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When You’re Destined for a Destination Wedding

Planning your nuptials abroad is bound to be stressful, right? But it doesn’t have to be

A beaming groom embraces his bride and leans her back for a kiss after saying, “I do,” while a clapping crowd watches. A sandy beach and white floral structures shine in the afternoon sun behind them.
Mira Milla and George Gaza chose Mexico’s Playa del Carmen as the destination for their nuptials.
Arcos Productions

This post originally appeared in the May 13, 2023, edition of Eater Travel, a biweekly dispatch from Eater’s staff about navigating places where food is the main attraction. Subscribe now.

This week, Eater got hitched. And while my colleagues wrote about how to have the ultimate restaurant wedding, and even made the case for eloping, my husband and I recently went a different route, because we always knew we wanted a destination wedding. We were long-distance for three years; he lived in Chicago, and I lived in New York City. So to keep things fair, we decided to choose a place all of our guests could travel to without emptying their bank accounts along the way. And after a pandemic, we figured people wanted an excuse for a vacation. So, who would I be not to schedule one for them? Call it selflessness, or just mutually beneficial.

As a social media manager, I tend to keep things very organized via calendars, lists, and planners. My work life depends on deadlines and a lot of research, and wedding planning was no exception. After countless to-do lists, working remotely with an out-of-country wedding coordinator for almost a year, and many, many months of Googling “destination wedding must-haves,” this is what I learned about pulling off my dream out-of-state wedding.

Wants, needs, and in-betweens

While we knew that having a destination wedding would mean a lot fewer “Yes” RSVPs, this was a downside we were okay with because we were hopeful that the people who really wanted to be there would do their best to be there. It also helped that we gave all our guests more than a year and a half’s notice on the wedding date. However, we did keep in mind the costs of everything, for both ourselves and our loved ones. In the end, we decided to get married in Mexico’s Playa del Carmen during Presidents Day weekend. Most people had that following Monday off. Since it would be February, we figured we might as well take our closest friends and family out of snowy Chicago and invite them to a place that had the perfect weather to dance and party. Mexico has a lot of all-inclusive resorts, so while the price may initially turn people off, when we explained that our reservations would include transportation to and from the airport and unlimited food and drinks at all hours of the day, it was a game changer. We’d sent 200 invitations realistically expecting only 60 confirmations; we ended up with a crowd of 140.

But with all of those people, you may need this reminder: While others may have opinions on what you should or shouldn’t do at your wedding, remember that it is your wedding. Smile and say, “Thank you,” and just make sure you and your partner are a team every step of the way. For us, we always knew we wanted three things: an open bar, a beach, and the feel of our wedding being a huge celebration. We didn’t want anything too formal or traditional, and while that turned a few heads, we stood strong. In being able to focus on those three things, we narrowed the scope of tiny wedding decisions we’d eventually have to make (like whether or not we wanted chargers at dinner), and were able to give our coordinator enough direction to have our vision come to life.

Go with the flow... sort of

Wedding planning and stress seem to go hand in hand, and while there is inevitable stress on the journey of planning your big day, it’s important to manage your expectations. I’ll be blunt: Things can get really expensive. While a lot of venues only do a la carte vendors, my husband and I wanted to find a place that did it all under one roof. After a lot of research, we decided to go with Blue Venado Weddings. We debated having our wedding at the hotel we were staying at, but resorts during Presidents Day weekend wouldn’t give us the privacy we envisioned. Who really wants tourists in the background of their wedding photos?

Blue Venado provided a private beach just 20 minutes away from our resort, and they were basically a one-stop shop for all of our needs. While we were a little nervous about getting everything done remotely, with their all-in package, we were able to book all our vendors with ease, from a live DJ to the florals to the videographer and photographer. You name it, they provided it! Instead of going through more research on who to book in a city we’ve only been to twice, the wedding team guided us and helped us feel at ease with every decision we made. If we needed a recommendation on makeup artists, they had it. We wanted a customized sign? They could do it. It’s like they took our vision board and made it come to life. Most importantly, they had one more thing we weren’t going to compromise on: in-house catering that served really delicious food.

No winners without a good dinner

Other than the open bar and beach scenery, good food is the one thing we weren’t going to skimp on. Wedding food gets a bad rap and is sometimes overlooked, but it was very important for us that the food served was something that people talked positively about.

When it came to food tasting, we wanted to try it all. From making sure we had “easy” hors d’oeuvres like empanadas to whether we should have a buffet-style spread or carefully measured courses, we had plenty of opinions coming our way and just as many choices. So, for our own sanity, we ditched the comments on what we “should” do, and figured it out for ourselves.

We didn’t have the hyper-curated menus or everything-fits-a-theme dinner spreads that you often see on TikTok. We just had a notepad and scores next to everything we ate. Our parents were with us during the tasting, and the decisions were pretty unanimous. In the end, we decided on ceviche in a spoon (the perfect bite!), mini pulled pork sandwiches, Veracruz-style mini empanadas, octopus nachos, and arrachera with chimichurri tapas for our cocktail hour. Of course, we also had the bar churning out palomas, mango margaritas, and guava Moscow mules to wash it all down. For our appetizer, we were debating between a salmon carpaccio or a kataifi shrimp. We eventually opted for the shrimp, which was crispy and paired with a tangy tomato sauce. But the main dish was like an early honeymoon. Between sweet tender pork ribs with corn and cauliflower and a rib-eye with grilled vegetables, we decided to go off the menu and serve our guests a classic combo: surf and turf. Paired with mashed potatoes and fried plantains, the juicy rib-eye steak and grilled lobster were the real stars. All the food kept us energized (for the dancing) and full (for the drinks!).

Would I say “I do” times two?

Like a lot of big weddings (remember that group of 140!), destination weddings can be nerve-wracking. But with the right amount of research, help, flexibility, and will power, they can be done. The best part of the whole experience was sharing a memory with our closest family and friends in a beautiful place that will forever hold a special place in our hearts. Every time Mexico comes up in conversation with anyone who attended, they mention our wedding. And those memories more than justified the expense.

Stressful? Yes. Something my husband and I would do over and over again? Absolutely.

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