Your Day In Paradise: Is a Destination Wedding Right for You?

Weddings are big business. Anyone who has planned a wedding or been close to anyone planning a wedding will testify to the thousands of dollars spent on the various factors that make a wedding “successful”;  venue, flowers, attire, food, alcohol, photography…the list goes on and on and onnnn.  According to this recent article in Reuters, the average cost of an American wedding is now $27, 021. Holy crap! It’s no wonder that Destination Weddings are becoming increasingly popular for couples looking to tie the knot without going broke!

If you are unfamiliar with the concept, please allow me to explain: in the purest sense of the term, a “Destination Wedding” is a marriage ceremony that occurs outside of the bride and/or groom’s current city or hometown. Las Vegas and Disney weddings are technically considered Destination Weddings, however for the purpose of this article, I will be referring to weddings held in the extraordinarily popular All-Inclusive resorts of the Caribbean and Mexico.

So what exactly is an All-Inclusive Resort? It’s a vacation concept that seems almost too good to be true!! Its name speaks for itself; packages include round-trip airfare, airport transfers, lodging, meals, snacks, drinks (including alcoholic beverages), non-motorized water activities, and resort activities. Some packages even include tips! Once you pay for your vacation package in full, you will only be responsible for your spending money while on vacation, as well as any spa services or tours you may choose to purchase. Everything else is covered!

Below the photo, I’ve listed some pros and cons to Destination Weddings at an All-Inclusive Resort. I can speak from personal experience on this, having decided to exercise this option for my own wedding. You will definitely need to consider these factors before deciding whether this is right for you.

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1. PRO: Cost, Cost, Cost and COST.

As I previously mentioned, the average stateside wedding in 2012 costs almost $28,000. Most All-Inclusive resorts have specialized wedding packages; many offer a FREE wedding ceremony if the bride and groom meet certain criteria (i.e. staying a certain number of nights at the resort, a certain number of guests). Additional packages vary based on various factors (number of guests, cocktail hour, indoor or outdoor reception, etc). The beauty of these packages are this: since the resorts are all-inclusive, you will not pay the exorbitant cost of food and alcohol that “European Plan” (ex. Marriott) hotels tend to charge. And many of the wedding packages start at $1,500 – yes…for the ceremony, reception AND flowers. Of course, you can add more details to your package which will increase the price, but the fact that the package can be customized truly speaks volumes to the flexibility of this wedding option.

All-Inclusive vacations, whether for a wedding or just general travel, offer a payment plan option. This feature may also be helpful in your planning. Once you decide where you wish to get married, expect to put down an initial deposit to hold your flights, lodging accommodations and wedding package. You will have anywhere between 30-75 days before your trip to make final payment.

Note: In most cases, wedding guests pay for their own travel and hotel accommodations. The bride and groom are not expected to finance their guests’ trips.

2. PRO and CON: The Guest List

A Destination Wedding will have an impact on your guest list; for some this is a motivating factor to choose this option, for others, a deterrent. People will not be able or willing to fly outside of the country to watch you tie the knot. Some have safety concerns about your destination. Others do not have a passport. Some simply cannot afford it.

On the other hand, there will be guests who have been in desperate need of a vacation and will use your wedding as an excuse. The people who do end up attending are the ones who REALLY want to be there. Either way it goes, in most cases all 200+ guests who would’ve attended your hometown wedding will not fly to Jamaica for your Destination Wedding. (There are always exceptions to this, of course). A smaller guest list is much more budget friendly. Conversely, Grandma may not be physically able to travel and may potentially miss your wedding. This is certainly something to consider in your planning process.

3. PRO: More Time to Spend with Guests

Think about the last stateside wedding you attended. How much time did you really get to spend with the bride/groom? Perhaps you gave them a hug in the receiving line, and they swung by your table at the reception to thank you for coming. It’s proper etiquette and nice gesture, but the interaction tends to be brief.

