“I want to tell you a story.” He takes my hand and leads me outside. Anticipation. I sit down, facing my nervously excited man. “A long time ago,” he begins, “the crafting of a very special ring signified, in its very making, the union of a man and a woman. The jeweler would set an exquisite piece with a center stone and then the bride-to-be would wear the ring, without the stone, as the outward expression that she was promised to a certain man. During the wedding ceremony, the stone would be set into the ring and the bond completed.” He paused, my anticipation grew. “I have such a ring for you.”

Though my now-husband proposed in October (I do believe he would have imploded had he bought the ring and waited until Christmas to propose), 35 percent of all proposals occur between Christmas and New Year’s Day, according to Jen Wooster McBride, Columbus wedding planner and CEO of J. Lauren Events ( Once you’re engaged, it begins: the impending panic of 1,000 decisions yet to be made.

Hey, the stakes are high on this one. It’s one of the biggest, most memorable days in your life – the event you’ve dreamed of since you were playing princess bride with your next-door neighbor in the backyard.

Every year, an average of 2.4 million weddings are performed in the U.S. – 16 percent of those are destination weddings. In fact, annually, destination weddings account for $16 billion of the $50 billion wedding market. Maybe you picture palm trees swaying as ocean waves gently crest behind you. Maybe your fantasy happens on a crisp fall-like day in the courtyard of a quaint 16th century church where the scent of lavender fills the air. A destination wedding, whether Brazil or Belgium, is romantic in the “I’ve dreamed of this day since I was a little girl” kind of way.


Although destination weddings have become increasingly popular for many reasons, including budget, they are not right for every couple.

Donnie Brown, celebrity wedding event planner and host of the Style Network show Whose Wedding is it Anyway? has produced more than 2,000 events for celebs including LeAnn Rimes, Emma Thompson, the Dallas Cowboys and many others. His book, Donnie Brown Weddings: From Cake to Couture, hit bookstores this October and is an approachable, practical way every bride can have a little Donnie at her wedding. In it, he cautions all brides to ask themselves with whom they want to share their wedding day before deciding to choose a destination. He recently ran into a bride planning a destination wedding in the Caribbean and asked her how old her grandmother was. “Ninety-five years old,” she replied. “Do you want her at your wedding?” he asked. “Of course,” she said. “Then you better forget the destination wedding, sweetie.”


Statistics show the average traditional American wedding costs just under $30,000 and includes 200 of your parents’ closets friends you’ve never met. Yet with a connection to great resources, for about a third of the cost, couples can plan an amazing destination wedding with the people who mean the most to them. While in 2008, the average destination-wedding budget was $20,000, wedding experts have been seeing more destination weddings within the U.S. that have smaller price tags.

So, assuming that in 8 to 10 months (the average time couples spend planning a destination wedding) you’ll be saying “I do” as the sun dips into the ocean, you need to begin the planning process by first setting a budget. According to Brown, many brides who forgo making a working budget get 30 to 40 percent into the planning and run out of money. Web sites like provide helpful budget manager tools that even track when certain vendors should be paid. You also should think beyond your budget to include the budgets of your guests. In today’s economy, Alison Hotchkiss is seeing many couples attend more carefully to their guests’ financial situations.

Hotchkiss advises couples to take the total wedding cost divided by the number of people invited, and then begin taking people off the list to reduce their expenses. Food and beverages are usually the second most expensive budget item, so to keep costs under control, consider having an open bar or maybe just a table wine. Labor is also expensive, so think in terms of staffing. And be prepared to think about your venue’s timing. Sunset is the most popular time for destination weddings, but that may not work for the location you select. If you work with their timing, you’ll be able to better control costs.

In addition to the venue, food and beverages, cake, dress, tuxedo, invitations, florist, photographer, videographer, favors, entertainment, licenses and official, think about whether you’ll be budgeting to include helping your guests see your special day. While, on average, guests at a destination wedding spend $400 to attend, there are couples that secretly factor financially supporting guests into their budgets. If you want everyone to stay at the same hotel but rooms are $299 a night, consider subsidizing so your guests pay $99 a night. You don’t have to let your guests know – they feel like they can afford to attend and you’ve not offended them with the help.


