WHEN YOU GET MARRIED IN A ROMANTIC LOCALE, you get more than just a ceremony. "It can be a vacation, a family reunion, a college reunion and a wedding all at once," says Sally Kilbridge, founder of the wedding website Destination: W. "It's really a captive audience of all your favorite people."
The idea of getting married in a setting far from home may have been popularized by celebrities, but in recent years destination weddings have become more common among the rest of us. According to wedding website TheKnot.com, 24% of today's newlyweds consider their wedding a destination wedding. And the destinations can be as personal, offbeat and varied as the couples who choose them.
Several factors account for the growing popularity of destination weddings: the sense of adventure and closeness that they can create, the opportunity to share a beloved destination with friends and family—and, for some, the chance to whittle down the cost of an often-expensive event. The Knot pegs the average price of a wedding in the United States at more than $31,000—a number that can easily double or triple in major urban areas. Given the cost, combining a romantic location with a lower price tag has definite appeal, whether the couple is footing the bill or, as remains the tradition, the bride's family is paying.
"We've seen cases of parents who have just paid for college and are reluctant to absorb the high cost of a traditional wedding," says Lynn Ciccarelli, a Virtuoso travel advisor and owner of Bella Vacations in Pittsburgh. A destination wedding is an attractive and, surprisingly, more affordable alternative.
When New Yorkers Lexi Dwyer and her husband-to-be married, they chose a wooded spot in the Catskill Mountains for an important reason: It was very close to the hiking trail where they'd gotten engaged. "We knew it wouldn't cost as much," Dwyer says. "But more important, we wanted people to feel like they were coming to somewhere beautiful, and to have a day that reflected who we are."
Whittling Down Costs
Kilbridge says the potential savings of a destination wedding can be substantial. "If the wedding is in your hometown, everyone expects to be invited," she says, "but if you're asking people to travel a great distance, that's going to shrink your guest list. Guests traditionally bear the cost of transportation and accommodations. And some guests won't want to spend the money to travel to a destination they haven't chosen."
In addition to saving money, a destination wedding at a resort can save you logistical headaches. By having the property host everything (rehearsal dinner, reception, ceremony, day-after brunch, photographer, music, etc.), you're spared the hassle of trying to arrange each of these independently. According to Ciccarelli, "Many resorts in the Caribbean will host and arrange your entire wedding for a very reasonable price—in some cases, $1,000 to $5,000. And many also lower their costs depending on the number of guests." That benefit can work to your guests' advantage. Most hotels and resorts will discount room prices according to the number of wedding-goers.
Just make sure that the resort you choose has a dedicated matrimonial staff, Kilbridge advises. "Take a look at its website first—there should be a special page for weddings. If it's not there, I'd pass." Also look into any residency or other legal requirements a location might have for couples seeking to marry. While many destinations relax the rules to make weddings as easy as possible, you don't want to be caught by surprise.
A World of Choices
The most difficult decision may be where to stage your wedding. For many couples, a beach is the first setting that comes to mind: Caribbean islands, Cape Cod and Hawaii have long done a brisk business in nuptials, and for good reason. But the truth is, your list of choices is as broad as your definition of "romantic."
Destination weddings can take place at a luxury hotel in Manhattan, on the Appalachian Trail, in the French countryside, on a cruise ship, at a baseball stadium—really, just about anywhere you can imagine. Notes Kilbridge, "Many couples choose places that create special memories."
"We wanted people to feel like they were coming to somewhere beautiful, and to have a day that reflected who we are."
–Recent newlywed Lexi Dwyer
Wherever you decide to have your wedding, Kilbridge advises that you avoid settings so remote that people will spend more time traveling than celebrating. You want their dominant memories to be of shared joy and friendships, she says, not how long it took to get there and back.
When to Stay Close to Home
Another question you'll have to ask yourself is whether having a destination wedding would mean you'll be excluding people who are important in your life. Is there anyone whose presence is essential on that day—an elderly relative or close friend—who might have difficulty traveling or finding time to get away? "Weigh the practicalities of your guests' lives and go from there," Kilbridge advises. "Start by making your absolute-must-attend list. Then check with those people to see if they can go."
For Dwyer and her husband-to-be, the location they chose, which is within a few hours of New York City, also appealed to them "because we weren't excluding people who didn't want to fly." On their wedding website, the couple mentioned area activities, one of which was their engagement hike. Dwyer notes, "A few people actually took it, which made us feel great."
And did the event live up to their hopes? "Everyone said they thought it was the perfect place," she says. "I can't imagine having gotten married anywhere else."
3 Questions to Ask Your Advisor
- What options do I have in paying for my child's wedding?
- This is a second marriage for both of us. How can we pay for the wedding ourselves?
- What financial advice would be most useful to share with the newlyweds?