Destination Wedding Planning Tips And Venue Ideas

Italian countryside views at Tuscany's Belmond Villa San Michele.

Italian countryside views at Tuscany's Belmond Villa San Michele.

Weddings are a celebration of love, and today more and more couples are opting to marry in a locale that matches their mood: expansive like the ocean, lofty like the mountains, timeless like a European castle. Yet the reasons to have a destination wedding are as practical as they are poetic.

Travel advisors often handle the entire destination-wedding process, just as they would for any group getaway. They help couples choose the right destination, find a venue, negotiate hotel rates, book rooms, arrange flights and transfers, review contracts, manage logistics for off-site parties, plan activities and excursions, and coordinate with the hotel wedding planner, who usually focuses on details for the actual wedding.

Here, four travel advisors offer their favorite spots for tying the knot. All that’s left to say is “I do.”

Beachfront Bliss – Saint Lucia

“I call Saint Lucia the Hawaii of the Caribbean,” says Virtuoso advisor Lindsey Epperly of Atlanta. The island appeals to adventure seekers and beach bums alike. “Imagine the Pitons with a beach nestled in between. It’s like nowhere else in the Caribbean.”
 
Privacy, Please. With hillside villas and beachfront bungalows just steps from the water, Sugar Beach, a Viceroy Resort, offers wedding guests plush privacy, including a plunge pool and butler for each of its 86 rooms. Epperly suggests having the ceremony on the beach or the resort’s sunset deck. “A lot of brides have a romantic image of their wedding day in paradise,” she says. “Here, you can actually make that happen.”
 
Crowd-Pleasers. Whether it’s spa treatments in a Swiss Family Robinson-like treehouse, private boat tours around the island, or rum-tastings with the resort’s “rummelier,” the Sugar Beach staff is adept at keeping wedding guests entertained during their stay.
 
The Details. Saint Lucian law requires couples to be on the island for three business days before their ceremony (though a license can be expedited for an additional fee).
 
*If you like Saint Lucia’s sun-soaked island vibe, try Anguilla. On this secluded Caribbean isle, 70-room Cap Juluca resort is home to a private, crescent-shaped beach and elegant Moroccan architecture.

Mountain Magic – Saratoga, Wyoming 

While staying stateside is simpler for guests (no passport required), a domestic destination wedding can still capture a far-from-home feeling. Many Western lodges combine rugged natural beauty with five-star-resort amenities. “It’s rustic luxury,” says Winter Park, Florida-based travel advisor Susan Moynihan. “But rustic doesn’t mean you have to rough it.”
 
On the Ranch. With gorgeous scenery, comfortable accommodations, and a remote location on 30,000 acres of pristine land in Wyoming’s Platte River Valley, the 39-room Lodge & Spa at Brush Creek Ranch is a popular spot for weddings. Spouses-to-be seal the deal in an outdoor amphitheater or a barn that’s been converted into a chapel.
 
Western Ways. Brush Creek knows how to keep its guests busy, offering activities such as horseback riding, archery, hiking, and fly-fishing. And because the bookings are all-inclusive, guests have the opportunity to try everything.
 
The Details. Travel advisors can help couples easily obtain a marriage license from a Wyoming county clerk. 
 
*If you like Wyoming’s secluded scene, try Tennessee. At 70-room Blackberry Farm in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, a chandelier-lit barn is one of several dreamy reception sites.

Belmond Villa San Michele.

Belmond Villa San Michele.

Countryside Splendor – Tuscany

“A lot of people love tropical weddings,” says Margie Hand, “but some don’t want to deal with the sand and heat, and are looking for more of a cultural experience.” For them, she suggests the Italian countryside. “There’s such a draw around being in Tuscany. You’ve got the great food and wine, the beautiful scenery, and the historic feel. Plus it’s such a romantic destination,” she says.
 
Vows with a View. At Belmond Villa San Michele, a fifteenth-century monastery outside Florence, couples exchange rings in the lemon garden or amid Renaissance frescoes, followed by celebratory drinks in the Cloister Bar and panoramic vistas from La Loggia Restaurant. With just 45 rooms, the entire property can easily be booked out for a wedding.
 
La Dolce Vita. Hotel-arranged excursions include hot-air balloon rides, Vespa tours, chef-led pasta-making lessons, and winetastings in the surrounding Chianti region.
 
The Details. A travel advisor can help sort through the fine print of obtaining an Italian marriage license, which varies depending on the region and the couple’s religious preferences.
 
*If you like Tuscany’s scenic vistas, try Portugal’s Douro Valley. Located in this vineyard-dotted region along the Douro River, 70-room Vidago Palace’s palatial, belle epoque-style pink facade, grand staircases, and surrounding mountain landscapes make great backdrops for photos.

Into the Jungle – Arenal Volcano National Park, Costa Rica

The Arenal Volcano towers over its namesake national park, a central Costa Rican locale blanketed in emerald-green rain forest and enhanced by a soundtrack of toucan calls. It’s a destination ideal for couples looking for their own slice of tropical paradise.
 
Warm Welcome. “For a jungle experience, I love the 35-villa Nayara Springs,” says Pittsburgh-based travel advisor Lynn Ciccarelli. To access the adults-only property, guests walk above a rain-forest canopy via a 250-foot wooden bridge, a feature that makes for stunning bridal-party photos.
 
Nature Time. Travelers approach their eco-getaway at their own speed, whether they’re indulging in treatments in open-air spa pavilions or exploring the jungle on horseback.  
 
The Details. Visiting couples need only valid passports and two witnesses to hold a civil ceremony, as long as a legal Costa Rican officiant presides over it.
 
*If you like Costa Rica’s adventurous appeal, try Nicaragua. The new Costa Esmeralda Airport nearby makes the beachfront accommodations of 37-room Mukul Beach, Golf & Spa an attractive destination.

DOS and DON’Ts

How to navigate the road to a memorable destination wedding.
 
DO think about the logistics of a location. Couples may have to ask themselves, “Will my 85-year-old grandma be able to make this trip?” If that’s an important factor, choose a spot that’s easy to get to, such as one that offers nonstop flights from a number of cities.
 
DON’T delay the invitations. Guests need more time to plan for attending a destination wedding, says Susan Moynihan. At least six months’ notice is ideal.
 
DON’T take it personally if a guest can’t attend. It may not be easy for everyone to make the trip, despite their best wishes to be there.
 
DO gift local wedding favors. A regionally specific find from a local market is a thoughtful thank-you to guests for making the trip. For a client’s destination wedding in Jamaica, for example, Margie Hand suggested engraved coffee mugs with bags of the island’s popular Blue Mountain Coffee. 
 
DON’T check the dress. It’s not worth the risk of your gown getting damaged or – worse – lost in transit. But note: A garment bag is considered one allotted carry-on item.
 
DO plan activities. A destination wedding is a vacation for everyone, and it’s nice to keep guests entertained, or at least suggest diversions. Plus, group excursions give couples more opportunities to spend time with friends and family.

By Kirk Reed Forrester