destination wedding planning for this couple included a trash the dress shoot in cancun
Wedding Planning

10 Easy Steps to Destination Wedding Planning

Congrats! You’re engaged.

Very excited about your destination wedding and especially the planning part, but not too sure where to start? Here are Hola Weddings 10 steps to Destination Wedding Planning.

Step 1 – Explore your wedding vision

Anytime as of the moment of engagement (and hell, let’s be honest, some of us have done this for years!)

This is the absolute first step when destination wedding planning.

  • Do you want a symbolic ceremony? Legal? Religious?
  • Where do you see yourself getting married? On the beach (no heels!) or on a platform (option for heels)? In a Chapel? Do you envision a garden backdrop? Rooftop terrace?
  • How many guests do you want to invite? Will this be a small intimate event or a large fiesta?
  • How much do you want to spend on your travel and wedding? (see our full post on destination wedding cost)
  • Will this be a quick trip? Do you want a lengthier stay to make it more of a vacation?

Take a bit of time with your fiance and discuss these points. Once you have a better idea of the above, you can start finding the right hotel for your destination wedding.

Step 2 – Explore hotels and destination wedding locations

This can happen as soon as you have a rough idea of what you envision on your wedding day.

Most hotels won’t release the wedding package pricing until roughly 18 months prior and rates for the hotel may not even be available. That said, you can start by figuring out where you want to get married. What destinations speak to you the most?

Choosing a hotel for your destination wedding: things to consider.

  • Type of Wedding Ceremony – does the hotel offer the type of ceremony you are seeking?
  • Wedding Venues – does it have the type of venue that you envision getting married in and if so, can it accommodate your size group
  • Package pricing – even if you have not settled on a final budget yet, will get married at this hotel be within the range of money you would like to spend
  • Hotel pricing – is the nightly price within a reasonable range for what you expect your guests to spend in order to attend your wedding
  • Weather and seasons – now is a good time to look at the different times of the year and how that may affect your event and group. Is it the rainy season? Do you need specific dates or weeks?
  • What time of day should your ceremony be starting so that you can have your photos taken before sunset?

Again, at this point, pricing is preliminary but you will still have a very good idea and this process will allow you to narrow down to find the one right property that will host your group and wedding.

Once you have an idea of a hotel you want to choose for your destination wedding, read the reviews.

Find out what other couples have to say about their own destination wedding in that particular location.

Join a Facebook group to talk with other couples about their experiences with the hotels you are interested in.

If you have already found the right hotel for your big day, you can then jump to step 3 of our destination wedding planning guide.

Step 3 – Save your wedding date

WOOHOO! This is a fun and exciting step when you are planning your destination wedding… You can now save your wedding date!

Most hotels do require a deposit in order to save your date for you, and many times this is non-refundable. However, if you are set on a hotel, time and venue, save your date before anyone else does (we can also help with this if you want help).

They will also ask what type of ceremony you want, what wedding package you are opting for (you can normally change this later), what venues and times you would like to reserve.

If you are opting for a Catholic or Legal ceremony, find out what paperwork will be required and make sure you start getting this organized as sometimes this can take months to prepare.

After this, depending on how far in advance you are, the next steps don’t need to happen immediately, you can sit back and relax and already start doodling your wedding date everywhere. You can even send out your save the dates!

Once you have paid your deposit to save your wedding date, you can expect an email from the resort normally within about a week to confirm your date reservation.

Spa Garden Tropical Wedding Reception Secrets Papagayo
Tropical wedding reception at the Secrets Papagayo in Costa Rica

Step 4 – Find your tribe

There are many facebook groups for brides of specific destinations or getting married at particular hotels which will greatly help with your destination wedding planning process and help you with the 10 steps.

They can be a wealth of information or even a sounding board. You will have direct contact with so many other people that have already lived or are going to live an experience similar to yours, so use this network to:

  • Find reviews on your preferred vendors
  • Ideas on decor, favors, and other items
  • Find information on hotel details (table measurements, size of gazebo sheers you will need, etc.)
  • Decor swap and share vendors
  • Bounce ideas off of each other
  • Vent – this can come in handy!

Getting married in Playa Mujeres or Costa Mujeres? Join this Facebook group for destination weddings in Playa Mujeres.

Step 5 – Shop for hotel rates

If you want to be able to include the hotel rates on your wedding website, or better yet, create a site where your guests can RSVP and book their own room on a site, you will want to start shopping for the best rates and conditions for your group.

There are a few options when it comes to choosing what type of group booking is right for you.

Your preferred travel agent or destination wedding planner will be able to explain the differences and help you determine the best option for you.

Once this is done and you send out the booking details to your guests. Make sure that your preferred point of booking is in regular contact with you.