While my wedding at Curtain Bluff ( in Antigua included just the two of us, statistically speaking, the average number of guests at a destination wedding is 48. The benefit to deciding your guest list at the outset lies in helping you narrow down your location possibilities. In the current economic conditions, Hotchkiss is seeing couples rethink their guest lists, especially for destination weddings. Smaller, more intimate weddings are en vogue.

Think about where most of your guests live. Wooster McBride suggests planning your wedding off-season if you want your friends and family to attend. Even though June is a popular wedding month, if you plan it for January or February in the Caribbean when it’s freezing in Columbus, it’s more tempting for your guests to join you.


My husband and I started by making a list of “must-haves” before sitting down to pick a destination. We both wanted a warm tropical destination, and I wanted one where my hair wouldn’t grow to three times its normal size. Whether you’re a curly girl or not, weather is a key factor in selecting a destination for 9 out of 10 couples – making the leading destinations for out-of-town weddings Las Vegas, Hawaii, U.S. Virgin Islands, Jamaica, Bahamas, Mexico and Florida.

With our criteria firmly decided and after spending many nights blurry-eyed on the Internet, we stumbled upon Condé Nast’s Johansen’s list of the world’s top luxury spas and hotels ( which proved to be invaluable in choosing our destination.

Two beautiful, well-planned weddings later (one at our house and one in Antigua), I found Julie King, VP of sales and marketing for the company says, “Every wedding is a destination wedding in some way.” launched two years ago as a web tool for couples to create wedding maps, including hotels, restaurants and local attractions to help guests plan their trips and itineraries. The site morphed into a hyper local platform with in-depth information on over 10,000 locations. It’s real information from real couples – photo albums, vendor lists, attractions and more. You can raise your comfort level with a tool like this because you see actual pictures versus photoshopped marketing–department creations. It also contains all the contact information on the vendors the couple used, as well as any questions and discussions they asked during their planning process. Also, the vendor manager, budget manager, seating chart tool, guest content, guest tracking and thank-you note tracking make the site your blueprint for success. The site capitalizes on both the social media and DIY destination wedding trends.

While most couples think of churches, resorts, museums and outdoor vistas, another alternative is the bed and breakfast. This can be a more offbeat option ranging from the traditionally romantic to the quirky and fun. Through the Web site, you can plan a small, private affair or grand soiree. Plus, it’s really affordable. While, of course, there are the bucolic, ultra-romantic Bed and Breakfast wedding destinations, there also are a few that probably never crossed your mind.

Alice Suh, marketing coordinator for, says B-and-B’s are wonderful places for a destination wedding because the Innkeeper can plan everything for you. Have you ever thought of getting married on a boat? At Pinita in Baltimore, Maryland, your guests can sail away on a 45’ sailing Ketch. Green Weddings are also becoming increasingly popular. At Dobson’s House Bed & Breakfast in El Prado, New Mexico, there’s an eco-friendly inn built entirely of 2,000 tires and 20,000 cans. How about getting married in a tree house? Fire Mountain Inn, Cabins & Treehouses in Highlands, North Carolina, offers an upscale, grown up version of a treehouse. Or maybe a ranch is more your style. Meadowlake Ranch in Sand Springs, Oklahoma, allows guests to choose to sleep in real teepees or log cabins. Western weddings happen by the lakeside and you can even rent the entire ranch for up to 200 wedding guests complete with lodging, armed security, hayride shuttle and breakfast.

Staycations are popular this year. For a staycation destination, there’s the Inn and Spa at Cedar Falls, nestled in Hocking Hills in Logan, Ohio. Weddings take place in the garden, under the trees, in the family fireside lounge and in The Gathering Place. Next spring, brides can be married in the rooftop garden overlooking the hills.


After you have selected your location, your real work begins. Minoo Hersini, celebrity wedding planner and Creative Director at Au Ciel Design Studio ( based in New York, advises to inquire about the rules and regulations of the particular area to make sure your destination wedding runs smoothly. She suggests sending a “Save The Date” at least 9 months in advance and requesting a response two months prior to your wedding. Plus, make at least two copies of all your documents, passports and photo IDs – and make sure all requirements are indicated in your contract (such as the permit for the location, limitations in regards to the number of guests, décor, sound, alcohol, food, chairs, canopies, etc.). Public beaches require permits and are usually limited to a certain number of guests. Private beaches also require permits, but the owners usually give you more leeway. She also says you should be aware of the weather. Always plan for rain and thunder even though it may not be the season for it. Further, it’s common courtesy to plan for transportation to and from your wedding location, even though you are not expected to provide travel and accommodations for your guests. If they accept your invitation, the expense is usually considered as your wedding present. However, the bride usually provides accommodations for the bridal party.


