If you’re engaged and thinking of having a destination
wedding, chances are Jamaica has landed somewhere on your list of locations. After
all, who could say no to an island full of picture-perfect beaches, unforgettable
sunsets, and beautiful Black people?
The problem is, planning a wedding on a tropical island thousands of miles away is no easy feat. When you don’t have a lay of the land, and don’t live close enough to visit actual vendors in person, it can be tricky to know who to hire and where to stay to make your dream wedding become a reality.
The great news is you’ll have absolutely no problem making a destination wedding work on this beautiful island. How do I know? Well, thanks to the Jamaica Tourist Board, I was fortunate enough to spend a weekend at the Jamaica Bridal Expo in Montego Bay. The multi-day event brings the best Jamaican wedding professionals all under one roof. I got to learn, from the folks who to it best, all about what makes Jamaica the ideal place to say “I do.” Speaking with Jo-Anne Paxton, member of the expo’s executive team, I learned the country boasts some of the most hardworking vendors in the industry. “As you can see from the expo, anything you want is here,” she says. “I don’t think there’s anything a bride would want that is not available here.”
Couples who are planning a wedding in Jamaica sometimes don’t know what to expect, or feel overwhelmed trying to plan a wedding while living thousands of miles away. Fear not! I’ve rounded up the answers to some commonly asked questions from JA’s best wedding professionals.
Save The Dates Require More Notice
Most Jamaican wedding planners I spoke to at the Bridal Expo recommend that couples send 'save the dates' 10-12 months in advance. For one, not everyone is prepared to travel internationally. Some of your guests may need time to apply for or renew their passport. Folks will also need to request vacation time at work. Giving your guests ample notice will not only allow them to get a head start on travel plans but will help you get a firm headcount to base your planning on.
Consider The Wedding You Want And Choose Venues Accordingly
The best thing about planning a destination wedding in Jamaica is there’s no shortage of hotels, resorts and banquet halls to choose from. Resorts like Sandals, Beaches and RIU all host multiple weddings on their property on any given day. The choices can also be overwhelming. It starts with asking yourself some very important questions about the experience you want to have. All-inclusive resorts are great because meals are covered, there are tons of activities for guests on-site, and you’ll have a resort-appointed day-of planner as your right hand. The downside is that you won’t have as much individualized attention, as resort planners have a laundry list of other brides they’re working with and yours may not be the only wedding taking place that day. With smaller hotels like the beautiful Rockhouse hotel and its sister property Skylark, your bookings include a complete buyout of the property (meaning you and the guests have the place to yourselves.) The downside is that meals are not typically included, and you may have to go offsite for some of your entertainment.
Like everything, there are pros and cons to every experience. Zeroing in on what aspects are most important to you and your partner will help inform the venue.
Rockhouse Hotel, Negril Jamaica
Work With Local Vendors
“If a bride is doing an off-property wedding [not at a hotel or resort], I would encourage her to source a local wedding planner,” Paxton says. “Don’t be scared to step outside the box and make connections with vendors in Jamaica to do something different. This is especially true for millennial [couples] who want an experience. Make your wedding day special.”
Jamaica Bridal Expo
No Fuss Is Required To Ship Your Dream Dress
For brides who don’t want the hassle and stress of lugging their wedding gown on a plane, Jamaican bridal boutiques can take a huge load of stress off. For example, Bliss Bridal Boutique in Montego Bay specializes in arranging bridal wear for U.S.-based brides. "For the destination bride, what we’re offering is a service where the bride no longer has to travel with her dress,” says Brian Stanford, who manages the Bliss Boutique with his wife Sara Stanford. “If you find a dress you like, you can give us a call and we’ll order it. You can rent the dress brand new or purchase it. When it gets here, we’ll send it to the hotel along with our seamstress. Alterations are done in 24-48 hours. If you’re renting it, you can leave it at the hotel and we’ll pick it up. It’s completely hassle-free.”
Treat Your Guests To An Experience, Not Just A Wedding
Guests who are traveling to a different country for your wedding will appreciate getting to spend time with you outside of just the wedding. Plan an excursion like a catamaran cruise, rum tour or even a spa day at the resort for the wedding party to unwind pre or post-wedding. Sweeten the deal by making your guests feel appreciated upon arrival. Joann Paxton, one of the Jamaican Bridal Expo's organizers, tells ESSENCE. “I encourage brides to have a nice welcome bag for each guest filled with things like mosquito repellant, a nice beach towel, an itinerary, and some Jamaican candy or soda. It’s all part of creating an unforgettable experience.”
Some Florals May Cost More
Before you go running to your florist with a centerpiece idea you saw on Pinterest, keep in mind that some of the flowers brides love, like Peonies, are not local to Jamaica. That doesn’t mean you can’t have the bouquet of your dreams – it just might come at a higher price. “We have to import them,” says Francine Foster of Jamaica Wedding Concierge. “When we do, we have to pay a customs fee to clear them. The costs adds up.” Jamaican florists, like Tai Flora Services, supply arrangements for hundreds of weddings per year. They're well-versed on what florals are in season and can customize according to your budget.
With Resort Packages, Read The Fine Print
Many brides are drawn to the convenience of resort wedding packages. For example, popular wedding resort Half Moon in Montego Bay offers relatively affordable packages which include the officiant, cake, photographer, two-hour open bar. Packages here, and at other resorts, are offered for as low as $5,000 and sound like a steal! But sis, just know that this is not a flat cost. Any customizations like additional tiers on the cake, bigger floral arrangements, etc to add more character to your ceremony comes with a cost. The packages also don’t include a site fee, which must be secured to lock in the location. Also, the prices reflect an average of 20 wedding guests. As with all weddings, the bigger the party, the higher the rates. A table with tall centerpieces, candles and silverware could run upwards of $900 - $1200 for a 16-person setting. “There’s always hidden fees,” says Francine Foster of Jamaica Wedding Concierge. “There can be up to a 20 perfect service charge and 16.5 percent government tax. The resorts packages typically include about 20 people. So if your headcount is over that, you could pay $30-$50 per additional guest.”