Far-Away Weddings

destination weddings 101


How to design, plan, and budget for your foreign affair

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Lisa Salvadorini, a reporter and producer for News 12, embraces her husband, Lucas Cascardo, on a balcony overlooking the sea in Positano, Italy.


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Lisa and Lukas were married by the Mayor of Positano at Town Hall.


Whether in the Adirondacks or the South Pacific, destination weddings are all the rage. In fact, as many as four out of 10 couples in America are opting for destination weddings these days, weddings as varied and unique as the couples who design them. A destination wedding might be a $10,000 Las Vegas escape for the couple and four of their best friends, or a Riviera extravaganza for 100 that costs a half million or more. Destination weddings can take any form, but they all have one thing in common: they’re once-in-a-lifetime experiences—for everyone involved. When you combine the allure of travel, a remarkable location, and an extraordinary cause for celebration, the mix is rich with meaning, memories, and opportunities for bonding in extraordinary ways.

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Lisa Salvadorini, a reporter for Westchester’s own News 12, chose Positano, Italy, as her wedding destination when she married Lucas Cascardo last September. “I wanted the wedding to be an experience my family and friends would never forget,” she says. The couple chose the dramatic Amalfi Coast because both of their families originally came from Italy and they knew it was a destination that most of their guests would enjoy discovering.



Vielka Iaderosa, 29, and her husband, Enzo, 32, from Sleepy Hollow, also chose to be married on the Amalfi coast. “We were on vacation and found this wonderful town called Cava,” Iaderosa says. “My husband’s family is from Naples and we’d wanted something exotic for our wedding. We also wanted a very traditional Catholic ceremony and there’s a beautiful cathedral in Cava called the Badia di Cava.” The couple hosted 130 guests (some of whom were already based in Europe) for a week.

Iaderosa estimates her wedding cost about $55,000. “We didn’t really compare costs between the US and Italy because we were paying for an experience,” Iaderosa says. “Our church was one thousand years old and our guests dined overlooking the Mediterranean. If we had had the wedding in the States, we would’ve had more guests but avoided the travel expenses.”  

Still, there are potentially sizeable headaches involved in having a destination wedding. Unless all your family and friends can cope with the expense required to reach your wedding—or unless you’re willing to foot the bill for them—your guest list will have to be limited. And if you think planning a wedding is a lot of work, consider how much more difficult it might be to plan a wedding from afar. As a destination wedding planner, I have seen couples jump headlong into the process before figuring out whether a destination wedding was appropriate for them. To avoid making a similar mistake, consider carefully whether you have the time, resources, organization skills, and flexibility required to make a destination wedding work.

While you can always hire a wedding planner or pick a ready-made package from a resort to make your workload a little lighter, opting for a destination wedding means surrendering some degree of certainty and control. Language barriers, cultural differences, and distance all conspire to make a few “bumps in the road” inevitable. Only you know if, given the difficulties, you’re still likely to enjoy the journey. If you decide to go forward with a destination wedding, there are four basic phases to planning your event.


Phase 1:

Do Your Homework


Once you decide on a destination wedding, you’ll have to plan ahead as you would any other wedding—only more so. You’ll not only need a budget and a guest list, you’ll also need information about visas, legalities of weddings abroad, lodging, flights, and ground transportation. Also, while a typical wedding is over in a matter of hours, your destination wedding takes place over days. That means additional dinners, breakfasts, accommodations, and perhaps entertainment and excursions. The wedding I recently planned for a New York City couple in Bali included a Royal Balinese feast for a welcome party, a spa party, a golf outing, and a South Beach-themed villa party. The budget had more than 200 line items and the itinerary was 18 pages long. While this was certainly an over-the-top event, even less ambitious plans can be tough to manage.

“We arranged all our family’s travel and planned a soccer tournament while we were over there,” Iaderosa, who chose the Amalfi Coast as a destination, says. “Two days before the wedding, we were leading our guests on tours around Rome.” The amount of planning and work can be considerable. It’s like planning a wedding and a honeymoon at the same time—with all your friends and family tagging along.

And speaking of family and friends, destination weddings can raise some potentially awkward issues if you intend to shift some of the costs onto your guests. Will you be paying for all of the meals during the time your guests are on site? Will you be picking up the tab for anyone’s airfare or hotel room? How about excursions and ground transportation? Your decisions on these issues will have a serious impact on your guest list, your bottom line, and perhaps your friendships. Many couples do pick up the tab for key attendees and members of the wedding party with less-than-deep pockets. “The guests were responsible for the cost of their own airfare and hotel rooms,” says Iaderosa, “but we paid the airfare and travel expenses of my four junior bridesmaids.” I have had several situations where the couple wanted everyone to stay in a five-star resort so they subsidized the rooms. Of course, most couples can’t afford to pay everyone’s way. I have had only one client opt to pay for all 150 guests to fly to London for five days of events leading up to the wedding.

