This website, Best Destination Weddings, was so helpful for me the past year for planning our destination wedding. It helped me select my vendors and figure out a lot of stuff, so I do want to thank Tammy, everyone at BDW.com and all our vendors. Below is my review of our wedding and an album of select photos. Forewarning: this post is quite extensive! Feel free to contact me for any questions, additional info
Wedding Date: February 14, 2015
Location: Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Number of guests: 150 people (including kids)
Ceremony and Reception Venue: Azul Fives Resort
Hotel Wedding Coordinators: Brigitte Castro (Karisma Sales), Gaby Iturralde (Azul Fives on-site), Angie (Lomas on-site)
Wedding Planner: Erica Bressan – Weddings in Playa
Photographers: Vincent van den Berg and Petar Gachevsky – Pixan Photography
DJ – Ricardo de Pavia and crew – Discomovil
Bride's Hair & Makeup: Daisy - Azul Fives Vassa Spa
Bridal Party Hair & Makeup: Estetica Tantadell
Henna Artist: Darcy Vasudev – Henna Lounge
Travel Agent: Teresa Stauring and Deanna Delgado – Vacations 4 Less
Airport Transportation: Cancun Transfers
Excursions: Edventure Tours and H2Oh Sun Cruises
Venue: Azul Fives Resort (review on site, food, hotel coordinators, flowers)
My now-husband and I scouted 9 venues in the Riviera Maya in April 2014. Since we needed a venue that could accommodate 150+ people, thankfully this limited options, though 9 venues to visit was a lot in one weekend! This included:
* Now Sapphire
* Grand Coral
* Villa Sol y Luna (just a drive-by)
* Playa del Secreto
* Blue Venado
* Azul Fives
* Ak'iin Beach Club
* Las Ranitas
* Papaya Playa Project
* Zen Serenity
We ended up selecting Azul Fives which was our second choice. Our first choice was Papaya Playa Project. Beautiful unique location in Tulum, but was too costly and restrictive. Azul Fives was also an amazing location, and since it’s located in Playa Del Carmen, this made it quicker for our guests to get and to from the airport which was a plus. Azul Fives worked out wonderfully since we had multiple days of events and mostly all of them were held at the resort. This included a mehndi night in our suite, a welcome party on the beach, a farewell brunch at one of the restaurants (Flavours buffet) and our wedding. We had our ceremony on the Sky Deck, which definitely had a WOW factor for our guests. The Sky Deck is basically a rooftop overlooking the ocean. We liked that it wasn’t directly on the beach but had a magnificent view. Having the ceremony on the Sky Deck includes a live webcast of your wedding. This was great for our guests who couldn't make the wedding. The video is still available on Karisma's website. We had cocktail hour directly after the ceremony, one level below the Sky Deck, on the Sky Terrace and the Zky Bar, which also afforded great views of the ocean, and our reception in the poolside garden.
Most of our guests stayed at Azul Fives and loved it. It’s a family-friendly all-inclusive resort and has excellent food compared to other AIs. Our guests received wine and spa credits through our travel agent which many used. The feedback from our guests who went to Vassa Spa was that it was one of the best spa experiences they’ve ever had. We loved the layout of the resort. It’s not too large. For the most part, the service was excellent. Our guests loved the 24-hour room service. The hotel accommodated our special requests. We are thankful for our personal concierge who helped make special arrangements for us.
The food and drinks at all our wedding events were bountiful and amazing. At least that’s what our guests said since we didn't get to taste everything We are very thankful to the hotel chef, Manuel, who accommodated our special requests for the wedding, which included arranging a whole roasted pig for our welcome party and making Indian cocktail bites to our liking for our cocktail hour. The tandoori shrimp were gobbled up. Wish we had ordered more! We had a bbq on the beach for our welcome party. We had agua frescas at our cocktail hour and reception, a tres leches and coconut wedding cake, and late night tacos at the end of our reception. All were hits. My only regret was not requesting that the agua frescas were labeled and that I knew where the taco station would be located. They weren’t very visible for our guests so not everyone knew about them.
