As promised, I’m back for my last hurrah of destination wedding “do’s and don’ts” this week. Like Virgil leading Dante through hell, I hope to guide you safely through your own unnecessarily stressful nuptials. (You think I’m being dramatic, but anyone who’s planned their wedding would agree it can be hellish.)
DO Get a Wedding Planner/Coordinator.
A year or so out from your wedding, you might be thinking: “I’ve got this. Mitt Romney can’t even touch my binders full of women wedding vendors.” (Doesn’t “binders full of women” feel so innocuous, post-Trump? I long for those days.)
But trust me: even if you’re a Type-A planner, you do not want to be the point of contact for your actual wedding day. If you’re like me and you’ve got most of your vendors figured out, then just look for someone who offers “partial” wedding coordination. It will be the best investment you make for you and your guests’ peace of mind.
My wedding coordinator Jeanette Centeno (shoutout to Silversilke in Puerto Rico!) was a lifesaver. She checked in ahead of the date when all the major deadlines were approaching for food orders, and had a call to make sure we’d thought about all the little traditions we wanted to do (mother-son dance, garter toss,) how we wanted to be announced, and caught an inaccuracy in our catering timeline (the open bar would have ended a half hour before the end of the night—mega party foul!)
By the month, week, and day before the wedding, you’ll be pretty overwhelmed with other things (i.e. writing vows…?) A wedding coordinator is essential in connecting with your vendors locally, giving them your timeline, and making everything run smoothly. When everyone was wondering where they’d sit and where to go on the wedding day, It felt so good to just say “ask Jeanette” and know she’d have the answers.
You’ll feel a lot of pressure to do a whole lot of things—feel free to take space and time. Everyone will be saying “remember to relax and enjoy the day” and at the same time, you’ll have 20 relatives blowing up your phone. Turn that shit off! If you are feeling anxious, go to the gym for a workout, or a walk on the beach (we’re talking destination weddings, after all.) And when you’re getting ready, just know—it won’t start without you. A few minutes won’t make or break anything—but rushing might.
I made the mistake of rushing to shower and dry my hair when my makeup person had arrived and wound up yanking my earring into my ear. This created a whole emergency bridesmaid-assisted ear surgery to remedy the situation. It wound up okay, but it was not my favorite moment, and was profoundly avoidable. So yes: take your time.
DO build in time with your spouse
Another nice way to ensure you “enjoy the day” is to schedule alone time with your spouse after the ceremony. You’re going to be in hot demand, being dragged to and fro for group pictures. But this is still your wedding. Request some time to appreciate it together, even if it’s brief.
One of our friends mentioned when she and her husband did a big wedding at their local theater, their “stage manager” (a theater-dork version of a wedding coordinator) whisked them away to the roof, gave them two drinks, and let them sit alone for 15 minutes to process being married. I remembered that, and requested during cocktail hour while we’d be taking pictures to get our quiet time. We sat with our cocktails and some appetizers that the amazing staff had set aside for us, and were just… married.
Then we were back to the ruckus, and it was great.
DON’T forget to eat!
My friend from bridal fashion spent the months, weeks, and hours before our wedding reminding us to eat. With the stress and nerves, it’s the first thing you forget, and then during the reception, you’ll be trying to say hello to everyone, and then whoops… they’ve cleared your dinner plates. I ate my soup and salad but only got about halfway through the entree because Ricky Martin came on and it was time to dance. Luckily I’d had enough to eat by that point: an empty stomach plus an open bar is a friend to no man.
So even if you don’t feel like it, make sure you have something for lunch and that you are diligent about getting in food before you go nuts on the cocktails. And definitely ask ahead if you can have some cocktail hour appetizers reserved for you, if that’s not being done already (we were lucky to have that provided for us!)
As I’ve covered previously, I had quite a time of getting people to RSVP for our wedding. I’d heard that, because of Covid, many people were actually RSVPing 100% for destination weddings, excited to finally have an excuse to travel. But in the interim between choosing our date, inviting people, and actually finalizing the guest list, inflation got crazy, gas prices ballooned, and… well… life. So while we’d been cautious about our “first round” of invites, really we should have “first round”-ed everyone. We could have had around 25 more guests, and lost five more on the week of. And the more, the merrier.
Plus, if someone doesn’t RSVP on time and then you’re at capacity, well—that’s on them. I would have preferred to have a few more loved ones present if I could have, so if I did it again, I definitely would have been less conservative in my invites.
DO keep it small
While this sounds like a direct contradiction to the above, overinviting doesn’t mean inviting 200 people—I mean invite 70 when you’re planning for 50. For a destination wedding, the fewer cats you have to herd (or guests you have to deal with,) the happier you’ll be. We aimed for 65 guests, wound up with 41, and it was still enough to pack the dance floor, make ample use of the photo booth, and feel like a party. Many shared how they felt it was the “perfect size.” The fewer guests, the more quality time you’ll get with each—and the more food you’ll get to eat, too, since you won’t be doing the rounds as long!
