Image credit: Nikki May Day Photography for Sundial Beach Resort & Spa
If you've been dreaming of saying 'I do' on a white sandy beach in front of a pristine blue ocean—you're not alone! It's no surprise that the top three destinations for weddings in the US are Florida, California and Hawaii. Outside the US, American couples choose to walk down the aisle in places like the Caribbean and Mexico for their stunning coastline and affordability.
Whether it's an exotic destination wedding or a small outdoor ceremony on your hometown beach, there are some unique considerations when planning your nuptials on the sand. We asked nine wedding experts for their tips on how to pull off a beautiful wedding reception or ceremony at the beach.
What makes a beach wedding celebration special?
Image credit: Luz Maria Avila for Villa del Palmar Cancun
Are you a stickler for tradition? A beach wedding ticks all the boxes from the popular old English rhyme "something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue." The National Hotel, an adult-only hotel in Miami's South Beach, says, "You have something new (the start of a new relationship), something borrowed (the use of our space), something blue (ocean), and something old (sand), all while enjoying the outdoor elements." What more could you ask for!?
A deeper connection to the ocean
Many couples choose to get married at the beach because they have a deep and meaningful connection to the ocean. "At all the beach weddings I've done, the couple has had a connection to the beach, whether that be their favorite vacations, a first date, or a love of being on the water," says Susan Southerland from Just Marry!, a wedding planning service specializing in destination weddings.
The team at Sundial Beach Resort & Spa, a resort and wedding venue located on pristine Sanibel Island, Florida, agrees. They advise against trying to please others. "This is YOUR dream day. Create fun and be authentic to who you are."
A beach wedding means you can relax
For some couples, the idea of getting married in a traditional wedding venue might feel stuffy and outdated. The relaxed nature of a beach wedding is a huge selling point for couples and guests alike. "As you lean into the relaxing ambiance of a beach wedding, you invite guests to do the same, allowing them to swap the black-tie formalwear for more breathable attire," says specialized skincare company MANTL.
Top tips for planning a beach wedding
Read on for six tips for planning your dream seaside wedding!
1. Take advantage of the natural beauty
Image credit: Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa
What makes a beachside wedding shine versus an indoor venue is the magnificent natural backdrop that you can include in every element of your day. "The way you can play with the elements is so unique to beach weddings, including the décor and favors you can send your guests home with," says suit and tuxedo retailer Friar Tux.
"The beautiful canopy of greenery, white sand beaches and clear turquoise waters make for an ideal wedding backdrop and a calming color scheme," says Isla Bella Beach Resort, a one-of-a-kind beach resort and wedding venue located in the Florida Keys. A beach wedding is the perfect romantic setting for the best day of your life," they say.
Villa del Palmar Cancun, a family-friendly resort and wedding venue, recommends taking advantage of the beach and the view as part of your wedding decor and warns against using a lot of extra items that distract from the beautiful view.
At Sundial Beach Resort & Spa, you may even be greeted by some special guests— dolphins, manatees and a host of shorebirds often attend the festivities. There's no need to go overboard with the decorations with scenery like that!
2. Dress for the Occasion
Image Credit: Robert Michael Films for Friar Tux
Although beach weddings are laid-back, the wedding party can still have fun with fashion. "In our opinion, the groomsmen should wear jackets during the ceremony and pictures. When you look back on your wedding day, having the men in jackets brings a refinement and chicness to the photos," says Friar Tux. They say you can still keep the attire understated by using soft-colored suits and recommend that groomsmen let loose and remove their jackets for the reception.
Proper footwear is vital for a beach wedding. "My first piece of advice for beach weddings, whether it's a ceremony or reception, is to encourage guests to wear comfortable shoes (or no shoes at all)," says Marla Dunn, Director of Catering & Conference Services at Mauna Kea Resort, a 5-star hotel on the Island of Hawaii. "Walking in the sand or along the lush greens of our golf courses in high heels can be a bit challenging."
