Destination Weddings

For the convenience and savings potential, more and more couples are saying “I Do” to getting hitched down south.

Anne McNabb (née Dobson) had to wait 33 years to meet the man of her dreams. She didn’t want to wait another minute to become his wife. “We just wanted to be married,” she explains.

Choosing a Wedding Destination

Choosing a destination wedding was a no-brainer for Anne, an obstetrician, and her husband Trent, a border agent. For starters, the pickings were slim at home: there are a limited number of wedding venues in Rossland, the tiny southern British Columbia town where the couple lives, and they book up as much as a year in advance. Added to that was the fact most of their guests would have to travel anyway.

“We live in such a remote area that for people to get here from Ottawa or up north in Houston, BC,” where the bride and groom, respectively, grew up, “would cost a lot of money and time,” Anne says.

This, combined with the fact Anne and Trent didn’t want a long engagement, sealed the deal. Less than six months after they got engaged, the couple wed in a low-key ceremony at the all-inclusive Gran Bahia Principe resort in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, surrounded by 25 of their closest friends and family members.

A destination wedding is generally defined as a wedding held somewhere other than in the couple’s hometown or where they currently live, and for which the majority of guests have to travel far enough to require overnight accommodation.

Technically, this means a wedding within the couple’s home province could be considered a destination wedding (for example, if a couple from Toronto chose to get married in Ottawa), but the phrase usually implies the couple and their guests are travelling to an exotic location.

Destination Weddings on the Rise

Destination weddings have become a hot ticket in recent years. reported in its 2009 survey (which sampled more than 1,000 recently engaged or recently married women) that destination weddings now account for more than one in 10 of all weddings in the United States—a 400-per cent increase over the previous decade. Things are no different in Canada.

In a 2010 survey by, nine per cent of the 1,241 engaged Canadian respondents indicated they planned to have a destination wedding. If these figures are representative of the country, more than 146,000 Canadian weddings occur each year, 13,000 of which are destination weddings.

Easy to Organize

Susan Breslow, who literally wrote the book on destination weddings (Destination Weddings for Dummies), says there are numerous advantages to hosting a destination wedding. One of the top sellers is the fact it’s incredibly easy to organize if you get a package deal at an all-inclusive resort or aboard a cruise ship. Details like flowers, cake, photographer and decorations are all taken care of, and many resorts also have wedding planners on staff to help coordinate all the details and ensure the big day goes smoothly.

“There was a little bit of legal stuff that we had to do before, but in terms of the actual ceremony and the wedding: nothing,” Anne recalls. Basically, Anne and Trent simply turned up three days before the ceremony, made a few choices about flowers and such, then hit the beach.

Stylish Options

Letting someone else take the reins doesn’t necessarily mean compromising on style, either. Recently, Martha Stewart and Sandals Resorts teamed up to create six exclusive wedding styles, available at all of Sandals’ 14 luxury resorts throughout the Caribbean, plus four more at its sister company, Beaches.

These range from the playful “Flutter of Romance” theme (pink and fuchsia roses, magenta orchids and butterflies) to the elegant “Seaside Serenade” theme (shells, coral and fabrics in cream, pale green and pale turquoise), and run from $1,600 to $6,000, depending on the decoration style and wedding location. 

Crowd and Cost Control

Destination weddings can also help cut out a lot of the fuss for couples who want something simple and elegant, making it a popular choice if the couple is older, or if one or both people are getting married for the second time.

“Destination weddings tend to be significantly smaller than at-home weddings,” Breslow says, so if the guest list is growing out of control, a destination wedding can help wrangle it down to something more manageable.

Then, there’s the cost savings. The average Canadian wedding costs roughly $20,000, whereas a destination wedding package (which covers the Justice of the Peace and other amenities like flowers, champagne, a photographer and cake) can cost as little as a few hundred dollars.

