Planning Your Destination Beach Wedding
There is a lot to take into account when you're planning a wedding. Sometimes, the more you check off your list, the more you have to add on. With every one task comes a million and one choices to be made, not to mention any opposition you find in your family, his family, or your bridal party. When you decide on an outdoor wedding, there are even more variables to look into, at least one of which is totally outside your control - the weather. And when you decide to have a destination wedding on the beach, well, let's just say it's not for the faint of heart.
It requires a lot of work to get everything planned and ready. Rentals or hotel rooms must be secured for you, the family and your wedding party. You have to look ahead and find a magistrate or other official to travel with you or find one who is already there to perform your ceremony. As you're packing you have to take into account everything you need for the wedding itself, as well as the honeymoon. It's daunting to say the least, and can seem impossible when you're in the face of it. I feel your pain! Planning my brother and future sister's wedding in our hometown while they're in another state is borderline traumatizing. So we have put together a relatively brief list of things you should keep in mind as you prepare, as well as some wise words from other brides.
12 Months Out
The first thing a bride-to-be has to start planning a year before their big day is their venue. When planning a beach wedding, you have to decide if you want to do a public or a private beach. The trade off, of course, is price vs. privacy. On a private beach, you're guaranteed to have control over the population of the beach, which means that only your wedding guests and party would be there and if someone else walked by, you would have the right to ask them to leave. It is possible to get a great deal on a rental with a private beach by calling and asking about specials or if there's an "off season" with lower prices. Often, the off season starts when it's no longer popular to travel, but the weather is still warm. However, if you're on a budget and your heart is set on a beach wedding, the public beach is a great option! While you lose the ability to control the population around your wedding, you pay significantly less—or depending on the beach, not at all. The public beach in Emerald Isle, North Carolina is free and only asks you to follow a set of half-a-dozen guidelines in exchange for use of the beach. And most people are pretty considerate when they see what's going on.
However, as beautiful as outdoor weddings are, it's important to keep your eye on the weather and have a backup location in mind. The weather can change quickly, which makes staying aware of any changes a necessity. So, to make sure that no surprise mishaps ruin your day, take the time to have a backup venue. It's best to try to find somewhere laid back enough to not charge you an arm and a leg for the potential use of their facilities. Another option is to ask the venue for your reception to remain flexible for the possibility of also hosting your wedding in the event of weather. It's important to be mindful of the predicted tides and currents. Having the perfect day on the perfect beach to start the rest of your life only to have the tide come in and get you, the groom, officiant, and guests soaked would be one of the worst ways for your wedding to come to a screeching halt. Fortunately there's an easy way to avoid all the drama of tide coming in and washing your wedding away; just keep an eye on tools like the NOAA Tide and Current Table for the beach you want to have your ceremony on.
Questions for the Venue
There are a few things you should take into consideration as you look for a venue, and while some are obvious, others are less so. Some of the questions you might not initially think of asking are things like:
- Does the venue of your reception have a special on transportation from the beach to the venue?
- How long is a "day" or a "half day" (some venues say 4 hours and some say 6 hours)?
- Regardless of where your venue is, whether you're using it for only the reception or for the ceremony as well, make sure you understand the cleanup and decorating rules.
- Also, make sure that you understand what comes with your package and what you'll be paying extra for (often help setting and cleaning up are quite a bit more than the baseline price for the venue).
- Make sure to ask for any discount you could possibly get: military, student, etc. The worst they can say is no and every little bit you can save helps!
10 Months Out
The big thing you need to focus on ten months out from your big day is getting the vendors set up. This would include the caterer (sans the cake), florist and the equipment for sound, lighting, decor, etc. When looking into equipment rentals, especially for a destination wedding, ask about a delivery, set up, and teardown service. It's a lifesaver to only have to check in on the set up of your equipment, rather than take the time to do it yourself or find people in your party to do it.
"What I Wish I Knew" - Advice from Other Brides
Every bride has her own unique experience that gives her insight into wedding planning, and while every bride will certainly make her own mistakes, there are some you shouldn't have to. It's your big day, right? One of the most important in your life! It should go as smoothly as possible. You want to both have fond memories of your day and give some to your guests.
Because food is such a big part of the wedding and a part that everyone will remember, you want food that both you and your guests will enjoy. "Family Style" has started to gain momentum as a new trend in wedding catering. If you still want great food without breaking your budget this can be very helpful. Because the food is served per table, it's a happy mix between the cost per plate and a buffet, but it's the cost of the food itself that really makes this technique a lifesaver for your bank account. You can ask for any food you want, but because the caterer is trying to make food that everyone knows how to serve themselves, it's usually relatively simple, like lasagna or chicken. Because these meals don't cost much to make and buying meals for twenty-five "families" is cheaper than buying meals for one hundred fifty individuals, this can be a great way to put aside a little spending money for your honeymoon or new home.
