If you've recently gotten engaged, please let us be the first to congratulate the both of you... mazel tov! As soon as you start sharing the good news with family and friends the very first question you'll get is "...So when's the big day?" Boom!...reality hits and the wedding planning begins. This is enough to give any happy couple a huge jolt right out of fantasy land.
About 20% of engaged couples today are opting for a destination weddings. By definition, a destination wedding is where the couple and all their guests must travel to get to the ceremony and reception location. This "location" can be anywhere... a city hotel, theme park, cruise ship, a Hawaiian beach or European Castle. 40% of all weddings today are "encore" weddings...this means either the bride, the groom or both have been married before. 65% of all re-marriages or encore weddings involve kids. This is generally where Vacationkids comes into the picture. Creating a new blended family has become one of our specialties. I've planned my own encore wedding with three teens. A Destination wedding is one thing but planning an important, successful celebrataion with kids is completely different. It takes a bit extra understanding that comes from first hand experience. We also done destination weddings with kids for many of our returning clients. We've been in business long enough that many of our vacation"kids" are now our repeat clients. They themselves are now grown adults planning destination weddings with kids on their guest lists.
When it comes to no nonsense Destination wedding planning for our clients, we have 5 main guidelines that we like to follow for every wedding we do...
1. We want our couples to have the destination wedding of their dreams.
2. Make sure kids are happy, engaged and entertained (then everyone will be happy).
3. Insure the most value for money spent on travel and ceremony.
4. Provide excellent care and support for all of your invited guests
5. Avoid as much drama as humanly possible...which can be accomplished with proper planning and communication.
All of this "sounds" easy enough to accomplish but it can be a tricky balancing act. To get off to a proper start, we normally schedule a phone or skype meeting with both the bride and groom. This consultation is free and normally lasts about 1/2 hour. This ensures the bride, groom and your travel agent are all start off on exactly the same page together.
This consulation starts as an introduction. Our Vacationkids travel agents want to learn about the couple and their immediate family. This is particularly important for encore marriages with children. Helping us understand their ages, interests, family dynamics and any special needs your kids may have will certainly help. For example, if you think one of your kids may have separation anxiety from a co-parent, we might consider a resort that offers free long distance and WiFi. This could help keep both their anxiety and your hotel bill down.
As the consulation moves ahead, there are some VERY critical questions that your Vacationkids travel agent MUST have answered. Usually most couples we meet haven't even started to consider many of these important issues. To work efficiently and stay focused, we need to address many of these issues early on to avoid problems down the road.
We HIGHLY SUGGEST that all couples make time to discuss these IMPORTANT points IN ADVANCE when planning a destination wedding with Kids.....
Type of Ceremony- Are you planning a religious or civil ceremony? This decision has important legal and spiritual obligations. It may influence the location that you choose for your destination wedding, the exact venue or even the amount of time the couple needs to be in destination prior to their ceremony. If this is an encore marriage for either the bride or groom, additional legal paperwork will be necessary.
Location - Some couples come to us and "KNOW" exactly where their destination wedding will be. Our agents can get right to work finding the most practical, feasible and economical way to get the couple, their kids and all invited guests to this spot. With same sex marriages, you may need to have a destination wedding in a location that recogonizes your union. In other cases we may have a couple with family scattered all over the planet that need to find a good mutual location to bring everyone together. Some couples may have infants so child care may be an important determining factor. Whatever your particular circumstances are, we can help step you through the process of choosing the best destination, accommodations, activities and ceremony venues.
Budget - Depending on the type of destination wedding you are planning, there will be travel costs and there may also be ceremony or reception costs. Couples NEED to have frank and honest conversations about money and budget before speaking to a travel agent. Your Vacationkids travel agent will also need to know WHO is paying for what. "We're looking for an affordable Destination wedding with our kids".. is not a budget. The word affordable has completely different meanings to different people. "We have a wedding budget of $10,000.00" or "We're looking to keep the price under $500 per person for airfare and room"...these are concrete parameters that will help your agent work efficiently on your behalf.