Some resorts will even throw in a basic package for free if the couple stays for six days or more, or books a certain number of guests. “Traditionally, guests are required to pay for their own lodging and travel,” Breslow adds. This means a frugal couple could have an entire wedding for the cost of a honeymoon.

Destination Weddings: Not For Everyone

That said, destination weddings are not for everyone. “It’s not right for a couple that doesn’t like to travel, one with family members that either cannot afford to or cannot physically easily travel,” Breslow cautions. “Also, if you have a huge guest list, it might not be such a good idea.”

Destination weddings also require a healthy sense of adventure, Breslow says. “Unlike having a wedding in the town where you live, where you can taste the cake beforehand and meet with the photographer, you’re likely to be using some vendors at a destination wedding that you won’t meet until the day you arrive,” she says. “So it’s really not for control freaks.”

That was certainly the case for the McNabbs, who learned, just three weeks before their scheduled “I dos,” that all flights from Canada to Mexico (their original wedding destination) were cancelled because of panic over the then-new H1N1 flu.

“We ended up having to change the entire wedding to the Dominican Republic,” Anne recalls. “But we were able to get the same day and everybody was able to make it, which goes to show that you can actually do all this in three weeks.” And since the new location was cheaper, the couple wound up with money to spare, which they spent on a second honeymoon in Mexico.

Things to Keep in Mind When Planning Your Wedding

If a couple does plan to have a destination wedding, they should pick the location carefully. They’ll want to make sure all their guests can get travel visas for the country in which they are getting married, and the bride and groom need to make sure they have proper documentation for a legal wedding there (some countries require proof of divorce if one of the fiancés is remarrying, for example).

They should also be mindful of the fact they are asking a lot of their guests. Although it may be less expensive for the couple getting married, a destination wedding carries a much-heftier price tag for guests compared to a traditional wedding, and typically requires guests to use up vacation time. Some couples might wish to discreetly offer financial assistance to guests who might not otherwise be able to attend.

Etiquette can be fuzzy for destination weddings, so the couple should be upfront about subjects like whether a gift is necessary (Breslow says yes; Anne says definitely not), and whether the guests are invited to stay on at the resort after the wedding, or if this would be cramping the newlywed couple’s style.

If guests do stay after the wedding, couples might want to organize some exotic experiences for them, such as touring a local cocoa plantation, hiking through lush rainforest or golfing on a course out in the desert. The newlyweds, on the other hand,
may be too besotted with one another to be bowled over by even the most  glamourous of events.

“The highlight for me was marrying Trent,” Anne says. “Nothing else really mattered.

A-List Destination Wedding Venues

L’Hôtel de Glace
Quebec City, QC

The breathtaking chapel at Quebec’s Hôtel de Glace (Ice Hotel), with its fur-covered ice benches and frozen altar, could have sprung from the pages of a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. (

King Pacific Lodge
Vancouver, BC

Nestled in the verdant Great Bear Rainforest, this floating cedar-frame eco-lodge is steps away from one of Canada’s richest ecosystems. (

The Fairmont Banff Springs
Banff, AB

Set amidst the breathtaking Rocky Mountains, this hotel, originally built in 1888 in the style of a Scottish baronial castle, has vaulted stone ceilings, smooth marble floors and stained-glass windows guaranteed to make you feel like royalty. (

Breezes Resort & Spa

Dig your toes into the immaculate white-sand beach at this all-inclusive resort, and then retire to the manicured beachfront views from your suite.(

Sandals Royal Bahamian

This offshore-island resort is riddled with history and European opulence, making the property a perfect romantic “I do” venue. The cottage-style Royal Village suite are perfect for newlyweds looking for added privacy. (

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Sarah Lolley

Sarah Lolley has travelled through 34 countries on five continents, and spent time living in France, Jamaica, Scotland, and Australia. She currently calls Montreal home. Her work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, ELLE Canada, the Montreal Gazette, Reader’s Digest and the Toronto Star. Her children’s picture book, Emilie and the Mighty Om (it’s about yoga), is due out this spring.