Every country has different marriage laws. Some countries require that you become a temporary citizen. Find out the requirements to get a marriage license. In Antigua, we had to become temporary residents. Some countries require witnesses, which is no big deal if guests are joining you, but if it’s just the two of you, you need to make sure the resort will provide them. You might even need proof of certain medical tests. Ask the resort if there is someone who can handle the details and guide you through the process. If you have to travel offsite to get the license, make sure your resort provides transportation. And be aware that the rules can change without notice – so monitor this continually.


Depending on the location, destination wedding wear is different from traditional wedding wear. You really need to consider the weather in choosing your gown and his suit.

While you can shop at traditional bridal stores, online, and in the magazines, I found it was quite the big adventure to experience the world famous “Running of the Brides” event. The appeal is that designer dresses retailing for $10,000 sell for $249 to $699. If you plan on attending the sale, you need running shoes, a team of helpers and a great tailor. According to the Filene’s Web site, it is scheduled for January 29, 2010 in Columbus. When I went, the store opened at 8 a.m. to let in brides-to-be and their teams who had lined up as early as 6 a.m. When I arrived at 8:15 a.m., there wasn’t one dress left on the racks. Teams had grabbed dresses in their bride’s size in bundles and carried them off to makeshift base camps, where the rejects were used as “offerings” to trade. Amazingly, I found a beautiful Badgley Mischka gown for the ceremony we had in Columbus, and a Mon Cheri Destinations gown for the ceremony in Antigua. Know in advance that if you bring your man, he will see half-naked brides-to-be. There are no dressing rooms and plenty of clothes flying off. I was as amused by the fiancés carrying “I need an 8” signs as I was with them trying not to look at the naked women.

Wooster-McBride recommends J. Crew. She says many Columbus brides choose J. Crew for destination wedding gowns because they are sleek and simple, and you can return them easily if you receive the gown and it’s not what you had in mind.

Recently, a new wedding gown store opened in the Short North called Big Rock Little Rooster. According to shop co-owner Rebecca Reeder, her store offers more traditional gowns along with dresses that are sleek and sexy – perfect for destination weddings. It carries exactly the type of dress I was seeking when I went to the “Running of the Brides” sale. She says her store also offers hand-crafted jewelry and accessory designers using the highest quality and craftsmanship. Hand-beaded dresses, freshwater pearls and unique pieces you can’t find anywhere else: handmade headpieces, necklaces and bracelets by local artisans. “What we offer is a really great styling service,” she says, adding, “we’ve styled brides who have had destination weddings, and in the end, I think they even surprised themselves with the gowns they ended up wearing.”

To travel with your gown, the Wedding Gown Specialists offer truly helpful tips at they also sell a destination wedding kit right-sized to fit into the overhead of an airplane so you can get through airport security. You can find the kit at and


There are so many creative ways to inject your personality into every ounce of your destination wedding, including in the way you communicate it. Recently, a family member sent a “save-the-date” magnet with her destination wedding details. Picture your face on the refrigerator – that probably hasn’t happened since you were in the third grade. I thought it was a cool idea.

There are plenty of online resources to order wedding invitations and Save the Date cards. A popular site is But if you wish to meet with the designer, Columbus-based Marit Hanson creates custom boarding pass save the dates. You can find her work at From save-the-dates, invitations, programs and escort cards to dinner menus and thank-you note cards, Marit’s work is beautiful and distinctive and many local wedding planners swear by her.

Many wedding Web sites, such as The Knot (, give you a free Web site when you register that allows you to customize all of your wedding details and email the link to your guests. Like, these sites include maps, hotels, activities, directions and location details that let your guest plan a mini getaway in conjunction with your wedding.


The importance of your wedding day photography cannot be understated. After you have traveled back home, your dress has been boxed and your flowers have wilted, your pictures and video are the lasting memories of your special day.

While you can find amazing photographers through your destination venue, you can also bring your photographer with you. Wooster-McBride recommends Columbus-based Kimberly Potterf ( who does photography locally and for destination weddings. The benefit in bringing your photographer is that you can meet with this person in advance to really spell out your needs.

