Hit the road to cut wedding stress
A destination wedding can simplify, enrich big day
By Marnie Hunter
The wedding chapel at the Grand Wailea Resort on the Hawaiian island of Maui offers stunning ocean views.
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(CNN) -- Straying from the local country club to a hilltop castle or an island shore is the ideal wedding plan for an increasing number of couples.
"It turns the wedding into a longer celebration, one that's a little bit more intimate because you usually have fewer guests," said Donna Heiderstadt, travel editor for Modern Bride magazine.
The number of destination weddings has increased by 400 percent in the past 10 years, according to a recent survey of nearly 1,600 brides conducted by the Condé Nast Bridal Group, which publishes Modern Bride, Brides and Elegant Bride magazines.
Mike Stone and Alana Fuierer of Rochester, New York, were aiming for a small event when they decided to have their April wedding on Jekyll Island in Georgia.
"It allowed us to have a more relaxed, laid-back wedding," Fuierer said. "We wore flip-flops and just enjoyed ourselves a little bit more than I think we would have if we had had it closer to home."
About half of the 140 guests they invited were able to attend, balancing out the higher per person cost of entertaining the group on Jekyll Island.
Michele Keeley, a consultant at a Carlson Wagonlit travel agency in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, tells clients to expect about a third to a half of the number of guests invited to attend a destination wedding.
"More often [couples] will assume more people will go than actually do," Keeley said. The cost of transportation and lodging is substantial for guests, as is the time commitment required for the event.
Heiderstadt suggests couples send out save-the-date cards about six months before the wedding so that guests can begin to make arrangements.
Setting up a Web site with the dates, lodging suggestions, directions, travel options and related links also is very helpful, she said.
Wedding bells, wedding bills
Cost is a driving factor in most wedding planning, and destination weddings are no exception. The Conde Nast survey found that participating readers spent an average of $25,806 on their destination weddings with an average of 63 guests.
Much of that cost is in catering several events, typically a welcome reception, a rehearsal dinner, the wedding and a brunch the following day, Heiderstadt said.
Most of Keeley's clients spend a lot less by choosing all-inclusive resorts, where much of the food and beverage expense is part of the lodging cost assumed by guests.
She recently helped a couple with a wedding at an all-inclusive resort on the Mayan Riviera in Mexico with 40 guests. The couple ended up spending less than $5,000 for the wedding and their own travel expenses.
Many resorts will provide a complimentary wedding ceremony with extras such as cake and champagne for a small number of guests if the bride and groom spend a minimum number of nights there.
Planning from afar with fewer options at their fingertips can be a struggle for some couples, Keeley said.
Heiderstadt and Keeley both recommend visiting the site in advance to get a better sense of what to expect.
"I think one of the biggest complications in terms of the bride is not being able to see it, feel it, taste it beforehand. It's a really big leap of faith, so it's not necessarily the right thing for every person," she said.
Martin Fiedler, an Argentinian living in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, was happy with the pared-down options offered by a Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, resort for his October 2005 wedding.
"Having fewer choices was actually, for us, very convenient. They were all choices that were proven because the hotel obviously does this on a regular basis," he said.
He and his wife Jolanda, a Netherlands native, were expecting guests from Europe and South America. They used a travel agent to help with guest bookings and the resort took care of everything else.
A good local contact is essential, particularly if visiting beforehand isn't possible.
Christine Scursso plans to marry fiancé Ryan Ericksen in September in Amalfi, Italy, at the Hotel Luna Convento. The two have visited Italy before, but their wedding trip will be their first visit to the southern part of the country.
"I really didn't know how to go about setting up a wedding in Italy, but it's been so easy -- a lot easier than I had anticipated so far," Scursso said.
She found a wedding planner in Italy through a Web site called Weddings in Italy and has been pleased with the planning process. Scursso researched the company before committing to make sure she was dealing with a reputable organization.
No matter where the big event is taking place, it's important for the couple to remember why they chose the location in the first place.
"I think you have to not be so caught up in a lot of the mini little details," Heiderstadt said. "You're going to be in a beautiful setting."
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