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Brownsugarbride’S Caribbean Wedding In Mexico Planning Thread 4-25-14

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I cannot believe that I’m just now starting this planning thread and that my wedding is almost here!  My future hubby and I are headed to Mexico in 5 days for our wedding and I can’t wait. First, I want to thank all of the generous and lovely brides who have shared advice and provided support throughout my engagement. I am so grateful for BDW! I am also incredibly grateful to my family and friends, who have been an unending source of support and advice throughout this process.  This thread is my way of organizing all of my thoughts and to help other brides, especially those who are thinking about having an off-resort wedding. 


How we met:

Ours is definitely a 21st century relationship: we met online in early 2010.  I was on my second round of Match.com and was close to cancelling my subscription again when I saw that someone had winked at me—LOL.  We talked and found out that we had an amazing number of things in common, including similar religious upbringings, ethnic backgrounds (several of our parents hail from the Caribbean), hobbies, and a love of food.  We traveled back and forth long-distance from Chicago, IL to Madison, WI for over a year until I got a job offer back east.  As luck would have it, my fiancé ran into a coworker who told him about a job opportunity in the same city—and he moved before I did!


The engagement (you can get the long version from our website):

In spite of the fact that I’ve never been one of those girls to dream about the perfect proposal, I have watched enough proposal-related shows that I thought I could NEVER be surprised.  My fiancé knew that the only was he could surprise me was to NOT do the typical thing (LOL).  On January 31st, 2014, he called me and casually asked me if I wanted to go to dinner.

The staff at the restaurant was REALLY nice that night, which should have tipped me off!  Now, I love this place, but I’d describe their service as polite(ish) but often brusque. It’s also a loud Italian restaurant—not exactly your romantic French establishment (said in my best Frasier Crane voice).  After a yummy dinner, he asked me if I remembered what he gave me on our first date.  I said: “Oh, flowers and candy..so cute but so cliché.” (You’re probably thinking right now that I’m the worst, and you’d be right!) He laughed and then the manager brought over flowers and candy. Those of you who know me know that my next move was to try to dig into the candy.  He said: “Will you PLEASE stop for a second!”  At that point, genius that I am, I started to realize what was going on.  I’m pretty sure that he said a bunch of wonderful things and talked about how much he loved me, but I started hyperventilating and crying.  Hilariously, there was this large group of people sitting next to us commenting the whole time.  “Shh..I think he’s PROPAWSING!”  “I think she’s gonna say yes!”  It was like being on a sitcom!


Decision 2013: Where to have the wedding:

I went back and forth quite a bit on where to have the wedding. And by ‘where’, I just mean narrowing down the city/country!  My fiancé just wanted to get married ASAP—LOL.  I wasn’t happy with the choices where we live or in my hometown, given our budget. None of them called to me at all.  Then I remembered that some of my high school friends had recently had destination weddings and reached out to them for advice. After talking to a few travel agents and a wedding planner, I had narrowed my choices to St. Lucia and Riviera Maya. (We were definitely not having this wedding in the Caribbean, as we knew there would be a few too many family members on the guest list!)  Ultimately, Riviera Maya won out because it was a cost-effective option that was easy for family and friends to reach.  FYI: I will be organizing my 5-year vow renewal in St. Lucia, so everybody get ready!!




Just a heads up for brides: the people that are supposed to be there will make it.  Many of the friends (and family) that I was SURE would be at the wedding are not coming.  It was upsetting at first, but I am thrilled about the 28+ guests that will be there celebrating with us.  Their love and support for us makes this day all the sweeter.

The Wedding Location:


After FINALLY deciding to get married in Riviera Maya, I started looking around for resorts.  I found some beautiful options, but quickly realized that good food, privacy and flexibility were both far more important to me than I had previously realized.  My planner and I (Joyce Mnguni, of Dream Weddings) had decided on the Grand Coral Beach club for my wedding day. I was completely excited, until she called me and told me that they had instituted a new $2000 site fee!!!  I’m sure it had absolutely NOTHING to do with their little feature in Destination Weddings Magazine, but I digress. ;)  Anyway, I had previously dismissed the Blue Venado Beach Club as too rustic for my tastes. However, seeing this wedding from Del Sol photographed in this location helped me to see Blue Venado with a new set of eyes. Blue Venado was cost-effective, private, had a reputation for great food, and would allow me to have the wedding that I wanted. So I ended up going with this location.


