Just got back from the ILA the other day. Wedding went well -- lots of little details for you girls, but I'm trying to catch up on 2 weeks of missed work right now so I'll try to keep this to a minimum. (It probably won't happen, but anyways...)
Photographer - We brought our own photographer who was absolutely amazing! Her name is Genevieve Albert and she is based out of Montreal. I can only speak highly of Genevieve, compared to all the other photogs I researched. I am true photo critique and Genevieve's work is incredible (and reasonably priced). Anna from Cineart (another photographer who shoots weddings at the Iberostar resorts) personally tried to scare both myself and Genevieve that we would have issues bringing a Canadian photographer into Cuba unless we had Cuban connections, a visa, a letter confirming sponsored work in Cuba, and yadda yadda yadda. I want to clarify that we had no visa and issues whatsoever. Genevieve stayed at the resort, shot 2 weddings their, and Yahimara verified previously that brides can bring their own photographers so long as they stay at the hotel. In my opinion, Anna from Cineart is instilling fear in brides and other photographers that Cuba is dangerous unless you know people and your way around. Fortunately, Anna's poor tactics shone through and we were able to see past her scheming ways.
Music - Burn CD's!! We tried to hook our iPod up and it was not possible until later that night at the Disco. Even still, my playlist didn't play in order at that point. I had burnt CD's as back up and was thankful that I did!
Ceremony - Had the ceremony on the spa terrace at 4pm. Despite the heat, there was a strong breeze blowing which kept guests cool, and the shade the terrace provides is perfect to keep guests from squinting in photos. The pool activities start getting loud around the 4pm mark, so we paid the activities team $20 CUC to keep it quiet and they thankfully did. (I think if your ceremony is at 2pm, you would be fine though.) I wasn't a fan of the ceremony set up on the beach. The gazebo is super close to the water and there are so many ignorant people that gather around peoples' ceremonies as if they are invited. If you do plan on a beach wedding and this might bother you, I would suggest making small signs you can hammer into the sand asking people to please respect the couple's space (and pictures) for their special moment. Make sure you bring your music for walking down the aisle, unless you want to walk down to the Cuban trio. I would also suggest writing your own vows, since the ceremony is both difficult to understand and impersonal. From the time I walked in to the time I said I Do, it was less than 10 minutes.
Reception - Had the gala set up at the palapas and opted for the lobster dinner ($45 CUC/guest). In my opinion, the palapas are the most picturesque set up available and offer the greatest privacy for a large group. We had 35 people and used 3 palapas. We sat 13 under one, 14 under another, and the bridal party of 8 in between the two. We were able to do all of our speeches there and play music. The wait staff was great. There were a few other menus to choose from, all of which seemed decent. Since the palapas use the same kitchen as the Cuban restaurant, I think you would be safe to go with almost anything they offer. I know you could go with the free menu and pay just 15 CUC/person to use the palapas. If you're looking to save money, I would consider doing that.
Decorations - I had envisioned hanging a variety of pink paper lanterns above the tables, but the wind was so strong that the lanterns ended up being hung under the perimeter of the palapas. (Wine glasses were blowing over and breaking it was so windy!) I also had fuchsia petals sprinkled on the table tops, with 72 frosted glass tealight holders and seating cards for everyone. I brought down about 50 paper lanterns in 3 shades of pink. When Yahimara returned my suitcase of decorations after the wedding, it was completely empty which I found a little odd considering there was so much stuff that hadn't been used. I know Yahimara stayed late to see my reception and took a lot of pictures, so I got the feeling that she planned on keeping my supplies to offer them to future brides. I wouldn't have minded if she asked me to donate my decorations to future brides, rather than assume that I didn't want them anymore. (I had planned on using the lanterns again at home for our celebration with friends and family that couldn't make it.) When I asked her about getting the decorations back, she said she didn't know where they disappeared to.
I spoke to a gentleman who attended a reception at the Steakhouse and he set the food wasn't very good. Some of our guests that visited the Steakhouse also complained about it. I would suggest the Romantico restaurant as good option for small groups; it is indoors, but very classy and tasty. Nice decor too. The Del Chef and Steakhouse aren't anything to write home about. I would pick the Cuban over both of them if you can't get the palapas.
After Party - We booked the beach but had to move it to the disco due to weather concerns. Again, bring a CD for your first dance! Still, we rocked it out at the disco till the wee hours of the morning. It was good fun. (Note: you can only book the disco for your private party until 11pm, then it opens to other guests)
Flowers - I made arrangements for myself and the bridesmaids. It was probably one of the best decisions I made, since all of the bouquets the resort seems to make are on the dated side. (In my opinion). My complementary bouquet was pink roses. I specified that I didn't want any baby's breath or other fillers. Yahimara will ask you what your second and third choice are if they don't have your first pick. Despite being a tropical island, their flower selection is on the weak side.
Hair Salon - There is only one hair dresser at the ILA but she works very fast and is really sweet. She does have a tendency to do the same 1 style on brides, which seemed to be the case on me despite having pictures of my trial updo. Still, she graciously fixed it without any hesitation at all. The power went out twice while I was having my hair done, so we used iPads to light up the windowless salon so the hair dresser could continue! The bride's hair costs 50 CUC and the bridesmaids cost 30 CUC each. I would suggest bringing pictures of what you want if you have something in mind. The hairdressers english is ok. I think she understands more than she speaks.
All in all, our guests had a great time and I have no regrets. We took everyone to Havana on a private bus two days after the wedding which ended up being a great decision. Everyone loved it and it is a stunning city. Mark & I got back into our wedding attire and we had our wedding photos taken in Havana. I can't wait for the pics!! I will share with you ladies as soon as I have a link.
Ok, I better get back to work. Hope that helps for you ladies! For those considering another resort, I would also look into Paradisus Varadero. It was our other resort we were deciding between and we ended up staying there for a brief honeymoon afterwards. Their wedding gazebo is stunning and they have lots of nice outdoor options for receptions. For those booked at the ILA, I'm sure all of you ladies will love it.
Congrats to you all,