Hi everyone, We're back from our wedding weekend - and holidays (happy new year!) - to share about our Tulum adventure. Hope it's helpful! SHIPPING THINGS I read all over this forum that suitcases of welcome bags were searched and stopped at the airport due to medicine, so we decided to ship all of our welcome bags. Pre-packaged. Individually labeled. Self-designed. Ready-to-go. A few days before we left for Mexico, our coordinator told us that she got a call from customs. Very long story short: It is illegal to ship medicine to Mexico. For individual use or not. Also, shipping was VERY expensive. If you're going to ship anything, ship early. And if you're going to ship anything, don't ship your welcome bags, even if they only have sunscreen or bug repellant or Alka Seltzer. You will never see them again. You might cry. You might think about the thousand dollars and thought and care and three months spent. You will wipe your tears and try to forget about it, but not before telling forum readers to please not ship your welcome bags. DECOR The week before our wedding we still hadn't confirmed our set up for decor. This was distressing to say the least, since we knew that once we landed, we wouldn't have much time for planning. Decor included the beach ceremony set-up (stage, flowers, chairs) and reception set-up (linens, place settings, flowers). The vendor we used, Planner 1 Events, had a huge commercial event that was keeping them busy. The morning of, as I was getting ready, I happened to have a view of the beach where they were setting up and noticed it wasn't as we had requested (circle seating rather than traditional altar in front). This was really important to me. A friend went down to fix this, but this also meant that they only had enough flowers for the "front" rather than all around, as we had discussed. There was also drapery on the sides that we had to ask them to remove or fix since we were going to have guests seated at every angle. Despite these frustrations, the final product was beautiful. I'd recommend Planner 1 Events. Raves: * The flowers were fresh and beautiful. We also had some delivered early so that we could make garlands. We really appreciate the early delivery of those flowers without an extra fee. * Carlos Almeida Jr. of Planner 1 was great to work with. Aside from the week before the wedding, he was prompt with communication and always friendly and professional. Lessons learned: * Send a lot of photos and descriptions of flower arrangements if you're picky about that sort of thing. * Know that flower selection is limited in the Riviera Maya. If you want peonies or ranunculus, be prepared to pay! Carnations, gerbers, and roses are more popular there. We made do with a very simple selection of mostly chrysanthemums and china mums. * Describe your set-up in detail and include instructions for set-up *in the contract* so that communication is not lost from the sales person to the set-up staff. Other thoughts: * If you don't want to spend a fortune on flowers, don't. Invest in good lighting; it will do wonders for any venue setting. TRANSPORTATION We arrived on a Tuesday and picked up our rental car. We were "upgraded" from an SUV to a large van, which ended up being an incredible blessing in disguise. 40 of our 114 guests were arriving on one flight on Wednesday night. That night around 9:30 pm, we got a call at Las Ranitas from a hotel further north along the hotel zone. The bus driver had refused to go any further, citing the narrow road, and dropped off all our guests in the dark with all their luggage. We were livid. Our 1-year-old and 4-year-old nieces, who had been traveling since 2:30 am with other children and our parents, cousins, and friends, were on that bus. Our best man fortunately was, too, and he hailed taxi after taxi to get people to where they needed to be. We took the van and started shuttling guests, too. What complicated the situation even further was that that night was my in-laws' 40th anniversary dinner at Las Ranitas (menu below). The kitchen stayed open late and served hot meals to our very weary guests around 11 o'clock, and even one guest who arrived at nearly midnight. We are incredibly grateful to the kitchen staff and other Las Ranitas staff for accommodating us so kindly on this nightmare of a night. The next morning, we were scheduled for TWO buses for an all-day excursion to the Tulum ruins, lunch at Oscar y Lalo, and cenote/dry cave/ziplining at Aktun Chen. They arrived nearly two hours late, again citing the road. Lesson learned: It is really challenging to coordinate large groups in Tulum. Our transport company, USA Transfers/Entertainment Plus, said they had never managed a group this size in Tulum. What we didn't know is that while they own their own vans, they outsource when it comes to buses. They were very apologetic about the bus driver who abandoned our group in the middle of the road at night, and about the late buses the next day, but we just found this unacceptable. The takeaway is that whether you are riding a bike, driving a car, or