Destination Weddings Are Getting Even More Over the Top With These Immersive Activities

A bride and groom walk with a jazz band at the Four Seasons Hotel New Orleans
A bride and groom walk with a jazz band at the Four Seasons Hotel New Orleans. Photo:

Christian Horan/Courtesy of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts

Newlyweds are rethinking the DJ and turning destination-wedding receptions into all-singing, all-dancing events.

Following his June nuptials, Brendan O’Halloran channeled Billy Idol by serenading his bride, Alyssa Miller O’Halloran, with a rendition of “Rebel Yell.” It was the ultimate way to kick off their karaoke-themed reception at Sunshine Mill, a venue in Oregon.

“From the moment we started, it was three or four straight hours of people singing,” Brendan says. “We both come from very musical families, and this was something everyone could feel involved in.” In addition to karaoke, they made room for bonding over games, like corn hole and bocce, and had hula-hoops and bubbles for kids. “The best part was that people got the chance to really get to know each other,” he recalls.

A man doing karaoke at his wedding reception, while others, including the bride, look on
Brendan O'Halloran doing karaoke at his wedding reception, while others, including bride Alyssa Miller, look on.

Faith Hinkson/Courtesy of Alyssa Miller and Brendan O'Halloran

The O’Hallorans are one of many couples personalizing their celebrations with entertainment that goes far beyond the standard DJ and dance floor. “Weddings now serve a dual purpose,” notes Gabrielle Dowding, owner of Black Swan Events, in Portland, Oregon. “It’s a private commitment, but also an opportunity for friends and family to get together and connect — like a grand family reunion.”

Couples are increasingly adding interactive entertainment (think face painting or cigar-rolling stations), according to a recent report from the wedding experts at Zola. Here are some of the immersive moments that planners and venues, including many luxury hotels, are helping them pull off.

For Cocktail Lovers

The boutique RT Lodge, in Maryville, Tennessee, arranges mid-reception tastings of local whiskey and bourbon. In Mexico, Thompson Playa del Carmen Main House curates cocktail-making contests and magic shows for wedding receptions.

For Those Who Love a Show

The Four Seasons Hotel New Orleans can set up a private second-line parade, complete with a jazz band, led by the happy couple. The Equestrian Hotel, part of the World Equestrian Center in Ocala, Florida, has built-in entertainment: a Grand Prix horse race that runs many Saturdays and is viewable from its VIP event terrace.

For Fans of Dressing Loud

Pair of wedding reception photos, one showing a drag performer at the Parker Palm Springs hotel, and one showing a bourbon tasting at the RT
From left: A drag show at the Parker Palm Springs; a bourbon tasting at the RT Lodge.

From left: M.K. Sadler/Courtesy of Lyden Lane Co; Isabel Reyna/Courtesy of RT Lodge

Wedding planner Barbi Walters of the Lynden Lane Co. coordinated a drag show at Parker Palm Springs as a surprise for guests. And the Rome Cavalieri, a Waldorf Astoria Hotel can put together a full-fledged dinner feast and toga party — with actual togas, sandals, and crowns of laurel. When in Rome?

The "toga party" setup at the Rome Cavalieri hotel
A "toga party" setup at the Rome Cavalieri, a Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

Antonio Saba/Courtesy of Rome Cavalieri, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel

A version of this story first appeared in the November 2022 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline "Reception Remix."

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles