Let me start by saying my husband and I have been happily married for 12 years. However, our blissful union started out anything but.
I was excited about getting married, but not so much the wedding part. I knew I wasn’t going to be into all the planning and it would just be a ton of stress and no fun for me, so I opted for a destination wedding. “So fun!” I thought. “Like a wedding and a vacation in one!”
We just invited our immediate families and decided on a fairly inexpensive resort in Mexico. My fiancé (that is literally the first time I think I have ever referred to him that way) and I were paying for the wedding ourselves, so we went with an all-inclusive resort in Playa Del Carmen that would take care of everything for us. I emailed back and forth with the coordinator and made the few choices they needed me to make, and everything was set. Wedding at 5pm, dinner reservations at 6pm. My neighbor got married in Mexico and told me it would be totally stress-free. “All you have to do is show up!” she gushed.
So we did. We got there on a Sunday, and our wedding was Tuesday. I asked the front desk where my wedding coordinator was, since I assumed I’d meet with her right away. They said they would find her for me.
We found our rooms, unpacked, had a few drinks, longed by the pool. Still no wedding coordinator. My mom went to bug the front desk again. Finally, just before dinner, she found us. We filled out the paperwork that was needed, and we went over the wedding details again. They had changed the wedding to 6p.m. No problem. We could do 6 p.m.
Then she told us they needed to take blood for the blood test. Horrifyingly, they whipped out a phlebotomy kit right there in the hotel lobby and did it on the spot. That should have been my first clue this was not a top-notch operation.
The next day we hung out on the beach, took advantage of the free drinks and tried not to get sunburned. Tuesday was the day of the wedding and our day to spend with family. My family was going to Cozumel for the day. My fiancé’s family was hanging out at the resort.
We caught the ferry back from Cozumel around 4pm to give us plenty of time to get ready. I had a beach-ready, tea-length, white linen dress, and planned to wear my short, bobbed hair down as always with my normal makeup. On the walk back to the resort, it began to rain on us. We had fun walking in the rain and when we returned to our rooms, I grabbed my flower girl and we went out on the now-sunny patio to do our nails.
Some waiters wheeled a cart with a wedding cake on it past our patio. “Hey, look!” I said. “Someone else is getting married today, too!” We went back to painting our nails and I looked at the time. It was 4:45. That was cutting it awfully close to our wedding, I thought. It couldn’t be my cake. An hour in that sun and a cake would be a mess. I got up to peer down at the portico facing the beach where we were doing our ceremony. Tropical flowers. MY flowers. There was not another wedding before mine. This was my wedding. My wedding was supposed to start in 10 minutes, and I hadn’t even had a shower.
As the general panic set in, my parents called the front desk and confirmed it. We immediately tried to get in touch with everyone in our party to let them know we had to get ready NOW. I ran down to the portico to talk to the coordinator and explain what happened. “The judge has somewhere else to be at 6,” She explained to me. “Get ready now or you are not getting married.”
The guys were kicked out of all available bathrooms, and the girls tried to make due with the time available. I skipped most of my makeup, opting for the most important stuff and leaning heavily on my new tan. My mom began putting on my heels and buckling the tiny sandal straps while I did what little makeup there was time to do. She stood up, lost her balance and fell back. I flew into the bathroom for jewelry, unable to see what happened as she fell: Her head hit a concrete side table that was bolted to the wall, cutting her head and knocking her unconscious.
I came out of the bathroom to see my mom lying on the floor, a small pool of blood forming under her brown hair. I freaked out and tried to rouse her by slapping her face; I got no response. I called the front desk and asked for a medic. (Why did I say medic rather than doctor? No idea.)
My brother knocked at the door to find out what was taking us so long. He hadn’t been able to call because the line had been busy. It was 5 p.m. and we needed to get started. I left him with my mom and ran down to the wedding party to explain what happened. I grabbed my aunt and started crying, trying to get the words out to tell her what happened. She cut me off. “It’s OK, Erin! Everyone feels like this on their wedding day!”
“No! My mom is unconscious!” I pointed upstairs.
My dad and I headed back up to the room, which was by now buzzing with some hotel staff and a doctor. The diagnosis was concussion and it was recommended that she go to the hospital. My mom began handing me envelopes of baby pictures and place cards for the dinner, talking about everything like they were her dying wishes. The hotel staff got her into a wheelchair and went to call the elevator for her and my dad.
They piled in and my dad said we would get the next one. Instead, he wheeled my mom down to the wedding, where she sat in the front row, pale and high on painkillers. She didn’t remember a thing about the wedding until we got the DVD back from Walgreens and watched it.
I would cry over my wedding nearly every day for first six months of my marriage.
OK, so now that we have covered how NOT to have a destination wedding, let me impart the past 12 years of my self-evaluation to help future brides avoid my mistakes so if you do to decide to get married abroad, you’ll know how to plan a destination wedding. These five tips will get you started:
- Invite everyone you know, ever knew, and will ever meet. Unlike home-based weddings, everyone pretty much pays their own way to a destination wedding. It’s also more appealing to many guests than a regular wedding because it’s a great excuse to take a vacation. Plus, the more guests you have in your party, the more money you are bringing to the hotel, so the better you are treated. You may also consider inviting people to buffer family members or friends who are high-conflict. If the mothers of the wedding party don’t get along, make sure each of their best friends or an aunt can come. Give them something else to focus on—and someone else to gripe to, frankly—besides the wedding party.
- Give everyone plenty of notice. Just because you don’t have to plan a wedding means a destination wedding can happen fast. Whether it’s a formal save-the-date or a casual word over coffee, give everyone you want to come a heads up so that they have the opportunity to plan.
- Pick somewhere special to you. It was really weird to fly in to somewhere I had never been in my life, have a life-changing moment there and leave. In hindsight, I wish we had picked a stateside location. Destination weddings don’t have to mean leaving the country. In fact, it’s a great time to introduce your loved ones to a place that means a lot to you both.
- Timing is everything. One thing we did do right is plan our wedding right before the high season in Playa. This did mean it was a little hotter than most people would prefer, but we were from Arizona, so we were right at home. Avoiding peak tourist season saved us a ton of money, and good thing, too, because having spent a lot on that experience would have just made it that much worse.
- Be ready to go with the flow. Destination weddings mean giving up a lot of control. In my case, I preferred that. However, when things went south there wasn’t much we could do to fix it. You need to be able to trust your coordinator, and preferably make a trip out in advance for planning if possible. Make sure you feel like they care about you and your big day. Keep in mind that the photos on the website are a best-case scenario and highly photoshopped. But if things don’t turn out, remember, it’s only a day. It’s a big day, but it’s just 24 hours of your life just like any other. With some counseling, you’ll get over it eventually.
Erin Burt is a freelance writer and mother of three girls who will not support any of them getting married in Mexico. She lives and writes in Queensbury, New York.