As you're talking to caterers, one thing to consider is food that is easy to serve to lots of people and food that will do so with the least amount of trauma to your budget. Be sure to look into foods that will stretch your money and make it really cover as much as it can. Pasta is pretty cheap and feeds a lot of people, as well as being great for "family style" serving. When you're determining the menu, you can also try to make sure your food is as seasonal as possible. Insisting on food that requires importing over large distances can rack up your food bill incredibly fast.
Some lessons other brides learned through they're catering experiences are...
- Always ask for a tasting! Everyone wants the best possible representation, so some caterers inflate their reputation so you won't ask, but insisting on a tasting will reduce your chances of getting served awful food.
- As a follow-up to asking about a tasting, ask about the cost of the tasting. Some places offer free tasting, some charge by plate, and some places just have one flat cost for a tasting.
- Ask about the cost comparisons of plated meals, buffet style, stations, family style, or even just heavy hors d'oeuvres (depending on the company, different serving styles will be less).
- Ask about the portion of food rather than the "number it serves", especially for a buffet. Some places offer huge portions and you wind up with enough leftovers for another reception.
- Take the time to nail down a schedule with your caterer, just to make sure you know what's going on and that everything goes off without a hitch.
- Ask the caterer about the bride and groom being served at the sweetheart table (an option a lot of caterers will do even for a buffet) or when you will go through the buffet line to avoid getting cold food.
A Rose By Any Other Name
The last vender to talk about is the florist. With beach weddings especially, it's becoming more and more popular to have bridesmaids wear a corsage that goes over the shoulder in lieu of holding flowers. That way it's one less thing to drop, or get knocked out of their hands, in the unpredictable outdoors. The choice of flowers is also broadening to include reeds, succulents and seed pods of different varieties. These can be incorporated into both corsages and boutonnieres, as well as bouquets.
One of the best ways to save money on the floral arrangements is to ask the florist to sell you the flowers raw and show you how to make your arrangements yourself. It can be a great bonding experience with your bridal party (before you get your mani-pedi's done) and really give you some great memories. This trick is one that's been passed down to me from my mother and it's always been one of her favorite aspects and reminiscences of her wedding.
8 Months Out
Alright, let's talk cake. Around eight months before your ceremony is the time to taste cakes and choose a design. Cake is delicious and it's one of my favorite parts of the wedding. I'm happy to say that most weddings I've been to have had great cake and it's been a fabulous way to close the meal.
One of the more modern trends for wedding cakes is to have a square cake, which can not only be trendy and beautiful but is also more cake than their round counterparts. There are two things I've heard brides complain about on a fairly regular basis with their cakes that you may want to look out for. The first of which is the frosting. Most of the popular frosting designs are achieved with fondant, a dough-like type of frosting. And while it does create a beautiful cake and makes durable decorations, most brides prefer the taste of buttercream or royal icing. So, make sure you ask to taste the frosting that will be used before you finalize your order! The second thing I've heard several complaints about is the serving size. Some brides think their cake pieces were too small and others thought that they would have rather served smaller pieces and bought less cake. There are two typical sizes for cake pieces, a 1x2 slice and and 2x2 slice. In this case, size really does matter. The smaller slice gives you double the pieces of cake than the larger one does, except for the 6" round layer (the smaller slice only yields two additional pieces on that layer). In light of that, make sure to clarify with your baker what size slices you're using to calculate the size of the cake and the cost.
Old Wives Tales are also coming back into vogue this wedding season and a couple may be fun to bear in mind with your cake. One requires the bride and groom to save the top layer of their cake to eat on their first anniversary. This serves as a reminder of how happy they were on their wedding day and supposedly reinforces that happiness and love for the next year (it's delicious, either way though!). The second is for every unmarried girl and woman in attendance to get a small piece of cake to put under her pillow that night. Theoretically, the love expressed that day will have soaked into the cake and bring visions of their future husbands to them while they sleep. I've always set aside a portion of my cake to do this with since I can remember and while I don't think I've ever dreamed of marrying someone, it's always been something I look forward to.
To clarify, you wrap the cake before you put it under your pillow. You can use a plastic bag or layers of napkins with a little give so it doesn't get squished out. That way the frosting won't get smooshed into your pillow. It's also becoming a unique favor to provide tiny squares of cake in little cinch bags for every single girl or woman in attendance with an explanation of the old wives tale.
6 Months Out
The biggest thing to consider when you're doing a destination wedding to the beach is where you want to honeymoon. Traveling can be exhausting, so to do more traveling less than a week after you originally arrived can be hard to take. Having a honeymoon closer to your wedding site can be a great way to start relaxing after all the business of your big day. Even just going somewhere local for a couple days before leaving for somewhere farther away can be a good start to catching up on your rest after the frantic shuffle to make sure everything was just right for the ceremony. Every beach has its own unique atmosphere and culture to experience. So take a few days to enjoy it as a couple, without all the stress and busyness of making sure a wedding goes smoothly.
