Destination: Marriage

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Some couples fantasize about getting married under a waterfall in Costa Rica, on the pink sands of Bermuda, or in a castle in Spain. They picture the gorgeous backdrops that such a locale provides and don’t want to pose in front of a painted canvas in a studio when they can have the real thing. What used to be a lovely, but unrealistic, fantasy has become a reality as more couples actualize their dreams with a destination wedding.

As a former event planner and someone who loves a good party, I’ve attended at least 60 weddings in my life; some were destination weddings. I have crossed the country several times and the Atlantic Ocean twice to witness the nuptials of family and friends who married in far-off places.

Fortunately, I was able to afford to take these “surprise” vacations, ones that I hadn’t planned on until the invitations arrived in my mailbox or, more recently, my inbox.

Destination weddings have been a trend since the late 1980s and have been growing ever since according to an article in The Wall Street Journal.

Guests at a destination wedding make a considerable commitment of time and money. Even if the destination is close enough to drive to, but necessitates an overnight stay (say, Cape Cod), it can be difficult to find a hotel that will accept a one-night reservation. Then there is the added expense of boarding pets for a weekend or longer.

If plane travel is involved, time must be spent online determining the best route, the best carrier, and the best price. As a destination wedding guest, I estimate that I have spent dozens of hours and a minimum of $1,000 and a maximum of more than I want to calculate on each occasion. The wedding gift, my dress, shoes, and other special touches added even more to the tab. But it’s really not about the money.

The lure of destination weddings to engaged couples may be the cost savings since fewer guests attend—just those who feel a deep connection to the family. On the other hand, guests at some destination weddings I have attended have numbered over 100. On a practical note, with many people living away from their immediate families, many weddings have become destination weddings by default for at least some of the guests.

When I tried to make airline reservations in late October to fly to Miami from Bradley Airport over New Year’s weekend to attend a family wedding, I couldn’t get a direct flight on December 31, and so had to fly on the previous day. And because it was the height of the season, I paid top dollar for coach seats.

What I didn’t learn until recently is that American Airlines offers a wedding discount. The couple needs to contact the airline at On this site they can look into a “unique wedding travel package that offers a special discount off the lowest applicable air fare, plus complimentary wedding invitation inserts to inform out-of-town guests of the discount. These special discounts are available when 10 or more out-of-town guests travel to a wedding on American Airlines.” Other airlines may have similar programs.

We chose a hotel on the wedding website, and although it was discounted, the price for four nights was substantial. My husband and I rented a car, but in retrospect, taxis would have been a more sensible choice. What we realized too late was that we needed a better grasp of the geography, something that a wedding planner might have posted on the wedding website.

The best destination weddings I’ve attended had a welcome bag with useful items (in addition to chocolates and bottled water) that awaited us when we checked into our hotel.

A map of the vicinity showing key sites and a list of the hotels where other guests were staying were part of the welcome bag at my son’s wedding in Oaxaca, Mexico.

At my husband’s twin cousins’ double wedding in Phoenix, Ariz., the bag contained a clever newsletter with articles and photos of the two bridal couples, which gave us something to talk and laugh about when we convened at the pre-wedding reception. Also included was a list of nearby restaurants and tourist sites.

The welcome bag at our niece’s wedding in London contained a schedule of the weekend’s activities including site names and addresses, arrival times and other details.

The destination weddings I’ve attended were memorable in part because of the setting. I love to travel and enjoy being in far-off places with family and friends, and the shared experience made these occasions outstanding. The atmosphere was more charged than at traditional weddings, perhaps because as guests we all had carved out the time and made a sincere commitment to attend.

Sunsets over the water, waiters speaking foreign languages, and complete immersion in someone else’s fairy tale in celebration of love cannot be overrated and should not be passed up.

Joan Walden is a free-lance writer based in West Hartford.

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