Jenn Bartell Photography
A Day to Remember
East Sac Florist
What do you think about destination weddings?
Ward: I like them a lot. They’re quite a treat for the guests. It’s a mini vacation. People are in a party mood. They’re there for two or three days, so they’re soaking it all in and experiencing why the couple chose the location. The guests are very relaxed. They’re thrilled by it.
What kind of couple chooses a destination wedding?
Ward: These are generally not young kids. Twenty-year-olds don’t do destination weddings. They have a little more disposable income. They tend to be sophisticated and established.
Sekany-Thomas: People are living together first, so they are usually paying for everything themselves. It’s a lot less expensive to do a destination wedding than to have a big wedding here. Or they’re older and it’s their second marriage. They’ve already had the big church wedding, so they’re going to have a destination wedding in lieu of a church wedding.
Rice: They tend to have smaller guest lists. They don’t necessarily want to have to plan every detail of their wedding from beginning to end like you might have to at home. At home, you’d have to bring in a tent, rentals. Destination weddings tend to be at resort locations, where a lot of that is all-inclusive.
For Sacramento couples, what are the most popular locales for a destination wedding?
Ward: Napa, Sonoma and Lake Tahoe. Destination is kind of a funny word. Amador County is an hour outside Sacramento. It’s winery country, but it’s less expensive than Napa. That could be considered a destination. I have a bride and groom right now who live in Sacramento, but all their guests are coming from out of town. So this will be a destination wedding for their 200 guests. They’re having the wedding in Old Sacramento because they want to introduce their family and friends to the region and all it has to offer.
Sekany-Thomas: Napa is really big. The Hyatt in North Lake Tahoe. All-inclusive weddings in Mexico and beach weddings in Hawaii. You can pay $2,500 for five days in Mexico, and the wedding and food are free.
Rice: Anyplace that might be considered a vacation spot: Pismo Beach, Santa Barbara, Tahoe, Mendocino.
What’s the advantage to a destination wedding?
Sekany-Thomas: Usually it’s a pretty fun time. You have a whole week to spend with people in a relaxed atmosphere. There’s no craziness with seating charts and dealing with people who don’t get along. People are there because they want to be there. The ones who come are your really close friends and family.
Do you do a lot of destination weddings?
Rice: I do quite a few. Probably 20 percent of my brides choose a destination wedding.
Let’s talk about money: How does having a destination wedding affect the budget?
Ward: Sometimes the region can be higher priced than Sacramento. I’m doing a wedding in Carmel, and the vendors there are a higher price point than Sacramento.
Rice: As far as flowers go, it generally pretty much costs the same, although there are travel expenses for getting me there, and possibly a bit more in on-site charges.
Sekany-Thomas: Let’s say you’re getting married in Hawaii. Usually couples do it in the off-peak or shoulder season, because it’s not as expensive as peak season. Peak season in Hawaii is June, July, August, Christmas and spring break. So they’ll do it in May or September, when airfare and hotel prices are quite a bit less. Airfare is $900 in season, $400 in the shoulder season. Off-peak, hotels offer special deals. For instance, you might get every third or fourth night free.
What’s included in an all-inclusive wedding?
Sekany-Thomas: The bride and groom’s hotel accommodations, all your alcohol, your food, your tips, nonmotorized sports activities like kayaks, boogie boards, surfboards. Sometimes the wedding is thrown in for free, but sometimes there’s an added fee of $2,000 or $2,500 to cover the wedding cake, photographer, wedding license, the officiant, decorations if you’re having a beach wedding, such as seat setup.
As a travel agent, how involved are you in the planning of the wedding?
Sekany-Thomas: Once the couple decides on a destination, I put them in touch with a wedding coordinator, either at the hotel or someone in the area who specializes in destination weddings. I know several people who specialize in Hawaii. Most resort hotels have wedding coordinators. I’m not versed in things like Mexican licenses. I do know they come in Spanish, and you have to pay an additional fee to have them translated. If the couple doesn’t know that, they’ll get their license in Spanish.
What services do you offer?
Sekany-Thomas: You can do a registry through me. Many couples already live together and don’t want to register at Macy’s, so instead they register for the honeymoon. We put the money they receive from their guests toward their trip costs.
Philip, do you do pre-event reconnaissance?
Rice: Generally, yes, especially if it’s somewhere I can get to fairly easily. If it’s farther away, like Santa Barbara, I’ll try to hit the venue on my way back from a trip to Southern California so that I can check out the event space. But a few times I’ve relied solely on photographs or videos, which is definitely more difficult.
What’s the farthest distance you’ve gone for a destination wedding?
Rice: Boston. The bride flew me in for two days to do the bouquets and boutonnieres.
Logistically speaking, how do you handle the flowers for a destination wedding?
Rice: Sometimes I do a fair amount of the work here and then truck the flowers there. Sometimes it’s more cost-effective to rent a small space at the site and not pay the shipping or trucking fees to truck the finished work down there. It depends on the size and complexity of work.
Why would a bride bring vendors from Sacramento? Isn’t that expensive?
Rice: Often I find that people have long-term relationships with their florists or the people responsible for the décor or the event design. That comes from years of trust, of building a relationship. It’s something they don’t want to give to a hotel or resort. Sometimes resorts with all-inclusive packages have contracts that have preferred vendors or come with flower packages. The couple will forgo their flowers and bring me along instead. Sometimes you have to jump through hoops to make that happen. Some venues will transfer what you’d be charged for flowers to another area of the wedding—the catering or something like that.