Source: Blue Venado Beach Club Website


The Resort:

Although we chose to have my wedding off-resort, we knew that many guests would want an all-inclusive experience so they wouldn’t have to travel to find food, etc.  Our resort, the NOW Jade is a bit far from our wedding venue (about 45 minutes to 1 hour), but it was cost-effective for our guests, the food is supposed to be pretty good, and it has lots of child-friendly activities. (Note for future brides: the friends who are coming are leaving their children at home as far as I know! So pick the resort that YOU want for your wedding.)


Source: NOW Jade Riviera Cancun website



The Planner: Joyce Mnguni of Dream Weddings


I will have a lot more to say in my review, but I have to tell future brides here that they cannot go wrong with Joyce.   I’ve raved about her elsewhere here on the boards, but she has been a lifesaver. She’s gone with the flow for some of my crazier ideas, provided me with information on lots of options, and reined me in on spending money where I didn’t need to.  I also think she *gets* the Afro-Caribbean aesthetic/boho chic vibe of my wedding in a way that many other planners likely could not. I am very grateful for her!


Photographer: Chad Pennington of Sobitart Photography


I think that you realize very quickly what your deal breakers are.  For me, excellent photography was one of them—to the point where I moved the videography budget into photography.  I needed a photographer who was comfortable with photographing people of color on a regular basis and could capture moments, rather than just doing staged types of shots.  I only seriously considered two photographers/companies. The first was Del Sol. They really do have great customer service and their work truly speaks for itself.  The second was my photographer, Chad Pennington of Sobitart Photography. He was a second shooter for a childhood friend’s wedding, and I could NOT stop looking at the pictures.  The primary photographer’s work was excellent as well, but Chad had some pictures in his portfolio that moved me and all of my friends beyond words (like this one).  We were thrilled with our engagement shoot (check it out here!) and can’t wait to work with him on our wedding day.


Save the Dates:

One thing that is awesome and wonderful about weddings is that you will find that you have amazing wonderful people in your life that will rise to the occasion and help out wherever and whenever they can. One of my friends came with me to a bridal show (!) AND while we were there, told me that she would design my invitations/stationary.  Here are our STD’s inspired by the beauty of the Riviera Maya:



The invitations:

The invites were also a labor of love. I used up about 90% of my DIY mojo assembling these invites, but we got SO many compliments! I had pinned an invite that I really liked on Pinterest, but they were insanely expensive and the materials were as well.  On a trip to JoAnn’s our lives were changed by a sales associate that showed us my new favorite crafting material: burlap paper stacks. Ladies and gents, these really are fabulous! If you like the idea of using burlap but don’t want to deal with all of the fraying, these are the ticket!  We also used twine from the dollar store to pull everything together.  Here are my invites, and I will also post another easy DIY project or two using the burlap paper and twine.



The dress:

As you might imagine, finding the dress was quite a process! I probably went to at least 8 stores, some with my mom and godmother, some with my good male friend, and several on my own.  I swooned over Jenny Packham and Vera Wang dresses, but I knew they weren’t in the budget.  I finally found an inexpensive J. Crew dress, the Arabelle, that I thought would fit the bill, but my godmother put her foot down and vetoed it! LOL  The funny thing is, the dress that I ended up choosing at a shop all by myself was a perfect combination of the first dress that I ever tried on (San Patrick Eresma) and the J. Crew dress, the Arabelle. I just love it!

Here is the dress, the Pronovias Fabula. As my seamstress notes, it *looks* simple, but the design is absolutely not simple.  She basically told me that she was used to seeing a lot of bling on dresses, and that mine was a refreshing change.  My fashionista designer sister loves this dress as well:


Source: Preowned Wedding Dresses website


I bought this dress as a floor sample, and the saleslady and seamstress told me not to lose ANY weight. Well, I needed to and did lose quite a bit of weight and inches, so I had a great seamstress alter the dress for me. (Future bride tip: find a good seamstress outside of the bridal shop for your alterations. I used one recommended by a local bridal consignment shop.)


