For more than 25 years, event planner to the stars Preston Bailey has toured the globe, fulfilling wedding-day dreams for hopeless romantics. Travel + Leisure spoke with Bailey upon his return from coordinating a royal wedding in Saudi Arabia, about his recent travels, what informs his sense of design, and how he ensures that there’s always more room for souvenirs in his luggage.
Courtesy Preston Bailey

Where have you been lately?

I just got back from putting together a royal wedding in Riyadh, and from a short, but extraordinary, visit to Egypt. My friend Vincente Wolf and I stayed in the Mena House Oberoi in Cairo—they have such a great view of the pyramids—and then traveled down the Nile for four days on a felucca (a wooden Egyptian sailboat). I’m on my way to Rome to scout a castle for a client’s nuptials, and then it’s back to the Middle East for another project and some time off in Morocco.

Given recent world events, have you ever found it difficult being an American in the Middle East?

No. I’ve felt quite the opposite. Everyone was very accommodating and worked hard to make us feel comfortable. They wanted us to know that we were welcome despite current tensions.

Do you have a favorite vacation spot?

I grew up in Panama, in the village of Chilibre, and love going back to visit. I tend to choose places with a pervading sense of mystery and a spiritual feel, like Machu Picchu and the Brazilian Amazon.

Can you tell us about your new partnership with Sandals?

We recently teamed up to launch Preston Bailey WeddingMoons. It’s an extension of their destination weddings program, and I’ve developed several themed packages that include signature touches like bouquets and boutonnieres that incorporate local plants and flowers, elaborate table settings—and even a private jet for our most lavish wedding experience.

How does the destination factor into the success of an event?

It’s important to know your location’s assets and its limitations. A wonderful occasion where we achieved a type of perfect balance was Donna Karan’s daughter Gabby’s wedding at the private-island resort Parrot Cay, in Turks and Caicos. Donna is an exceptional entertainer and really knows how to make guests feel special. She designed her daughter’s dress and chartered a plane to take everyone down to the island. We took the remote destination and made it work for us.

Any great packing tips?

I always bring two bags: one I pack with the essentials—clothes, toiletries—and the other I leave empty. That way, I have room to bring back all the exotic fabrics, accessories, and design books I’ve picked up along the way.

What’s the best part of your job?

The travel, without a doubt. I’m on the road at least once a week, but I never get sick of it. I get to see beautiful places and stay at fabulous hotels all over the world—Amandari in Bali is at the top of my list. Each destination I visit has a culture of craftsmanship that inspires my work. I just wish I had more time to spend in each place before moving on to the next project.

Four Seasons Hotel George V Paris
31 Avenue George V Paris; 800/332-3442;; doubles from $852

Kedewatan, Ubud, Bali; 800/477-9180;; doubles from $650

Royal Plantation
Main Street, Ocho Rios, Jamaica; 888/487-6925;; From $320 per person, double, including meals, drinks, and activities

Copacabana Palace
1702 Avenida Atlantica, Rio de Janeiro; 55-21/2548-7070;; doubles from $405