It used to be that weddings were held in the neighborhood church. Driving to another province or state for a wedding was a big deal a few decades ago for Canadians and Americans.
But our travel habits have changed. And so have our weddings. What was once unthinkable – flying from Canada to the Caribbean for a wedding, or from the U.S. to Fiji – is now fairly common.
Still, there are things to keep in mind, says Taylor Cole, spokesperson for hotels.com and ca.hotels.com in both the U.S. and Canada and a renowned travel expert who got married overseas.
First off, a destination wedding is usually considered something where the ceremony takes place 500 miles or so (roughly 800 kilometers) from home.
“It means you can’t swing back by the house to pick up another tee-shirt for your honeymoon,” Cole explained with a laugh. “It usually means a ceremony held in a different climate or someplace that’s a treat for guests and for yourself.”
Cole had what she calls a mini-destination wedding, just she and her partner in the Dominican Republic.
“We wanted a combination wedding and honeymoon spot,” she said. “It’s more economical” than separate locations. “The views are beautiful, but you also get that break you definitely need after your wedding and you get to spend time with your partner.”
Some might consider a destination wedding indulgent. After all, it’s expensive for folks to take a three-hour flight and stay in a hotel for a couple nights. But nobody has to go if they can’t afford it. If they CAN afford it, couples or families who attend a destination wedding also can take time to enjoy the area. If it’s a place they want to visit anyway, it’s a good deal.
“I’ve been to some with 60 or 70 people,” she said. “They were lovely weddings.”
One key is obviously planning.
“Not only do you have to budget and choose the right vacation, you need to give guests time to clear their vacation schedules. We typically say destination weddings should be booked 10 to 12 months out, as the windows for booking airfare and sometimes for booking hotels is about a year out. It’s especially important to plan early if you’re planning on being a June bride, or booking your wedding in prime season, which is May to July.”
Another critical issue is to know the laws in the country where you plan your wedding.
“My Dad and step-mom got married in another country but it wasn’t until they got there that they realized it couldn’t be a legal wedding. They did a civil wedding with pictures and all that, but they had to do a legal one back home.”
Bringing photo equipment into some countries also can be a hassle, or expensive. That’s also something to keep in mind for the wedding photographer or video person, if you’re so inclined.
Of course, choosing the destination and zeroing in on a hotel is key to the experience. Which is where hotels.com comes in.
One of the great features of the website is that you can quickly zero in on top hotels for romance, and also read honest reviews from guests, often from your own city or area.
“Travelling on business to Jamaica is very different from travelling for vacation or a wedding, so choose your hotel carefully,” Cole suggests. “If it’s a family place with kids splashing in the pool, it might not be what you want for a wedding. Also, a hotel and a destination might be very different in July than it is in January.”
In addition to providing great guidance, hotels.com has a rewards program that works great for destination wedding participants.
“If you book 10 nights with our rewards program you get one free,” Cole points out. “So if you’re at a destination wedding for a week you’re almost three-quarters of the way to a free night.”
Cole has visited more countries and destinations than many folks. As I caught up with her she was getting ready to fly from Dallas to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico. She lists Cabo as one of her favourite places.
“One of my top picks is Marquis Los Cabos,” an all-inclusive property that’s part of the Leading Hotels of the World group. “It has the most beautiful rooms, and it’s oceanfront of course. It’s at the tip of the Baja peninsula so you have that beautiful combination of the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez. It gets outstanding ratings from hotels.com guests, and there are lovely hidden bits. One thing I like is their “do not disturb” room service. They put your food in a little cubby hole and slide it through so you can continue sleeping until your coffee and muffins come, or what have you. You don’t have to get up out of bed and open the door. It’s very nice, especially on your honeymoon when you don’t want to be bothered. They also have a great sommelier and custom wine menu.”
“I also love the Venetian in Las Vegas, which is rated excellent by hotels.com guests. They have great suites, so you get lots of room with a seating area and a couch. It’s on the Strip but kind of nestled back away from things, so that’s great. You can take a gondola ride and have the guy sing for you, or go to the mall. It’s a great property but it’s not so heavy on the casinos and the gambling, so you don’t hear all of that so much.”
In Canada, Cole loves the Pan Pacific in Vancouver, which is perched on the south side of the Burrard Inlet in a prime downtown location.
“It’s breathtaking with the mountain views and being right on the water. And the service is impeccable. If you can’t afford a big European vacation this gets you close, I think. And it’s not a traditional beach honeymoon. The hotel is rated as outstanding by our guests, and there are lots of restaurants nearby. Granville Island is fairly close, too, and that’s a great place to explore.”