To Destination Wedding, Or Not To Destination Wedding. That Was Our Question...

      When Robert, asked me to marry him at the end of 2008, the idea of planning a wedding was exciting for us both.  We couldn't wait to start looking at venues, tasting cakes and meals, and the thought of taking all the women in my family dress shopping thrilled me.  All the traditions of having a wedding at home were just that, traditions.  So I almost felt obligated to experience them all.   At least that was what the bride in me kept reminding myself when the stress of beginning the wedding planning started to take its toll.   The travel specialist in me kept pushing the idea of a Destination Wedding.  It was like the classic situation of angel verses devil on each shoulder.  

       Robert and I had visited Sandals Negril in Jamaica a little over a year prior to our engagement, and it was an experience of a lifetime.   From the moment we had arrived all we discussed was when we would be returning.  The idea of being able to bring my family with us for a return trip would be the icing on our wedding cake!   

       So, I bounced the idea off of some close family and friends.  At first, everyone was on board.  Some of our family and friends were ecstatic at the idea of spending a long weekend in Jamaica with us.  Many of them, like us, desperately needed a vacation.   Others were concerned about finances, but knowing they had over a year and a half to save up eased their minds a little.  Some were not good travelers and were uncomfortable at the idea of leaving the country.   My father put up the biggest fuss.  He swore up and down that Jamaica was unsafe and he refused to go.  So it took months of educating him about Jamaica (plus a little help from my mother) before he finally broke and uttered the words "Fine, if I have to.  But I won't have any fun!"   We'll come back to that later. 

      Aside from the small amount of family and friends we were still waiting to hear from, the most important people had agreed to go: our siblings and both of our of parents.  In our minds, they were all we needed to get married.  Sure it would be great to have grandparents and aunts and uncles there too, but we knew we couldn't force people to attend.   We were thrilled when our friends and a few of our grandparents did actually RSVP that they would attend.   Everything was turning out the way we had hoped and our ideas of planning an at home wedding were completely gone.   

       Robert and I began researching resorts that we loved, and since Sandals Negril was couple's only, we settled on Beaches Negril, the family-friendly sister property down the beach.   With permission from everyone, we began reserving rooms.  

      My excitement was at it's peak.   Not only were we returning to Jamaica, the island we fell in love with, but we were bringing everyone we loved with us and were going to get to spend a week in paradise with them all.   I envisioned us all at the swim up bar, or snorkeling, or sitting on the beach laughing and drinking our frozen drinks.   Just remembering the thoughts now bring a smile to my face.  A week in our favorite place with our favorite people was better than any wedding present anyone could ever give us.

Surrounded by family at my shower.

     About six months into the planning, and less than a year away from the wedding-- which we planned for the summer of 2010-- family began dropping like flies.  My aunt and her family pulled out because they didn't want to travel with three small children.   My other aunt and her family pulled out because they didn't want to travel outside of the country.  Robert's aunt and her family couldn't attend and we had assumed that from the beginning, but then we found his other aunt and her boyfriend as well as his grandparents couldn't go either.  My father's side wouldn't be going either, due to health reasons.  Then, lastly, my final aunt and her husband informed us they couldn't attend.  This meant pretty much our entire family dropped out of the wedding of our dreams.   I can't even begin to describe how many nights I spent curled up in Robert's arms crying.  To get my hopes up that so many people would be there, and then to have them all cancel at the same time, truly broke my heart.

      So we regrouped.  We still had our parents, our siblings, two of our close friends, his two grandmothers, my grandmother and grandfather, my best friend/maid of honor, and her boyfriend.  The best part was, all of them were serious and excited about going.   

      It was around this time, when plans were finally falling into place, that my grandfather dropped the final bomb on us.   I expected it all along, but as time passed I had become usure and hopeful.   But he officially announced to us that he couldn't go to Jamaica because he was too worried about being in another country with his heart condition. 

    I am sure most people would just say "okay, so what, one grandparent cannot go".  The problem is my mother's parents practically raised me as a child.  They were like a second set of parents to me, and the idea of not having one or both of them at my wedding felt like the final knife being twisted inside me.  It was less than a year until our wedding date and I had no clue what to do.  Do I cancel?  Do I get married without my grandfather and more than half of the rest of our families there?  I was so confused and so angry that this day that was supposed to be the "most important day of our lives" was becoming nothing but a nightmare for us both.  

