Saturday, February 2, 2013

Playa del Carmen (Destination Wedding)

Shyawn and I on our wedding day.

Although this blog typically covers my experiences while traveling, this specific entry will be a review of our wedding that occurred in Playa del Carmen, Mexico in November of 2012. Since we had a destination wedding in another country, I figured it qualified as fitting within the travel category!

Immediately once Shyawn and I were engaged, we knew we were going to have a destination wedding for a number of reasons:
  • We wanted to avoid having the huge traditional American wedding at all possible costs.
  • We were hoping that having a destination wedding in Mexico would cost significantly less than your typical aforementioned traditional American wedding (since we were footing the bill ourselves).
  • Although Shyawn and I have traveled significantly, with the exception of my sister, very few other people in our families have traveled beyond the United States so we were hoping that since we were planning the trip others would follow suit and join us. We had a 19 month engagement, which provided our family members lots of time to save money and request time off from work.
  • I had always wanted to have a destination wedding. It just made sense to the traveler in me.

Selecting the destination:
Once we had decided that we were definitely going to have a destination wedding, the next choice was where. Although my dream destination wedding would have occurred in the vineyards of France or Italy, I knew that a far away locale such as those would have prevented many of our friends and family from attending due to the costs involved. I wanted to make the trip as affordable as possible for our family and friends so we both agreed that a beach wedding somewhere in North America was the next best option. From there we narrowed our decision down to Mexico or somewhere in the Caribbean. Since there are no direct flights to anywhere in the Caribbean from Seattle (and many islands require having to take three flights) the Caribbean was ruled out and Mexico came into play. From Seattle, there are multiple direct flights to resort towns on the west coast of Mexico. However, of those friends and family members who had been to Mexico, most had already visited places like Cabo San Lucas or Puerto Vallarta and we really wanted to try and find a destination that most people hadn't visited yet.

Additionally, I also wanted to have the wedding in a locale that I was somewhat familiar with while it was important to Shyawn that we have white sand beaches and turquoise waters. So, immediately we knew we would have the wedding on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. We had both traveled there previously before we were together (Shyawn to Cancun and I to Tulum) so we felt comfortable advising and recommending the area to our friends and family. And although it didn't have the direct flight that we wanted, we hoped that since only a few of our friends and family members had visited the Yucatan Peninsula previously it would be worth taking the two flights to get to someplace new!


Selecting the resort:
Our next major decision was to, of course, decide on which city we would stay in and whether or not we would go the all-inclusive route. Shyawn initially wanted to go with Cancun and stay at one of the Riu all-inclusives as that was the hotel brand he had stayed at previously. I was open to the idea of Cancun, but not so sure about staying at an all-inclusive. I had never stayed at one, and for myself, personally, the idea of being stuck at a large resort for more than a week with the same food terrified me. One of my biggest enjoyments in traveling is trying new restaurants and I knew that would be much less likely at an all-inclusive (since the price of your food and alcohol is included in your room rate). However, Shyawn brought up some good points in favor of the all-inclusive route: we would be traveling with a large group of people, many of whom had never left the United States. The concept of traveling to another country overwhelmed them, so selecting an all-inclusive, where all of your food, drink, and hotel is included in one single price takes a lot of the stress out of the equation. Additionally, all-inclusives are typically well-equipped to handle a destination wedding; they've got areas for the ceremony, reception, local vendors they work with for flowers, music, etc. It would require much less work on our end to plan the wedding, which sounded very appealing to me. So, I agreed that for a destination wedding of our size, it made sense to do it at an all-inclusive.

Initially we had decided on having the wedding at the Riu Palace Las Americas in Cancun. It was a moderately priced all-inclusive; essentially we wanted to get the most bang for our buck. However, after we had signed an agreement to have the wedding at the resort, I began to look at pictures on Trip Advisor and wasn't happy with the physical look of the beach. Since the beach in Cancun is man made, there are very few palm trees and the beaches tend to be very narrow. When I initially envisioned a destination wedding in Mexico, I saw palm trees and wide, expansive beaches in my mind. Neither of these were really an option in Cancun. So, we decided that, based on my preferences, Playa del Carmen (located about 45 minutes south of Cancun) would be a better fit. The beaches there are world famous: wide and beautiful with lots of palm trees. There were also several Riu resorts to choose from in Playa del Carmen and we ultimately ended up going with the Riu Palace Riviera Maya. It was the nicest of all the Riu resorts in Playa del Carmen but was still within our affordability range for our guests ($2500-$3000 per week, hotel and airfare combined for two guests from Seattle). You can find my review of the resort here.