HOTEL WEDDING COORDINATORS, FLOWERS:
If you’re having your wedding at a Karisma property and began planning your wedding, you already know how the process and costs work. If not, be prepared to hit some road bumps which is inevitable when deciding to have a wedding at an all-inclusive corporate resort chain.
When you’ve accepted the system that Karisma sets up, then you’ll put the blame on the system and can appreciate the hard work that the coordinators do for you while sticking to the system. My coordinator up until we arrived at the hotel for the wedding was Brigitte Castro. Brigitte was very pleasant to work with and responded as quickly as she could to my many emails, considering the Karisma sales team is based in Miami and she has to coordinate with the on-site coordinators in Mexico which is why some responses were delayed. The weeks leading up to the final selection and payment deadline to the hotel, Brigitte was extra attentive and worked with me to make sure all the details were taken care of before I submitted the final payment. I'm very grateful for the customer service when it was needed the most.
The on-site wedding coordination team was also as fantastic as could be. They were easily accessible during our whole stay, made great suggestions, helped with our last-minute changes, and executed each event magnificently. The Karisma/Lomas team did a beautiful job setting up our decorations for each of our events. (We brought a lot of our own decorations because Lomas overcharges for practically everything. This is again something you must accept if you’re deciding to have your wedding in the Riviera Maya at a corporate hotel chain that makes their $$ by creating a wedding service monopoly at their resorts.) I’m very thankful for Arturo, Gaby, Angie, Lucely, Maribel and Esmeralda, for the time and effort they dedicated to us during our wedding week, and for being as flexible and accommodating as possible. They have a tough job dealing with brides and grooms only when brides and grooms are at their most stressful time, so I give them mad props. The staff were great at delivering our welcome bags to our guests upon their arrival as well.
The flowers were expensive but beautiful. Our wedding was a fusion Filipino-Indian wedding, so we had strings of flowers hung on the back side of our wedding gazebo (mandap). These were later used for our reception to decorate our sweetheart table. We also had flower garlands for my husband, both of our parents, and me during the ceremony. They were beautiful, made out of carnations and roses.
Wedding Planner: Erica Bressan from Weddings in Playa
Erica was a life-saver for our wedding. She helped my husband and I scout some of the venues before we decided on Azul Fives. While our hotel had its own wedding coordinators, I needed someone who represented my best interests, so I hired Erica. She has many years of experience working as a wedding planner in Playa and therefore she has a great network and is very resourceful. She helped with recommending photographers, DJs, and with sourcing decorations, favors and items for our welcome bags. She also served as our day-of-coordinator. We picked Erica in part because she already had experience working with Azul Fives as the day-of-coordinator for a previous wedding. After we decided on Azul Fives, I returned to Mexico three months before the wedding to do a deeper site inspection and Erica met with me and drove me to local shops in the area to look for the items we needed, which saved us a lot of money and the hassle of transporting stuff on the plane. She participated in our coordination meeting with the hotel coordinators, helped order and pick up the local decorations and favors, facilitated our wedding rehearsal and was great at keeping things moving on our wedding day. During the whole planning process, Erica responded promptly to all my emails and we chatted via Skype as necessary. She was great. I'm so thankful for Erica and Weddings in Playa.