      While all of this was going on, I went to check on our reservations at the resort to see when deposits would be due for everyone.  Unfortunately, I had no choice but to book it all through the agency I worked under when I first became a travel specialist.  Well as my luck would have it, they had failed to forward me the emails regarding my deposits, and my reservation at the resort we loved had been canceled without my knowledge!  

     This was the moment where I had my second of many wedding breakdowns.  Robert and I were now discussing eloping and I was in my "screw it" mode.  Bridezilla was raging her ugly head and I just wanted to marry the man I loved the way we originally wanted to be married.   

    About this time, my grandfather, who was feeling awful about the fact that he may not have the chance to see us get married, offered us a solution.   He requested that we get married at home and he would pay for everything, and then, if we wanted to, we could go to Jamaica for our honeymoon and could do a vow renewal on the beach together there if we wanted to.   

     At first I refused the idea of taking his money to pay for a wedding at home.  It wasn't that we refused the wedding at home idea, because at that point we had no choice.  We just didn't want to take his money.  My grandfather was the most generous man I've ever had the pleasure of knowing, and the last thing I wanted to do was abuse his generosity.  But he instead, adamantly, in his typical fashion, and we finally agreed.

    With only eight months before our original wedding date, we set out looking for a venue.  The venue my grandfather loved was also the least expensive, so that killed two birds with one stone.  The only problem was, they weren't available for our wedding dates.  So we then pushed our wedding up two months, meaning we only had six months before we were to be married.  Suddenly I began having panic attacks.  Everything I hoped wouldn't happen was happening.  I wanted so desperately to avoid the stress of a wedding at home, but now one was being planned and my blood pressure was through the roof.  

    There were cake and meal tastings, dress shopping and fittings, buying invitations and place settings, finding a DJ and a photographer, buying flowers, picking centerpieces, finding bridesmaids dresses and grooms men tuxes-- plus picking the people to wear them!-- getting paperwork together, and so much more.  My head was spinning for the next six months.

The best part about Robert is he kept me laughing even when I was completely stressed out
Here is his at our shower, keeping my sane! :)
           A month after project "New Jersey Wedding" kicked into full swing, Robert asked me if I still wanted to do the vow renewal in Jamaica.   Of course!  All I could envision when someone asked me about my wedding was my toes in the sand, surrounded by family, while I married him in Jamaica.  The vision of Jamaica, family present or not, was the only thing keeping my focused and actually looking forward to getting through the wedding day at home.   He then came up with a brilliant idea.  Since my grandfather was paying for the at home wedding, we still had the money we had set aside for a destination wedding.  We could still have the wedding of our dreams if people still wanted to join us in Jamaica for the vow renewal.  It was a win-win situation for everyone.   Especially for those family members who had been looking forward to Jamaica and were recently told it wouldn't be happening.

     We asked around if anyone would still be interested in going, and explained just how important the Jamaica wedding would be for us.  My parents were still on board, and so were his.  Our siblings, my maid of honor, her boyfriend, and two of my bridesmaids were all excited about the idea.   His grandmothers were still interested and my grandmother decided that since my grandfather couldn't travel she'd bring her sister, my aunt.   So now we had fourteen people who were definitely going to Jamaica.  This gave us some renewed hope and we began looking for a new resort in Jamaica to house the sixteen of us.

      Finally, the resort and the flights were booked and paid in full.   The wedding coordinator at the resort had been in contact with me and they were doing everything for us.  I just sent them the name of the package I liked that they were offering for the wedding (colors, flowers, etc) and that was it.  Done. What was taking me months to figure out back home was settled in fifteen minutes with the resort wedding coordinator.  Everything for Jamaica was finalized and all that was left was to get through the wedding at home.

      The wedding at home, while stressful to plan, was still a wonderful celebration with family and friends who otherwise wouldn't have been able to see us get married.  I will say though, compared to the experience of our destination wedding, if I had to go back and do it all again without worrying about outside influences, I'd do the destination wedding in a heart beat.   The worst part was the guest list.  By the time all was said and done half of my guest list was made up of family we didn't know we had and family friends we had never even met!   Then there were the people who RSVP'd yes and then canceled after they were paid for.  Or the people who just plain didn't show up after RSVP'ing yes.  And lastly, there were the ones who wrote us checks with our cards and the checks bounced.  Honestly, we had seen it all by the time the wedding came, and all of it was making an at-home wedding look less and less appealing.

     The wedding at home started late because of my hair and makeup taking longer than we realized it would take.  That cut into our reception which meant that my poor family was being pulled in every direction for photographs instead of being able to enjoy the cocktail hour that we paid for.

