Destination Wedding Planning 101: Upping the Guest Experience

Wedding guests mingle in a big white tent decorated with strings of fairy lights against an evening sky.

Congrats on the engagement! Let’s party.

Now that you two are ready to start planning the best day of your life, have you thought about how you’re gonna make sure it’s one your friends and family remember? I know you’re thinking “Courtnie, it’s not about them, it’s about US!” and yes, of COURSE you guys are the rockstars of this whole adventure! However, your guests deserve a little TLC, too, right?

If you’re looking for ideas on how to show your love and appreciation for the friends and fam who’ve shown up to celebrate (as well as up the ante and take your destination wedding to the next level!) try giving some of these tips a whirl. Who knows, I might end up seeing your wedding hashtag on Insta!

First thing’s first: the wedding welcome bags.

Who doesn’t love gifts? I do, you do, and your guests will too. If you need a little help figuring out how to put together a stellar welcome bag, check out my post on the topic here!

Wedding welcome bags are a great way to greet guests when they arrive and put a warm, personal spin on things right from the get-go. There are so many different things you can do with them which is why I’m a big fan—this is one aspect of your wedding planning where you can really get creative!

One tip is to stay local: put some items in their bag that they can only find at that particular destination. It’s a great way to introduce your guests to the country and give them a little piece of that place they can take home with them. Oh, and don’t forget the hangover kit! One champagne too many and they’ll definitely be needing it.

For budget-friendly welcome bags, thrifty-but-personal is the way to go! Make the favors meaningful and add special touches. For example: cake pops with personalized, handwritten thank yous to everyone attending or a photo collage of you and your best girlfriend through the years.

Postcards also make a fun addition to destination wedding welcome bags—guests can mail them to friends at home or even write well wishes to the bride and groom on the back before popping them in the mail. When you get back home, you will have tons of postcards with love from those who mean the most to you (a nice keepsake for sentimental couples).

Photo credit:  Marla Dee Photography

Photo credit: Marla Dee Photography

Next up: the welcome event.

Chances are your guests are stumbling off the plane after a long day of travel. Give them a chance to recover a bit by planning a chill meet-and-greet or a nice bonfire on the beach for that first night. You can wait until the next day when everyone is rested to set sail on a brunch catamaran or sip cocktails at sundown.

Keeping things low-key in the beginning will make sure your guests are refreshed and ready for all the fun activities and partying to follow! (One of our favorites was the fire dancers—they were so worth the splurge.)

Now, I know some brides will ask, “Is this something you pay for?” The answer is always YES! You can’t plan a bomb itinerary for your guests and then turn around and ask them to pay for it. That’s like having a cash bar at your wedding! Would you ask your friends to pay for cocktails in your home? So you know the deal—make sure you budget this expense out in advance. (To download my FREE destination wedding budget checklist, click here!)

This leads me to my next topic: group excursions.

In Jamaica, Rick’s Café is the perfect place to hang with friends. Wine tasting in Florence would be incredible. If you’re getting hitched in Mexico you could treat your guests to salsa lessons. We personally took our bridal party jetskiing at Maroma Beach. There are endless tours and activities to choose from—ziplining, ATV rides, jungle safaris, scuba diving, and on and on.

If you’re totally at a loss for what to do, take the fun parts of your welcome party and amplify them! (Word to the wise: be sure to make space in your schedule for downtime or time where guests can explore on their own. This one was tricky for me, as I like to schedule EVERYTHING and have extreme planning OCD! But it’s necessary and will keep people from getting all activitied-out.)

Photo credit:  Marla Dee Photography

Photo credit: Marla Dee Photography

Another important part of the guest experience? The reception.

How are you gonna get the party started? Did you ask for music requests on your wedding website or on your save-the-date cards? This is something to consider since the best way to make sure everyone’s having an amazing time is to allow them to pick the music that will get them going!

What kind of music are your friends into? (One of Hubby’s friends loves “This is How We Do It” by Montell Jordan 😂 We also recently took a trip where “Walk It Like I Talk it” by Migos had all his friends #turnt.) Whatever you do, no YMCA!!! Side note for the reception: Don’t assign seats—let your guests pick their own seating arrangement. I know I hated it when my husband’s friend got married and he had to sit at the bridal party table while I was left to sit with people I didn’t know. It SUCKED! Don’t let seating spoil the party. After all, we’re all family now, right?

Last but not least: snacks!

Fact: snacks are always welcomed. I’ve talked a lot about gifts and tours and parties, but it also doesn’t hurt to have sweet treats sent to your guests’ rooms (even if you’re at an all-inclusive resort!). I know I hate to wait on room service that could take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour—having something to munch on in the middle of the night keeps will keep your guests happy and let them know you’ve got their comfort in mind!

According to The Knot, one of the most common wedding complaints from guests is food or lack thereof. Don’t let those complaints happen at your wedding! If you go the all-inclusive route, you should be in good shape since there will be restaurants aplenty (and at least some of them open at all hours of the day). Still, I guarantee your guests will be over the moon if they don’t have to make the trek to one of those restaurants every time they get hungry.

Whatever you choose to include or exclude from your destination wedding, just make an effort to not come across as ungracious hosts. Your loved ones have traveled far and wide to celebrate with you so enjoy your time with them! (We’ve all been to one of those weddings where you see the bride once, it’s been a year, and you’re STILL waiting on that thank you card—SMH.) Say thank you! That’s good desti-couple karma.

Eat, Drink, and Turn Up!