Planning: The Weekenders

Hosting a destination wedding? Our guide is like a trip through the best how-to's. | By Chelsea Lin

Katie and Evan Gibson’s Sayulita wedding was photographed by Joann Arruda.

1. Pre-Wedding


Think of a destination wedding this way: you’re not only planning your big day, you’re planning a vacation for your closest friends and family. The added responsibility shouldn’t deter a couple of clever wanderlusters like you—but you do want to take the extra steps to ensure you and your guests have the best possible time. Seattle-based photographer Joann Arruda does so many destination celebrations that—lucky gal—she basically spends Seattle’s rainy season in Mexico (particularly up-and-coming Sayulita), photographing weddings during what amounts to that area’s peak season, October through December. Many couples, she notes, are choosing to plan a full seven days— say, a Saturday to a Saturday—in Mexico, since vacation rental properties there regularly rent at that interval. Everyone’s on vacation anyway, so the main event can be midweek, on Wednesday or Thursday.

“They make a whole week out of it, and that’s the charm of it, to really get your family and friends together and get to know people,” Arruda says. Seven days makes sense for a foreign destination, but nuptials closer to home—even Hawaii—tend to encompass a long weekend so folks don’t have to take extended leave from work.

“They make a full week of it…to really get your family and friends together and get to know people.” -JOANN ARRUDA

No matter how near or far you are, take your guests and the surroundings into account when choosing a ceremony start time. Aleah Valley of Valley and Co recommends visiting your location around the same date as your wedding—provided you’re able to plan a year ahead of time. She says she and husband Nick coordinated a Palm Springs wedding last June for a Seattle couple who “really wanted this Rat Pack cool cocktail hour before the wedding, and they achieved it. But we had to postpone the wedding for an hour and a half because it was 108 degrees.” Bottom line: avoid the hottest part of the day in summer—or aim for it in the off-season, and scout out sunlight angles with your photographer.

Once you’ve got the specifics set, get those save-the-dates in the mail and put together a wedding website with lodging and transportation details. BreeAnn Gale of Pink Blossom Events also suggests including some information on what to pack. For instance, flashlights and pillows were needed for a wedding she recently coordinated at an Eastern Washington horse ranch.

You might also want to suggest that gifts are shipped directly to your home so you don’t have to haul crystal vases and blenders back on the plane. Getting wedded in a less affluent part of the world? Do as one of Arruda’s couples did and ask guests to make donations to a local school or animal shelter.


Your guests have traveled hours to be with you on your special day—make sure they can make the most of it. Jennifer Taylor of Taylor’d Events recently planned a wedding on Lopez Island in which the couple made papier-mâché ferryboats to hold a map of the island, directions to the various venues, and an agenda of the weekend’s activities. Taylor’s tip: utilize your destination’s local tourism board to find free copies of guides, maps, and tourist itineraries.


Whale watching in Maui, salsa dancing in Sayulita, hiking around Roche Harbor— these are just a few of the activities your guests might enjoy before the main event. Do at least some of the research for them, and consider organizing a few optional group events— perhaps a fishing excursion, a hike, a spa day, or a morning yoga session. These activities could even double as bachelor and bachelorette parties. Liam Doyle from Methow Wedding says couples who wed in the verdant Cascade Mountain region are generally outdoorsy types who come for the hiking, horseback riding, and crosscountry skiing. Their guests, however, don’t always share the same pastimes, so options are key. Doyle recommends wine tasting, for instance; we like the Lost River Winery when we’re in his neck of the woods.


Ditch the traditional rehearsal dinner in favor of a hosted welcome dinner for all guests, says Taylor. This gives everyone a chance to reconnect—or perhaps meet for the first time. Keep it casual, especially if guests are flying in on the day-of, and consider going with fun regional themes—a luau in Hawaii or a taco bar in Mexico—that might be a tad much for the actual wedding.