 As a destination bride, not only does your planning have to be more extensive, your decisions and deadlines need to be firmer, too. Have a flurry of last-minute invitations or forgot to invite your dear Aunt Sally? If you’re getting married a mile from home, you can just call the caterer and squeeze a few more chairs around the tables. If, however, you’re getting married on St. Barts with a block of hotel rooms reserved over Christmas, the problem is of an entirely different dimension. While planning the wedding in Bali, we really felt the distance when the florist backed out of the job two weeks before the wedding and we were too far to jump on a plane to interview other floral designers! Luckily, the caterer referred us to another florist who flew in from Jakarta in the nick of time.

Finally, since you’re planning your wedding from a distance, you’re going to need to be comfortable making all of the arrangements over the Internet or by phone (as Salvadorini did) or you’ll need to make an additional pre-wedding trip to make all of the arrangements in person (as Iaderosa did).

“We made the major arrangements—booking the reception venue and the church—while we were there on vacation, but I did everything else online including booking hair and makeup,” Iaderosa says. “I had a hair and makeup trial just two days before the wedding. It was so stressful that I’m getting stressed just remembering it!” In fact, Iaderosa “didn’t love” her wedding-day hair and makeup look and says the experience was emblematic of some of the challenges destination brides face.

“Here in America, you assume that people will work with you to make your ideas happen,” she says. “In Italy, they are the professionals and they will tell you what you want. Glitter spray in the hair is a big thing over there and, if you don’t want it, they’ll argue with you that they know best. But that’s part of the whole experience. You can’t expect a destination wedding to be an American experience with an Italian backdrop.”


Phase 2:

When and Where in the World


Whether or not you have a clear sense of destination already, this part of the planning can be a wonderful process of discovery. But before you fall in love with a locale, consider whether your guests are likely to share your enthusiasm. Elderly relatives with limited mobility, working parents with limited vacation time, and students with limited funds may not be thrilled with your decision to marry in Tahiti.

Also consider whether or not you can be legally married in the country (the US recognizes any wedding that is legally performed in any country—except between a gay or lesbian couple). France, for example, requires that you be a resident for 40 days before being allowed to marry there. Don’t let red tape deter you from your dream destination, however. If you can’t legally marry in your country of choice, you can simply complete the legal portion of the ceremony domestically just before or just after the celebration abroad.

Happily, the legalities aren’t always complex. Some countries make the process easy and others can help you through most of it before you even leave home. “Most of the paperwork for our wedding could be done at the New York City consulate,” Salvadorini says. Once you’ve tackled the basic practicalities, you’re free to consider a location for its romantic appeal.

Popular destinations for East Coasters have always been Bermuda, the Caribbean, Mexico, Florida, New England (especially Newport, Nantucket, and Martha’s Vineyard), Ireland, the UK, France, Italy, and Greece. I like to suggest that my clients also consider these other destinations:

? Canada for close-by European flare at a good price. The Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City (www.fairmont.com/frontenac) is splendid and the nearby Ice Hotel (www.icehotel-canada.com) is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

? The Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. The post-hurricane construction boom has made it better than ever, yet prices are very competitive.

? Canouan Island. One of the islands of the Caribbean nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, it’s newly popular, thanks to the new Raffles resort (www.rafflesacnaouan.com) and Trump properties on the island.

? Croatia. It’s an increasingly popular European destination. It’s just across from Italy and has many of the same Old World charms—at a much lower price point. One luxury resort that warrants investigation is The Regent Esplanade Zagreb (www.theregentzabreb.com).

? Argentina. It has made it to the top 10 vacation destinations and is rapidly becoming a hot spot for weddings. Recently, I did a wedding for 150 at the Four Seasons Hotel Buenos Aires La Mansion (www.fourseasons.com/buenosaires) that was featured on the TV show Married Away. The hotel owns a historic mansion that’s very elegant. Another excellent choice is Las Balsas (www.lasbalsas.com), a gorgeous Relais & Chateau villa-style hotel set within a national park in the Argentine Patagonia. But don’t, as one of my recent clients did, choose to be married there in early January (summer time) as everyone is on vacation and it is hard to find vendors!

? Vietnam. This beautiful country offers the unique charm of Asian heritage blended with French architecture and cuisine. I’d look into Ana Mandara Resort & Spa at Nha Trang (www.sixsenses.com/evason-anamandara), set amidst tropical gardens overlooking the sea, and Hoian Riverside Resort & Spa in Quang Nam (www.hoianriverresort.com), located on the banks of the Do River and surrounded by rice fields.

