Many couples are drawn to the romantic idea of a destination wedding because it allows them to spend the entire weekend celebrating with their friends and family instead of just one night. But how do you choose the right place to say “I Do”?
Here at Skylar Caitlin Events we have some tried-and-true questions we like to ask our couples to help them determine the best fit location for their wedding weekend. We’re sharing them here in this 4-step guide to choosing your wedding location.
Step 1: Make a List of All Possible Locations
Start by dreaming big and writing down all the places you might like to get married. Don’t limit yourself by asking too many critical thinking questions – we’ll filter the list in Step 2!
Think of places you love, or love the idea of, and add them to the list.
Perhaps there are places you’ve traveled together that mean something – like one of my couples who regularly visit their wedding destination, Jackson, Wyoming. Or maybe your friend group loves a wine bar so heading to the NorCal wine country will spark excitement for you and your guests.
Whatever you feel drawn to add it to the list!
Feeling stuck? Ask yourself these questions:
- Are there any locations that are special to you and your partner/your families?
- What activities do you and your friends like to do together? What locations are known for these activities?
- What backdrop are you looking for? (City, Beach, Mountains, Winery, etc.)
Step 2: Filter the List
Now that you’ve made your “Blue Sky” list of wedding locations, let’s filter the options to narrow down your list.
If you have a specific date or time of year in mind, start there.
Does the location work for your desired date range? If you’ve always dreamed of an outdoor reception in the winter scratch Maine off your list. Also, consider how major (and local) holidays will impact guest travel and vendor availability. If you want a February wedding, steer clear on NOLA and the Mardi Gras crowds.
Are you willing to require your guests to take a flight, rent a car, and drive even further just to make it to the wedding weekend? Is that something your guests are willing to commit their time and finances to? This doesn’t mean you need to rule out a dream destination, but you might want to consider how you can make it easier for guests to attend, like an airport shuttle or footing the bill for a travel concierge to manage all our guests’ travel.
Finally, research how to legally get married in your locations. This is one of the reasons I love US-based destination weddings – there are (most of the time) less hoops to jump through to make your “I Do”s official. However, even if you cannot fulfill the local marriage requirements (i.e. you can’t get to Charleston with enough time before your wedding to get a local marriage license as required) this doesn’t mean you have to say good-bye to the location.
If you and your soon-to-be spouse are okay with the idea of making things paper legal before (or after) the wedding day, you can simply apply for a marriage license in your town and complete the process with an approved officiant (like a Justice of the Peace) to ensure you’re covered legally.
Questions to ask yourself to filter the list:
- What locations work for your desired date range?
- How feasible is it for your VIPs to travel to your destination?
- What are the local wedding requirements? Are you willing to get married before/after the wedding if needed?
Step 3: Venue Search
Now that you’ve narrowed down the list, let’s look at actual venues that you could book with your short list of locations.
Whenever looking at wedding venues, always start by looking at the capacity. Do not – I repeat do not – book a venue that cannot hold your entire guest list. While there are some rule-of-thumb percentages to estimate final attendance numbers, you don’t want to gamble with your venue space. There would be nothing more embarrassing than having un-invite people because the venue you booked can’t hold the guests who say “yes.”
You’ll also want to evaluate what you’ll need to contract outside of the venue to make it functional. Few venues come with tenting, so if you want an outdoor wedding reception, you’ll need to reserve a tent for your rain plan at the vary least. Does the venue provide tables & chairs or will these be additional? Of the items they do provide, do you actually like them or will you want to add these on from elsewhere?
On top of included items, you’ll want to see when your vendors can access the site. If you want a tented reception with hardwood flooring and elaborate draping, your production company will need access to the reception space before the day-of the wedding. We always prefer all-day (9a – 12a) access at a minimum for our events as this provides the most flexibility for set-up.
When looking at venues, be sure to evaluate them using these questions:
- Will my guest count fit within the venue’s max capacity? Does it work for your guests’ needs?
- What additional costs are required to make it functional (i.e. a tent, table & chairs, etc.)?
- When can my vendors access the site? (If you want a larger build out, you’ll need more time, possibly more than one day)
Step 4: Schedule Site Visits
With your venue list in hand, let’s pack our suitcase! Especially if you’ve never been to the area before, you’ll want to actually go to your wedding location before signing on the dotted line.
Schedule a time to go to the venue itself. Does it look like the pictures? Can you envision yourself getting married there? Does the staff feel like people you want to work with for the next year to a year-and-a-half?
While there, visit the town and get critical about your guests’ experience. What was it like getting to the location? Do you like the area hotels? What is it like getting from hotel to venue? If you aren’t selecting a venue where all your guests can stay onsite, you may want to consider a shuttle service to provide easy, safe transportation for your wedding.
Don’t forget about the rest of the weekend! Does your venue provide additional spaces where you could host your rehearsal dinner or farewell brunch? If not, think about other area venues or restaurants you might like to work with to complete your wedding weekend experience.
While visiting ask yourself these questions:
- Does it look like the pictures? Can you envision yourself getting married there?
- What is it like to get there from area hotels? Does the location provide a variety of activities your guests can entertain themselves with?
- Can you identify places you’d like to host other weekend activities like a welcome party, rehearsal dinner, or farewell brunch?
As you continue searching for that ideal wedding location, keep in mind an experienced planner can guide you through the process, streamline decisions, and recommend creative ways to make your wedding weekend the best ever! To learn more about how Skylar Caitlin Events can provide support in your wedding planning journey, see our wedding planning services page.