Be Creative A destination wedding really opens up some possibilities. If you still want to have a fairytale wedding, then go for it. But if you're open to other options, great. Simply by having a destination wedding, you're not doing the conventional. You've already altered people's expectations, so you might be less likely to feel bound to a wedding template. And if your setting is particularly nice, you may be able to simplify other aspects of your wedding. For example, we got married in a beautiful historic inn, which needed no additional decoration or flowers. We saw some weddings in Jamaica where the natural flowers and outdoor setting were so beautiful, just having a bride and groom and officiant looked perfect. Whether you choose to simplify or not, do feel free to rethink some of the typical wedding traditions.
Send a Save the Date Letter If you are having guests, consider a "Save the Date" letter. Invitations to traditional weddings are supposed to be sent 4-6 weeks before the event. But more lead time is helpful. Your guests might also want to ask for vacation time to better enjoy the special place you've chosen! In some areas, accommodations fill up way in advance. For all these reasons, you should consider getting in touch with your guests early. A friendly little form letter with pertinent info (place and date) will do nicely. If you've begun to set up accommodations, include that too, along with any other travel info. Otherwise, promise to get back to them later with that information. Would you like to see an example? Here's our Save the Date letter.
Let Some Things Go Ideally, this destination wedding should be a vacation for you, too. Don't get so caught up in little details that you can't enjoy the weekend in a special place. Figure out what's important to you, and label the rest of it "small stuff" that you won't sweat. That will free you up to sightsee, relax, play, and join in what your guests are doing!
Do As Much As You Can Before You Go If you can, get wedding details finished up while you are still at home. For example, I decided to have silk flowers made at home and shipped to the wedding site. It was one less thing to worry about that weekend--and I already knew they were exactly as I wanted them. I also planned my wedding hairstyle before I went, so I would not have to rely on an unknown stylist when I got there. Of course, you might choose different things to "do ahead" -- do what works for you!
Plan Your Packing Get advice from your dressmaker or retailer on how a dress should be packed for travel. Make sure you have the right-sized suitcase or box ahead of time. If you're flying, plan to carry it on if you can, along with any other wedding apparel you'd find hard to replace on short notice! We found that packing for the wedding AND the honeymoon added up to a lot of luggage. If you can, farm out some of your important things to guests and family who are traveling down there. If you are shipping anything, leave extra time. I shipped my flowers down ahead of time, and they took over TEN days. I got some grey hairs wondering why they weren't there yet. They made it for the wedding, but it was close.
Don't Overplan for Your Guests You've probably gone to a lot of trouble to choose a nice place to get married. Let your guests enjoy it! Don't plan so many get-togethers, family dinners, rehearsal dinners, and so on that your family and friends have no free time. We did plan a few things on different nights, to guarantee that we'd spend quality time with different groups of our guests, but no one (save us) had something wedding-related planned EVERY night. We had one family dinner on one night, a parents' dinner the next night, followed by a night out with friends only. We skipped a rehearsal dinner. I know that it has become a nice tradition for people to plan huge wedding-related activities and social gatherings all weekend, and I think that's super when you have a bunch of people in your hometown who otherwise wouldn't have much to do. But in your case, your location can do a lot of the entertaining for you--and you should let it!
What about the people who won't be there? When you have a destination wedding, you're probably going to leave a lot of people out. That might be by design, or just an unfortunate circumstance of getting married far away. There are ways to include them. One option is to have a reception at some point after the wedding. You can plan something very much like a traditional wedding reception (formal invitations, cakecutting, dancing, even wedding attire) or something more like a party. We had two, one an open house in my hometown, the other a more formal catered party at my husband's parents' home. We invited the local people who would have been invited to the wedding had we held it in those towns. We brought our wedding photos to both, and I'd carefully prepared them in a scrapbook with good labels and captions.
While we're on this topic: Should you send an invitation to people you know won't be able to make the trip? Will it look like you're just grubbing for a gift, or will it tell them they are an important person to you? Will they feel you expect them to be there, or will they understand it is symbolic? You should probably discuss this with those close to you. In our case, we decided to invite only those people we figured would come. We sent announcements (see below) to everyone else. I think our friends and family understood about not getting an invitation. But it felt weird not to send one to some of my relatives.
Consider using announcements You don't see too many announcements mailed these days, because most people use their invitation to "announce" their marriage. But they are a great way to let important people know you've been married! Announcements are very similar in appearance to invitations--just the wording (and the timing) are different. You send these after the wedding takes place. The format generally lists the location your wedding took place, so rest assured that recipients will understand why they weren't invited.
What about showers? And gifts from others who are not invited?As modern wedding traditions have evolved, we have tied wedding gifts to wedding invitations. For example, etiquette holds that those who are invited to a shower should also be invited to the wedding. If you have a limited guest list, that can make showers (and other times you receive wedding gifts) feel awkward. However, please realize that many people give gifts simply because they are happy for you and that is their traditional way to celebrate the marriage of someone they care about. We received many gifts from people after we sent out the announcements (even though this wasn't expected). And I--the one with the tiny wedding--had TWO showers! One was given by co-workers, the other by the nice ladies in my mother-in-law's church. It was what they sincerely wished to do, and the fact that they weren't a part of the wedding didn't seem to matter a bit. On the other hand, when a girlfriend wanted to hold a shower for me with plans to invite other mutual friends, I nixed it because it felt different. Play it by ear, but understand that there is a time to receive gifts graciously.