And don’t forget to include your expected dress code so that your guests can plan accordingly.

Step 6 – Plan additional events for your destination wedding & find your vendors

OK, well this step is a long one which could mean 11 steps, but 10 steps to destination wedding planning sounded better.

Do you want a rehearsal dinner? An event or party outside of the hotel? A group excursion like a catamaran or golf? This is a good time to start looking into options (your travel agent or hotel should be able to help guide you).

Again, you will want to determine your budget and then take it from there. If you are staying on-site for your hair and makeup preparations, make sure to book your times with the spa and beauty salon. There are often at least 2 weddings per day and you want to make sure that they can accommodate your group.

Cancun Sailing Catamaran – contact us for our group rates

Do you want to hire an outside wedding coordinator for additional support?

One thing to consider is whether or not you want to hire your own wedding planner in addition to the one included in the package at the hotel. How much one-on-one attention will you need prior to your event?

The hotel wedding coordinators are very experienced and know what they are doing, BUT, you must consider that they have dozens of brides at any given time in different stages of the planning.

They have to split their time accordingly, and most will not get into the nitty-gritty details of your wedding until about 3 months prior. Can you handle this? Will you be okay with waiting (sometimes days and even weeks) for emails and answers?

Sometimes the extra investment to have your own wedding planner is worth the peace of mind it brings.

At this point in the planning, if this is something you want, being to interview potential wedding coordinators and find the one that works for you.

They should be able to walk you through all the steps of destination wedding planning (more than 10) and also hold your hand, offer moral support and guide you through the entire process for the wedding itself.

If you are set on specific vendors, whether it be for hair, photography, decor, live music or make-up, your best bet is to lock them in.

This is completely a personal preference, many couples choose to work with the on-site vendors, in which case you have a lot more wiggle room for booking (although keep in mind, there may be other weddings at the resort on your wedding day).

If you do choose to work with outside vendors, be sure to check with your hotel wedding coordinator who will advise of any restrictions or fees.

Josh from Heping Hair Studio working with Alison to get ready for her wedding at the Hyatt Playa del Carmen. Choosing vendor is part of the steps to destination wedding planning
Stunning bride with her hairstylist. Wedding at the Grand Hyatt Playa del Carmen. Photo courtesy of Take It Photo

Step 7 – Finalize your guest list

At this point, you should have an idea of your final guest list.

The hotel will be asking for your numbers and it is also handy to have so that you get an idea of what sort of perks or discounts you will be receiving based on your guest count.

This will allow you to finalize the favors, work on seating charts and finalize other events you may have planned.

We loved helping our lovely wedding group  at the Palladium Colonial hotel with their destination wedding planning

Step 8 – Planning with your destination wedding coordinator at the hotel

The hotel in general will being planing about 3 months prior to your wedding. At this point, your coordinator will work with you to work out the details for:

  • Cake flavor and options
  • Flowers
  • Decor
  • Music
  • Seating Charts
  • Menus and extras
  • Any specific readings you would like during the ceremony or requests for the officiant
  • Paperwork – for legal or Catholic ceremonies, you will be required to send all paperwork at this point if they haven’t already asked for it.

Your vendors should be in touch with you regularly. About 3 months prior you will finalize packages and the more specific details in regards to your wants and needs for their services.

Do you need to make an itinerary for your guests or is everything pretty straightforward? Do you have a hashtag for your wedding? A Whatsapp group? How will you communicate with everyone once you are at the resort?

Step 9 – Getting ready for the flight

This will require a certain amount of preparation ahead of time, especially if you are packing and bringing your own decor or favors.

  • Check with your airline in regards to luggage allowance, transport of wedding day attire.
  • Check customs of your receiving country
  • Remove packaging from new items and/or keep your receipts
  • Make sure you have all your paperwork filed and ready ahead of time to avoid scrambling at the last minute
  • Pack ahead of time to avoid major stressing in the last couple of days before your flight
  • HYDRATE! You want that skin glowing and a tequila-only diet just won’t cut it

Step 10 – Enjoy your wedding day!

This day will be a blur when you look back upon it.

Take your time. Breathe it all in.

Try your best not to sweat the small stuff and especially the things you cannot control (weather!). Let go of the family drama. This day is about you and your soulmate.

Looking for even more information? Have a look at our Complete guide to Destination wedding!

Have a comment or suggestion? Do you have any destination wedding planning tips or did our 10 steps fit the bill? Leave your comment below!

Need help planning a destination wedding?

Our team of destination wedding planners have got you covered.

1-888-472-7077

[email protected]

Lisa Wright

Soccer-mom, newlywed-wife, dog-lover, yoga-doer, tequila-drinker and master-wedding-specialist-extraordinaire! At your service…

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