What to Know If You're Planning to Elope Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic, According to Wedding Industry Experts

Planning a destination elopement? Experts say you should keep these things in mind.

Wedding couple with horses. The groom hugs the bride. Destination Iceland wedding photo session with Icelandic horses.
Photo: Getty Images

Editor's Note: Those who choose to travel are strongly encouraged to check local government restrictions, rules, and safety measures related to COVID-19 and take personal comfort levels and health conditions into consideration before departure.

If you had asked me a few years ago if I’d consider eloping, I would have raised an eyebrow in disapproval. While I love the intimate and romantic concept of escaping to say ‘I do,’ my favorite part of weddings has always been the people — the speeches, the dancing, and the events before the big day. But I couldn’t have predicted that 2020 would bring a global pandemic, rocking the wedding industry in its wake. And I also couldn’t have predicted that I would be newly engaged, weighing my options for a 2021 ceremony. Suddenly, eloping with my fiancé sounded much more exciting and alluring than ever before.

As with every other aspect of the COVID-19 crisis, the ability to host these once-in-a-lifetime celebrations is still uncertain. In most states, large gatherings are banned — and the capacity numbers vary greatly, dependent on zip code. Borders around the world remain closed, making international trips a bit of a stretch, too. Instead, couples are looking to their own backyards — or those within driving distance — for a beautiful place to exchange vows. Elopements are not only trendy; they’ve become the go-to for the foreseeable future.

As Jen Avey, vice president of marketing for Destination Weddings Travel Group, explains, while elopements once carried a stigma millennial couples wanted to avoid, the pandemic has illustrated the sweet benefits of this approach. Not only is it a more private way to share this special time in your life, but eloping often provides financial savings, too, compared to the overall cost of a grand affair with hundreds of guests. “Newlyweds are prioritizing these saved funds to buy houses, pay off student loans, or even save for an extravagant honeymoon in the future that they otherwise would have never been able to afford,” she adds.

Avey predicts elopements are here to stay throughout 2021 — and even the start of 2022. If you’re considering an elopement or a microwedding, here are some tips on how to stay safe, according to wedding industry experts.

Two brides elope in a lush green garden
Getty Images

Answer the question: Do you want to get married now?

There’s no way around it — any type of gathering or travel puts you, your partner, and invited guests at risk. There are many ways to mitigate and protect yourself, but some aspects are out of your control: a sick passenger behind you on the plane, an unexplained outbreak in a city the day before you arrive, and so on. That’s why Jamie Chang, destination wedding planner and Mango Muse Events owner, recommends that couples do a bit of soul-searching before opting into an elopement or a microwedding by answering this question: Do we want to get married now? Or, are we willing to wait? And if so, for how long?

Realistically, Chang says industry trends forecast the earliest an oversized wedding with all the bells and whistles will be permitted is late 2021, or early 2022. If you aren’t in a rush, perhaps an elopement isn’t the right match for you. If you are ready to tie the knot, do not want to postpone, and are comfortable with all risks associated, go for it. Chang says couples can also do both: Elope now and plan a big anniversary party a few years down the line when COVID-19 is a distant memory.

Be mindful of the state and country’s guidelines and infection rates.

When choosing a destination for your elopement, Chang says to first take a look at the city, state, and country restrictions and guidelines for COVID-19. Gather information on what party size is permitted, the current quarantine requirements or recommendations, and the latest outbreak numbers. Generally speaking, Chang says the more open a place is, the higher the risk and possibility of infection.

When looking at the rates, consider the current and past case numbers to gain insight on how reactive the destination has been to the health situation. “This shows you how safe their community is being and how seriously they are taking the pandemic. You do not want to choose a destination with a high infection rate; it doesn't help you or the community to travel to a location that is struggling, regardless of whether they allow weddings,” she says.

Though every couple should weigh their options and make a decision as a team, Chang recommends sticking with a local venue or resort that doesn’t require boarding a plane. “Select a closer destination within driving distance that you can ideally [reach] within a day. It will limit the stops and the contact you have to have, which makes it safer for everyone,” she adds.

Scour reviews from 2020.

A great way to gauge how a destination is doing in terms of keeping its visitors safe is to look up online reviews, Avey says. Even though many countries are open to American tourists, they may not be doing all they can to protect foreigners. It’s worth investigating other couples’ experiences. “There’s no better way to understand what’s it’s like to travel somewhere than to read first-hand accounts from online reviews. Real travelers will help you envision what it’s really like to travel to a destination, and gauge how safe you’ll feel,” she adds.