Bridal Hanger: I went back and forth with myself about getting one of the bridal hangers. At this point, I realized that I wasn’t willing to pay the high shipping, especially for a rush order.  Plus, I wanted something a little different.  I came across a tutorial for a sequined hanger, bought the materials,  whipped this out really quickly using an old hanger (it really is easy to do and I will post the directions if someone wants them):



It’s not perfect, but I think it came out pretty well for my first time!



Thanks in part to this website, I started entering more and more bridal contests. One of the things that I won is a gorgeous handmade headpiece from UK designer Yelena Smirnova. She kindly offered to make up my choice, the Rosalie hair comb in all cream:


Source: Yelena Accessories, Etsy

I also decided to whip up a small birdcage veil to use with this; I just have to attach the comb. (Note: this is SO easy and far cheaper than buying a simple birdcage veil. I will post a tutorial later.)



I originally got the J. Crew lattice necklace below to wear when I thought I would be going with the J. Crew Arabelle dress. I will have to post later on this, as my mom and sister have vetoed the necklace as inappropriate for this dress! And I got it on sale and everything! *sad face*  Any suggestions from my fellow BDW brides would be great, because the clock is a tickin’!


Source: J. Crew website


The shoes:


You would not believe how hard it is to find high metallic wedges for a wedding! I finally found my shoes on zappos.com, Badgley Mishka Kole in silver:


Source: Zappos website



Maid of Honor:

I only gave my MOH a general color scheme, and she ran with it (but gave me the final veto).  I will have to post her actual dress later (from J. Crew), but here is the color, which I love!




The groom…refused to let me see what he’s wearing, so it’ll be quite a surprise for me! (Don’t worry, I made sure that a fashion-forward friend was with him to guide his selections.)


Best Man:

I have a general idea of what his suit looks like, but I’ll see the whole look at the wedding too! LOL (You can see how laid back I am about what other folks are wearing! As long as it looks good, I’m good!)

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Welcome/OOT bags:


My friends and family are seasoned travelers for the most part, so I didn’t think we needed to do the typical OOT bag. Plus, I ran out of time, so personalized DIYs that I had intended to do have been cast by the wayside! However, one of my good friends has a saying that I repeat to myself whenever I get stuck on a decision: “for what purpose and to what end?” In other words, WHY did I want to do these OOT bags? I realized that I wanted to show our love and appreciation to our family/friends for attending, as well as share our love for food, culture and travel with them.  After that, things became easy.   My planner found these bags at Walmart:




(Source: Joyce Mnguni, Dream Weddings)

I will likely buy some hand sanitizer, bug repellent and perhaps sunscreen.  However, I have the parents and uncle bringing some small tokens from each of the places that are meaningful to us. For example, my dad is bringing Jamaican hot sauce and Blue Mountain coffee because both of our dads are from the Island. My fiancé’s mom has someone bringing things from Aruba, and my uncle will bring things from my hometown, etc.  We will bring a little gift from Richmond, although I have NO idea what that will be yet. I will also put in a token from Mexico.  

The plan is to give these out at the rehearsal dinner at the NOW Jade the night before the wedding.  I’d like everyone to get to know each other, and I’m hoping to have an icebreaker or two so that everyone gets comfortable.  My mom has made up Mad Libs cards for guests similar to these:




Source: Weddings by Jamie



It took me awhile to be able to articulate my colors because what I really wanted was an aesthetic, an overall feel. The colors are ostensibly purple(s), aqua, silver and coral.  However, my graphic designer friend understood my aesthetic, which was a Caribbean sunset, and sent me this color scheme:





With a nod to the Caribbean (both our location and our heritage), we decided to have pre-ceremony coconut cocktails (some with rum and some without):



Source:  Oceania Weddings website


I’ll be using these adorable little easels that I got from Michaels for $1 for signage and so that no one gets the wrong coconut ;) :



I wanted to use striped straws, but I read online that they tend to disintegrate into the drinks! Yikes!



I’ll be using one of Joyce’s recommended companies, Jardin Floreria for the ceremony décor and florals. I’ve found their prices to be more than fair, and will definitely report back after the wedding. I’ve loved what I’ve seen of their work so far.



