Well, I've been back for a few days now from what was literally THE BEST WEEK OF MY LIFE (You guys are going to love it!) I'm going to post some unsolicited tips/thoughts/etc below...but please feel free to ask me any specific questions!!
Life at the resort:
Beautiful! We were in Villa 7, just steps away from the main buffet and we were thrilled about it. (Others in our party were in 6, 9, and 10, which is much closer to the beach.) Be sure to ask for a view of the grounds. (The back side of 7 faced the service road and a chain link fence.)
We never had a problem finding chairs at the pool or beach. We even slept on the beach one night on the 'Privilege' area beds...so wonderful and relaxing, I totally recommend it.
Food: Buffet was great, although we didn't realize until the last day that it was open for lunch, too. (Beach restaurant is also open for lunch, but selection is more limited.) Italian restaurant was so-so, though the wine was good. Steakhouse was definitely worth the reservation. And, we ate at Overtime just about every night after we closed down the lobby bar or disco
Shopping area is right next to the resort...probably 15-20 shops with typical touristy items (jewelry, paintings, clothing, cigars, mamajuana, etc)
Biggest hits: 22 oz insulated mugs. People RAVED about these; I'm so glad that we splurged on larger, insulated mugs. Another big hit was lanyards with keycard holders. Lastly, our 'in sickness and health' kits were well used.
Here is everything from my bags: http://www.bestdesti...ags-on-a-budget
We staged our own rehearsal on the beach the night before. We then had a rehearsal dinner at the main buffet. (Yinette was able to make reservations for us.)
Beautiful. Yinette worked really hard to make everything a reality for us, and she totally pulled through. We did the Sand Extravaganza package, with the ceremony on the beach, cocktail hour at the dive center, and the dinner at La Brasa. Instead of a dj, we rented the sound equipment, and my cousin appointed himself as dj for the day/night (he really got into it...I think he had as much fun as we did!)
Food at La Brasa was amazing (we did the beef dinner and got tons of compliments on it.)
Ceremony will not be private, but, honestly, you won't even notice. (I am starting to see some of our guests' pictures and people literally were standing feet away from the minister, drug beach chairs up, etc.) It's kind of neat how many people you don't even know are excited to see your ceremony.
We had my aunt do a reading, the minister read the vows we'd provided, and we did a sand ceremony.
Flowers: I found a wholesale florist who delivered fresh but flowers so my mom, who is a florist, could make the bouquets. (Because of this, I cancelled the bouquet that came with the package and was able to save some money off the sound system rental.)
Decor: I went with the basic package, so the gazebo was decorated and chairs were covered. We also got a few floral items which were moved to the reception area post-ceremony.
Reception decor: My mom bought large starfish from the shopping area. She used these as a container for some of the extra roses. She also brought vases for BM bouquets.
Videographer: I purchased the gold package through the resort, and am so glad I did. He was there until the reception ended, and it's been so fun watching the videos of the day, and seeing the things we missed.
Photographer: I went with HDC's largest package, with prints. We had everything in hand 3 days after the ceremony, but I really appreciated the quick turn around....one less thing to do once we got home. And it was a great value! My husband's photographer cousin (who was also a guest) said the package we got would've been at least 3x as expensive back in Minnesota.
Snafus were so minor, but that's what makes some of the best memories!
Reading: Minister forgot we were having a reading, so my aunt had to interrupt him (husband and I simultaneously made the 'time out' sign to the audience and that made for some pretty cute pictures.)
Flower girl: (She just turned 3.) Her dress was a bit long, so she had to pick it up to walk through the sand. Well..she picked it up so high she flashed the entire crowd her undies. It was just precious
Sand ceremony: Sand ceremony went fine, and I carefully packed it in our checked luggage...not thinking that my suitcase would be turned upside down several times...so the sand got all mixed up and much of it spilled since the lid wasn't totally airtight. Oops!
Sky lanterns: It was pretty breezy the night of our reception, and guests didn't let the lanterns fully inflate before letting them go...one landed on the roof of the bar, another on the grounds, etc...only one actually took off before we decided we'd better play it safe and put a stop to it. (If anyone else is planning to try this, find a calm area - probably closer to the lobby than the beach. I purchased these online and packed them in my checked luggage with no issues.)
Hope that helps with some questions and/or planning! As I mentioned earlier, I'm more than happy to answer any other questions or provide more details. Believe me, I could talk for days