Think about an elopement versus a microwedding.

My partner is Danish and I’m American, and our families live in different countries. This provides a significant hurdle for planning a microwedding, since neither side can travel to the other currently. Because of this, we are considering an all or nothing approach: Elope, or if things open up next summer, have a microwedding for our immediate family and wedding party. Our situation is unique, but the debate around elopements versus microweddings is not, according to Cynika Drake, president of Lavish Lifestyles Concierge.

If you and your spouse-to-be’s family are all relatively close, Drake says a tiny gathering could be ideal. Plus, it allows you to get creative. “Incorporating livestreaming and other creative elements allow a couple to still have a microwedding and not exclude the additional guests they would have wanted there at their big day,” she adds.

Consider hiring a wedding planner with elopement experience.

Since you’ll likely save significantly by going the elopement route versus having a big wedding, it’s worth getting a few quotes from a professional wedding planner. Preferably, contact one who has experience with these types of ceremonies or is native to the destination you have your eye on. Planning a wedding is always stressful, but with the pandemic’s added anxiety and unknowns, couples are feeling emotionally overwhelmed. Not only do they have to let go of their wedding visions, but there is much more fine print to read through, too. From the destination’s restrictions to dealing with vendors, a planner can step up to handle the heat.

Anna Noriega, owner and creative director of Alore Event Firm, says this could be a worthwhile expense that makes the lead-up time more enjoyable. “Negotiations and contracts are where our clients make the majority of their mistakes. And it's too late to fix those once they have been signed. A good planner will not only save you money, but will also save you time and provide much-needed reassurance that you’re doing it all correctly,” she explains.

And if you’ve already booked a spot, but want a planner to do the rest so you can rest easy knowing everyone is safe, Noriega says that’s doable, too. “About 99.9% of vendors and venues are working with our clients on moving their dates without losing anything,” she says.

Try to find a property with outdoor venue options.

According to Avey, most of the time, destination elopements take place at a resort or hotel, but not all are adhering to the best sanitation practices. And not all have the appropriate event spaces to adhere to social distancing protocols, either. To ensure you are doing all you can to protect one another and anyone you invite to your mini marital celebration, call the property before booking for guidance on their COVID-19 policies and procedures. These should at least include:

  • Plenty of social distancing space
  • Heightened and frequent sanitation measures
  • Private event areas
  • Mandatory masks and gloves for employees we
  • Daily temperature and wellness checks for staff
  • The option for housekeeping to come on your own terms, based on comfort

If you can, she also suggests saying ‘I do’ in the fresh air. “Look for a place that has a variety of outdoor venue options, so your ceremony is as private and spaced out as possible,” she says. “You should also look for a property that has plenty of restaurants open, so you can host a mini reception and/or a special dinner without worrying about public crowds.”

Looking for some destination elopement inspiration? Here are some options in the U.S., Mexico, and the Maldives.

Waldorf Astoria Las Vegas, Nevada

According to Christopher Anderson, director of sales and marketing, this property has seen an increase in smaller, more intimate weddings, and their elopement package was inspired by a couple who wed in their room.

Elopement Package: Ideal for five guests or less, the package includes a two-night stay in the hotel’s Villa suite, a welcome bottle of Veuve Clicquot, an in-suite ceremony, a licensed officiant for one hour, a professional photographer for one hour and 20 high-quality images, a choice of a honeymoon cabana at the pool or high tea for two, round-trip transportation for two to the Clark County Marriage License Bureau, and two embroidered face masks with distinct wedding honorifics for the couple.

Safety Precautions: According to Anderson, the Waldorf Astoria Las Vegas is following the Hilton EventReady and Hilton CleanStay protocols, which include frequent sanitation, temperate checks, and mask-wearing practices.

JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort, Florida

Amanda Cox, director of sales and marketing for the resort, says they’ve seen both elopements and microweddings (less than 20 people) throughout this year. One of this resort’s biggest perks is their 10.1-acre private beach, which makes social distancing much more comfortable to pull off while still maintaining romance and intimacy.

Elopement Package: This resort offers customized elopement packages for couples, so you can pick and choose what matters most to you. And not all of their offerings are traditional — some are adventurous, like a sunset paddleboard ceremony, and others are focused on creating a livestream event for guests to join remotely.