Photographers: Pixan Photography
Since having great photos that captured our wedding was very important to us, we took the decision of selecting a photographer very seriously. I contacted 12 photographers in the Riviera Maya area, narrowed it down to three photographers, and decided on Pixan. I chose Pixan because I loved both the artistic and photojournalist look of their photos. Vincent was a very warm, jovial person which I appreciated. And the overall package price for the level of service we wanted was very reasonable. Our package includes a website that we can easily share with our friends and family and a photo album of 80 shots which we get to select for the album. I had the chance to meet Vincent during my site inspection and he took the time with me to find great locations to shoot our photos. Before the wedding, Vincent provided a must-have shot list for my husband and I to complete, which I appreciated, so he knew the shots that were important to us. Pixan shot four days with us: our mehndi party, welcome party, wedding, and a post-wedding shoot. Petar was Vincent’s assistant and second shooter. He was also wonderful to work with. They did some pretty crazy shots, many without us knowing what they were doing, and lots of WOW shots. Vincent has an old Leica camera and different lenses that make incredible photos. We’ve received the sneak peak photos and they’re beautiful. We also hired Pixan to do our photo booth during the reception. Our guests loved the props and the photos showed how much fun we had. I only wish we had the photo booth open during the whole reception instead of just towards the end. I can't wait to see the rest of our photos.
DJ: Disco Movil Cancun
All of our vendors were fantastic, but since music is so important to my husband and me, we were especially happy that we made the decision to go with Discomovil. From my first email communication with Ricardo, I was impressed. We communicated multiple times before the wedding and Ricardo responded almost instantaneously. We were nervous about hiring someone we didn’t know so we asked Ricardo for a sample of his 90s hip-hop mixing. Clearly, the sample didn’t best reflect his talent, because at our wedding, he was AMAZING. We hired Disco Movil for both our welcome party and wedding reception. At the welcome party, Ricardo and his crew played background music during the dinner, displayed our slideshow on their projection screen, provided the audio for our guests who gave speeches and performed, and then served as a karaoke DJ! He had practically every song imaginable to sing, and the lyrics were displayed on the projection screen. It was a fantastic night.
For the welcome party and the reception, Discomovil has a great website where you enter all the songs you’d like to be played for your events. They have a massive database, but if there are songs that aren’t in their database, you can enter the song information and they will acquire the song for you. Disco Movil stuck to our playlists since we gave them a lot of songs. This was very helpful. But the key to being a great DJ is knowing how to keep people on the dance floor all night. Ricardo adjusted the music accordingly when the crowd didn’t respond well to one of our songs. The momentum kept increasing till the end of the night. Ricardo also served as our emcee (MC) and stuck to our script to make the necessary announcements. He did a great job. We didn’t want the party to stop at the set end time, but Ricardo agreed to stay and kept the party going for as long as the hotel would allow us Thank you Discomovil for making a spectacular weekend!
Bride’s Hair and Make-up: Vassa Spa at Azul Fives
I was fortunate to have Daisy as my hair and make-up artist. I had my hair and make-up done at the hotel, as well as my mani-pedi (complimentary as one of the perks through our travel agent). Daisy was wonderful. The perk included a hair and make-up rehearsal which I redeemed. I brought my iPad to show her photos on my Pinterest of the hair and make-up styles I liked, and she matched them to exactly how I wanted. For the wedding day, I had Daisy and one of her colleagues come to my room to do the hair and make-up of my mom and me. Hair and make-up took less than two hours on the wedding day. If you’re having your wedding at Azul Fives, I highly recommend using the hotel stylists if you can afford it. Vassa uses MAC products.
Bridal Party Hair and Make-up: Estetica Tantadell
Since the prices were high at the hotel for my bridal party to get their hair and make-up done, our wedding planner Erica arranged appointments for my girls at Estetica Tantadell in downtown Playa. Their pricing and quality of service were amazing. My girls were very pleased. All 8 of them There aren't many reviews on here of Estetica Tantadell, but I am so glad that I went with them.
Henna Artist: Henna Lounge
There are very slim to none when it comes to local henna artists that do quality work for Indian weddings. It was serendipitous when I met Darcy while on my site inspection three months before the wedding. Darcy was the mehndi artist for the Indian wedding taking place that weekend at Azul Fives. She flies back and forth between San Francisco and the Riviera Maya, and does top-notch traditional henna art. Like the majority of our vendors, Darcy responded quickly to my emails, and she offered a special deal for me since she was already booked for another wedding the same week. I got both my hands and feet done, which took about 3 hours and then she stayed for two hours to do simple designs on my bridal party and other guests. She’s so quick and her henna product is all-natural and smells fantastic! I received so many compliments on my henna. Darcy has such a great spirit too and was so chill and easy to work with. She’s very professional. I highly recommend her.
