“It’s not just one special day—it’s a week,” says Stacey DeSalvo, a Canton resident who was married in Cancún, Mexico, in February 2016. “Having a destination wedding is an absolute blast. It’s like a vacation for everyone.”
The sun-soaked wedding of Stacey, a nurse at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, and Nick DeSalvo, a personal trainer at Nick’s Fitness Garage, represents a growing trend in the wedding world.
According to industry leader Destination Weddings, out-of-country ceremonies have been consistently growing in popularity over the past decade, with one in five American couples choosing a destination wedding in 2015.
Why go the destination route? “Most of Nick’s friends are in California and most of mine are here [in Baltimore], so we thought, ‘If we’re going to make everyone travel for our wedding, we might as well give them somewhere nice to go!’” says Stacey. And though Nick’s family had some reservations about the nontraditional setting, the couple’s nuptials could not have gone better. (A word to the wise: To make sure your out-of-the-country wedding goes equally smoothly, be sure to check the destination’s marriage regulations to ensure your union is allowed, as well as to determine what sort of documentation you may need.)
While you might expect weddings held outside the U.S. to be more expensive, the opposite is true, according to Destination Weddings, which cites the average cost of an American wedding as around $32,000—while their own offerings run around $10,000. Sure, getting there might be a bit pricier, but according to BridalGuide.com, the trip means that guest lists are likely to be smaller, and the exotic locale often takes the place of more elaborate (and costly) bouquets, decorations and entertainment.
The DeSalvos, who booked their wedding through Destination Weddings, said the lower price tag also came with a more streamlined planning process. Planners that specialize in destination weddings often work directly with resorts and hotel coordinators to do the majority of the legwork for you, leaving only the finer details to be handled by the bride- and groom-to-be. These planners often have a stable of venues, caterers, photographers, and more at the ready—though the couple has the option to tweak the plans according to their unique tastes.
“The planner would send me catalogues with flowers, linens and all of that,” says Stacey. “Even though I wasn’t there picking things out, it was fine. I didn’t need fancy centerpieces. I just wanted pretty flowers and some seashells on the table.”
For the more meticulous bride, finding a wedding planner in the country where the ceremony takes place may be the best move. London’s Simply Elegant planner, for example, offers United Kingdom-based services akin to that of a stateside planner —from invitation distribution to tasting trials.
As for the whole family sticking around? For the DeSalvos and many other couples who opt for a destination wedding, that’s part of the fun. “Everyone stayed for the rest of the week,” Stacey says. “I loved it. The party kept going.”
Flight time from BWI Marshall: 7 hours, 10 minutes
Ideal wedding window: April through September
For a memorable cultural experience, think about hopping across the pond. A direct flight to London offers the total European experience with none of the complications you’d otherwise encounter—such as language barriers, stopovers, etc.
To really embrace the English experience, brighten your bouquet with London’s official flower, the rosebay willowherb, or the U.K.’s national flower, the Tudor rose. There are other cultural touches that can be incorporated as well: a full English breakfast to start the day, high tea in the afternoon and, of course, a few pints at the local pub.
Couples hoping to tie the knot in London have seemingly endless options. The countryside is an easy train ride away from the city—meaning that those seeking a rural venue could still embrace the offerings of the city for post-ceremony celebrations. Think: a coastal wedding in Brighton, a popular seaside resort, followed by a “reception” in one of the countless pubs scattered throughout London.
The city proper is certainly not lacking venues, however—particularly for the unlimited-budget bride. The Royal Exchange is a stunning option in the city center, or couples can go classic with a manor house like Osterley Park in west London.
For those with a more flexible timetable, we recommend bringing the bridal party and groomsmen over a few days early for legendary London-style Hen and Stag parties (a much merrier way of saying bachelor and bachelorette). And, of course, guests can indulge their inner tourist by hitting up the classics: Big Ben and Parliament, Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Hyde Park, Covent Garden and more.
And if you’ve had enough of the Old Smoke, remember—this is Europe. You can get to Paris, Barcelona or Dublin for under $100. Cheerio!
Flight time from BWI Marshall: 3 hours, 45 minutes
Ideal wedding window: December through July
There’s a reason that Destination Weddings ranks the south-of-the-border country the most popular spot for U.S. couples to tie the knot. A bit unceremonious but nonetheless accurate, Stacey DeSalvo deems Cancún the “closest, cheapest and warmest.”
