part of the wedding group even tinkled their glasses and the bride and groom obliged them by standing up and kissing in front of the entire room. They were rewarded with a round of applause from the entire dining room. My kids were a little disappointed when we weren’t offered a piece of the wedding cake, but at least we were able to leave before the speeches began.

How to plan a destination wedding

• Choosing the destination: When it comes to a destination wedding, the “destination” is almost as important as the ceremony. For a large wedding, it’s a good idea to do at least on pre-visit to make sure you are happy with the destination and the resort. Be sure to research the destination in advance, so you don’t end up booking your wedding during hurricane season. You can save money by avoiding travel during busy holiday seasons.

• Get help: A good travel agent can really take the stress off the bride and groom by helping to make all the travel arrangements for all guests. They may also be able to offer advice regarding the destination and the resort.

• Discounts: When you have a large group, you may be able to negotiate a discount for airfare and hotels. Be sure to ask for group rates for airfares and hotels and if a property won’t reduce the rates, ask for an upgrade. Some all-inclusive resorts offer discounts for the entire travelling party as well as a free air seat or room for the bride and groom. There are a growing number of resorts that offer free weddings. However, some resorts put restrictions on the number of guests that must attend before they will offer the wedding for free.

• Plan ahead: You should give your guests at least eight to 12 months of advance notice for a destination wedding. This gives them time to save up, arrange time off work, and plan their family vacations around the event.

• Make sure it’s legal: Be sure to check into the legal requirements for a marriage in the country you are interested in getting married in. Many countries have residency requirements and other red tape. To get married in England, you must have resided in the country at least seven days. Venice, Italy, has a four-day residency requirement. Also, be sure you bring the right documentation with you. Certain documentation may be required and you may have to pay for translation in some countries. You may even require blood tests. Also, be sure to find out what you need to do to and what forms need to be filed, so the marriage is recognized by the Canadian government once you return home.

• Wedding planner: Try to choose a resort that offers the services of an onsite wedding planner. If the resort does not offer one, see if you can hire a local wedding planner who can speak the local language and English well. It can really make a difference to have someone helping you who is familiar with the language and the local customs.

• Customize the wedding package: Many resorts have pre-planned wedding packages available. Be sure to look at what comes in the package. If there are items that you don’t want included in a wedding package, ask for a credit. Be sure to ask for any additions you’d like. If something is really important to you, such as a photographer, you may want to consider bringing one from home.

• Don’t worry, be happy: Many of the fine planning details of a destination wedding are not within your control, so you might as well sit back and relax and set your watch to island time.

Debbie Olsen is a Lacombe-based freelance writer. If you have a travel story you would like to share or know someone with an interesting travel story who we might interview, please email: or write to: Debbie Olsen, c/o Red Deer Advocate, 2950 Bremner Ave., Red Deer, Alta., T4R 1M9.



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