Trip logistics for guests:
Once the resort was picked, and a date set, we began notifying our guests of the details. We set up a wedding website through eWedding (which I highly encourage all those with destination weddings to do) and contacted a travel agent with Destination Weddings to help assist our guests with their travel plans. I had never used a travel agent previously but had read that for destination weddings travel agents were helpful for those family members who had never traveled before. Additionally, I was given the impression that the travel agent could secure the best possible rate for the air/hotel/transfer package for our guests (which later proved to be incorrect with the travel agent we used). However, the biggest push for us to recommend a travel agent for our guests was that the specific agent we used accepted a payment plan for the hotel portion of the trip. This made paying for, what some considered to be, a very expensive trip much more manageable since they could break it out into monthly payments. Aside from the flexibility of accepting payments, our travel agent was a pain in the butt. She promised us the world and didn't come through with anything except her payment plan. Considering about half of our guests booked directly through her, I was hoping that Shyawn and I would receive some sort of benefit or discount but we received absolutely nothing. Additionally, she couldn't match the cheapest package prices that were being offered directly on the Riu website, which was incredibly frustrating. She wasn't timely in responding to our guest's emails (I received many complaints) and the actual booking process with her company required us to use this antiquated and confusing website that literally none of my guests understood. So in the end, for all of the hassle she created with our experience, I wouldn't recommend using a travel agent.

We initially thought that we would maybe have 20 friends and family members attend our destination wedding but in the end about 40 people came stay with us! About two-thirds of our guests stayed an entire week at the resort while the rest of our guests stays ranged from four to five days.

As a bride and groom, when planning a destination wedding be prepared to respond to five million questions from your friends and family. I didn't mind it at first, but as the wedding day approached, I started to get annoyed with the constant questions. I feel terrible for saying this but I just didn't have a lot of patience towards the end with the inexperienced travelers. Thankfully, realizing how stressed out I was getting, my wonderful sister stepped in and helped out a lot with this! I started a new job about two months prior to our wedding that was incredibly demanding and very intense so that also threw an extra wrench into the stressful wedding process. 

Shyawn and I arrived at the resort eight days prior to our wedding and stayed an additional two days after our wedding. We encouraged our guests to stay with us the week prior to the wedding in hopes that it would allow both sides of the family and all of our friends to get to know one another prior to the wedding day. While my thought process actually worked out quite well (we are all one big happy family now!), it unfortunately back fired on me in a way I hadn't even expected. I wore a very form fitting (fit and flare) wedding gown in which there was no room to budge. Even just an additional pound or two would result in the dress changing from fitting perfectly to being way too tight. So what was the problem? Well, we were at an all-inclusive resort where the drinks were flowing and the food was unlimited. Additionally, I was surrounded by 40 of my family members and friends whom were all relaxed and on vacation. It was easy and natural for them to drink and eat. Me? Not so much. I had to really watch what I ate and barely drank one drink per day. Not only did I have to worry about the weight gain from extra calories (and lack of exercise) but I tend to get bloated quite easily from alcohol. It was hard to have a good time when I had to worry about every calorie that went into my body while no one else did. For this very reason, in hindsight, I wished I would have had the wedding occur at the beginning of the week. That way, I could have relaxed and had a great time and drank and ate as much as I wanted to with my friends and family.


Tours with guests:
As described in my sightseeing blog on Playa del Carmen, Shyawn and I encouraged all of our guests to participate in tours off of the resort as much as possible, We even went so far as to schedule and coordinate an all-day tour to Chichen Itza through Mayans' Explorers as I personally think that anyone who travels to the Yucatan and doesn't take the time to visit this amazing ruin is doing themselves a great injustice. Of our 40 guests, 23 went along on the tour. I highly encourage all bride and grooms to organize some sort of day-trip for your guests since many of my family members would not have left the resort had I not taken the time to organize the tour for them, which would have been a complete shame.