DON’T assume when it comes to things you care about
This is going to sound profoundly stupid, but when we checked into our bridal suite, and I discovered our bathroom didn’t have a bathtub, I almost cried and had a minor anxiety attack over how much I hated our room. Every fancy hotel room I’ve ever been in has a luscious soaking tub, but that’s not necessarily the standard everywhere. This resort had some tubs in some rooms, but just large fancy showers in most. I’d come fully armed with a vast selection of Lush bath bombs to destress, enjoy, and live out my White Woman Wedding Fantasy™—and suddenly I found myself with only a luxury waterfall showerhead. The venue was 100% booked, so I was stuck with my bullshit non-tub room for our wedding night. (Full disclosure: they did move us to another suite—literally next door—the day after the wedding that had a tub, and I was much happier. I probably took two baths a day just to make up for lost tub time. I also bought Halloween-themed bath bombs so… it was a time-sensitive need.)
If you have little things that are non-negotiable like an ocean view, a balcony, a kitchenette or a bathtub that you really envision making your stay complete, just make sure they’ll be there. If it matters to you, it matters. So just convey that ahead of time to avoid any unnecessary disappointment.
DO move into your hotel two days ahead
My husband and I arrived in San Juan early to prepare, and decided to save some money and do a local Airbnb for three days, checking into our room at the venue the day before our wedding. We were assured that, as a bridal stay, our room would be prioritized for early check in.
Welp. Friday rolled around, and the venue is at full capacity, so early check-in is not looking good. We have all of our earthly belongings—including thawing food items—waiting in storage with the porters, all of our relatives are arriving in town wanting to take us to lunch, we still need to discuss plans with our officiant, but we feel chained to the lobby as we have no idea when our room will be ready.
We finally gave up and went to lunch to go over ceremony details at 1PM—and of course got a text that the room was ready at 1:30PM while out. Yes, this was still earlier than 3, but it felt like an eternity given the situation, and was a completely unneeded stress. Plus, if we’d checked in the day before, maybe we could have figured out the bathtub situation. You don’t want to be unpacking and situating yourself the day before your wedding. It’s just not enough time to calm and center yourself. Shell out for the extra day. It’s worth it.
DON’T sweat the small stuff
There’s so much to think about and so many details you could worry about for a wedding. And inevitably, something won’t go according to plan. Two of my close friends from high school who attended quelled my stress by sharing their own disaster stories—a rainy day venue adjustment, mother-in-law scheduling drama, mother of the bride breaking her ankle on the day of, getting drunkenly locked out of their own bridal suite—everyone has something go wrong on their wedding day. But having attended both of their weddings, I only remember them looking beautiful, the food being great, dancing, and being very drunk. Which to me is a successful wedding. So when you encounter some bullshit, just remember—it’s still going to be fine. You’ll have people there, there will be food and drinks and fun, and you’ll be married. Big picture.
We had a pretty unwelcome wedding surprise when we arrived at the venue to discover there was an international beach tennis tournament taking place on what should have been the pristine shore of the resort. So many of our guests who paid a boatload to stay at said resort, were woken up every morning around 7:30 AM by an announcer calling plays and blaring out dance music. Of course, this continued for the entire weekend, from morning until night—and straight through our 5:30PM rooftop wedding ceremony. Did I envision walking down the aisle to meet my husband to Beethovan intermingling with blaring Rhianna? No. But it was fine. It was actually hilarious. And everyone who came sort of just accepted it—”we’re in Puerto Rico, it’s lively!” And we used our vocal projection skills to be heard, everyone focused on us, and no one gave a shit about the beach tennis twelve stories down.
You’ll likely realize you forgot something, or something didn’t happen, or the wrong music played—I’m pretty sure a different movement from my requested Beethovan concerto was playing when I entered, but what with the beach tennis, who could even know or care? Really it won’t matter. Because as long as you’re in the location with your people, it’ll be great. And that’s all you need.
DO accept/ask for help
Some helpful friends and family members will pick up on your stress level. Let them help you—delegate. I had planned out the wedding weekend decently well, but really the success of the welcome party and day after the wedding gathering were thanks to all of my great friends helping spread information that I was too burnt out to provide. These supportive folks are pretty much your back up wedding planners. And once you get married, you’ll be the person doing that for others, too.
DO plan ahead as much as you can—then let it go
I’m immensely grateful to my past self for setting all my wedding day stuff aside so that when shit got crazed I could know where in the mess of luggage to grab my stuff. Yes, I nearly forgot my garter, my wedding day earrings, and the “something blue” charm my best friend got me to tie onto the bouquet, but luckily remembered them right after leaving the room, ran back in, found them all at once, and was okay. But honestly, if I had forgotten them, that would have been okay, too.
To end, my final bit of advice is: if you aren’t excited about throwing a party for a bunch of people, don’t have a wedding at all! Just elope and spend all that money on a honeymoon. You’ll get all the perks of the destination, but you’ll actually get to enjoy it with your spouse. Otherwise, just do your best and embrace the chaos you’ve created—which is pretty much the definition of a successful marriage.