Not so much with a Destination Wedding. With everyone traveling and vacationing together as a group, you will have an ample amount of time to spend with your guests. You can plan a group tour to a local landmark or attraction, arrange group dinners, hang out at the bar or at the pool. It can truly be a bonding experience for you and your guests, plus relationships can be forged among people who would have never crossed paths in your daily lives.

3. CON: Legalities

Just as marriage laws and requirements vary from state, the same is true for foreign countries. Make sure you do your research before choosing the location of your Destination Wedding. In most countries where Spanish is the primary language, you are required to your citizenship documents into Spanish before applying for a marriage license; this is not free. Mexico requires a blood test before you can marry. Many Caribbean countries do not perform same-sex marriages. You will need to consider all of these factors in your planning process.

Some couples choose to get “legally hitched” in their home state before traveling to their Destination Wedding, therefore making the ceremony at the resort a “symbolic ceremony”. This removes many of the headaches involved with marrying abroad, but feels disingenuous to some couples.

4. PRO: Built-in Honeymoon

If you’re already in paradise, is there a need to take a separate honeymoon? Well, it depends on the couple (we did!); but it’s completely unnecessary! You can extend your stay at the resort, allowing you additional time with your loved ones, or transfer to another resort in the same area for a unique and private experience. This can prevent the cost of an additional flight, another way to save a few dollars and still have an amazing honeymoon experience.

5. PRO: Wedding Coordinator

Due to the distance of the bride and groom from the resort, plus the typical anxiety involved with wedding planning, most All-Inclusive Resorts offer an on-site Wedding Coordinator once you book a package. I can’t speak highly enough of Claudia, my wedding coordinator at the Barcelo Maya Palace in Riviera Maya, Mexico. E-mail was our best friend, and once we arrived to the resort, every minor detail we discussed via e-mail was in her file. The day was executed beautifully. It would be very difficult to plan such an important event without an on-site coordinator.

Now that you are armed with this information, what’s next?

Simple – contact me for a quote! Even if you know you want to have a Destination Wedding and are not sure where you’d like to get married, we can narrow it down together. If you’d like to conduct some independent research, an amazing resource is Best Destination Wedding. By using a travel agent, you can remove the hassle of managing your guests’ travel arrangements and simply focus on creating an amazing wedding day!

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Happy Travels!

Carla

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Cruising on a Budget

It’s another year and time for another vacation. Yay! I would like to share a personal testimonial about how we were able to afford a trip to Europe, before Bon Voyage by Barbour was in existence.

My husband and I started discussing our plans for a 2012 vacation shortly after our wedding in November. We had initially wanted to honeymoon in Europe, but realized that we neither had the vacation time nor financial resources to cover our destination wedding in Mexico AND a trip to Europe. So we punted the Europe trip until this year.

We began pricing out the cost of a European vacation and immediately got discouraged. We compared land-based and cruise vacations, and between airfare, hotels, shore excursions, and spending money, we realized that we would either need to donate our body parts to science or sell plasma to afford the trip. That, or just postpone it until we could save the right amount of cash. (and where’s the fun in that?) We explored alternative options (such as Hawaii), but the cost was almost identical to Europe. Geez!

Well..we had to go somewhere. Since I hadn’t started my travel business yet, I browsed around the web until the perfect deal showed up: a 10 night Mediterranean cruise on Norwegian Cruise Lines (or NCL) for less than $600 per person. Excuse me? Airfare was reasonable when purchased with the cruise, so we booked that night! Boom!
Anyone who knows me is well aware of my cruise junkie status: this will be my 7th cruise, Hubby’s 3rd. I’ve found some additional ways to save money on this vacation as the trip approaches and felt led to share my tips with the interwebs!

Norwegian Jade

1. Find a Travel Agent


In the planning process, you’ll often see some cheaper deals through third party websites, such as the two mentioned above. In our case, we booked our deal through Travelocity. Not only was the rate $100 less than the actual cruise line, but they threw in an On-Board Credit (OBC) for booking with them. They were also able to bundle the airfare to Rome and travel insurance, which was incredibly helpful and gave us one balance to pay off. This is the benefit of working with a travel agent.