Out of town bags:
Initially when planning our wedding, I decided that doing out of town (OOT) bags for our guests was out of the budget. However, I quickly changed my mind when I began to realize how fun it would be for me to find and collect the items and how it was a great way to thank our guests for coming all the way to Mexico for our wedding. I was lucky enough to find awesome beach bags at Dollar Tree (this required taking several trips to multiple Dollar Tree locations). Additionally, many of the items I included in our bags came from our local Costco Business center making it much more affordable than I originally thought it would be. We included the following in our bags:
  • Anti bacterial gel (Dollar Tree)
  • Hand wipes (Dollar Tree and Costco)
  • Sunscreen (Dollar Tree)
  • Aloe vera gel (Dollar Tree)
  • Chapstick (Dollar Tree)
  • Tums (Costco)
  • Pepto bismol tablets (Costco; these were unfortunately used by many of our guests as there was a nasty stomach virus that invaded the resort during our stay)
  • Advil (Costco)
  • Insect repellent wipes (REI)
  • Gum (Costco)
  • First aid kit (Walmart)
  • Anti-bacterial ointment (Amazon)
  • Kleenex (Costco)
  • Dramamine (Costco)
  • Shout wipes (Amazon)
  • Energy shots (Costco; these were a hit!)
  • Custom beer bottle coozie (Unfortunately the resort didn't use any glass beer bottles so these went un-used, Instead, I would recommend a custom large plastic drinking cup since the glasses the resort uses for their drinks are tiny)
When it was all said and done, the amount we spent ranged between $12 for a single person's bag to $19 for a couple's bag, with our average cost per person working out to be about $13. Once we had everything purchased for the bags, we then had to figure out how in the heck we were going to get everything down with us to Mexico. It may sound simple, but it wasn't. We had a lot of items that were quite heavy. We ended up having to check five bags to Mexico, in addition to our carry on items. Thankfully, they all arrived safely but it was somewhat of an ordeal. We then put all of our bags together on our second night, which took several hours. However, it was worth all of the hassle and effort it took as our guests absolutely loved them. Nearly every single guest used their beach bag each day when heading down to the pool and/or ocean. It was so fun seeing our bags throughout the resort!
Putting together our OOT bags at the resort.
The OOT bags lined up in our hotel room in order of the date each of our guests arrived.
Inside the OOT bags.
The survival kit we put inside of our OOT bags.
The survival kit we put inside of our OOT bags.
The welcome tag that was on the outside of our OOT bags.
The finished OOT bag!



Riu Resort Wedding Package:
All Riu Resorts offer several different wedding packages to choose from. We ended up going with the Royal Package which cost about $1600, and in addition to covering the cost for the actual ceremony and reception for 15 guests, also included a couples massage. We were required to pay an extra $10 per person for the rest of our 25 guests since the package only included 15. The next package up, Caprice, would not have required us to pay this extra fee but cost about $800 more than the Royal package, not making it worth the extra cost. Shyawn and I also opted to pay extra money to have a private reception, which was another $2000. All of the wedding packages include a reception at either Chili's Restaurant or Brazilian Steakhouse but it is only considered semi-private as you will be sharing the restaurant with other guests. Additionally, you aren't allowed to have a DJ unless you have a private event, which was also important to us. The DJ ended up costing us somewhere in the realm of $800, which I thought was totally ridiculous for four hours in Mexico, considering you can get DJs in Seattle for $500-$600. Additionally, we also paid the resort's spa to complete my hair, make-up, and pedicure/manicure which was another few hundred. We also had to pay extra for flowers since the wedding packages only include the bridal bouquet, groom's boutonniere, and flowers to decorate the ceremony area. When it was all said and done, I believe we spent about $5000 to have our wedding at the resort (not including photography, which we used an external vendor for). While I wouldn't have expected to have a "free" wedding, I was very disappointed with the amount of money we had to pay to Riu for the wedding services compared to the amount of people (40) we brought in. The resort made a lot of money off our guests and I just felt like we were being nickled and dimed for every last thing when, thanks to us, the resort made over $40,000. There are some resorts in Mexico that either provide a "free" or a very inexpensive wedding. The price tends to fluctuate (i.e. the more guests you bring in the less it costs you) and I was very disappointed that the Riu doesn't offer something like this.


Decorations:
Because our wedding was set in a beautiful locale, minimal decorations were needed. As mentioned above, our wedding package included flowers to decorate the exterior of the gazebo for our ceremony as well as flowers for the table Shyawn and I sat at during the reception. Adding to this, we also purchased the following decorations:

  • Teal chair sashes purchased through Elegant Perspectives
  • Crystal acrylic cake topper purchased through Etsy seller Milan Creations
  • Teal and clear diamond confetti purchased at Hobby Lobby and through eBay seller Lings Bridal Shop