renting a bus, know that the road along Tulum beach is narrow and you may have to pull over frequently to let other cars pass in one direction or the other. This means what should take 20 minutes can take 40 minutes. We would still recommend USA Transfers/Entertainment Plus for airport transfers, and Trina is your go-to person for coordination. She was outstanding to work with. We arranged and paid for all of our guests' airport transfers, even those who were staying at Cancun resorts prior to the wedding. It was an enormous task, but we are glad we did it. When we had to make updates to the pick-up schedules since some guests switched hotels/flight times, Trina was very helpful with adapting to all the changes. We heard of a few hiccups, but overall the round-trip airport transfers were a success, and we heard that the car/van drivers were extremely friendly (some even offered to take passengers to the (ahem - liquor) store before heading down to Tulum!). SAM'S CLUB (or, Buying Alcohol On Your Own) We had decided to go corkage fee for our bar. One of our coordinators told us to go to Sam's Club in Playa del Carmen, where we could return alcohol that wasn't opened (spoiler: Bad Idea. Don't do it. Just don't). Let's just dive into the lessons learned: * Don't waste time getting a Sam's Club card in the U.S. that they tell you will be valid in Mexico. We did this, and the card was rejected. Wasted fee. We had to get a new card in Mexico. $40 US or so. * There is a credit card limit on foreign credit cards. It's something like $200 US. We were buying all the alcohol for a WEDDING. $200?!?!?! * An hour after mis-dialing every customer service number they could find for our credit cards, they tell us we can use American Express. No limit at Sam's Club. Know this before you go. * Even if you let your credit card companies know that you are traveling in Mexico, you may get flagged, again and again. Know how to dial the U.S. from Mexico. Store staff everywhere we went (car rental, Sam's Club, hotels) didn't know how to call the U.S. We wasted hours of time struggling with this all week. WEATHER If you're trying to decide when to have your wedding in Tulum, pick November. November, November, November. It is beautiful. Mid- to high- 70sF, light breezes. (Our site visit was in January, and I remember it being very windy.) We only had light rain one day, but it cleared up quickly. The rest of the days were bright, sunny, and not too hot. However, our coordinators told us that the week before, it was so windy that candles were blowing out during the reception. So we brought tons of mason jars and put sand and tea candles in them. Voila. As far as natural light: we got good advice on the forum about lighting in mid-November -- thanks, AllieH! So we did most of our formal family portraits (we both have huge families) before the wedding around 2:30 pm. Ceremony started at 3:30 pm and was finished by 4:30 pm (condensed Hindu ceremony). The rest of the group photos went until about 4:45 pm. Then couple photos until 5:30 pm. Around November 24, I would say that you should probably aim to finish any beach photos by 5-5:30 pm. The sky looks pretty incredible then, but it does get dark. Good photographers have fabulous technology (flashes as well as editing tools), but maximize the natural light, I'd say. (I'll do a separate review about our great experience with our photographers!) WELCOME EVENTS Thursday night was Thanksgiving for us Americans, so we hosted Thanksgiving dinner at Aguachiles in town (at the south end, so a bit far). It's a very casual, open space with good food and a full bar. They were able to accommodate ~100 people. Las Ranitas helped us coordinate taxis for guests, and we also shuttled people with the van. Friday morning was a pre-wedding religious ceremony we held in the new palapa. The palapa is stunning and can definitely hold over 100 people. Here's a photo from Las Ranitas: Friday night was my birthday, which we hosted at Om. The food was okay to pretty good and we paid the bar on consumption. (Note to parties with big drinkers: just go for the open bar. Trust me.) They had to rent extra chairs and tables for our group, which was another cost. Our wedding DJ came and played a playlist we had prepared, because Om doesn't have a speaker system. He also brought lighting because the beach area is dark. I was disappointed with the set-up, which had round tables very close together (I could barely squeeze through them to greet people) and the tight seating area was blocked off with what looked like plastic orange construction tarp. It served its purpose, which I suppose was to keep passers-by out, but I cringed every time I looked at it. And since we were out on the beach without any cover, I did notice that it got a bit cold. No one but me seemed to mind any of these things, as we ended the night with at least fifteen different renditions (languages!) of the happy birthday song, including I think a Swedish one from other Om guests from upstairs! Everyone was in good spirits ;-). I have very mixed feelings about whether I'd repeat doing our pre-wedding events as we did. Our intention was to provide guests with different experiences of Tulum throughout the week. Seafood in town, a party on the beach, then the main event at gorgeous Las Ranitas. But coordinating 100+ people proved to be really exhausting (both before getting to Tulum and while there), in addition to having to coordinate with two additional venues. LAS RANITAS-SPECIFIC THINGS FOR KATE! :-) and other Las Ranitas planners Bar(s)