We’ll be having two signs, inspired by the ones below:



Sources: Del Sol Photography and Style Me Pretty




After going back and forth with my planner and the florist, I settled on this bouquet of radiant orchid and white roses (I love the green leaves at the bottom—so different!):




Source: Jardin Floreria website


My MOH will have roses in a complementary color. The groom will have a boutonniere made of white, and all of the boutonnieres will be tied with jute string as a nod to our invitation.


Arch and Ceremony setup:

Jardin will be doing this setup in our wedding colors, purple and coral. Joyce has advised me to use Blue Venado’s rustic chairs here.  I can’t wait to see the finished product!




Source: Jardin Floreria website



My crafty mother will be making programs similar to the ones here in our wedding colors:


Source: JulieHananDesign, Etsy


Ceremony Structure:


I am so excited that one of my friends has agreed to perform the ceremony! We are writing our vows and the ceremony using a book that someone recommended on Offbeat Bride, The Wedding Ceremony Planner: The Essential Guide to the Most Important Part of Your Wedding Day. (Tip: Save money by checking out books at the library!) We will have some special readings and a special ceremony with an African element.






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Reception Decor:


The Reception will be held in the large palapa at the Blue Venado.  Here is the raw space:



Source: BDW Blue Venado bride (I think..please let me know so I can give you credit!)


We will have silver lanterns with small LEDs inside to light up the dance floor:




Source: Paper Lantern Company




Source: Amazon.com



Christmas lights (used by another Blue Venado bride, so I went with this brand from Target):



Source: Target website


Escort Cards:

I wanted something that gave a little nod to the beach without overdoing the beach theme.  Joyce is setting up a display with shells and sand, and my mom is making escort cards something like these (actually, I really don’t know exactly what they will look like and I really don’t care at this point!):


(Source: Town and Country Magazine website)



I’m easy when it comes to cake—just make it taste good and look pretty!  Simple is good for me, no fancy stuff.  I also hate fondant, and am hoping for buttercream from Joyce’s cake vendor. Since I adore moist cake, I’m likely going to opt for tres leches at the tasting.  I ended up nixing the cake topper, so I’ll have fresh flowers on top:



Source: The Dazzling Details website



Card/Guestbook Table:

I’m really excited about this, in part because I’m renting some items from our own MrsHK (Katy).  I love renting from her, because it means that I have less stuff to drag down to Riviera Maya in my luggage. I’ve also found her to be incredibly helpful in terms of giving advice about the area and pulling off a destination wedding in Playa.


Here is my table inspiration:



Sources: MrsHK and the Elegant Vocals website.


I’m renting the brown suitcase and globe from Katy.


Card Table Sign:

I am pretty proud of my card sign that I whipped up from string, burlap paper (from the invites) and lettering.  My mom and fiancé were pretty impressed if I do say so myself:





Guest book:

I thought I didn’t want a traditional guest book, but the one I ordered is just different enough to not be the same old, same old. It’s a handmade wooden guestbook inspired by the beach and I just love it! My fiancé isn’t that into the wedding décor, but he really like this design. The hibiscus flower on front is a subtle nod to our heritage, given the importance of the hibiscus flower in Jamaica. (We’re having sorrel, or agua de Jamaica at our wedding.) Tracie Kim from bridewell market on Etsy has great customer service: responsive and fast shipping:





A few more goodies:


I just picked up these wooden letters from Michaels this past weekend to put on our table:




Another great Michaels find: laser cut wood frames. I really love the papel picada aesthetic, but I wanted something a little different for my wedding. These frames are a subtle nod to that, and I will use them for one of our pics and probably the pics of our late loved ones:




Table settings:

I wanted table décor that reminds guests of the Caribbean (both the Mexican Caribbean and the islands).  I’m keeping the table linens white so that the pops of color will be more dramatic.  We’ll be having tall vases with palm trees like this:




Source: Black Orchid Florists and Events website


I’m renting lanterns from Katy in gold and white that will go between the palm fronds (lit with tea lights):





Source: MrsHK


Jardin will also sprinkle rose petals around the lanterns in the wedding colors. It will hopefully look something like this:




Source: Style Me Pretty



I was all gung-ho about getting gorgeous personalized maracas from Puerto Vallarta (the cost be damned!) but Joyce made me realize that this was an unnecessary expense. Although I adore the elaborate, personalized maracas, no one else would care! Actually, my mom and MOH liked the more inexpensive ones a lot more! LOL Guests will shake these at the kiss!




