How to Plan a Beach Wedding: Tips and Etiquette
Close your eyes and picture yourself on your wedding day. If youâ€™re envisioning sunny skies, a salt-water-tinged breeze, and sand in your toes, youâ€™ve come to the right place. Whether it happens close to home on a private lake or by a crystal clear ocean in a tropical destination thousands of miles away, a beach wedding will give you and your guests plenty to be excited about.
â€śWater gives you the most beautiful backdrop,â€ť says destination wedding planner Claire DurĂˇn. â€śIf you donâ€™t have a lot of budget for decorations, just get the sea behind you and youâ€™re done.â€ť Thereâ€™s also the extended time together that a beach wedding in a new locale affords a couple and their loved ones: â€śWith a destination wedding, itâ€™s not just a day and done,â€ť DurĂˇn adds. â€śItâ€™s a whole weekend of festivities and fun.â€ť
Meet the Expert
Claire DurĂˇn is the owner and creative director of destination event planning firm Claire DurĂˇn Weddings and Events. Based in the Dominican Republic and Washington, DC, she has planned weddings in Miami, Punta Cana, San Juan, Santorini, CancĂşn, Cabo, and Formentera, Spain.
Reading to start turning your shoreside wedding dreams into reality? We asked DurĂˇn to share her best tips, tricks, and advice for planning a beach wedding, and she did not disappoint.
Beach Wedding Etiquette
How far in advance should I send save-the-dates?
If your beach wedding is also a destination wedding, youâ€™ll want to give guests an earlier heads up on your wedding date so they have time to put in vacation requests at work and get good deals on travel. A year in advance notice is ideal, especially for VIPs like parents and wedding party members, but if you send out save-the-dates six months ahead of the wedding, that will still be more than enough time.
Do I need to book travel and accommodations for my guests?
The marrying couple is not financially responsible for a guestâ€™s airfare, accommodations, or meals while they are traveling for the wedding, but they will want to help guests make arrangements. A hotel block is often the easiest and most cost-effective way to ensure your guests have comfortable accommodations that allow for easy access to the wedding ceremony and reception site.
A resort may require a minimum room block to go along with the wedding. In these cases, DurĂˇn suggests making the resort the only accommodations option mentioned on the details card of your invitation suite as well as on your wedding website. Once the room minimum has been met, you can update your website with additional lodging suggestions.
It can also be intimidating to navigate to more remote beach destinations. In addition to outlining the best airport to fly into, research car rental companies, driving services, and, if necessary, water taxis and ferry services. (If youâ€™re not sure where to start, your wedding planner or venue coordinator will more than likely have suggestions.)
What should I tell guests about the dress code?
Beach weddings are often more casual and care-free vibe, but that doesnâ€™t mean yours has to be. Whatever dress code you settle on, state it clearly in your invitation suite and, if necessary, follow up with more specific details on your wedding website. (Keep guest comfort top of mind, thoughâ€”if most of the celebration is happening outdoors, asking male guests to wear formal tuxedos might be a bit much.)
If the ceremonyâ€”or any other portion of the wedding, for that matterâ€”is taking place directly on the sand, make sure your guests know this from the start. (â€śIf guests are coming to a big resort, they might not assume the wedding is going to be on the beach,â€ť notes DurĂˇn.) Share the info on your wedding website and on a paper insert in your welcome gift, and suggest guests bring sunglasses, apply sunscreen, and wear shoes with heels that wonâ€™t sink into the sand.
Is it okay if my beach wedding is entirely outdoors?
We get it: once youâ€™ve arrived in paradise, itâ€™s hard to not want to spend every waking moment in paradise. That said, youâ€™ll still want to prioritize guest comfort when selecting spaces for your celebration. If the ceremony is going to be outdoors in direct sunlight, DurĂˇn suggests moving guests into a shaded patio or a space with indoor/outdoor access for cocktail hour. As the sun goes down, so will the temperatureâ€”which means you can send guests back outdoors for dinner and dancing without worrying about anyone overheating.
Steps to Planning a Beach Wedding
Pick your location.
Hawaii, Miami Beach, the Hamptons, the Bahamasâ€”beach destinations exist all over the world, and each one is gorgeous in its own way. When selecting your wedding locale, you may want to consider returning to the site of a memorable vacation, selecting a place where relatives live or that has special meaning to your family, or maybe even a place with good deals on direct flights from where most of your guests are traveling from.
If itâ€™s uncomplicated access to the primo shoreline youâ€™re after, DurĂˇn is a big proponent of booking with a venue or resort on the water. â€śYouâ€™ll want the support, and youâ€™ll also want the backups that come with a venue that you might not have when youâ€™re just on a beach and nothing else is there,â€ť she says.