The pool area at Las Ranitas was perfect for the cocktail hour for 113 guests plus 3 photographers and 2 videographers and of course staff. We made it to the cocktail hour only in time to see guests being ushered to the reception, but it looked beautiful and we heard the appetizers and drinks were great. We had five tall cocktail tables and some votive candles around (from Planner1) with some table decor we brought, and there is lounge furniture around as well. We bought some simple paper lamps to be strung across the pool, but you don't really need anything extra. Appetizers: 460 pieces, but more of the veggie ones * Sashimi tuna marinated in Achiote with a Hibiscus flower Salsa * Small Empanada with squash blossoms and cheese * Tomato bread with epazote herbs with goat cheese and dried chili ashes * Chicken with Mole Sauce * Small tostadas with mushroom, corn, and calabazas pickled style The reception utilized the main bar. I never made it there (but somehow always seemed to have a drink in my hand...) but those who did told me that the bar staff was THE BEST. The next day I saw guests high-fiving and hand-shaking with the bartenders and barbacks. Apparently they also brought out flaming shots at some point (where was I?). We did corkage until midnight (with alcohol we bought from Sam's Club), and then domestic open bar until 1 am. No one was hurtin' for drinks (hurtin' FROM - maybe!). Dinner & Reception
We wanted to do long tables, but Angie told us this wouldn't fit very well with our number of guests. We ended up doing 12 tables of 10 on the main dining palapa. It was cozy but just fine. We didn't initially want to do a seating chart, but were convinced otherwise. Glad we did. I provided a drawing with individual place names, and I think there was only one mistake. *Note for headcount: sometimes vendors bring extra people. The photographers brought an assistant we didn't know was coming, and the videographers brought an assistant we didn't know was coming. We had to find seats for them and of course provide dinner. Angie and Las Ranitas' staff sorted this out smoothly without my even noticing. Strangely enough, we were told later that there was still one extra person from either the photographers or the videographers, but so far this mystery person has not been claimed. I'm not sure who we fed. We had a buffet that was set up on two sides of the second level of the dining area. This went smoothly so far as I could tell! We never did a tasting, but didn't need to: the food was excellent. We live in San Francisco and travel extensively, eating all the while, so can get... selective? about food. The dinner exceeded my expectations. We had 1/3 vegetarians and handful of vegans and non-wheat-eaters. Here are our menus: Parents' Anniversary Dinner (Wednesday night): * stuffed avocado appetizer (so good) * chile poblano filled with cheese accompanied by rice (a hit with the Koreans and Indians alike) * fruit for dessert plus desserts we bought (we got a blueberry cheesecake at Sam's Club and heard from several people that it was the best cheesecake they've ever had. huh!) Reception Dinner:
Green salad: Spinach, arugula, mixed greens, green beans, Chinese pea, cucumber, avas and mint leaves in vinaigrette chlorophyll. Cous cous salad do in the Caribbean: mixed greens with toasted almonds, pine nuts, cous cous, dried cranberries, garnished with yogurt dressing and vinagra red wine with a touch of black salt from India. Festin vegetable: Carrots, asparagus, calabazitas, beans, garbanzo beans in butter. Curry spring rolls: stuffed vegetables rolled in curry with a hint of sweet coconut. Satais chicken: satais chicken, mixed peppers and grilled spring onions with white wine with mango chutney and juniper with hints of dried chile de arbol. Ongos wild rice and lentils: Steamed white rice mixed with mushrooms, mushrooms and boiled lentegas Rice-fish and coconut: Long grain rice steamed, fried fish cubes, our India, Chinese pea guajillo chili paste, ginger, garlic and coconut cream. Dessert: * 100 fruit cups * 100 tres leches * 60 flan
* Coffee for 50 Midnight Snack: Cheese and veggie quesadillas and corn chips with salsa/guacamole/sour cream. I highly recommend a midnight snack (especially if you have two bars! ;-)). Dancing
Our dance floor was on the top and second level after the buffet was cleared away. No problem for heels. Lighting was great, everyone loved our DJ (Omar, Show System). No after-party... we were out on the deck 'til 2 in the morning. We tried to go on the beach but security stopped us - probably smart!