Ward: Many times, the bride or the planner has to rely on unknowns if they’ve never worked with that property. Let’s say you need a string quartet or a hairstylist. Sometimes you’re going to use the services of that property, rather than bringing those vendors from Sacramento. If you start bringing all your vendors from Sacramento, you’re in a higher price point. Most vendors from your hometown will charge a travel fee if not overnight accommodations. The challenge might be working with vendors they’re unfamiliar with. For the bride, it might mean more trips to the region to do interviews and trials. It’s a tossup: the bride’s time to travel versus paying more to bring your own vendors.
Jean, last year you got married in Hawaii. Why did you choose a destination wedding?
Sekany-Thomas: We’d already had the big Catholic wedding. (Sekany-Thomas and her husband were remarried after divorcing each other 10 years earlier.) We love Hawaii. A group of my friends were going to be there for a race, and another friend was going there for her 40th birthday, so we planned our wedding right in the middle of those two events. We had a suite at The Royal Hawaiian. I had a couple of cases of Champagne shipped in, and every night, people would come to our room for cocktails and appetizers. We did a lot of stuff together. We all went to Pearl Harbor and had a private tour of Mighty Mo. We didn’t invite everyone. Some of my parents’ friends wanted to come. But it’s not what we wanted. And when you’re paying for it, you can do whatever you want to do.
Discuss the potential pitfalls of a destination wedd ing.
Sekany-Thomas: You limit the number of people who can afford to go. If you have a family of five, they’re probably not going to be able to come. It’s easier for your older relatives, like your aunts and uncles. People with private school and braces might not be able to afford it. You price out some people.
Rice: Weather. Guests not making it on time. But generally they run pretty smoothly. A lot of these big wedding resorts are like wedding farms. They really know their stuff, and they do it every day.
Ward: Money. If guests can’t afford the trip, the bride will lose key players from her guest list. Otherwise, I don’t see many pitfalls. It’s very easy for me as a planner.
Sekany-Thomas: Once I had a bride and groom call off their wedding. It was a debacle. Guests had already purchased airfare and put deposits on hotel rooms. I recommend everyone purchase insurance. Some tour companies have cancel-for-any-reason insurance. Regular trip insurance doesn’t cover if the bride and groom call the wedding off.
Rice: It boils down to how easygoing a bride is. If somebody is very, very specific in her wants, you have to have a contingency plan for everything. If you’ve got an easygoing, gowith- the-flow bride, a destination wedding is a great way to go. A lot of venues are full service. Maybe all you have to worry about is a few details like amenities for your guest. You get to focus on that, rather than on the nuts and bolts of the wedding.
Let’s talk about Mexico. Is that a good place for a destination wedd ing?
Sekany-Thomas: If you stay at a resort, it’s fine. There’s a lot of violence in Mexico. We have a lot of State Department warnings right now. Carnival Cruise Lines was in Puerto Vallarta recently and people were robbed. Some of the cruise lines aren’t going to Mazatlán any more. Cabo and Cancún are fine to travel to. When you do all-inclusive, you don’t leave the resort anyway. If you don’t do all-inclusive and go to Mexico, you need to use common sense. You don’t walk around at night, and you stick to tourist destinations.
Some guests complain when they’re invited to a destination wedd ing, saying it costs them money and vacation time. Your thoughts?
Ward: That’s a very valid point. They have to buy airfare. A pricier property is going to have a higher price point for hotels and maybe airfare and rental car. And every meal is being eaten out. There can be some resentment, and some guests will say we just can’t do it.
Welcome bags are a big deal at destination weddings, no?
Rice: I think it’s always fun to give a gift or favor that’s a piece of local culture: maybe an admission ticket to a local museum or a tour of some kind, possibly a baked good or local food item that the area is famous for, like a bottle of wine in wine country.
Ward: Welcome bags are fun. I’m doing a wedding at a winery in Sonoma and we’re giving all the guests a winery coaster as a takeaway remembrance. Favors are always optional, but it’s nice if it’s something reminiscent of the region, the property or the couple. Setting up activities so guests can enjoy the region is a nice thing to do, like golfing or wine tasting or shopping in Carmel.
Do you have any advice for couples planning a destination wedding?
Sekany-Thomas: The farther ahead you plan, the better. It’s really hard to book a last-minute destination wedding. It can work, but you may not get the best prices on hotels and airfare.
Sekany-Thomas: When you travel, you need to be flexible and have an open mind. Sometimes things don’t go as planned. We had one in Hawaii where the plane from Sacramento broke down. Everybody was stuck at the airport for five or six hours. That’s hard at the beginning of a trip. You have to be able to roll with the punches. What happens if it’s raining, and you were planning to get married at the beach? It’s a little stressful.
Rice: It’s an opportunity for the bride and groom to be on vacation with the people who mean the most to them. When it works out, it can be a great thing.
Describe the nicest destination wedding you’ve been involved with.
Sekany-Thomas: My best friend got married in Napa. We were there three nights. The first night they had dinner in a huge wine cave. The next day was the wedding, and the day after that, we played croquet in the morning at Meadowood, then did wine crushing in the afternoon. It was really fun. Everybody was invited to everything. It was really quite beautiful.
Rice: It was a wedding in San Luis Obispo that was very fun and quirky. This couple got married in a really funky barn at a place called Holland Ranch. They were one of the cutest couples ever, and their wedding definitely reflected their personalities. By the end of the night, every guest was dancing in a pair of neon sunglasses. It was crazy fun.
Ward: I did an incredible wedding at Thunderbird Lodge at Lake Tahoe. It’s a very historic property. Because it’s so unique and pricey, we invited guests for a 10-hour day, with many food services: welcoming food, wedding food, after-the-wedding food, dinner food and dessert food. There were tours of the property and short boat rides. Everybody enjoyed Lake Tahoe at its finest.
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