Hi Chase414...welcome to the site!! I was just married at Aventura in December and it was beyond AMAZING!!! Our experience was sooo good and everything turned out just perfect...I cannot say enough good things
We had a little bit of the same issue with people booking their trips...we had some procrastinators in the group. However, December was not a busy time for the resort, so our guests didn't have a problem booking a month before the trip. We ended up having 24 people in our group. I think it's just best to be patient with your guests and not bug them too much about booking (I was a VERY laid-back bride though). The people who REALLY want to come will be sure to book and the people who don't aren't really worth stressing yourself out over. We learned who the important people were:) Honestly, it is nice to have a smaller group because you can spend time together around the resort and it's just more special.
We got married in the Tulum Gazebo...we chose this one since it is the most private one. It is at the far end of the Spa side. The other gazebos were more in the middle of the resort and didn't feel very private to me, but thats just my opinion. Then we had cocktail hour at the Cove Terrace and we LOVED it up there! I initially wanted the Pandero Terrace (because of hanging paper lanterns), but I didn't like the way it looked without the wooden slats on the 'roof'. So I decided not to bring the paper lanterns and we picked a different location. I have to say that the Cove Terrace has a BEAUTIFUL view...we couldn't have been happier with our choice. Then we had our dinner at Mundaca Steakhouse (same place as Jess). We were on the same covered patio as Jess was with the long table for guests and my husband and I were at the head of it facing our guests. We couldn't fathom spending ALL that money on a private reception for only 24 people. Especially since we are spending money on a big reception at home for all of our family and friends.
Your question about the cocktail hour, they do set up a bar for you and your guests. We also had a 'signature' drink at our cocktail hour that was colored to match our wedding colors (our wedding coordinator did this on her own). They also set up high and low tables for guests to stand around and sit.
Sorry that I have rambled on, but I just know how helpless you feel when trying to plan your wedding from far away. It's a bit stressful. I also love reliving a wedding at Aventura through other people because it is so awesome...we cannot wait to go back. Our guests rave about the place! I literally have about 800 pictures from Aventura (my brother-in-law is a photographer so it's what he does!), so if there is anything in particular you want to see, I probably have a picture of it...just ask! I will also attach some pictures that may be of interest to you...