Once upon a time, destination wedding meant a quick trip to Vegas. No more. In the glitzy 1980s, lavish receptions became de rigueur; at the same time, all-inclusive resorts began offering marriage packages. When those trends collided, a long-distance wedding boom was born. These days, 10 percent of American couples get married away from home. For some, an out-of-town do for two is the antidote to a big event, while for others, it's a chance to go all out. Either way, a destination celebration is the ultimate adventure in marital bliss.
1 Mark the spot
Take into account where your guests live, and pick an accessible place—with affordable, easy flights—for as many of them as possible. If your family and friends live on the West Coast, perhaps Hawaii is a better option than Italy.
2 Check the requirements
You must spend a certain amount of time in some countries before you can wed (see "The Fine Print: Making It Legal"). A few days in the Caribbean can be a relaxing pre-ceremony respite, but France's six-week residency rule may take some of the allure out of a Provence wedding.
3 Save some green
To rein in costs, avoid holidays. Airfares and hotel rates are best midweek or in low season. Caveat emptor: Weather can be iffy in the off months; do your homework so you won't be surprised to discover that you just booked a Tahitian wedding during typhoon season. If your budget is minuscule, look into the free wedding options offered by many all-inclusive resorts.
4 Use a coordinator
It can be overwhelming to organize the most important party of your life in a different language and time zone—and calculate its cost in a different currency. Resorts and cruise lines often include planning services in their wedding packages, but if you're after something unique, you might want to hire your own planner. If so, earmark up to 15 percent of your total budget for one.
5 Consider a takeover
Many places—from tiny inns to luxe beach resorts—allow you to rent out the whole property. Not only will you have privacy and the entire staff at your disposal, but the bulk rate is usually less than what you'd pay if you booked each room separately.
6 Give enough notice
Mail save-the-date announcements eight months in advance. Three to six months out, send guests a packet with travel info, brochures, and any group discounts on air and lodging you've arranged. Do this early enough and you'll have plenty of time to invite B-list guests when the cousins from Kentucky bow out.
7 Play Daddy Warbucks
If there are relatives or wedding-party members who can't afford to travel and whose presence is important to you, you might consider picking up the tab for their airfare or hotel bill.
8 Keep it real
You could fly in yellow roses, a string quartet, and Angus beef for your wedding on Antigua, but it would be much less expensive and more appropriate to have local orchids, steel drums, and Caribbean lobster.
9 Import your pros
On the other hand, if money allows, ferry along the photographer, hair and makeup stylists, wedding designer, or any other professional you trust. Even if your destination has on-site vendors, your home crew can always work with them in a supervisory capacity.
10 Come early
Arrive at the hotel at least a day before your guests, and welcome them with gift baskets in the rooms—snacks, maps, and favors. (If you purchase these items at home, you can ship them ahead of time.) Finally, a word of caution: When lazing poolside before the wedding, be generous with the sunscreen. That strapless gown won't look so fetching if it's accessorized with tan lines.
Destination weddings deserve fabulous invites, such as a whimsical paper airplane save-the-date card (Ragina Johnson; 415/412-4540; $500 for 25). Announce your Vegas wedding with a personalized postcard of the Strip, or your tropical-island affair with a beach-chair shaped invite (www.invitationconsultants.com; postcard and chair, $110 for 25), and guests will be packing before they RSVP.—Sarah Kantrowitz
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