At the absolute latest, six months before your wedding day is when you should be registering. While registering with those nifty little price guns is something I am looking immensely forward to, not only as a method of registering, but also as some self-prescribed stress therapy, there are some much more practical ways to do it. Zola is an online registry that offers free accounts to couples. Not only does this tool allow you to register from almost any store and brand, it also offers "group gifting" and "cash/honeymoon" options. So, if you want something bigger, like a new couch or nicer tv, or could just use a little extra spending money, guests can pitch in together to give you quite a substantial gift.
I know what you're thinking, because I was thinking the same thing. How is it late to register at six months? Guests are just getting the save-the-date cards and will not be getting the invites for months. According to "The Knot", this is so that those coming to the bridal shower and wedding have enough time to get their gifts and not be totally scrambled. People will also be asking where you're registered as soon as they find out you're engaged so they can get a realistic feel for how much they'll be spending on your gifts.
Four Months Out
Four months before the biggest day of your life is the time to confirm! Double check your vendors, the venue, make sure you have a backup. This is also a good time to make sure that you and your vendors and the venue are all on the same page with the price. Always make sure that any deals or discounts you are supposed to be getting are put in writing. That way you have something to refer to later.
It's also time to start looking into formal wear for your menfolk. Tuxes and suits don't require nearly as much fitting and detail work as a dress, so they don't need quite as much time. However, there are still some decisions to make regarding the groom and his mens' attire. It's becoming more and more popular to use more casual styles for men at beach and other outdoor weddings. These styles range from shorts and button-up shirts to slacks, button-ups, vests and bow ties ensure as much comfort or class as you want. Another option for the groom's outfit is going with something that represents part of his heritage. If his background is important to him, it can be a nice gesture to acknowledge his past in a unique way. By agreeing for him to wear something that symbolizes his past as you secure your future, you can not only give him a chance to "express himself", but also demonstrate your respect for his family.
Two Months Out
Two months away from your ceremony there are lots of little details to tie up. You want to make sure to apply for a marriage license at least six to eight weeks before your ceremony, especially if you are getting married in a different state. You should also decide if you want a variation of the traditional vows or if you want to write your own and, again, should try to have them done six to eight weeks in advance.
Finally, the fun part! About two months ahead of the ceremony is when you "get" to start buying all your wedding accessories. It's becoming quite popular here in the southeast for brides to buy garters with tiny shells in a small arrangement to decorate them, even when they aren't having a beach wedding. Now is also the time to meet with hair and makeup stylist and start narrowing down styles. Hair pinned up or down are both fashionable at beach weddings. Just keep in mind that the wind will likely be a factor and hard to predict, so weigh the options of having your hair up or down carefully. You may want to talk to the stylist or even the photographer about realistic expectations and options. Similarly, trendy, more heavy make up as well as more natural looking pallets are both appropriate for beach weddings. However, just like taking wind into consideration, you really should take the predicted heat into consideration when deciding what makeup to use. If you're having a summer beach wedding, this is especially pertinent. It may seem obvious to choose a lighter dress or pin your hair up to help with the heat, but you may not think of getting too warm and ending up with running makeup in your pictures. Just make sure to keep updated not only on what the predicted temperature is but what it is predicted to feel like, and you can make sure that you have pictures you'll enjoy.
Day Before or Day Of
Depending on your venue, your time slot and how many other weddings they're hosting, you may be allowed to either store your decorations and equipment for a couple days before the wedding or even set up the night before. However, the question still remains: How do you get your equipment to the venue? A lot of rental companies will provide transportation and some will even throw in set-up for a fee. Some will also work with you and do it for free if you rent enough equipment. If you don't rent enough to get the free service or their fee is exorbitant, look over your guest list for people in the wedding party, your family or close friends who have trucks and/or trailers and ask them to bring them along. Most people coming to your wedding will be more than happy to do you a favor to help your day happen the way you envisioned it. Just like with the venue, the worst they could say is no. If they say yes, that's more money for traveling!
A New Chapter
Getting married while looking out on the vastness of the ocean is the perfect symbol for all the possibilities your new life will hold. My final piece of advice is don't let anyone take your day from you. Choose your battles wisely, but if there's something you really want or feel strongly about, don't be afraid to stand up for it. Your wedding is one of the few days that really is just about you and your husband. You'll be the one looking at the pictures for the rest of your life and living with the memories, so make sure they're good ones. We hope this list has helped you brainstorm your own questions for your venue and vendors, and that your big day truly turns out to be one of the best of your life. From the bottom of our very southern hearts here at Sun-Surf Realty, we wish you happiness and congratulations.
Your happy ending starts now.
Emerald Isle Wedding Resources
Rental Properties for Venues
Sun-Surf Realty manages several properties on Emerald Isle that are suitable for destination weddings. Check the details and availability here.
If you are expecting more out of town company who will be staying for the wedding, you can view our rental properties on our location map and see which rentals are close together or near the wedding venue.