Photo by Joann Arruda
Photo by Joann Arruda
Photo by Joann Arruda

2. Wedding Day


Sure, you may be able to sneak in a morning run if it’ll help you stay calm and collected, but Gale says that destination couples have a tendency to overextend themselves with packed schedules, even on the big day. She recommends putting together a few morning ideas—brunch spots, local farmers markets—for guests ahead of time, but keeping the day free for key party members so that hair, makeup, and photos aren’t rushed.


If your destination requires a flight, most guests will need help with transportation from hotels to the wedding venue, and any other wedding-related locations. Unless you’re at an all-inclusive resort, this probably means hiring transportation in the form of shuttles, vans, cabs, or ferries to get guests from point A to point B.

Do consider getting creative. Seattleite Ailbhe Menton knew she wanted to get married in the church she attended while growing up in Ireland, but it was an hour and a half from the reception venue where many of her guests were staying. Solution: a rented bright green double-decker bus that made transportation a party rather than an afterthought.


There’s almost always a nearby bar that can accommodate a few stragglers who want to rage on into the wee hours, but if you have to be out of the reception venue by 8 p.m. and know continued libations are important, you need to plan ahead. “If you really want it to happen, it takes planning just like any other event over the weekend,” says Megan Keller of A Kurant Event. She recently planned a wedding at a private residence, and after the tented reception the party moved to a secret tiki-themed spot in the woods. “Guests were blown away, and the party continued on because it didn’t feel like an afterthought but an extension of the wedding itself,” she says. “Let those plans be known to your guests ahead of time, though, so they actually come!”

Malia Nickel and John Vechey’s backyard tiki reception by A Kurant Event was photographed by Shane Macomber.
Photo by Shane Macomber

3. Post Wedding


Brunch is the traditional last-hurrah of wedding weekends, but Seattle planners recommend making this a casual event with an open time frame.  A convenient, affordable in-hotel continental breakfast from 8 to 11 is a popular meeting place, but Holly-Kate Foss of Holly-Kate & Company suggests this model from a wedding she planned in Eastern Washington: the couple hosted at a local coffee shop; guests stopped in for coffee with pastries before heading on their way.

Regardless of the morning meal, all final plans should be ultracasual. You’ll be exhausted, and your guests will be, too.

“Sit poolside at the hotel and let folks come give their final well wishes, or host an open-house–style post-reception if you’ve rented the appropriate accommodations. These are easy, breezy ways to say goodbye without putting too much pressure on anyone,” says Keller.


Think about travel restrictions—and the size of an average carry-on—when planning a parting gift for your guests, since bulky items frequently get left behind. “Some of the best gifts are small wall tapestries, tea towels, and light fabrics from the area,” says Caitlin Winkelmann of Clane Gessel Photography, a Seattle-based team that travels often. Locally made noshes are a popular choice, too; Winkelmann notes that everyone loves a snack for the road.

The reception of Ailbhe Menton and Paul Brandenburg | Photo by Lauren Rutherford Photography

Been There, Done That


“If you have a wacky idea, do it. I know laser tag sounds crazy—and a lot of people wondered if it was a wedding or a Disney theme park—but it was one of the highlights of the weekend! Collecting vintage plates and shipping them to Ireland? Mad! But I liked doing the pieces that excited me—even if they were a little strange or different!” —Ailbhe Menton, who married Paul Brandenburg on July 19, 2014, at the Holy Trinity Church in Ratoath, Ireland


“Don’t be too demanding—it’s hard to be in full control when you’re getting married in another country. I went with flowers that were in season on the island and used the one baker there for the cake, even though I had a different mind-set going into it.” —Petra Liskova, who married Keith Brakebill on November 25, 2011, at the Frangipani Beach Resort in Meads Bay, Anguilla


“There are two vendors that everyone should bring: a hair and makeup artist and a photographer. Photography will last forever, and you want the person doing your hair and makeup to know how to get the perfect look. My stylist had been getting my color and cut perfect leading up to the wedding.” —Lisa Huntsman, who married Jake Eckard on November 12, 2013, at the Beach House Restaurant on Kauai island in Hawaii