Planning a wedding at Azul Fives was a bit of an adventure. There isn't much out there in terms of resort reviews on this site, I'd never visited this resort, and as we all know, the Karisma off site planners are insanely overworked and don't offer the attention that the majority of brides expect.That being said, all my fears, worries, anxiety, and night terrors (haha, just kidding... kind of) were laid to rest from the moment we arrived on site.
Where's that rewind button... I'm feeling the need to provide some background.
I met my soul mate back in 2009 at a Fly Fishing Expo, I don't believe in love at first sight, but "lust at first sight"... it's a real thing, and he looked like trouble! I assumed he wouldn't give me the time of day, but my instincts are almost never right, I was shocked when he seemed interested and even more shocked when I discovered he was a pretty nice guy. We started as friends and quickly discovered that we had a lot in common. I won't go into all the details, but things were rocky at first. Not because we didn't get along, but he was right out of a very long term relationship and my head was not in the right place at the time. It was almost a year before we figured it all out, haven't looked back since!
I've always been anti-marriage, I hated the thought of being the centre of attention and couldn't understand why people spend so much money on just one day and a piece of paper. About 3 years into our relationship, I was going off on one of my anti-marriage rants for one reason or another when this amazing man, that I still can't believe is my husband now, looks at me and calmly and says with a little smirk "You know it's coming, so just deal with it..." What's a girl to do?
Two years later, we're drifting out on a lake in our boat, my daughter (from a previous relationship) in the front, hubs in the middle on the oars, and me in the back. It starts to rain and he asks me to pull his coat out from under my seat. I threw it over his shoulders but he handed it back to me and said "No, there's a box in the pocket, can you pull it out?". I knew what it was before I even pulled the box out of the pocket.
Here's a pic we took of ourselves after we got back to shore, haha, my little Gracie in that life jacket cracks me up every time!
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CHOOSING THE LOCATION
It didn't take long to agree that a destination wedding was the way to go. We both have family scattered across the US and Canada, so it seemed logical to inconvenience everyone and make them all travel. Why not let them have a vacation while they're at it? I chose the general area based on flight costs, and more importantly, where the best fishing could be found! Playa del Carmen is 2.5 hours north of some of the world's best flats fishing, we definitely took advantage of this. After I'd narrowed down the geographical area, I set out to choose a resort. This was hard for me.... Several years ago we had stayed at Moon Palace near Cancun. This was my one and only all inclusive experience, I don't remember the nice rooms, or how the staff treated us, all I remember is that the food was pretty awful... and I love food. I chose the Karisma chain because they're known for having great food (which they do) and they would provide a donkey with barrels of beer on it's back at your cocktail party (which they don't, this crushed me when I found out a couple of months before the wedding). I ended up choosing Azul Fives because they were the cheapest of the Karisma hotels.
WEDDING CONTRACT & BLOCKING ROOMS
I wanted to keep things small and didn't think I'd do much in terms of planning, but things escalated quickly and the whole planning process got right out of control! It's true, Lomas Travel will nickle and dime you until you bleed out of your eyes, their pricing is obscene. I negotiate for a living, it's what I do... There is no negotiating with these people, believe me, I tried. The only concession I was able to get in our contract was on the outside vendor fee. They refused to knock anything off of the $800 outside vendor fee, but I did get them to agree that if my outside vendor was a guest of the hotel for two, rather than three, nights, that the fee would be waived. In the end it didn't matter, I invited my very talented cousin to the wedding and offered to pay for his trip if he'd take our photos, he stayed for five nights.
I shopped around on rates quite a bit. I contacted the hotel directly, they didn't offer much by way of incentive. They offered their "discounted rate", which was the same as what you could book online for at the time, and althought their website was advertising 1 room free for every 6 booked, they offered me 1 room free for every 10 booked. Luckily I had saved the flyer, they had changed this promotion on their site within a day or two of my inquiry, I was able to get them to agree to the original offer. I also contacted a couple travel agents, only one responded, she was able to get cheaper rates for our guests (deluxe rooms were around $160/night/person based on double occupancy and kids were free). Although it would have saved us money to book through the hotel, we ended up booking through Pam at Tier One Travel in order to save our guests money. Pam was fantastic!
Once our contract was signed, I was handed off to our coordinator and was provided with an online booking system where I assumed I was to make all of our selections (no direction was provided, I was just sent a link with login info). Several months later, the login stopped working and I was told that I had to make all selections through our coordinator. I noted that a few other brides had a similar experience.
I think we're all aware that Karisma's off site coordinators are brutal... But I'd like to take a moment to stick up for them! A few days before we left for our wedding, I had a very frank conversation with my coordinator who explained that she was currently working on 151 weddings, 20 of which were in May! Karisma is seriously hurting their reputation by overworking their staff, I know my coordinator had the right skills to do her job, but with that much on her plate, how could she possibly give me the attention I needed? Please, ladies, don't take your frustrations out on these coordinators, they're doing the best they can with what they've got.
When all was said and done, everything turned out just fine. The on site coordinators are great and you will have the opportunity to run through all the details once you arrive.
... It's late and I have to work in the morning... to be continued.........