Because we had two weddings, we had two photographers. The talented Scott Cunningham photographed the ceremony at our house, and in Antigua, we chose a photographer recommended by the Curtain Bluff resort. We looked at her Web site and loved her creativity. Originally from South Africa, Shelly Chadburn ( has a unique “trash the dress” concept that had us jumping into the ocean in our wedding clothes. By the way, after a fresh water rinse in the shower and a trip to the dry cleaner, our clothes were as good as new.


The videographer is equally important. Your wedding day DVD will allow you to relive the moment. Interview the videographer the same way you interview the photographer. Make sure there is a personality fit and that they understand what’s really important to you. Do you want the wedding shot from the bride’s perspective? The groom’s? Both? You need to communicate this, because if you leave it to chance, it may not match your expectations.

We had the videographer tape the wedding, but also the “trash the dress” photoshoot, so we had a mini “making of” video with candids of us acting just like us.


Columbus-based Sher Bliss ( makes Bliss in a Bottle, which are chocolate covered bottles of wine. They can be decorated with the bride and groom’s names and can be shipped to your location. They are a novel touch and your guests will love them.

You can also order realistic, handmade sugar flowers from the Sugar Flower Shop ( to ship for use on your cake. Martha Stewart, the STYLE Network and the Macy’s Flower Show have all featured these beautiful creations that are packed to be safe to carry on airplanes. Plus, these flowers can be preserved after the event as a lasting keepsake. We have ours in a curio cabinet in our foyer.


Donnie Brown says don’t just clip pictures in bride magazines, clip descriptions. If you can bring a description of a floral arrangement or cake to your vendors, it helps them match your expectations.

Alison Hotchkiss tells all of her couples to ship things in advance – paper materials, gifts for attendants, etc.

For both the bride and groom, Donnie Brown recommends shaving with conditioner, not shaving cream – conditioner eliminates shaving bumps.

Donnie Brown tells brides to open an American Express just for wedding expenses. Pay it off every month and get the points to use toward your honeymoon.

All of the wedding planners I interviewed say to hire a wedding planner – at least a day-of planner – separate from the hotel planner. It’s one of the best investments you can make. The bride dictates the mood of the wedding. The planner is the liaison with the family and is your advocate. Without a planner, the bride and groom are attending to all the details and often are not even enjoying their wedding day. To find a planner, visit blog resources such as Style Me Pretty’s ( black book list, do a Google search, or ask the hotel.

Put your guests first. It’s not just your day. Make sure your guests are comfortable, too. Dinner at 9 p.m. may be okay for you, but it won’t be okay for any guests with kids.

For those who cannot attend your wedding, maybe a webcam is available to show your ceremony. Perhaps your photographer can upload your wedding album quickly so you can email the link from the resort.

Donnie Brown reminds brides with strapless dresses to forgo the bra and binding clothing for at least 24 hours in advance of your wedding. You don’t want red marks on your skin. While a photographer can photoshop this out, red marks will remain in your video and the photos your guests take. And, don’t tug at your dress all day – it won’t fall down. Strapless gowns are made with elastic to keep them up. If you are worried, use doublestick Hollywood Tape to keep it in place.

Be on site at least 3 to 5 days before. You will have enough time to verify all details, and, if needed, you will be able to rearrange certain aspects of your wedding.

Minoo Hersini recommends buying fancy flip-flops for your guests if you are having a beach wedding directly on the beach.

“For one day, your wedding day, you are a celebrity,” says Donnie Brown. “You may never have that again.” So enjoy every ounce of the journey, as well as the destination, pun intended. A destination wedding can be the wedding of your dreams if you plan it thoroughly and then roll with the punches. After all, even in paradise, it occasionally rains. When it rained in Antigua, the wedding official said the raindrops were blessings from angels pouring down on us. And who couldn’t use a little angel love from heaven on their wedding day?

To see more of Shelly Chadburn’s work, visit

What better way to take the plunge than to literally take it – Moore and Houze taking the plunge in Antigua.

Michelle Moore and David Houze on a hidden (and unmapped) beach in Antigua celebrating their marriage as ocean waves crash over them.


  1. The first thing that you ought to do is hire a wedding planner. Some would-be brides prefer to plan on their own, thinking that by hiring a wedding planner, they will have less to do with the wedding. In fact, a lovely wedding planner should let you be involved in the method as much as possible.

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