Photography:
Although the resort offers on-site photography (for a fee of course) I wanted more control over the quality of my photos. As a result, we decided to hire a company based in Playa del Carmen called Fine Art Studios. There are literally dozens of photographers to choose from in the area, but we choose Fine Art based on their pricing (about $3K which seemed to be mid-point for the area and for the quality I was looking for) and their beautiful photographic style. In addition to paying the photographers their fee, the resort also required that I pay them an extra $200 for a "vendor fee"since I was bringing them in from the outside. Overall, we are happy with the majority of our photos, however, I was a bit disappointed to see the lack of formal portraits as most were done in the photojournalist style. I had specifically told both photographers, on the day of the wedding, that I wanted formal portraits in addition to the artistic ones he was taking but there are only two formal portraits of Shyawn and I by ourselves on the beach. The photographers also arrived 15 minutes late, which was incredibly frustrating as we were already on a tight schedule. Additionally, I was somewhat disappointed with the lack of organization the two photographers displayed on the day of the wedding when we were doing the formal portraits with family. There were only 40 guests at the wedding and no one was directing them where to go or how to pose so I had to step in several times when the photographers should have done that. Because it didn't appear they were paying attention or looking much at the photos on their digital cameras, we have multiple family and bridal party photos where not everyone is looking at the camera. And finally, although I obviously expected both photographers to take breaks throughout the day, they always took their breaks together. I have never seen this occur at a wedding with multiple photographers: when one photographer takes a break or if they need to eat, then the other one continues to shoot. This did not happen for us. Again, overall I am happy with our photos but for the price we paid I expected a little more professionalism from our photographers. If you are thinking of using these photographers I would communicate your needs and expectations of them clearly prior to the big day.


Day of the wedding:
Overall, everything went fairly smooth on the day of the wedding but, as to be expected, there were several glitches. The one that irritated me the most was the wedding coordinator never came up to my room to retrieve the bridesmaids and I prior to the ceremony. As a result, we eventually had to walk down to the ceremony area by ourselves. Normally, the bride hides away from the guests in the spa but since guests were already sitting down I couldn't do this. As a result, she instead had me stand by myself in one of the hallways that connected the hotel rooms. There was no where for me to sit down and I had to stand there for what seemed to be forever before I finally walked down the aisle. Another frustration was that our ceremony began at 3 PM but the reception didn't begin until 6:45 PM (the resort will not accommodate receptions any earlier than that). I was frustrated with the length of time between the ceremony and reception, but thankfully the resort offered us the use of the outdoor bar (Lyrico) for several hours until the reception began. Other than that though, the wedding staff and coordinator did a pretty good job of keeping up with the pace and following the guidelines we had set forth for them.


Summary:
We are both happy that we chose to have a destination wedding. All of our guests had an amazing time and are to this day still talking about the experience we had together in Mexico. Several friends and family members have already discussed a reunion trip of sorts!

In regards to the resort, Shyawn and I were mostly pleased with our wedding experience at Riu Palace Riviera Maya with one glaring exception: the cost. The fact that they charged us for every last little thing and the fact that we didn't get any sort of deal or discount for the amount of people we brought in was frustrating. I wouldn't go out of my way to recommend getting married here and would tell others to really look around and try to find a resort that might cost you a little less in the long run. Additionally, we found it odd that the resort, who typically has one to three weddings each day, doesn't have a private area (such as a ballroom) to hold receptions. I find it ridiculous that the only way you can get a private reception is if you either have a huge amount of guests (I believe at least 75) or if you pay the $2000 fee like we did.

In total, including all of the costs associated with our wedding (save the dates, invitations, wedding website, ceremony/reception fees, my gown, his suit, bridesmaids/groomsmen attire, ten days of hotel, airfare, decorations, photography, tours, etc) we spent about $19K for our wedding. We originally thought we'd be able to pull it off for $12K but we were way off budget! I think it's typical with any wedding that things go over budget. In the end, I am glad that we had a destination wedding but am relieved that we are finally married and that all of the wedding stress is over!

I'd also like to mention Best Destination Wedding. This is a great web resource for all brides planning a destination wedding anywhere in the world. The website has forums, reviews of resorts and vendors, plus thousands of ideas for inspiration. I used this board frequently when planning our wedding and it became especially useful when deciding on what we were going to include in our OOT bags.


Below are some of my favorite photos from our wedding day:

































































































21 comments:

  1. Such stunning pictures. You were a beautiful bride and well, with a backdrop of a Mexican beach, you seemed to have the perfect wedding venue too :) I also loved the color of your bridesmaid dresses. And yes, this post would be such ubber help for anyone planning a destination wedding!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am glad you enjoyed the photos and I appreciate your kind words :-)

      Delete
  2. Oh my gosh. We are planning our wedding for February next year and this is so inspirational and the info is exceptionally helpful. You look amazing and looks like everyone had a good time. I really liked that resort when I stayed there last - looks like you made the right choice!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Laura! Which resort are you guys getting married at?

      Delete
  3. Thank you so much for your blog! i just got engaged and this is the best resource i have found so far!!

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  4. What a concept of destination wedding?  I have here attending many weddings in San Francisco Wedding venues but never heard particularly about destination wedding. Please share your ideas regarding it.

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  17. Hi! We are getting married at this same resort in 9 months, where did you guys have your reception at? And, do you have any tips for me? Anything is appreciated. Thanks!

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