Robert joking around about not being able to enjoy our food as he feeds me a tiny grape from the tray
     When we finally came inside from photos it was time for the reception so Robert and I didn't get any down time to just sit and relax before we were throw onto the dance floor for our first dance (thank God I was wearing slippers at that point and not heels).  By the time all the dances were done, it was time to do toasts and speeches.  Then the food came around but we were barely able to eat any because we had to make our rounds and thank everyone for coming.  To this day I can't even tell you what food we had or what it tasted like, even though it took me months to plan the menu with the caterers.   

       The floral centerpieces were wrong.  The florist gave us the flowers for the reception that was after ours so while my colors were a darker pink, our centerpieces were light pink which didn't match our color scheme at all.  This will show you how flustered I was during the actual reception.. I didn't even find out about the flower issue until after the wedding when they came to me and asked if I wanted to keep the flowers.  I thought they were handing me the wrong flowers until I looked around at the tables and realized they had been on all the tables.  At that point, I was so uncomfortable in my dress (which had a corset back), that I didn't even want to argue it with anyone.  Honestly, it was simultaneously the best and worst day of my life, and the more at-home brides I talk to, the more I realize that this is a very common thing. 

     Now, I have to stop and make sure that, regardless of the drama of that day-- and pretty much every day leading up to it--  I mention how eternally grateful I was that my grandfather suggested this at home wedding and paid for it.   When he passed away a year and a half after our wedding, I was so happy that things worked out the way they did and that he was able to see us get married.  I am sure it was one of the last highlights of his life, and for that I am forever thankful that all of this happened the way it did.

Portrait of us on our wedding day
       That evening we returned home, and pretty much crashed in bed, we were that exhausted from everything we had gone through that day.   But we were also trying to get our rest because the next day was the most exciting day for us.  The next morning we had to be up early and at the airport because we were all leaving for Jamaica!   

   The following morning my grandfather and my uncle shuttled us all in the family mini vans to the airport where the excitement kicked in. We checked out bags, cleared the security line quickly, and were at the gate enjoying breakfast in no time.   By the time our flight took off I could barely contain myself.  For many of my family members, this trip would be their first trip out of the country.  Both my brother and I were smiling so much that my cheeks hurt by the time we landed.   My favorite part was just watching their faces.  As we began to make our final decent and arrival into Montego Bay, Jamaica, the looks on my family member's faces were priceless.  The clear blue water shocked them all.  I was ecstatic to continue to see those faces at every new experience they had.

Dad, pretending not to be excited about Jamaica. :)

My mom, visibly excited about her first vacation outside of the US! 

My granny and her sister, Aunt Susie, excited when we landed. 

     We landed, breezed through immigration, got our bags, and went on through customs.  We got to our van which I had arranged ahead of time to pick us up.  Dudley, from Big Ship Tours, was there to greet us with a big smile on his face.   Our smiled matched his and my family began getting even more excited when he welcome us with a "Welcome to Jamaica, mon!"  

Dudley welcoming my family with a huge smile.

      We got into the van and immediately Dudley told us to open the cooler and help ourselves.  Inside we found bottles of water and Red Stripe Beer.  Everyone was passing them around and enjoying themselves on the quick ride to the resort.  Along the way Dudley told us about Jamaica and taught us some Jamaican phrases that everyone took the pleasure in repeating (in their worst Jamaican accents of course). 

Yea, mon! :)

     When we arrived at our resort we were sad to say goodbye to Dudley, our new friend, but we were excited to see the resort and our rooms.   The next few days were some of the best days of my life.  Honestly, words couldn't describe them so I've put them into photos for everyone to see.

Aunt Susie and Granny enjoying some cocktails before dinner.

Look!  It's my father, and he IS enjoying Jamaica! :)

Couldn't find my family one morning, but then I looked in the pool and realized they were all in there having fun without me! :)

My friends, always smiling. :)

My aunt Susie having her hair braided! :)

We didn't just have one meal on the wedding day with our families, we got to have every meal with them!

My parents enjoying the shade by the beach and pool.
Think they secretly fell in love with Jamaica too. :)

Everyone having a good time!

We still had fun even on the day it rained for a few hours.

My in-laws and my sister-in-law, having a wonderful time in Jamaica.

My mom, enjoying herself.

