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In many countries weddings can last four to five days, but in the United States, most weddings are just an eight-hour event. With weddings averaging $26,900 nationally—and more than double that in the New Jersey/New York City market—it is no wonder that destination weddings are back and stronger than ever. Brides and grooms would rather spend their money on three days of parties rather than a one-day celebration. Couples are well-informed and want to get the most for their hard-earned dollars. If you are considering a destination wedding, your first step is to retain an event planner who is well-versed in the world of destination weddings. The planner will be able to navigate the legal requirements and most planners will act as the travel agents for your guests. Here, JoAnn Gregoli of Elegant Events, a seasoned destination wedding and celebrity wedding planner, shares her rules for planning a wedding from a far: 1. Learn about the location you are going to bring your guests. Just because a resort looks nice on the internet doesn’t mean it’s suitable for friends and family. Research the destination, along with the particular resort, before you make any quick decisions. 2. Know the flight options and pricing from the various cities that your guests will be departing from. Just because there’s an inexpensive direct flight from Newark’s Liberty International Airport on the Wednesday that you’ll be traveling doesn’t mean that the prices will be the same for all of your guests. Investigate the costs a bit so that a $1,500 12-hour flight isn’t the only option for any of your guests. If this is the case, you may want to consider altering your destination location to one that’s more accessible—or you need to be OK with the fact that many guests may not come once they see the cost-prohibitive flight. 3. Don’t forget to offer a few options for hotels, since the main hotel may not be the most affordable for some guests. Many hotels can even recommend sister properties that are less expensive (and offer a shuttle), or do the research on your own. These other options should be a short cab ride’s away or ideally within walking distance. You don’t want the majority of your guests situated on one side of an island, while you and your wedding are on the completely other side. 4. Plan at least one visit with your planner to assess the options and make selections. You really need to see it with your own eyes. Many resorts offer multiple locations on-property for your ceremony and reception, and the best way to visual this all is to see it in person. This will also enable you to meet the representatives on site who will be assisting with your wedding, decide on specific themes or colors, choose a restaurant for the rehearsal dinner, select activities for your guests, etc. Many resorts even offer reduced rates for this pre-wedding planning visit, especially if it’s in the off-season. Be sure to ask before you go. 5. Know the weather pattern of the region and always, always have a rain plan in place. It doesn’t matter if a hurricane hasn’t hit the area for the past 100 years—he fact that it’s a possibility is something you should be prepared for in case it actually happens. Most resorts that host destination weddings will reserve an inside room or area for your wedding regardless if you want them to or not. They know that you can never count on the weather. 6. Provide welcome bags for the guests containing items from the location and an itinerary of the weekend’s events. Suggestion include local rums, tequilas, chocolates, sauces, spices, nuts, etc. These local details will connect your guests to the special location that you’ve chosen for your wedding. The resort will help you deliver these welcome bags to the guests’ rooms so that they’re there upon check-in, and in many cases may even create these welcome bags or baskets for you. 7. If you can, provide transfer to and from the airport for guests; first impressions are everything. And a refreshing welcome punch will get everyone off on the right foot! 8. Set up a wedding website that will outline all the details of the wedding. These details should include the name of the resort, whether a passport is needed, the airport guests will need to fly into, an idea of events for the weekend so that guests know what to pack and any other pertinent information. 9. Mail out save-the-dates, well in advance, so guests have ample time to book their flights. Basically, if you’re planning a destination wedding, you should send these save-the-dates as soon as you’ve reserved the resort. This will give your guests enough time to find affordable flights, book a room, arrange for time off from work and plan as much as they can in advance. 10. Prepare a welcome booklet, and mail out two weeks prior to the wedding. This booklet will provide all the details of the events taking place and a local guide for your guests. Consider it your own travel brochure! 11. Prepare a budget, but allow for currency exchange rates, which will fluctuate. While your costs for the actual wedding reception itself may be less expensive than a wedding at home since not as many people may attend, you’ll have the added costs for a welcome reception, rehearsal dinner, guest activities you may want to pay for, round of golf, sunset sails, BBQ dinners or farewell brunches. These added events are all the fun pieces to your weekend wedding away, but they’re also the pieces that add up. So be sure to have a budget in mind for your destination wedding so that you don’t get carried away. 12. Be prepared for some items being lost in translation. Remember island time is island time. You came to the particular resort you chose to relax and have a good time. So don’t get upset if dinner starts a little late or the sunset sail takes longer than expected. Be flexible and try to go with any unexpected hiccups. 13. Use local vendors, when possible. Your wedding planner or your resort will have relationships with local vendors who they trust and know will perform at a professional level. Now is not the time to hire the reggae band you spotted at the local bar or to hire the photographer you met at the airport. The standards in other countries are not always on par with what you’re accustomed to at home, so it’s best to trust your planner or resort to vet these vendors in advance. 14. If bringing in outside vendors from the United States, please be sure they apply for work permits in the country where you’re traveling to. Your planner or resort will know what’s required. 15. Incorporate local flavor and customs into the wedding planning. You chose your particular destination for a reason, so let it come through either in the food, the cocktails, the music or specific wedding traditions. Have a little fun with it—it will make your wedding that much more memorable for not only yourselves but also your guests. 16. Select flowers that are native to the region. Not only will these blooms be hardy in hot, tropical areas, but they’re also absolutely beautiful—and cost-efficient. Some countries heavily tax imported flowers, so your bouquet of roses may not only wilt but also be exorbitant. Some of our favorite local blooms include orchids, birds of paradise, bougainvillea, ginger and sunflowers. 17. Know the limitations of the location. Don’t chose a small, intimate boutique couples-only boutique hotel if you’re bringing 200 friends and family for a wild raucous bash all weekend long. This is where a planner who’s an expert at destination weddings is worth their weight in gold. They’ll be able to match your specific ideas and dreams of your weekend wedding with the proper country and resort. You won’t need to take a chance and hope it works out for the best. Your planner will know exactly which resort is right for your vision and needs.