The Mexican beach town is notoriously touristy, but sometimes that’s just what the destination wedding doctor ordered. At the DeSalvos’ resort of choice, everything was all-inclusive—picky or diet-restricted eaters had full control over their menu options, minimizing catering effort, and the always-open bar promised a nonstop party atmosphere. Such resorts are generally family-friendly, too, often offering activities and programming to keep kids entertained—and even specialty mocktails for the under-21 set.
To truly bring the Mexican flavor to your ceremonia de la boda, opt for tropical flowers native to the region, like bird of paradise, heliconia and anthurium. Traditional foods are often available at the resorts alongside Americanized favorites—so you can offer local favorites like meat, rice and beans rather than just typical stateside fare. Add a little mariachi and marimba music (and some tequila, naturally) and you’re ready for a full-on fiesta!
Post-wedding, those hoping to venture outside of the resort can explore countless excursion options on the Yucatán peninsula, from snorkeling and ziplining to exploring underwater caves. (A bit of a longer journey from Cancún—about two hours by car—will take you to the pre-Hispanic city of Chichen Itza, a UNESCO World Heritage site.) Overall, the destination is ideal for those hoping for a low-pressure, relatively low-cost beach vacation.
“It really is nice to just hop on a flight and get there,” says Stacey. “I even carried on my wedding dress.”
Named as one of Destination Weddings’ top three emerging destinations last year, Iceland has seen an exponential rise in popularity with couples in the last five years. Why the sudden interest? Reykjavík-based “adventure wedding” planner Ann Peters has some ideas.
“Many Hollywood films have featured Iceland recently— Oblivion, Walter Mitty, Star Wars, etc.—and have brought attention to the dynamic landscape, and Wow Air also emerged with discounted direct flights to Iceland,” she says. “People started seeing the landscape from bloggers and drone filmmakers, too.”
And that landscape is basically unbeatable when it comes to wedding pictures.
“There are only a handful of places in the world where you can have weddings photos with subglacial volcanoes, secret waterfalls, hidden caves, epic cliff lines, super green canyons and mountains, and stunning black sand beaches all in one day,” says Peters.
In fact, Iceland is a nature-loving couple’s dream … so much so that those looking for much more might be disappointed. According to Peters, entertainment in Reykjavík is limited (with the exception of “cute shopping streets, museums and amazing food experiences”), but a one- to two-hour drive promises natural wonder like the Gullfoss Waterfall, the Great Geysir, Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, Thingvellir National Park and Reynisfjara black sand beach and basalt rock columns. (Peters says about half of her clients count their destination wedding as their honeymoon, with others calling the trip a “mini-moon” and waiting six months to take a formal honeymoon.)
There’s plenty of adventure to be had, too, in Iceland, like rappelling down into an inactive volcano, snorkeling between tectonic plates, whale watching, glacier climbing and more.
Number four on Destination Weddings’ list, Costa Rica offers a unique Central American experience. The small country is only about the size of West Virginia, but boasts an impressive array of options for those looking to be betrothed—black or white sand beaches, protected jungles, volcanoes and even the option to get married on one coast and celebrate on another: The Caribbean sits on one side of the country, a three-hour drive from its opposite shores on the Pacific Ocean.
As tour company Travel Excellence notes, “This the only place in the world with amazing and ideal spots for weddings in the rain forest, the cloud forest, the dry forest, beaches on the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, tropical gardens, waterfalls, hot springs, mangroves, plains, rivers, lakes and volcanoes.”
Liberia (not to be confused with its African counterpart) is not itself a beach town, but serves as a sort of way station in the Guanacaste province due to its international airport and other amenities. Those with a few days to spare may enjoy its more surprising charms: an African-style wildlife park where you can see elephants, giraffes and other animals on safari; the Museo de Guanacaste; and La Agonía, a Spanish colonial church.
Further south is the bustling capital of San José, also a direct flight from BWI, where lovebirds can get a little prenuptial culture at one of the city’s many museums.
As for the perfect Costa Rican boda (wedding)? For a more authentic option, add the gorgeous native plant flor de itabo to the bridal bouquet, or go traditional with food and drink offerings such as gallo pinto (fried rice and beans), the country’s national dish, and traditional drink Cacique Guaro. Now that’s pura vida!