To fly, or not to fly? As travel begins to open up again and hopes for a vaccine or cure for Coronavirus get higher, a lot of couples are now cracking on with wedding planning and wondering if their dreams of a ceremony abroad is still an option. Weddings all over the globe have had to be postponed and rescheduled due to the coronavirus outbreak and my heart goes out to anyone affected. Getting all of your friends and family onto planes and sending them abroad for your nuptials is tough enough at the best of times and many people want to do it, but just don't know if they should go for the dream of blue skies and a sun soaked vineyard. We know that the events industry is keen to open up again after being so badly affected, as is the travel industry. For a time there will have to be compromises and changes to keep everyone safe, but workarounds can be found and the way businesses have been adapting is amazing. Coronavirus not withstanding, I thought I'd do a blog post about destination weddings now that they might be back on the table, weighing up some pros and cons to help you decide if it could be the right option for you.
The pros and cons of a destination wedding
To give this post a real life, edge, I have done a little case study of my friends Vanessa and Tom who got married in Malta (where Tom is originally from) in June 2018. It was an amazing few days and I have some very fond (if sometimes fuzzy) memories of! It was a full time, full on production which was fitting, given Vanessa's background in opera which is where we met! Vanessa used to manage the Wigs and Makeup team at English National Opera and then unintentionally became an internet sensation with her stunningly beautiful and intricate Day of the Dead inspired make up looks (she is half Mexican). She is now also known as The Skulltress, creates looks all over the world, teaches masterclasses and you can check out some of her work here on her Instagram page.
So staying true to form, Vanessa and Tom created a stage management schedule in 15 minute intervals for the day itself, with the mantra 'The more organised you are for a wedding the less surprises you get!' Wise words.
The positives outweigh the negatives
I asked Vanessa what the pros and cons were of the whole experience, and she gave me a few stories and titbits from the planning process and day itself. She said 'the positives definitely outweigh the negatives. You can get more for your money, there's the weather, and it feels more like an adventure! There is pressure there though as your guests are investing in more than just a wedding, it's actually a really valuable holiday and experience. If you have a destination wedding, you want to plan more than one event. You have to create events either side for your guests who have come all this way.' With this in mind Vanessa and Tom planned more than 'just' a wedding (as if that isn't hard enough) and us guests ended up with a fantastic few days in Malta.
Vanessa and Tom spent a week over in Malta before the big day, and stayed an extra three days afterwards. In those days before the wedding itself, they held a family BBQ, and then drinks in a beach bar the day before the wedding where almost all of the guests gathered for an informal lunch and drinks and got to know each other. Then there was the wedding itself followed by an after party in a local bar, and then the following day they held a party in a beach club on the north of the island, followed by a dinner at one of the guest's enormous Air BnB houses. It was a relentless party marathon in the sunshine and you got four events for the price of one, as well as some sight seeing and sunbathing on the side!
'It was planning a holiday for everyone, not just one event. You don't want to send your friends all the way there and just see them for one day and that's it. So it can be challenging, but it's fun!' Having been a guest I can say it certainly was fun, and I also made some really good friends. Spending that much time with a group of guests means you aren't just left with vague memories from dancing together to the Rolling Stone's Paint it Black under a canopy of olive trees (that happened), you actually get to know everyone. Two years later, I still talk to the girls I stayed with, even though one of them lives in Singapore! Major plus.
Back to the wedding. It took place in the grounds of Villa Bologna, an opulent Maltese stately home in Attard which is in the centre of the island. It was simply the most stunning backdrop for the ceremony and following reception and dinner.
The whole event was outside, but no need for a wet weather contingency - this is one of the biggest 'pros' for a destination wedding. You pretty much get guaranteed sunshine if you choose your host country and date carefully. No obsessive checking of the forecast to look for rain (or clouds), the only issue is getting too hot and the wedding was planned for later in the afternoon to avoid the midday sun.
So the weather was a weight off this bride's mind. But Vanessa's amazing but rather large Pronovias gown ended up being an unexpected cause for concern when she had to figure out how to get it to Malta. Not trusting it to get there safely by checking it into the baggage hold, I remember talking to her a few weeks before the big day about how on earth to solve the problem as she wasn't allowed to book a seat on the plane for it, and it was too big to fit into a cabin size bag. In the end though the solution came by vacuum packing it! It shrunk down from this...
So any brides with the same issue - this is the answer. You won't believe how small a package it can become.
Now onto decor. Orchids were the flower of choice which sat beautifully against both the ornate embellishments on Vanessa's gown and the venue. Orchids are an expensive flower choice but cost wise, having the wedding abroad meant that for them, their budget went a lot further.
'If we'd had our wedding in London it would have cost us at least twice the amount. Our venue was really affordable, and so we ended up spending more on flowers than we did on the food! You can move the money around and spend on other things, like the dress or decor.' Speaking to Vanessa about it now, I find this so unbelievable as the venue was simply breathtaking. And I agree with her that a similar level of venue in the UK with the level of food and drink that was served would have been a very significant spend. So that is another major plus.
In terms of the negative aspects, one thing that was challenging was not being in the same country for things like the tasting. 'Most of the negotiation and running around has to be done by email, I could only go back once during the planning process and that meant I missed out on the food tasting. And it also meant we had to pack in a hell of a lot of stuff in the week leading up to the wedding.' This is where having a tight schedule really helps, but it does run the risk of not being able to relax very much. Last minute cancellations can also be an issue, if people can't get there, and one big downside for Vanessa was that her elderly Grandmother couldn't be there as she wasn't well enough to travel. Ditto with any pregnant friends, as they might not be able to come depending on the stage of their pregnancy.
Speaking of children, it is difficult to use a 'no kids' rule at a destination wedding as it's a long time to expect parents to get childcare or be apart from their brood. Plus it is a lovely reason for a family holiday, so Vanessa navigated this by arranging on site nannies and a special quiet room. But this is something to bear in mind if you are keen to keep the kiddies away, as you might you lose some guests who won't attend without them, and things like school can get in the way too.
From my perspective as a guest at this wedding, things seem to run really smoothly on the day but I found out later that disaster struck almost at the get go when the classic car that had been booked to take Vanessa and her father to the venue arrived to collect them, and then promptly broke down! Thankfully a local taxi jumped in to save the day and ended up being a better option, given that it had air conditioning in the heat of the Maltese summer. 'There was a moment of "oh s*** we're going to be late", but it all worked out and became part of the story, part of the adventure'. Adventure is a word Vanessa uses a lot when describing the whole experience of planning the wedding.
I was personally on the fence about destination weddings before I attended this one, and I am now a convert. It was such a fun experience and I had the best few days over in Malta making friends and celebrating Tom and Vanessa, and it is a really beautiful country. My only real worry was how to style my hair in a way that wouldn't get ick sweaty and still look neat and stylish. I did some research though and found that there was a good hair salon in one of the luxury hotels on the island and booked myself in to get it put up and out the way. Research and planning - they always save the day.
From her perspective as the bride, Vanessa said that it felt really magical. 'I will never forget that day and if I had to do it all again I would, it was amazing.'
So tallying them all up, we come out in favour of destination weddings. It comes with its challenges and sacrifices, but in their place there is adventure and experiences with your friends and family that last a lot longer than just one day. And as an English person, the guarantee of sunshine is just too good to resist, am I right?
Have you been to a destination wedding? I'd love to hear your stories!