What You Need to Know Before Planning Your Beach Wedding

Friday, April 10, 2009

Because I started my career in the islands of Hawaii, I have planned my fair share of weddings on some of the most beautiful beaches in the world including the beaches of Maui, Kauai, Big Island and most recently Costa Rica and Mexico. While, I am well aware that if you are a bride that has always dreamt of marrying with toes in the sand, I'm not going to convince you otherwise, but regardless, I still want to provide you with just a little bit more detail about what really happens behind the scenes of what seems to be an oh, so glamorous backdrop for your nuptials. You see, beach weddings are far from glamorous, in fact, I would say they are more for the adventure bride rather than a bride dreaming of being a princess on her big day. With all of this being said, I wanted to provide you with a list of eight very realistic possibilities that you may be faced with when marrying on a beach anywhere in the world:

1. Public Property: So far, I have yet to come across a beach that is not government owned or in other words considered public property. What this means for you and your wedding is a good chance of onlookers, kids playing and possibly even other weddings going on just right down the sandy strip from where you are exchanging your vows. Some beaches will allow you to obtain a permit from the city or state to hold your wedding in a specific area on the beach, however, this almost never gives you exclusive access to the beach and I have yet to have a completely private beach wedding. Instead what most people come across is sharing their vows in front of many complete strangers who believe it is their right to observe your wedding. My tip: Always, always, always choose a beach where you can obtain a permit. It will help tremendously in keeping your wedding a bit more intimate, but again does not guarantee complete privacy.

2. Public Property: I'm listing this one twice because, well, I just want to make sure it is clear that no beach wedding is private. I don't care if you've seen pictures that appear otherwise, it just does not happen. Not only do you have onlookers, but you may also be competing for the same plot of land that another couple has their sights on for the very same day and time. If marrying on a popular beach, (and guess what, if it's a nice beach in a tourist area, it's popular,) plan to have someone from your wedding party or your wedding planner to arrive as early as your permit will allow so you can stake your area for the wedding. And, just an insider tip, try to go to the far end of the beach as you possibly can. This allows you to be protected on three sides so the only potential interruptions will come from behind your ceremony site and out of the pictures. There is nothing worse than having someone in a bikini in the background of your one and only first kiss as husband and wife.

3. Guest Comfort: Okay, yes, you live and die for the beach, but remember that not everyone of your guests will feel the same. Whether they don't like the sand sticking to them, the ocean breeze is too chilly or they hate direct sunlight, it can be uncomfortable for many guests. To combat this, try to think of all possible ways to make the experience enjoyable for them. Provide water when they arrive on the beach. Have a basket for shoes and another basket with wet washclothes so they can wipe their feet before they reenter their shoes at the end of the ceremony. If it's a sunny day, provide parasols or standing umbrellas. If it's a chilly day, have pashminas on hand for the ladies. Just remember you are dealing with the elements and try to plan accordingly so your guests can truly enjoy the ceremony instead of wishing it to be over.

4. Decor Mayhem: Keep the decor simple when going the beach route. Flowers wilt quickly in the sun and the wind has a tendency to carry off programs, fans, petals or anything else that you might want to use to beautify the space. It's not that these things can't be done, but just have a contingency plan such as a person to hand out programs, should it be too windy to place them at each seat. Also, remember that chairs will sink in the sand when guests sit in them. The only way around this is to build a platform and install it on the beach (hey, I've done it), but then again, what's the point of marrying on the beach if you go that route. Accept that the chairs will sink and the decor may flow in the breeze and you will save yourself quite a bit of stress.

5. No Back Plan: I would like to think this is enough said, but just in case it's not, let me elaborate. If you are marrying on a public beach anywhere, chances are you will not have a backup plan in case of rain, extreme heat or any other elements. If this makes you nervous, and quite honestly, it should, try to find a resort that hosts beach weddings. Yes, you will pay more but the peace of mind that comes with a backup plan will be well worth the extra money. Remember, if your beach wedding cancels because of the rain and you have no backup plan, your vendors will still expect payment including the minister, florist, musician and anyone else who has scheduled your wedding for their day. As a worst case scenario, you could have the wedding in your hotel room, but something tells me if you wanted the breathtaking backdrop of the Pacific or any other ocean, a hotel room with a minibar in the background is probably not your idea of the perfect wedding. If you don't want to go the resort route and you are willing to risk the chance of extreme weather ruining your day, at the very least, make sure you research the area you are marrying. I highly recommend finding a beach in the dryest part of the region you are in. The surrounding areas may not be as green and lush but the chance of rain will be much less.

6. Tide: While we're talking about researching the area, don't forget to take a peek at high tide. Try to plan your ceremony around this time so your very expensive gown does not get soaked in the middle of exchanging rings.

7. Noise: Chances are your guests may not be able to hear the ceremony over tropical breezes and crashing waves. There are ways to combat them including finding a minister with a voice that carries well or getting a windproof microphone, but make sure it is windproof. A regular lapel mic will only pick up the crashing waves and tropical breezes making it harder for the guests to hear.

8. Flip Flops Only Please: Okay, this may not be a deal breaker for most of you considering a beach wedding, but remember, Jimmy Choos and white sandy beaches do not mix. Consider flip flops or even barefeet (if the sand is cool enough) and save the strappy sandles for the dance floor.

Now that I have scared you to death and you have read all of the issues that I regularly face during the planning of a beach wedding, take a minute to think it over. If marrying with toes in the sand is more important than elaborate decor or having a bit of dirt on your dress, if you can get by marrying in Reefs rather than Manolos, and you and your fiance could laugh off the guy in the Speedo that may be videotaping your nuptials in the background, than a beach wedding may be the perfect route for you. After all, a beach is a very magical setting with natural beauty. While there are a lot of cons, there is also nothing like committing your life to someone with a whale breaching in the background or the smell of ocean breezes on the air. No matter what, just weigh the pros vs. the cons and decide from there. And, if after reading all of this, you still think the beach is the place for you then, hey, we may just run into each other sometime, but be warned, I'll have a permit and will be there bright and early to ensure I get the best spot for my couples :).

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