Personalizing Your Destination Wedding

Martha Stewart Weddings, Special Issue 2009

The key to creating a destination wedding that no one will ever forget is to take the palm trees, ski slopes, or skyline out of the equation and think of your location as a blank canvas.

As you begin to fill it in, keep these three questions in mind: How can I make it feel like us? How can I make it unique? How can I make my guests completely comfortable? Here, 38 inspiring ideas to help you get started.

1. Build Their Excitement 
A few weeks before the wedding, send each of your guests a teaser via snail mail to get them excited for the upcoming trip. Some ideas: a guidebook with the location of your wedding bookmarked, or a gift that's super specific to your destination -- a fresh lei, a beautiful shell, a bag of gourmet coffee beans, or a bottle of local vino.

2. Help Them Pack 
Add a section to your wedding website that makes prepping for the trip a piece of cake. In addition to giving guests a heads-up about all the special events they'll be attending, include dress-code information and a list of things they won't want to leave home without, such as sneakers or snow boots (if you have any hikes or nature walks planned), sunscreen (if the hotel doesn't provide it), and a shawl (if you're jetting off to a steamy location that's cool at night). It's a nice and organized way to lend a helping hand while giving them a sneak peek at the weekend's events.

3. Provide First-Class Transportation
Arrange for a van to pick your guests up from the airport and shuttle them to the resort. If possible, hire a guide who knows a lot about the area for a special touch. Guests will be able to ask questions, get a free history lesson, and sightsee as they make their way to the hotel. For extra credit, hang a welcome sign in the van's window -- it's sure to elicit smiles from plane-weary travelers.

4. Give a Warm Welcome
It's all about the details: Place a pretty framed poster at the reception desk to greet guests as they check in, and appoint a "Wedding Concierge" (it can even be your planner) to answer any questions your guests might have. Just be sure to give him or her a title-bearing button so guests know who to look for. Get a full page of our city, country, and sea motif patterns for wrapping favors, lining envelopes, etc.

5. Quench Their Thirst
After a long day of traveling, it's hard to resist a few sips of something delicious. Have the front desk welcome guests at check-in with a beverage: hot cocoa or mulled cider in a chilly locale, sparkling cider (or, what the heck, a glass of champagne) in a city, and an Arnold Palmer or chilled cucumber water at the beach. A table stocked with cool, moist, lemon-scented towels is especially refreshing. To satisfy the littlest (and likely the grumpiest) travelers, instruct greeters to make the drinks extra special for kids. Just have them embellish the glasses with a bendy-straw, colorful umbrella, skewer of tropical fruit, handful of tiny marshmallows, or dollop of whipped cream.

6. Connect Them 
Ask hotel staffers to have your guests add their room numbers to our "Looking for Someone" phone list at check-in. The directory will be kept at the front desk throughout the weekend, and your guests will be able to access it when they need to track someone down. Make some extras, and give them to your wedding party, family, and wedding planner to have on hand wherever they are.

7. Button Them Up 
Weddings are wonderful opportunity for people who wouldn't otherwise meet to form lasting friendships. Get the mingling started by distributing buttons that read either F.O.B. (friend of the bride) or F.O.G. (friend of the groom). After all, nothing gets the chit-chat flowing better than the question, "How do you know the bride (or groom)?"Send them to a button-maker or, even better, put them together yourself.

8. Ease the Pain 
Here in the States, there's a pharmacy on virtually every street corner. But in, say, Costa Rica, it's not going to be that easy to find a box of bandages or a bottle of aloe. Enter your portable apothecary, which you'll ask the front desk to stash for you upon arrival. Fill it with everything you can think of, from aspirin to bug spray to over-the-counter medicines.

