Real Weddings: Destination Hawai'i
A 417-land couple who decided to tie the knot in Honolulu faced a few struggles and many successes along the way. Read their story, plus a list of faux pas to avoid if you plan your own destination wedding.
Most girls dream about their big, white wedding with several bridesmaids, lots of guests, long-winded toasts and a tall-tiered cake. To me, that all sounded like a nightmare.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with a big wedding. I’ve attended several that were absolutely perfect. But I just knew that style wasn’t for me or my husband, Jim Van Dillen. We aren’t really the tuxedo-wearing types, and I knew if we tried to plan a formal wedding, we’d end up on Emily Post’s Faux Pas list. We wanted something elegant, but we also wanted something that fit us and our families.
We immediately started planning a destination wedding, although we weren’t sure how it would work. Where would we go? How much would it cost? Would our parents be up for the big trip? According to etiquette, what would we need to provide for our guests? There were more questions than answers, and after dozens of Google searches, we still felt in the dark about the subject. Luckily for us, we had already gone to a destination wedding in the Dominican Republic. It was a beautiful and fun wedding, and it also gave us some ideas.
First of all, that trip helped us decide that we wanted to stay in the United States. Passports, different languages and exchanging U.S. dollars sounded overwhelming. Neither of our families are well-traveled, and the idea of our parents going through customs and trying to navigate through a foreign country was stressful enough.
We quickly decided that Hawaii was the place for our wedding. Jim and I had spent some time there for work, so we knew what to expect. But we didn’t want to have the standard beach wedding, and we didn’t want anything to come off as Hawaiian-kitschy. We wanted to have a formal, church wedding in a tropical place. Shoes would be a requirement, and Hawaiian shirts would be banned.
Our parents nearly keeled over when we told them we were getting married in Hawaii (unfortunately, it wasn’t from excitement). For the most part, they seemed confused. They were disappointed because most of our family wouldn’t be able to join us. Thankfully, they warmed up to the idea when we promised to throw a big party in Springfield.
Five Faux Pas of Planning a Destination Wedding
Looking to plan a destination wedding of your own? Be sure you don’t fall victim to these common mistakes.
1. Not keeping people informed. Although people are happy to come to your wedding, they’re busy with their own lives. Send them various reminders, sign them up with the local travel bureau and keep your information basic. When you arrive at your destination, give guests a list of important phone numbers, including other guests and an itinerary. Consider making them wallet-sized phone lists.
2. Cheaping out. Just because you’re having a destination wedding, don’t think it gives you an excuse to not be polite. Consider providing meals, transportation or more for your guests. Remember, they’re using their vacation days, putting their pets in a kennel, buying new clothes and spending loads of money to see you get married.
3. Doing it alone. Don’t plan your wedding alone. It can start with a Google search or a phone call, but be sure to ask questions. You’ll find more vendors and hear better tips by talking to more people. Local people know the area best; you’ll be surprised how much free information you will find, too.
5. Forgetting the folks at home. Believe it or not, people do care enough to see you get married. Start a blog to post pictures, send them pictures or host a party. Grandma wants to see you in your wedding gear!
My husband and I didn’t fit in any of the boxed-packages we found in wedding magazines and on wedding websites. We didn’t want to be married on a beach, and we had to follow specific requirements from our church in Springfield. And we didn’t want any Joe Blow taking our wedding pictures.
We hired a wedding coordinator in Hawaii who seemed in tune with what we wanted, but in the end, she bailed because she thought a Catholic wedding would be too much work. We thought there were surely people like us who wanted to get married in Hawaii, but later we discovered that there is not a huge market for Catholic destination weddings in the Aloha State. Thankfully, the people at our church in Springfield connected with the correct people in Honolulu. Too bad for our former wedding planner—she could have made some easy money.
After we settled on the date and confirmed it with the church, we started looking at invitations. We wanted our guests to know our plans right away, so they could decide whether to attend. Many “destination wedding” invitations we found were too beachy, and we wanted something with clean lines and in our wedding colors. We turned to PaperWorld in Springfield, and they designed really cute invitations with details like a thin ribbon and a small starfish.
However, we still needed to confirm the location of the hotel, rehearsal dinner, reception and brunch. And travel was another issue. A travel agency we contacted in Springfield wasn’t very helpful—their intentions were good, but they just didn’t know enough about Hawaii. We opted to find a travel agency out of Hawaii. The Better Business Bureau’s website was also a great help.
We had very few punches to roll with once the wedding came, and overall, it was just an easy day. Our wedding was in the heart of downtown Honolulu. After the 45-minute ceremony, all 19 of us piled into our limo and rode to a beach to take pictures.
The luau reception was next. There were hundreds of other people in attendance, but we reserved a special table, so that we would be away from the crowd. We thought a luau reception would be a good way to celebrate because no one should go to Hawaii without attending a luau. It was also a good balance between entertainment and celebration. There were several other couples celebrating their weddings or anniversaries, and Jim and I were thrown on stage with them. Watching Jim hula dance was worth the price of the reception.
The next morning we had breakfast with the group. After the wedding in Honolulu, our parents and siblings spent a few more days on the east side of Oahu in a rental house. We cooked most of our meals, and we spent some good quality time together.
Three weeks later, we had our wedding reception in Springfield. We rented out the pavilion at Mille’s Turn of the Century Café, hired a great band called The Allie Catz and photographer Jeffrey Sweet. It was a perfect way to celebrate our marriage, and we think it was a great way to honor the most important people in our lives. We also joked that it was the wedding that never ended, but more importantly, we know the marriage will be the thing that lasts.