Travel Agent: Vacations 4 Less (through Best Destination Weddings)
I contacted several travel agents, including www.destinationweddings.com and www.bestdestinationwedding.com. BDW connected me to Teresa Stauring at Vacations4less.com and Teresa became our travel agent. Vacations4Less/BDW had the best group rates for Azul Fives and best room block reservation policy. Whenever I contacted Teresa, she too always responded very quickly. During the few occasions when Teresa wasn’t available, Deanna stepped in and was just as helpful. Since BDW has a great relationship with many of the destination wedding resorts, they offered great perks for our wedding group, for both the couple and our guests staying at the resort. Vacations4Less also arranged for our guests airport transfers through Cancun Transfers. I liked how the airport transfer was an option for our guests instead of built into the hotel room rate which some travel agencies do. It was such a relief to delegate these wedding logistics to a travel agency and Vacations 4 Less pulled everything off without a hitch.
Airport Transfers: Cancun Transfers
We were happy that Vacations 4 Less partnered with Cancun Transfers for the airport transfer arrangements for our guests. They offer competitive rates for individuals, small groups and large groups. The shuttle service was private so our guests weren’t grouped with guests needing to be dropped off at different hotels. It was easy for folks to modify their reservations easily online. They were much better and more affordable than taking a cab from the airport.
Excursions: Edventure Tours and H2Oh Sun Cruises
We offered our guests optional group excursions the two days before our wedding. We offered a tour of the Tulum ruins and a cenote swim/snorkel on both days through Edventure Tours. On the day before the wedding, we offered a private yacht tour out of Puerto Aventuras through H2Oh Sun Cruises.
Both excursions were a hit. While my husband and I didn’t accompany our guests who went to Tulum, our guests raved about the trip and they loved the tour guides, especially Kique. Bonnie handled the reservations for our guests. She provided me with regular updates of who signed up. Very responsive. I enjoyed working with her. Folks were picked up from our hotel at 8 am and taken to the ruins. This allowed our guests to beat the heat and the crowds. The excursion included a guided tour of the ruins. Then folks had the option to either return to the hotel or stay and drive a Polaris to Edventure’s private cenote. Our guests loved this. They could either swim or snorkel, and Edventure provided a tasty Mexican lunch. All of this for a very reasonable price. My husband and I booked the trip with Edventure after our wedding, so we experienced how great they were. We worked with Ed and Dan. Both were very friendly and provided excellent service. I highly recommend them.
For our other excursion, we hired H2Oh Sun Cruises for a four-hour private cruise on the Riviera Maya. Everyone LOVED this excursion and the folks at H2Oh Sun Cruises. It was so easy to work with them (booking the boat, setting up the online payment system, making some changes, and helping us on the boat). Mack, the owner, was with us. He and his staff were absolutely wonderful. They were so organized and provided great service giving our guests welcome drinks before they boarded, taking photos during the cruise, and serving drinks a delicious Mexican lunch on the boat. Plus, we trolled for fish, and we stopped along the tour so folks could snorkel. Our guests saw a sea turtle and sting rays. On the boat, Mack has a fantastic karaoke system so our guests loved this as well. Then there was also the opportunity to dive off a 30-foot platform from the boat. It was awesome. This made for some of the best memories from the wedding weekend.
We had a fantastic team that created the best week of our lives. I am so thankful for each and every person we worked with, and I’m here to help future couples so you can have a truly magical time as well!
Best of luck with the planning. Have fun and don’t stress too much cuz everything will work out as long as you don’t sweat the small stuff and can relax and appreciate being in a special place with your closest friends and family Sending you all much love for your destination wedding!