9. Stock the Rooms 
You don't have to go overboard, but a few bottles of water and a handful of snacks that satisfy guests' sweet and salty cravings is a thoughtful touch. And don't forget the little ones -- if you know there will be kids in the room, milk and chocolate-chip cookies will certainly be well-received. If you're staying in a major city, leave a city-themed magazine (Time Out is a great one) in each room, too. It triples as a perfect beach read, a quickie guidebook, and a great memento of the trip. Can't find a magazine for your city? A map, notebook and pen, or a disposable camera are equally appropriate.

10. Host Daily Meet-Ups
Play social director by getting everyone together daily for cocktails and mingling -- it's an ideal way for friends and family from different parts of your life to get to know one another. The time of the soiree should remain the same every day, but switch things up by changing the location. Meet at the pool one day, the beach the next, the library, and so on.

11. Take Over the Bar 
Ask the hotel (well in advance!) if you can use a corner of the hotel bar; set out matches, napkins, and stirrers that bear your monogram for the duration of your guests' stay.

12. Serve Grab-and-Go Lunches 
Work with the restaurant to coordinate bagging up portable picnics that guests can enjoy on the beach or tote to a daytime excursion. Keep the fare simple -- a panini, side, and dessert that won't spoil in the sun -- and toss in a handwritten "Happy Lunching" note plus a napkin that matches your wedding palette.

13. Whip Up a Signature Cocktail 
See if the bartender can concoct a delicious libation that brings local ingredients to life. Creating a different drink for every day you're there is a nice touch -- a special breakfast mimosa one day, a martini at dinner the next, and so on. So, too, is putting together the occasional signature mocktail for non-drinkers. And don't forget -- a good signature drink requires a clever name.

14. Play the Name Game
Speaking of names, change the ones of your favorite spa treatments (a massage, manicure/pedicure, or facial), then have mini menus distributed to your guests. Need some help? Work your own moniker into the treatments: Michelle's Favorite Massage!

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15. Give Gift Bags a Theme
Beach 
Stuff a tote with goodies to enjoy sandside. Tote, Proud Mary. Evian Brumisateur facial spray, Drugstore.com

Spahhh
Set out a tray that invites guests to unwind: stationery box, Pacific Connections; kale-and-watercress soap, MOR; bath salt envelopes in Naia, Thymes

Party
Fill an ice bucket with celebratory staples: bloody Mary seasoning, Demitris; ice bucket, Tiffany & Co., 800-526-0649; 1864-era playing cards, Uncle's Games; 2 1/2-inch circle Clever Lever Mega Craft Punch, Marvy Uchida, marvy.com for stores. 

Relax 
Pack a pretty box they'll want to snuggle up to. Cashmere throw, Williams-Sonoma Home;18-ounce dinerwhite jumbo cup, Fishs Eddy; vanilla marshmallows, Little Flower Candy Co.; 10-ounce Aztec hot chocolate, MarieBelle.

16. Brand Your Wedding 
Guests traveled a long way to celebrate with you, and putting your personal stamp on everything they touch is a way of letting them know how much thought you put into their stay -- and how much you appreciate their being there. One of our favorites? This "Good Morning!" newsletter, which fills guests in on everything they need to know about the day -- the timeline, temperature, tide report, meal info, and special activities they won't want to miss.

17. Thank Your Wedding Party
If possible, take your attendants on a surprise excursion -- a snorkel trip, a surfing lesson, or a kayak adventure -- as a thank-you-for-being-in-the-wedding gift. Don't have the time? Personalize something they can use again and again instead. For the groomsmen, send your fiance to PersonalizationMall.com -- they'll customize guy-friendly gifts such as golf balls and watch faces. Online vendor Bags of Love has gorgeous photo bags, even sofa cushions, that your bridesmaids will love. And for that maid of honor who literally has one of anything? Turn to CafePress, which makes it easy to personalize whatever it is you're looking for, from dog bowls to buttons to banners.