? Fiji. If you’re not dissuaded by the long plane ride (approximately 22 hours) and high prices, it’s a magical destination. It’s easy to be married there legally and there are amazing resorts such as Turtle Island (www.turtlefiji.com), where the Blue Lagoon movies were filmed and where occupancy is limited to 14 couples, and Vatulele Island Resort (www.vatulele.com), another very intimate resort that’s the epitome of barefoot elegance.

You usually can decide on a destination and even a venue by researching, getting referrals, references, and reading reviews. Look at websites such as www.tripadvisor.com, www.fodors.com, and www.destinationbride.com for leads. Be sure to cross-check the references and referrals. If you have the time and money to actually go to the destination beforehand, do, but it is not usually necessary nowadays. Most decent hotels and resorts have good photos and virtual tours online.

“Villa Oliviero and the balcony overlooking the sea at Town Hall were exactly how they were pictured on the Web, thank goodness!” Salvadorini says.


Phase 3:

Get Help


If your venue has a designated wedding coordinator or banquet manager, great. If not, you’re going to have to hire someone to help you with all the arrangements. Get referrals from the venue and the tourism bureau, or a leading hotel’s concierge.

“Even though I had family in the area and a lot of things were handled by the reception venue, there were times I really wished I’d had a wedding coordinator that was based there,” Iaderosa says. “The little details like who was going to iron my dress drove me crazy.”

Your local wedding coordinator’s job is to take care of all these details and make sure your wedding goes as planned. He or she will make sure the florist knows you want peonies, not roses, that the cookies are served with the coffee, and that the musicians have the sheet music to your first dance song. In addition to a wedding coordinator, I recommend that you also identify or hire a person to coordinate and take care of the guests if you have a large number. Tour guides are often excellent candidates for the job.


Phase 4:

The Dream Team and the DEtails


Next, really figure out what details you want, and who is going to provide them. Although many brides make all the arrangements through their hotel or venue, others, like Salvadorini, prefer to take matters into their own hands.

“I was surprised at how easy it was to plan an Italian wedding from Westchester,” Salvadorini says. “I was able to find a villa, hire a photographer, book Town Hall, and even find musicians online.”  Even Iaderosa, who booked the church and reception venue in person and made an additional planning trip three weeks before the wedding, made some arrangements online. “I booked the florist, the band, the hair and makeup, and shopped for favors online,” she says. If you do an Internet search with the name of your destination and “wedding,” you’ll pull up a wealth of resources.

If you can afford it, this phase should include a planning trip to do everything you cannot do over the Internet, such as taste the food, have a trial hair and makeup session, design the floor plans, and shop for the items that will go in the welcome packages.

“I went over about three weeks before the wedding to do things like taste the cake and confirm the band,” Iaderosa says. 

If you can’t make a planning trip, simply arrive a few days in advance of your wedding. The downside to this option, of course, is that, with the wedding mere days away, there isn’t sufficient time to do more than tweak your arrangements.


Phase 5:

Confirmation and Event Coordination


Once you know your final head count and you have finished your detailed itinerary, you are ready to confirm all of the details. The person who will be responsible for coordinating the wedding (and that should not be the bride) should be part of the confirmation process with or without the person who did the planning. Call or e-mail each service provider to go over his or her service, times, and places, directions, and final payment information. This should not take place any earlier than 10 days before the event. Each service provider should get a copy of the itinerary with his or her responsibilities highlighted. Once you arrive, hold a “team meeting” at the wedding site; this will ensure that the team will work well together even if it has never worked together previously.

If all of this sounds like a lot of work, it is. But for some brides, like Salvadorini, the rewards merit the headaches. “If I had the chance, I would do it all over again,” she says. “After the ceremony, we toured the town. We will never forget the beautiful views and friendly people.” Despite her struggles, Iaderosa feels the same way. “I really had the wedding of my dreams,” she says. “I’d do it over again in a heartbeat.”


Lisa Light is a full-service destination wedding producer and CEO of www.destinationbride.com. You can find more information on how to plan a destination wedding in her book, Destination Bride: A Complete Guide to Planning Your Wedding Anywhere in the World.


Vielka wedding’s photography by David Jay Photography Inc., Santa Barbara, CA.

Lisa’s wedding photography by Massimo Amendola, A&5 Studio, Amalfi, Italy.



Vielka and Enzo all smiles after the ceremony.



The couple drove themselves to the ceremony in a stylish (if diminutive) car—perfect for navigating Cava’s winding, narrow streets.



The Badia di Cava, the historic cathedral where the couple wed.



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