My FI and I just got back from a close friend's vow renewal in the DR. They got married 5 years ago in City Hall and finally got around to planning a real wedding. Since the bride is from the DR, they chose to have the wedding there. I don't know if I was more critical since I'm planning a DW (probably) but here are my observations on a few of our experiences.
The couple were very disorganized and we actually didn't have a reservation when we showed up. They told all of us (about 25 of us traveling from the US) that we could call the hotel and mention that we were attending their wedding to get a discounted room rate. We attempted several times without success. They hotel staff spoke poor English and even though I speak fluent spanish, they could not coordinate our reservation. It was frustrating to say the least. However, once we showed up, they were helpful and friendly.
I noticed that the whole weekend, the waiters and hotel staff had to chase after guests that had not signed their checks. It was really chaotic and disorganized and often times we ended up paying for other people's drinks (not that big of a deal when the drink cost $3 and when other's were accidentally paying for your's).
**I have stressed how important it is for us for our guest to have a smooth booking process with our Wedding Coordinator. The OC and Atlantis have been provided us Group Codes to pass along to our guests so that when they call the reservation desk, they will have access to our Group Rate.
**In order to prevent check confusion, I'm going to meet with the staff at the Ocean Club and request that all checks be closed when food and beverage is served and that open tabs be held with room keys. To avoid having to pay for our guests' every meal and cocktail, I have added a clause in our Event Contract stating that we shall not be financially responsible for any food or beverage outside of our room or events without prior authorization.
Transportation to/from Hotel
The couple had different arrangement to help guests get from the airport to the hotel. Only about 30% of arriving guests had a seamless ride. Our ride was 30 minutes late, while another couple's ride never showed up.
Our last day there, the couple arranged a bus to take us from the beachside brunch to the airport. This was great as none of us had to coordinate pick up times or locations.
**My fiancee and I have decided to allow our guests to make their own way to the hotels. It's helpful that Atlantis and the Ocean Club have direct shuttles for guests. We are arranging 2 shuttles on the Sunday after our wedding to help guests make their way back to the airport. Guests will have a choice of which time they want to leave at in order to make their flight.
Since the bride is from Santo Domingo, they chose to have their wedding there (at El Museo de las Casas Reales). The venue was beautiful but the town was run down and quite frankly dangerous. I'm used to traveling alone and I must say, I felt safer traveling around Guatemala alone than walking home at 1am with 2 men. There were beggers and hustlers everywhere that would follow you relentlessly.
The hotel was situated on the canal and a freight ship ended up docking there almost the whole weekend, spewing petrol fumes right next to the pool. It was almost unbearable to sit by the pool.
**I think a better situation would have been to have us all stay at the nearby beach resort town Boca Chica (about 30 minutes away from the venue) and bus us all in and out of the wedding. I know we would have enjoyed hanging out on the beach than sitting at the concrete pool deck getting high off fumes.
We received a small make-up kit like bag with the Bride and Groom's initials embroidered on it. My initial thought was "what am I going to do with a make-up bag with someone else's initials on it?". Another female guest mentioned the same thing to me later.
Inside the bag was: 1 bottle water, 1 8-oz bottle of Dominican Rum and 1 8-oz bottle of honey. We actually never drank the rum and had to smuggle the honey back since we didn't want to check bags.
Big things that was missing: THE WELCOME LETTER and ITINERARY! No one knew what time the events were or where they would be at. We didn't know where to meet or how long things would last. My FI and I were often asked about details as we were the closest to the couple. It was hard for us since we felt like we responsible for providing information to other that WE weren't even sure of.
And apparently not all guests received Welcome Bags which I'm sure was just an unfortunate oversight.
**I still haven't decide what exactly we will do for our welcome bags. The Ocean Club provides each room with a beach bag and I will probably arrange to use those bags and stuff them with things that the guests will enjoy during our weekend wedding (pack of cards, fans, soaps, in sickness and in health kits, bug spray and sunscreen- no food or water in these since the OC gives out bottle of water like candy and provides every room with fresh fruit). For our Atlantis OOT bags, I was thinking of canvas totes with the word "Paradise" and the Date 12/3/11 embroidered on it. Anyone have a recommendation where I can get these? For the Atlantis bags, we are definitely going to focus on waters and snacks since they are so expensive there.
**The Ocean Club is so small that they are willing to help me stuff and deliver all the OOT bags but at the Atlantis, they want to charge me $6 to deliver each bag and will not be able to do so until after 6pm on the day the guests check in. I'm thinking about asking members of our Wedding Party who are staying in the Atlantis to help us deliver the bags as guests check in.
**As for our Welcome letter, I am going to have Wedding Stationary made up and handwrite a Welcome Note for each room. I feel like since our wedding will be small (60 people or so), it would be a nice way to reinforce the intimacy of our wedding. For the itinerary, I've listed it on our website but will also have a print out included in the bag. I also have considered doing a Wedding Facebook with a few lines about how we know our guests and a photo of us with them. This seems like a tall task and I haven't yet decided if I'm going to go through with it or not
The couple arranged a unique itinerary for their wedding. The rehearsal dinner was on Thursday night with the actual rehearsal at dinner (those involved in the wedding practiced in the back room while the other guests waited in the dinning room with drinks but no food or music). After the dinner, we all went out in the Colonial Zone to bars that were completely empty. It was really hard to muster up the group's Energy as the guests were divided by language and age.
The next day (Friday) was a free day... all day. Besides a 2 hour tour of the colonial zone (that started at 3pm), nothing, not even dinner was planned. I spoke with the hotel concierge and arranged to have a taxi take us (plus 5 other guests) to Boca Chica for the day. The driver was paid to not only drive us there, but also wait for us and bring us back home. We all enjoyed the day laying out, kayaking in the sea and enjoying some tasty food and cocktails. The bride left early that morning to see the videographer and did not return until late in the afternoon as she decided to go get her hair done and visit with her friends from home. She was really visibly absent from the weekend. As dinner approached, my FI and the groom made last minute arrangements for the group to have dinner as many of the guests felt uncomfortable going out on their own. The bride was not pleased as she had apparently not wanted to eat dinner again with her guests. It ended up being my job to take her into coming out.
**While we don't want our guests to feel abandoned, we also don't want to make them feel like they are on a tight schedule. We also don't want to blow our budget on extra activities. We decided on the following:
**Thursday night we are having dinner with our immediate family and then meeting the rest of our guests at the casino at atlantis. We are including $15 worth of chips in the welcome bag to cover their first hand. while we are at dinner, we are going to arrange private classes on either black jack or craps. This will be a fun way to get the party started especially since drinks are complimentary in the casino
**Friday we are letting guest decide what they want to do. We are offer suggestions like a trip out to Bay Street, hanging by the pool at the Ocean Club (for those guests staying there) or enjoying the water park at Atlantis. Our rehearsal is going to be at 3pm to make sure none of the guests that aren't involved in the wedding aren't inconvenienced. We haven't made out all the details of our rehearsal dinner but we would like a casual beach affair with a steel drum band and fire dancer.
**Saturday is our wedding and it will be at 3pm. Our guests will be encourage to enjoy the day. We will be arranging transportation for those guests coming from the Atlantis to the Cloisters. The guests staying at the OC will arrive by Golf Carts.
**Sunday morning we are having a breakfast on the Beach deck at the Ocean Club before most of our guests head back home.
These are the major things that I noticed and would change. Anyone else been to a DW recently and if so, what was your experience like?