18. Make Reservations
No one -- repeat, no one -- wants to have to pace around looking for a lounge chair at the beach or pool. To prevent it from happening to your guests, ask the resort staff to place reserved signs on chairs in both locations. Don't expect them to allow you to take over every single one -- they won't -- but do ask if it's possible to put just a handful on hold. Want to make your own tented signs like the ones at left? Get our how-to.

19. Tag Their Bags 
Gift your guests with stylish, completely customized luggage tags that unify them as a group and serve as keepsakes long after the festivities wind down. When to distribute them? It's up to you -- send them out to your guests before they begin their trek, or hand them out after the wedding, before they jet off for home. "Euro" luggage tags, Linnea Design.

20. Ban the Do Not Disturb Sign
It's so...boring. Plus, there are plenty of times when your guests aren't in their rooms and actually want to be found! Instead, provide them with door hangers that let them check off where they are -- the beach, the pool, the lounge, the bar, the spa, the gym, in town, or (yes) hiding on purpose -- and then hang it on their doors. It's an easy way to encourage people to connect, and the idea itself is an instant conversation-starter.

21. Guarantee Good Mail
Instead of a guest book, give your guests pre-addressed postcards before they leave for home. Ask them to jot down their favorite moment from the weekend, then mail the cards your way while you're honeymooning -- you'll return home to a mailbox full of memories.

22. Send Them to Class
Arrange for a yoga instructor to teach a private class for any guests who might be craving a good old-fashioned om. Some ideas, depending on the destination: sunrise yoga on the beach, bikram yoga in the lodge, skyline yoga on the roof. Too hippie-dippy for your taste? Arrange a guided hike through the rainforest, a group ski lesson on the bunny slopes, a walking tour of local museums or art galleries or even a cooking class onsite at the resort; activities like these are sure to pique guests' interest.

23. Say Good Morning
Your hotel will be happy to rouse guests with their standard-issue wake-up calls, but wouldn't it be sweeter if you and your fiance recorded a personalized rise-and-shine greeting instead? Here's a tip: Sing it, especially if you can't sing.

24. Say Good Night
Arrange for hotel staffers to leave a different sweet treat on guests' pillows every night -- think chocolate, from mocha-dipped cherries to tiny little devil's food cupcakes. For rooms where there are children, adding the gift of a different storybook each night is an adorable touch.

25. Create Your Own Menus
Your guests already expect that the wedding-day feast will be a reflection of your taste, so imagine their surprise when they dig into an entire weekend of inspired meals. With the help of your planner, work with the chef to put your stamp on each menu that's served, from the welcome dinner to the ladies' luncheon to the Sunday brunch. If children are included, be sure to offer them something they'll enjoy, like grilled cheese or that classic, spaghetti and meatballs (their parents will thank you, too). No matter how amazing the food, most children simply aren't going to go for a plate full of ceviche or clams on the half-shell.

26. Splash Your Favorite Color
Monochromatic decor takes little effort and makes a massive impact. Use just one hue throughout the entire weekend, especially the ceremony and reception. To complement it, work in metallics or basic black and white.

27. Mix Things Up 
No matter how formal your actual wedding ceremony and reception may be, it's a good idea to make sure you've got at least a few casual events peppering the mix. If you're getting married in a beachy locale, for example, why not make the welcome party or even the rehearsal dinner an easy, breezy clambake, a come-as-you-are luau, or a flip-flops only sunset picnic rather than a sitdown, four-course meal? Not only will a low-key vibe make guests feel instantly comfortable, but it won't detract from the main event: the I do's! Plus, while your wedding festivities should have a little bit of structure and formality (it is, after all, a special occasion), the last thing you want people to remember is how stuffy it was!

28. Source Locally
If your wedding is on the beach in the Caribbean, create an aisle runner out of seashells rather than heavy satin or velvet. Getting married in the mountains? Construct your wedding canopy out of branches, not traditional chiffon. You want your guests to remember the beauty of the location in addition to the day itself; there's no need to mess with nature.