Most travel agencies (which, in essence, is what these websites are) will offer you these same perks. What you DON’T get, however, is a personal travel agent who will be dedicated to making your trip the best experience possible. There have been times that I called Travelocity 3 times in one day and never once spoke with the same person. I would’ve rather had one person dedicated to our vacation planning.

No matter who you book with, you will have the option to pay off your cruise until 30-90 days prior to sailing. For us, this also included the airfare. Because we booked so early, we had 11 months to pay off our vacation. After determining how much money we would need to set aside per month to achieve this, we treated our cruise payment like another bill.

2. Ask Your Agent about Promotions

There are few things more lovely than arriving on a cruise ship and having FREE money at your disposal. Like I previously mentioned, we cruised the Norwegian Pearl for a week in 2009 and didn’t pay a dime onboard. Man. It’s hard to go back to paying for on-board expenses after that. So, I advise you to jump on promotions that will provide you with an OBC at time of booking. It may not seem like much at the time, but those free credits will come in handy once you’re sailing. The beauty of working with a travel agent is that he/she will catch these deals FOR you and adjust the booking accordingly.

Other promotions you will sometimes see are reduced deposits ($250 down for two people instead of $500) and free cabin upgrades. Make sure you read the fine print. The ideal upgrade situation would be to pay for a lesser category and get upgraded to the next level (i.e. inside to oceanview, oceanview to balcony, etc). Norwegian ran this promotion this past December and we had just missed it. Other upgrades are within category, which just means you’d get a BETTER inside cabin for the same price of a lesser inside cabin…”better” is usually based on its location on the ship. (that’s a whole ‘nother post though). Make sure you know what you’re getting – check with your TA if you notice any such deals.

3. Have your Travel Agent Check for Price Reductions

Having booked our trip so early and for so cheap, I was extremely doubtful that we would see the price of our cruise drop any further. Wrong! I randomly checked Travelocity a few months ago and saw that the price of our cabin had dropped another $100 per person. What? I ran off to Norwegian’s website, which also reflected the price drop. Sweet! I IMMEDIATELY called Travelocity and mentioned the price drop to the agent. Because we hadn’t made our final payment yet, they adjusted the final amount due to $200 less than our prior balance.

I checked the website again yesterday and saw that there was a better cabin available at the same price we paid. I called Travelocity again and they bumped us up to the better category. The same may happen if the cruise has a lot of empty cabins remaining once the final payments are made. And best believe, if it does I will be calling again.

We were also affected by a price drop on our 2009 cruise. We had already made final payments when I saw a $200 per person price drop online. This was a group booking (20 family members), so I called Expedia about the price reduction and they gave a $200 On-Board Credit (OBC) to every cabin affected. That came in handy, as we didn’t end up spending a red cent on that cruise once we got on board. *thumbs up*

The only problem with both of these examples is that I had to do the calling. Had we worked with a travel agent, he or she may have noticed the price reduction and acted on our behalf! If you happen to book a cruise and see the price drop, contact your travel agent! They will call the cruise line, who will do SOMETHING to make up for the fact that you paid more than they are now charging.

4. Check Your Resources

I wouldn’t have known about the $100 OBC promotion if not for the fine folks at Cruise Critic. CC is perhaps the most comprehensive and informative website on the internet when it comes to cruising; it’s Mecca for cruise junkies such as myself. There are forums on just about every topic, from shore excursions to ship reviews to tipping procedures to packing. I’ve practically lived on that website before each cruise. Another great feature are the pre-cruise Roll Calls, where folks from your same booking can post about their plans, arrange meet & greets onboard and even get together for excursions and port transfers. We are going on two excursions with CC folks, thanks to our Roll Call. You’ll get some great tips.

There is so much I have learned since I started cruising back in 2001, but the biggest lesson has been how to save some serious dough in order to take these vacations more often. There is no need to pay premium prices if there are ways around it!

Happy Travels!

Carla