My husband and my new family-in-law enjoying the pool games

My brother, who was not 21 in the states, was ecstatic that he could legally drink in Jamaica. :)

    After enjoying ourselves for two days, it came time for the wedding.  The day before the wedding we had a quick meeting with our planner who had us sign a few things and make some last minute requests, and that was it.  Before we knew it we were back in the pool enjoying our time with family.  

     The day came and the planner picked me up in a golf cart and shuttled me and my bridesmaids down to the beach where Robert and our family were waiting.  The planner helped me out of the cart and walked me down to a path to meet my father.  I was more excited walking down the sandy path with my father than I had been just a few days prior.  When I got there and saw everything set up, it was exactly as I had envisioned it a year ago.

The set up.

        I felt the tears in my eyes as I saw my husband standing there smiling, feeling the excitement and happiness too.   The steel drum band music started playing through the speaker and it sounded like a real steel drum band was right there playing.  Everyone down the beach stopped and looked our way and watched as I took my first steps onto the beach and walked towards my husband.  

       The ceremony was quick, but beautiful.  The vows were spoken with the sound of the waves softly crashing behind us.  Everything was perfect.

The kiss :)

With our wedding officiant on the beach.
The whole group with us after the wedding.

       After a few quick photos and some splashing around in the surf to cool down, we were escorted by golf cart shuttle to our reception area where we enjoyed our dinner together, at one table, overlooking the ocean in the background.  There was no running around thanking people for coming.  Just one big table where we could all talk and enjoy each others company.  The best part is, I can clearly remember everything we talked about, and ate, and how fantastic it all was!

Reception Dinner
Look!  I'm actually eating the food, and smiling! :)
Cutting our delicious cake
The sun setting on a perfect day in Jamaica.
         After the wedding reception the party didn't end.  Some of us did retire to bed but others enjoyed the resort club and danced the night away while others went and hung out at the bar.  Some even went for a late night swim.

My maid of honor and her boyfriend enjoying an evening swim with us.

A moment I will remember forever.
My husband holding me in the pool as we looked for shooting stars (and saw one!)

      Honestly, there was nothing about this trip that made me regret it one bit.  Everyone, including my father, had an amazing time and we all continue to ask each other when we're doing it again.   

Me, my mother and my grandmother-- three generations in Jamaica.

Bye Dudley!  See you next time. :)

My brother and my mother getting their last kicks in the airport in Jamaica before we left.
        Now, years later, I've become a destination wedding specialist and I've seen brides who are just as torn as we were, asking "should I get married at home or do a destination wedding?"  I always share my story with them.  Of course, each case is different, including mine.  Not everyone has ailing family members to take into consideration.  But I do explain to them the vast differences between spending one day with family and friends-- and some people you have never seen before and will probably never see again)-- or spending a week with your closest family and friends in a location where you have plenty of time to make memories and actually enjoy the time spent together.

      Then I go over the costs with them.  This was another reason why a destination wedding was way better by comparison.  The at-home wedding ended up costing around $12,000, and that was on the low end.  Trust me, we cut as much out as we could in order to have it as cheap as possible.  The destination wedding cost half of that.  My family covered their flights and we covered their rooms and the cost for wedding package (which was around $1,000 total).  That was it.  Had we not paid for all the rooms, we probably would have spent around $3,000 for our room, our two airline tickets and the basic wedding package.   It was a HUGE difference in price from the actual wedding, and considering everything we got out of it, the destination wedding won by a long shot.

     So in the end, while I am grateful my grandfather was able to see us get married, had those circumstances not been an issue, I would have never even considered a wedding at home.  Everyone has their reasons for the type of wedding they pick, but if you are on the fence about it, I strongly urge you discuss you options with your closest family and friends.  If their attendance is what matters most to you, then let that be the deciding factor.  But if you are like me and my husband, and you know for a fact that a destination wedding is what your hearts are really set on, then there are plenty of ways to make it work.  Just remember, you are the ones getting married, and twenty years from now you are the ones who have to look back on your wedding photos and will say "man I wish we had done it a different way" or "I am so glad we did it the way we did."   As for us, when we look back we tell people we were married in Jamaica because in our hearts, that was where we feel we truly became husband and wife. 

Written by Kira Solomon.
*Kira is the owner of My Paradise Planner Travel.  She specializes in planning and booking vacations, honeymoons and destination weddings to Sandals Resorts, Beaches Resorts, and more.   If you are not already working with a specialist to plan or book your vacation, honeymoon or destination wedding, feel free to contact Kira at or by calling 1-888-373-3677 x 700.   Her services are 100% free for everyone to use.

Click below to view the video of Kira and her family in Jamaica

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