While researching resorts, be sure to ask if they have a private place on the sand for your ceremony. A bunch of random strangers cheering while you exchange vows may sound fun in theory, but itâ€™s very distracting IRL.
DurĂˇn also prefers sprawling resorts to more compact hotels. â€śThe last thing you want is for your wedding to be in one of those common locationsâ€”the bar, the poolâ€”because then your guests are going to see it getting set up as well as when itâ€™s almost complete,â€ť she explains. â€śThen the magic of them walking into the space for the first time is lost.â€ť
Do your research on the weather.
When is hurricane season? Is there a wet and dry season? When is it too hot to comfortably be outside for more than 15 minutes at a time? These are all questions to ask that will help you determine the best time of year for your beach wedding.
While the lower rates of hurricane season might be tempting, know youâ€™re running a big gamble. Because if a hurricane does comeâ€”â€śand with global warming, theyâ€™re coming more often and stronger than ever,â€ť says DurĂˇnâ€”you wonâ€™t be able to just move things inside. Youâ€™ll have to cancel the entire wedding, and your guests will also have to cancel their trips.
Be sure to get the specifics on rainy season, because it might not present as much of a problem as youâ€™d think. â€śIn the Caribbean, it will rain most likely every single day for at least a couple of minutes,â€ť DurĂˇn offers by way of example. But if you plan accordingly with a tent for the reception and are flexible with the timing of an outdoor ceremony, showers wonâ€™t get in the way of a memorable celebration.
Get the necessary permits for a public beach ceremony.
Unless the beach is on private property, youâ€™ll need to check local township ordinances before setting out an arbor and chairs, as a permit may be required for a larger event.
Make sure your reception works rain or shine.
â€śUnless you have the absolute certainty of it being dry all evening, the best decision is for your plan A to be good to go for rain,â€ť says DurĂˇn. That doesnâ€™t mean youâ€™ve got to retreat indoors for the main party, but it does mean you should budget for a tent.
Travel intelligently with your essentials.
Going by plane? Carry on anything you canâ€™t imagine having your wedding without. (Like say, your wedding dress.) The last thing you need to stress about is lost luggage.
Beach Wedding DĂ©cor & Dining Tips
Donâ€™t feel limited by theme.
Tropical and nautical are most definitely *not* your only options. â€śThink of a wedding on the beach as a blank slate,â€ť says DurĂˇn. â€śIf you love the garden-y look or want to go French, or classic, or sophisticated, do it! A designer can help bring it all together.â€ť
Be smart about beach ceremony set-up.
Acrylic or wooden chairs can be quickly wiped down in case of passing rain, and are far easier to set up and break down than upholstered options. A spot to leave shoes (sometimes called a shoe valet) is both a fun dĂ©cor element and a nice amenity to offer guests if youâ€™re getting hitched on on the sand, and, because of sea breezes, programs should never be placed directly on chairs without something weighing them down. (You could also task an usher with handing them out.)
Also: speakers. If sound amplification is allowed and your group is larger than 50, this is something youâ€™ll definitely want to consider springing for. â€śYour voice wonâ€™t project in an open space the way it would in a ballroom,â€ť says DurĂˇn. â€śSame with music if you have live instruments or a singer.â€ť Be sure to consult a pro, as a subpar sound system might pick up too much wind and ambient noise.
While many officiants now read from iPads for a more modern look, the glare of direct sunlight at a beach wedding can make them hard to read.
Select a see-through tent.
When couples want to feel in the open and untouched but still protected from the elements, DurĂˇn suggests a clear tent. â€śTry to get something really highâ€”over 20 feet,â€ť she adds. â€śA low roof will make it feel like youâ€™re indoors.â€ť When planning the seating chart, DurĂˇn says that tables at the perimeter have a buffer of several feet between them and the tent edgeâ€”that way they arenâ€™t at the mercy of wind-blown rain.
Get heavy with the rest of your dĂ©cor.
If itâ€™s going to be windy, forget about bud vases, small centerpieces, and thin candlesticks. â€śYou have to go for pieces that have good weight so the wind doesnâ€™t blow them away,â€ť says DurĂˇn. â€śAnd make sure your menus, napkins, and place cards are weighed down.â€ť
Add local flair to the menu.
Your wedding food and drink should largely represent things you enjoy, but itâ€™s also a good idea to research whatâ€™s authentic to your destination and add touches throughout the wedding weekend (a local fish at the rehearsal dinner, coconut drinks at cocktail hour, plantain appetizers, etc.). â€śIt makes it a more authentic experience for everyone to enjoy,â€ť DurĂˇn says. â€śYour guests didnâ€™t travel to eat strip steak with mashed potatoes and asparagus.â€ť