For couples planning their destination wedding, one burning question tends to top the rest: Do I need to see the venue in person before the wedding? I’m just starting to plan my own destination wedding, and have asked numerous wedding coordinators and planners this exact question. The resounding answer is: If you can go see your venue, you should. However, if it’s just not possible, Skype, shared Pinterest boards, and a deluge of emails can be enough.
There are essentially two reasons to visit a venue before your destination wedding. The first is to choose a venue and see your wedding spot before booking. The second reason is to actually visualize the event and finalize your vendor contracts, taste your menu, and figure out all the logistics. If your plan is to visit venues before you book a destination wedding, a good rule of thumb is to plan a wedding-focused visit that will still feel like a vacation. The reality is, visiting a venue is going to cost you money. And if you’re going to shell out, it may as well feel relaxing and exciting, rather than just an item you need to check off your wedding to-do list.
Ritz Carlton Kapalua director of catering and wedding extraordinaire Akiko Nakazato says about 25% of couples who wed at their Maui property visit before their wedding. When the couples come to visit the resort, they tour Maui, take advantage of the luxe hotel’s amenities, see some of the sights they won’t have time to visit during their wedding festivities, and even meet with Kapalua’s on-site culture coordinator to talk about Hawaiian wedding customs they want to fit into their big day. Nakazato says that if the couple can’t make a visit happen, there are an abundance of digital resources to help you plan your wedding from afar. “A pre-planning visit is not a requirement,” says Nakazato. “We communicate over the phone and emails. Many of our brides share their wedding inspirations via pinterest or Instagram.”
Nakazato says if you’re going to come do a site visit, whether before or after you’ve booked the venue, come with an agenda in mind. “It’s good to know what is important to the wedding couple prior to their visit to our property. With their preferences in mind, I conduct [a more personalized] tour,” she explains.
In terms of making decisions on site, you may want to choose exactly where your ceremony, cocktail hour, and reception will be held. At the Ritz Carlton Kapalua, Nakazota likes to take the couples through each of the three ceremony venues and three reception options. Sometimes the venue you originally had in mind gets out shined by the waterfront cliff you didn’t realize was an option.
If you’re going to plan a site visit before booking a venue, try to visit multiple properties with different feels to get a sense of what you might like. After checking out the Kapalua venue in Maui, my fiancé and I hopped a quick puddle jumper flight to Oahu and toured urban venue options at the Ritz Carlton Residences Waikiki Beach. If you’re still in the ideation phase of planning and aren’t sure what you want the atmosphere of your destination wedding to be, taking a town-and-country trip, wherein you choose a destination (like Hawaii) that allows you to look at off-the-beaten path outdoor venues and the innovative city venues could be incredibly helpful.
When planning a destination-wedding-visit itinerary in Hawaii, bouncing from the Ritz Carlton Kapalua to the Ritz Carlton Residences Waikiki Beach allowed us to contrast the lush tropical vibes of Maui with the luxury waterfront buildings in Honolulu. If you’re deciding whether you want unadulterated tropical beauty, or a chic rooftop patio with an ocean view for your reception, a two-stop trip that’s relatively easy to plan can help inform your decision.
Of course, Hawaii isn’t the only spot where you can do a town-and-country wedding tour excursion. You can visit the Riviera Maya in Mexico and visit city venues in Cancun and jungle venues in Tulum. You can fly to Italy and tour urban venues in Florence and country villas in Tuscany. And of course, you can orchestrate a trip like this without hopping a flight: drive to Denver and visit urban breweries contrasted with mountain venues in the Rockies. Think of it as an engagement moon with a wedding inspo twist.
Venues need to be booked well in advance — often at least 12 months out — but that doesn’t mean you can’t book a venue and then go visit. After all, you reduce the amount of work you’ll need to do on your wedding weekend by planning on the ground before the big day. In terms of putting down a deposit before seeing the venue, my rule is: If you aren’t going to see the venue, you need to not only speak with the venue at length, but also talk to someone who has been there in person. Having trouble finding someone who has worked with the venue? Search for wedding planners in the area, get on Facebook and join a destination wedding group (there are plenty), or ask the on-site coordinator if they can refer you to a couple who has gotten married at your dream venue in the past.
If you’ve already locked down your destination wedding venue, your visit might be more about visualizing your event. Visiting your wedding location to see where you might host your cocktail hour, your reception, and the ceremony could be well worth it. And that’s especially true if you’re hosting an event that involves changing locations from the ceremony to the reception. Don’t forget that most destination wedding spots have more than one venue option, and seeing them in person can make all the difference. Sometimes pictures just don’t do these romantic spots justice. Similarly, you might assume you don’t want to consider an indoor reception if you’re getting married in a gorgeous destination, but actually seeing the indoor venues may change your mind. I toured a ballroom that had air conditioning and an ocean view at Ritz Kapalua — an air conditioned ocean view reception might pique your interest if your wedding will be held in 85-degree heat.
Ultimately, you reduce the risk by going to see the venue before your wedding, but you also reduce the element of surprise. And just think, if you aren’t able to visit your venue before the wedding, it will be a truly stunning surprise on the big day.