Ah, destination wedding etiquette – just when you thought boring ol’ normal wedding etiquette questions weren’t enough, you went and decided to get married in some romantic, far-flung location.
I have to say, good for you. Destination weddings are really smart and can actually save you money by combining your wedding costs with your honeymoon expenses – plus you’ll likely have a smaller headcount, which also keeps moolah in your pocket.
However, destination weddings bring up all kinds ofdestination wedding etiquette issues: Who pays for what? What’s the correct destination wedding invitation etiquette? What about destination wedding gift etiquette? You’re about to find all these answers and more with our current top 10 destination wedding etiquette Q’s and A’s.
Destination Wedding Etiquette – Your Top 8 Questions Answered Honestly
Q #1: What’s the proper destination wedding invitation etiquette? When do I send them? What should we say? What about save-the-dates?
A: Etiquette experts usually advise you send your invites about three months in advance, but if you’re getting married abroad, destination wedding invitation etiquette dictates that you send them earlier than that, like at least six months. If you can send your save-the-dates out even earlier, like a year or even more in advance, all the better. The reason is simply that destination weddings are expensive for your guests and people generally need time to work your wedding into their budgets.
The implication for you is that you really have to get your guest list nailed down much more quickly than if you were having a wedding at home. You also need to ensure you include some hotel information on an insert. Give guests a number of options (like this: Garden Inn (budget): 555-555-5555, Valencia Suites (mid-range): 555-555-5556, Belvedere Resort (luxury): 555-555-5556). BONUS: By letting them know these details, you tell them (a) where they can stay so they can plan ahead and (b) that you won’t be paying for their accommodations.
Q #2: Do I have to pay for accommodations/activities/meals/whatever else for my guests?
A: Yes. And no. Here’s the rundown: Any organized wedding event, including pre- and post-wedding events, should be paid for by you. If you invite a guest to something, they are your GUEST, and that means you pay. So if you want them to come to a pre-wedding luau rehearsal dinner, you should be footing the bill, period.
If your guests want you to rent them a car so they can scoot around the island or get them some jet-skis for the day, too bad for them (and yes, this has happened to brides I know!). Anything they are doing outside of official wedding activities is going on their credit card, not yours. Also, you are not obligated to pay for anyone’s accommodations.
Q #3: What about my wedding party? Do I have to pay for them? That could get pricey!
A: The destination wedding etiquette jury is actually still out on this one, but here is what The Alternative Bride says: Do what you can for your wedding party. These are supposed to be the most important people in your lives and likely they want to be there for you, but your destination wedding is seriously going to cost them an arm and a leg. So, consider paying for some or all of the following: their airfare, their accommodations, their wedding attire, their meals, etc.
Of course, this simply isn’t pragmatic for a lot of to-be-weds, so just do what you can. Maybe plan a special activity for them (like a snorkeling tour, which can be very affordable) or get them an extra-nice thank-you present.
Also remember not to be, well, a jerk. If you ask someone to be your maid of honor and she can’t make it because you’ve chosen to get married in Fiji, either let it go or, if you can, offer to foot the bill for her (just be discreet if you aren’t making the offer to the rest of your bridal party). Be prepared to get “no”s from people, even your BFFs. A destination wedding is simply not in many people’s budgets.
Q #4: Do I have to do weddings favors or an open bar? This wedding is going to be expensive and we want to trim costs.
A: The rule is don’t trim costs at the expense of your guests. Yes, they get wedding favors because you are obligated to make a gesture of thanks to your guests for making the considerable trip to your nuptials. Yes, you really, really should have an open bar. A cash bar is kinda tacky, especially at a destination wedding. These people are paying thousands of dollars each to attend your wedding; the least you could do is buy them a few drinks.
If you’re really on a budget, trim costs in other ways: Reduce your head count. Shorten your honeymoon. Get a less expensive gown. Choose a more affordable resort. Reduce your cake by a tier. You get the idea.
Q #5: What’s the correct destination wedding gift etiquette? Should we expect gifts? How do we tell people not to bring presents to the wedding? Can we just ask for cash?
A: Yes, you can register for gifts even if you’re having a destination wedding. Destination wedding gift etiquette is pretty much the same as for a normal wedding. No, don’t include info on your invitations and, sorry, you still can’t ask for money (but you can try a honeymoon registry). Ask your bridal party and/or family members to spread the word only when asked.
It is common sense for guests not to cart prezzies for you in their suitcases only for you to cart them back home, so your bridal party can let your guests know they can ship any gifts to your home instead. On the other hand, if someone shows up with a 30 lb. stand mixer, just be gracious about it. These things happen and in the grand scheme of things, it’s not a big deal – and you get a stand mixer so, hey, that’s pretty great!
And what if people DON’T get you a gift? Well, etiquette-wise, they are supposed to, but the decent thing to do for a destination wedding is to assume that their presence is gift enough. They are shelling out a LOT to be there, after all.
Q #6: We want to get married at an adults-only resort. Can we tell people they can’t bring their kids?
A: Yes you can, but realize that it can be very hard – if not impossible – for parents to leave their kids for a week and come to your wedding, or bring their kids along for the ride and use a stranger to look after them while they’re at your wedding reception. If it’s critical to you that no children attend your wedding, then be prepared for parents to RSVP their regrets.
Q #7: Do we have to hang out with our wedding guests before and especially after the wedding? Can’t we have alone time on our honeymoon?!?
A: Yup, you are absolutely entitled to alone time. However, you should expect many guests to think, “We flew halfway around the world and blew our kid’s college budget to be here, I want to spend time with these guys!”
To help keep everyone satisfied, plan an activity or two before the wedding with your guests, and maybe even one after. Make a special effort to spend a little quality time with everyone so no one feels like they didn’t get a moment with you. You’ll likely find that most guests are reasonable and understand that they aren’t going to get days full of quality visiting time with you, but do what you can.
As far as the “honeymoon” part goes, you are under no obligation to hang out with your guests after you’re married – just do what feels right to you. It’s nice of you to spend a little time with them, but you don’t have to, and your guests should understand.
Q #8: What about an after-party for people who couldn’t make the wedding? Can we do that? Will it hurt people’s feelings if they aren’t invited to the actual wedding?
A: This is a good question and luckily it has a pretty simple answer. Yes, you can absolutely throw a reception after you get home to celebrate your newlywed status with your peeps who couldn’t make the destination wedding. The caveat: don’t ever ONLY invite people to your at-home reception. If they get an invite to that, they should get an invite to the actual wedding.
Even if you’re “really sure” someone won’t be able to attend your destination wedding, you might be surprised. After all, your big day might be someone else’s perfect excuse to finally take a beach vacation. Approximately 70% of people RSVP “yes” to destination weddings, so don’t just assume you can invite everyone and still wind up with a small wedding. Handle this scenario by including your at-home reception info on your invitations and let people choose for themselves which event they will attend (or, if you want, ask them to attend both).
Do you have other destination wedding etiquette questions? Ask (in the comments below) and you shall receive!
Photo Credit: kristaguenin on Flickr