Source: Joyce Mnguni, Dream Weddings


Table Numbers:


Numbers will go in these tiny laser cut frames from Michaels:



and be placed in these stands:



(My fiancé picked these stands out in the store, likely because he just wanted to get out and go, but I like them a lot!)


Photo Display:

One thing that was really important to us was for our wedding to be an experience.  As my fiancé points out, a photo display is more interactive than a slide show, which we didn’t want to force on our guests. We will display  photos with clotheslines and mini-clothespins.  I was going to back them with the burlap paper and cardstock, but I wasn’t feeling it. My mom reminded me that the original pics tell an important story, and leaving them that way sends a message as well.




Source: Carter and Cooke Event Co website



I will intersperse these burlap flowers (Michaels, $1 each) throughout the photos:





Lighting was something very important to be, given that we have spent so much money on photography! I have been working with my planner, photographer and DJ to make sure that this is right. In addition to the lights provided by the Blue Venado and the lighting mentioned above, I am having everything else done by Arte Velas, a candle company in the area (pictures are of an actual BV wedding):





DJ: Riviera Maya DJ, Luca Zanelli

Music is really important to both of us, given that we were both raised in musical families.  Luca was recommended by Joyce and he’s been really great about working with me to craft a playlist (reggae, soul, hip hop, and everything in between) that will make the party great.  His prices are really reasonable (note: he has raised them a little recently) and his customer service has been outstanding so far.


Mariachi: We are getting mariachi for an hour as a surprise for our guests. I’m really looking forward to it!


Churro cart and piñata:

I personally feel that one cannot get married in Mexico without a churro cart! LOL  In all seriousness, my first Spanish text in high school was called Churros y Chocolate, so churros have a special place in my heart.  We are getting a churro cart (via Joyce) and a piñata for the reception (because I’m a big kid at heart!)


Well, I think that’s just about everything. If any of you brides have questions, I’d be more than happy to help!  This site has given me so much, and I look forward to giving back in any way that I can!




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Congratulations! It sounds like your day is going to be amazing!! Can't wait to see all the pictures when you return :)



Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

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Wow!!! Looks like everything is coming together. Congratulations!!


I must say that I LOVE that your fiancé is keeping his wardrobe a secret! So much emphasis is put on the bride and what she's wearing that I think it's great your groom has a trick or two up his sleeve and plans to surprise you!


Great idea to rent from MrsHK! I will have to look into that!

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Congratulations! It sounds like your day is going to be amazing!! Can't wait to see all the pictures when you return :)



Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

Thank you so much! I can't wait!

Wow!!! Looks like everything is coming together. Congratulations!!


I must say that I LOVE that your fiancé is keeping his wardrobe a secret! So much emphasis is put on the bride and what she's wearing that I think it's great your groom has a trick or two up his sleeve and plans to surprise you!


Great idea to rent from MrsHK! I will have to look into that!


I love that my FH is keeping his wardrobe a secret too! LOL  I've tried very hard to involve him in the process. Although he's content to leave most of the decisions up to me, if he expresses a decided opinion about something, I definitely listen and take it into account.


MrsHK has been great to work with and her prices are really reasonable!

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This is fantastic!! You gave me quite a few ideas as well here. Great job planning!

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I think you've done a stunning job! And I really hope you post photos when you're back! Would love to see them!


Good luck and congratulations! Enjoy!!

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This is fantastic!! You gave me quite a few ideas as well here. Great job planning!


Thanks so much! I will be sure to report back in the BV thread with lots of pictures and as many details as I can think of during my site visit.

I think you've done a stunning job! And I really hope you post photos when you're back! Would love to see them!


Good luck and congratulations! Enjoy!!

I will definitely post photos when I get back for sure! Thanks so much for the good wishes!

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Another comment, you have such great ideas - love the lanterns. I am using some of those pier 1 one's as well. :) You really went above and beyond for your wedding, it's going to look amazing!

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