Safety Precautions: They are following enhanced cleanliness protocols and precautions and using their outdoor spaces frequently. These include the big beach mentioned above, as well as four outdoor terraces and a beachside green event lawn. Servers at these celebrations wear PPE when serving dishes to attendees, or couples can enjoy room service on their balcony with a view of the Gulf of Mexico, if they don’t feel safe at a restaurant.

RG|NY, North Fork, Long Island, New York

If you’ve always dreamt of getting married at a vineyard, you can fulfill your wish by exchanging vows alongside some vines. Erin Ambrose, event manager for the property, said they’ve seen such a surge in elopement inquires that they’ve created packages to meet the demand.

Elopement Package: Think of this venue as a historic, rustic destination with modern, Instagrammable touches. As a winery, it offers many bottles to choose from, and it caters to all elopements based on the couple’s wishes. One example is a $500 wedding, which includes the venue, a bottle of the 2018 RGNY sparkling white, and a livestream for friends and family wanting to tune in. You can also upgrade to an all-inclusive package and stay on the property, add catering, and more.

Safety Measures: Ambrose says they follow all CDC and New York state guidelines and standards, especially where capacity and social distancing are concerned. Additionally, all staff and vendors are masked and gloves, there are many available hand sanitizer stations, and all wedding locations and furniture are consistently sanitized.

The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort

The Maldives reopened earlier this summer, making it a luxurious option for extravagant couples who had to cancel their wedding plans and now want to elope in style. Vincent Pauchon, general manager for The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort, says they’ve seen more requests for bespoke, personalized experiences. They’ve also experienced a trend in which couples say ‘I do’ on the property, and then stay to enjoy their honeymoon.

Elopement Package: Pauchon says the property offers socially distanced and private activities, including romantic outdoor dining options, private film screenings in the Jungle Cinema, beach and/or oceanside events, and experiences on the property’s yacht, Norma.

Safety Measures: Pauchon says the property has remained diligent to ensure all guests and staff are protected. These protocols include reduced seating in restaurants; contactless check-in, room keys, and menus; and the elimination of any activities that don’t allow for proper distancing. All staff members are required to take a PCR test and must quarantine upon returning to the island if they leave. Strict cleanliness guidelines are also in place, including wearing masks and gloves, creating space between other people, and washing hands every 20 minutes for 20 seconds.

Cedar Lakes Estate, Port Jervis, New York

Lisa Karvellas, CEO of Cedar Lakes Estate, says this space was built for social distancing and private events. It’s made up of independent cottages, without any common lobbies, hallways, or enclosed spaces. It also has a number of indoor and private venues, all of which a couple can have to themselves for a celebration. Couples who want complete seclusion can also opt for contactless meals, which are dropped off directly in front of their door.

Elopement Package: All experiences are unique to the couple and can be customized to suit their elopement or microwedding dreams. Frankly, the backdrop is what sells the place: “[Couples] love the idea of eloping at Cedar Lakes because they can stay and enjoy a honeymoon without leaving,” Karvellas says. “They have access to 500 private acres, hiking trails, the lake, and nearby Hudson Valley activities.”

Safety Measures: Every square inch of the estate is disinfected following strict cleaning procedures using a chemical — HWS-64 — that meets the EPA’s criteria for use against COVID-19. The property also adds "Accommodation Fogging," which allows sanitizing chemicals to enter into small seams and gaps that hand-cleaning can’t reach, Karvellas explains. Additionally, all employees have their temperatures checked in the morning and are required to wear a mask for their entire shift.

Las Ventanas al Paraiso, A Rosewood Resort, Los Cabos, Mexico

Frederic Vidal, managing director of Las Ventanas al Paraiso, says the property designed their elopement packages after receiving so many inquiries. Because of the scenic area and warm weather, it’s an ideal spot to exchange vows. Mexico hasn’t closed its airways to U.S. citizens, so couples can arrive without quarantining for two weeks and wed.

Elopement Package: Appropriately called ‘Escape and Elope,’ their package includes a customized ceremony, an on-site wedding planner, custom floral arrangements, music from a commissioned guitarist or violinist, a private chef’s dinner on the beach or within the suite, hair and makeup services, a fireworks show, and videography/photography.

Safety Measures: According to Vidal, the resort has introduced intensified hygiene practices, including increased cleaning and disinfecting, extensive physical and social distancing procedures, and the use of ozone machines and thermal cameras at key entry points throughout the hotel. Employees are required to undergo mandatory health and safety trainings before returning to work. Lastly, room keys, check-in, and checkout are all contactless, too.

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