29. Pack Your Decorations
Rather than lugging suitcases full of delicate vases and bulky chandeliers on the plane, make it a point to shop for nonbreakable items that can be packed flat. Everyday items like rib- bon and trimming are perfect -- use them to decorate everything from guests' favors to your cake and bouquet. Paper lanterns in various shapes and sizes are also a great way to supplement the resort's outdoor decor, as they take up virtually no space when flat, but make a magical impression. Framed photos pack well, too -- use them to dress up the escort card table or cocktail hour.

30. Put Comfort First
Anticipating your guests' needs in advance is the key to being an excellent hostess. In chilly locations (or even in the tropics, because it does tend to get cold or windy at night), pass out shawls or pashmina scarves for people to wrap up in during the reception. (Bonus: They'll keep guests cozy on the flight home, too.) If you're getting married on the beach, a big bucket full of flip-flops in a range of sizes is a great idea -- who wants to step into the sand in four-inch heels or lace-up oxfords?

31. Walk on the Wild Side
What wedding guest hasn't heard Clarke's Trumpet Voluntary, Mendelssohn's "Wedding March," or Wagner's "Bridal Chorus" a zillion times? Stroll down, or back up, the aisle to something that's a little more true to you, like a classic-rock tune that played during your first date or your favorite late-night karaoke track.

32. Infuse Local Flavor
As a special surprise to your guests, arrange for a local artist to perform or provide a service during the reception. There are plenty of options: Cigar rollers, tarot-card readers, silhouettists, dance troupes, bagpipers, gospel choirs, flame throwers -- you get the idea.

33. Book Babysitters
If some guests are bringing children on the trip or you're including little ones in the ceremony, it's a good idea to set up a babysitting service -- just be sure to pass the information along to the parents well in advance. During adults-only parties like the rehearsal dinner or even the reception, sitters can gather the children in one suite for pizza, projects, and a movie before putting them to bed. If kids are invited to the reception, make sure you plan for a few children's tables. Decorate them with paper tablecloths and crayons, and have a sitter on hand to oversee the area.

34. Snap a Group Shot
After the ceremony, have your wedding planner gather all your guests together to take a group picture. Have copies made of the photo promptly when you get back from your honeymoon, and include one in every thank-you card. If you're not keen on getting every single person in the shot, simply ask that the photographer take family photos. In a way, your wedding is a reunion -- why not make the most of it?

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35. Give Numbers the Heave-Ho
Standard-issue table numbers (the small metal stand with a numeral on a card) say little about your personality. Swap those out and use table IDs that feel like you and reflect your locale. Some thoughts: names of flowers that are indigenous to your island wedding location, black and white photographs of street numbers in your city locale, wine bottles with numbered bands at your vineyard nuptials, or map cut-outs that represent all the countries you've ever visited together.

36. Frame Them
Ask a friend or family member to set up shop with a camera at the entrance to the ceremony. Have him or her take a quick snapshot of each guest or couple as they arrive and be responsible for developing the photos for you right after the reception. Then, when guests leave for home, give each one a framed snapshot.

37. Send Them Off
Ask the front desk to distribute goody bags full of munchies for the plane (a mixture of M&Ms candies and nuts is one delicious option; they'll stand up to some hurried handling) as guests check out. Pick something you can assemble in advance.

38. Instant Style 
The decor you'll be provided with at your destination may not be so special -- think plain glass votives and vases. These nine easy upgrades are all you need to perk them up. 

Vases
Wrap wide lace ribbon around a plain cylinder vase and secure it with double- sided tape; cover a vase with wallpaper; or drop in a pillar candle and layer on sheets of colored tissue paper.

Place Settings 
Make a love knot out of rope; create a monogrammed band with a craft punch; or string tiny beads along floral wire, then bend it into your initial. 

Votive Candles 
Pour pearlescent beads in around the candles; layer strips of crepe paper with ribbon; or simply wind gold jewelry wire around the bare glass.

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