Reserving rooms at Las Ranitas was complicated. There was a specific online booking process for us that was not very smooth, and it caused problems when online reservations conflicted with those booked by phone through the front desk. We also had a hard time getting responses back for confirmations of bookings or updates on room assignments. On our second night, we were upgraded to the suite for los novios, which we very much appreciated because we had so much stuff and it provided a getting-ready place. It is b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l. Unfortunately, when our best man and maid of honor and their spouses arrived the next day, they were told their rooms were not available due to construction (Albina 2 and Arlequin 7). This was upsetting, and they would have appreciated advanced notice so that they could make other arrangements of their own choosing. Best man was able to move in a night later, MOH stayed at a hotel nearby. We read on Tripadvisor and now experienced ourselves that Arlequin 6 has a distinct smell of sewage. Avoid that room if you can. If you have a group over 70, you will have to rent extra tables and chairs. If you are used to expecting email responses within 24-48 hours, practice patience. Everything got done in the end, but most things were done the two weeks before the wedding. We will forever fondly remember the wonderful hotel staff. They were cheerful and accommodating. I often overheard joyful banter amongst the staff, I was touched when one staff member came by and reminded another staff member to take a break from cleaning and remember to eat. Thanks to the chef and staff who not only stayed open late the night of the bus fiasco, but opened early the next morning so that we could eat before leaving for our excursions. Most days breakfast service was slow, but the staff were always kind and it was hard to complain with that spectacular view. Special thanks to Roxana and Jadira (sp?) at the front desk who always had a warm smile for me and made me feel welcome and cared for. Extra special thanks to our bartender friend (Fernando?) who accompanied us to the wholesale liquor store in town, Covi, to help us buy even more alcohol. Angie and our additional coordinator made sure that all our events ran smoothly; I'm sure doing many things behind the scenes to ensure we didn't have to worry. They even helped us run to Chedraui (local grocery store) to get our favors (bottles of hot sauce and small liquor bottles) when we were short on time. Some of our decor items were missing upon return (table number stands, photo booth sign, etc.), but we were more concerned that our guests were comfortable, well-nourished, and having fun, and this was all apparent throughout our time in Tulum. The ambience of that main common area (palapa) can't be beat. We saw many properties along the hotel zone (even moved after the wedding for a couple nights elsewhere) and we think Las Ranitas is truly special. There is something very rejuvenating about the space and the people. The beach is pristine, but as I shared with Charm, there are many equally beautiful stretches of beach. The property design, the palapa, and the staff are what make Las Ranitas unforgettable to us. They have managed to find a way to balance the "eco" and the "comfort," providing comparably upscale yet simple accommodations in a natural, unpretentious setting. Many of our guests who stayed elsewhere joked that "eco" is a euphemism for "crappy" -- this was not the case at Las Ranitas. There's no 24-hour hour gym or flatscreen TV (no TVs, in fact, nor AC), but we found it perfect for our taste. Speaking of taste, start every day with their chaman! NEXT DAY We hosted good-bye brunch at El Bistro @ Ziggy Beach. They can accommodate a lot of people and have nice shaded tables in the soft white sand. Also swing seats at the bar :-). OVERALL When we think back on our decision to have a destination wedding, we feel.... like we could sleep for an entire year. The struggle of planning from afar definitely took its toll. The costs (things like renting extra tables and chairs, spending more on alcohol than anticipated, all the wire fees to pay balances to vendors, etc.) added up and we spent way more than we would have if we had had a wedding at home or at an all-inclusive resort. But our goal was to have a group vacation that would for one time only bring together our favorite people from all over the world so that they could get to know one another and we could create shared memories together. That goal was accomplished without a doubt. Of course, it was hard to narrow down our guestlist (I know a 100+ destination wedding sounds big, but it is small by some cultures' standards), and there were major disappointments with people who didn't or couldn't make it, but that is a risk we took to have this kind of event. It was also a chance for us to mix it up a bit: to re-evaluate tradition, to challenge convention, to burst assumptions. Having a destination celebration that honored our Indian-Korean heritage and was also true to our values was trying on many levels, but we think it ultimately brought us closer to our families, friends, and each other. For those of you in the throes of planning, wondering if you're doing the right thing, I say keep on. There will always be complaints, some really hurtful. Try to stay true to your vision and trust that those who do make it will understand and not only buy into it, but help make it the time of your life. This coming from someone who didn't even want a wedding (we had a civil ceremony at City Hall and I was happy to leave it at that). I'm thankful to my partner who convinced me that it would be magical (though I think he used the words "so dope") to see everyone we love --and everyone who has supported us through seven not-always-blissful years to become the people and the couple we are today-- together. Partying in Tulum. And it was. So magical, so dope. If anyone has any questions on our experience, feel free to reply or PM me. Happy to help!