Today there really isn't any proper ettiquette when it comes to paying for a destination wedding. We've done destination weddings where the couple or a family member foots the entire bill for the entire event. Respectfully in these circumstances, we schedule a second consultation and include these folks in the money conversations. Some couples may just want to pay for immediate family members or specific guest(s) only. Sometimes, the couple or family will pick up the tab for the hotel or cruise but ask guests to provide their own airfare or transportation costs to get to the destination. The majority of couples expect their invited guests to pay their own costs to travel to the destination wedding in lieu of receiving wedding gifts. Our vacationkids travel agents can certainly work within your budget parameters, but we do need your direction. We know budget is often the last thing people like to talk about but it's usually the most important.
Be reality based about how much things really do cost. Try to do some initial homeowrk online about airfare and regular hotel costs for a typical trip to your destination wedding location during your preferred travel dates. Can you or your guests afford this price tag? If not, your Vacationkids travel agent can offer suggestions and alternatives to keep your budget right on track. Often Destination Wedding groups qualify for group travel discounts and our agents can help advise you to get the best deals possible.
The big day - Timing is everything. It's best to start planning your destination wedding at least 12 months in advance. This will normally insure that you get any specific ceremony date that you may require. You may need extra planning time to insure your wedding date coincides with school holidays or visitation schedules. A specific destination may be far more affordable during off season so we can adjust to keep both your dreams and your budget right on track.
When it comes to last minute wedding planning, we do NEED to ask -Is the bride pregnant?...yes, I know, but we did say this was a "no nonsense" planning guide. Many women don't realize that airlines and cruise ships have very strict rules in place for traveling while pregnant. For your travel agent, this would mean obtaining very important paperwork from your doctor, clearing your boarding with proper authorities and making sure you have proper travel insurance coverage. If not...major last minute drama and it could cost you major financial cancellation penalties.
Ex-spouses & Co Parents - Once again, we're not trying to get all up in your business here. It's just that there can be important legal issues involved when traveling with kids, especially for encore weddings. For example, you may need to get permission from an ex or co-parent to obtain a passport for your child. Depending on levels of cooperation, this may need extra time for legal intervention. Perhaps an adjustment to your destination wedding location at the very beginning would be better than last minute drama and expensive travel change fees for say 50 guests later on. I appreciate ex's can be a pain, I have one too. But it's better to be in control from the beginning than to let them try to cause you hassles later on.
Guest Lists- Some couples elect to have an intimate destination wedding and "familymoon" for just their blended family. Many extend this invitation to include others. Most destination weddings have about 35-50 guests in attendance on average. Couples should discuss whether they prefer some privacy and romantic "alone time" from their guests after their ceremony for a honeymoon or do they prefer one big combined celebration with all of their guests.
As the planning process moves ahead, we do ask our couples for a guest list complete with names and full contact information. This helps us to handle the logistics of following up with folks who procrastinate. We can fend off a million questions that guests may have and the couple may or may not be able to answer. It's helpful to let your agent know if any guest has challenges like mobility issues or food allergies. This allows us to intercede on their behalf. It's INCREDIBLY helpful to warn your agent about any dysfunctional family members that may be on your list. Let's be honest, every family has a few of these folks...crazy Aunts, demanding in laws, family gossips, drama queens. If you tell us, we will do everything in our power to make sure that your divorced mom is in a lovely room on the complete opposite side of the hotel from your Dad and his new girlfriend. If you don't tell us then there may be fireworks and not the kind you want at your wedding.
The Delicate Balance - When planning a typical family vacation, questions of who, what, where, when and how much need to be addressed on an individual basis. The important points that we're asking couples to consider here are really answers to these same exact questions. The big difference is that the answers to these questions now effect travel and logistics for multiple people- namely everyone you invite to your destination wedding. All of these decision will also bear on your wedding ceremony itself, one of the most important and memorable events of your life. This destination wedding decision making process is a delicate balance of many moving parts. A decision made on a location may effect the timing of your wedding ceremony or the cost involved. Be prepared and please know in advance that you may need to prioritize and compromise some of your wedding planning decisions. We understand that your head will have many questions swirling around in your brain throughout this entire process. Our Vacationkids agents will hold your hand and guide you through the entire process. We promise, all of the puzzle pieces will fall gently into place. First we'll help you make the most imformed travel and logistical decisions. As time grows closer you'll have the chance to make ceremony and reception choices with wedding planners. This is when you can focus on colors, flowers, prayers and music. It is a step by step process that truly needs to be addressed in the proper order. All of these decision are exciting but can also be overwhelming and stressful. We're here to remind you that balance comes from staying focused on what is truly important...the blending of your new family.