The team at Just Marry! has a fun idea—they suggest filling a basket with flip flops in various sizes so guests can slip off shoes that aren't beach-appropriate. If the weather is a little chilly, have a basket of pashminas to help keep guests warm.
Lastly, don't forget hair and makeup. "Updos for beach ceremonies are always great; this is one way to avoid hair in the wind and ruining your pictures," says the National Hotel.
3. Have a solid wet-weather plan
With any outdoor event, it's important to keep an eye out for inclement weather. Isla Bella Beach Resort says the most common mistake they see couples make is not following the venue's recommendation when it comes time to make a weather call. This typically ends in a hectic last-minute change that could have been avoided.
Susan Southerland at Just Marry! recommends that couples come up with a wet-weather plan that makes them as happy as the plan for the beach. "The weather is out of everyone's control, so while you might have your heart set on the beach, make sure you can move indoors if necessary," she says.
Rain isn't the only weather issue couples might face at the beach—wind is another factor that can throw a wrench in the works. Lisa Gossmann, Director of Catering and Conference Services at Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa, a Polynesian-themed resort in San Diego's Pacific Beach community, recommends rethinking candles for outdoor ceremonies and receptions as the wind can prevent you from successfully lighting them.
Villa del Palmar Cancun also advises against using tall centerpieces for beach weddings, as they may get knocked down on a particularly windy day.
While paper programs are a great way to let guests know what to expect at the ceremony, The National Hotel points out that they can fly away and create litter on the beach. Create a digital program on your wedding website or try a beautiful custom sign for guests to read on arrival.
4. Take advantage of the off-season
Image credit: Kenneth Smith Photography for The National Hotel
According to Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa, prices for beach weddings peak in the summertime, so you may be able to snag a great deal on beach wedding packages in the off-season. Not only can you save on the venue, but if you're planning a destination beach wedding, you'll also find better deals on travel and have a more intimate experience without the tourists.
If you want to have your wedding in peak season, they recommend seeing the venue during the busy holidays. "Visiting your venue in the opposite season can lead to a misunderstanding of what the venue will be like on your actual wedding date," they say.
5. Consider a private beach
Another significant decision when planning a beach wedding ceremony is whether to hold your ceremony on a private or public beach. Most beaches are public property, meaning anyone can get married there—but this also means that the beach will open to sunbathers and swimmers while you exchange rings. Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa highlight that if you choose to have your wedding on a public beach, it's important to be flexible and know that some elements, like people watching, will be out of your control.
Having a private beach like at Villa del Palmar Cancun means the sand will be free of seaweed, and you do not have to worry about guests from nearby hotels walking around on the beach.
Whether you are hosting your wedding reception on a public or private beach, Isla Bella Beach Resort suggests asking your venue or wedding planner about the availability of lighting and electricity on the beach. This may be more readily available on a private beach.
6. Stay sun safe
Sun safety is important every day, and especially on your wedding day. "Whether your wedding is in the heat of the early afternoon or the cool breeze of a beachy night, your guests can still get sunburned or be sweatier than they hope in all the wedding photos," says MANTL. "Have travel-size toiletries on-hands to help guests look and feel their best. You can also have non-talc baby powder so guests can easily wipe sand off their feet. Preparing for these small details makes all the difference to how guests remember your wedding."
Most importantly, make sure your guests are comfortable and protected from the impact of the sun's rays with parasols, umbrellas, and sunscreen—especially one that goes on clear like MANTL's Invisible Daily SPF 30.
The beach is the perfect backdrop for your unforgettable day
Image Credit: Mauna Kea Resort
What makes a beach wedding unique are those special little rituals. Sundial Beach Resort & Spa says one of their favorite wedding traditions is shell prayers or shell wishes. In this unity ceremony, the couple, wedding party and guests go to the Gulf's edge with seashells in hand. The wedding officiant asks everyone to make a wish or say a prayer for the newlyweds as they toss their seashells into the water.
Mauna Kea Resort loves when couples incorporate meaningful Hawaiian traditions into their wedding ceremony. "Part of the reason destination weddings are so appealing is the introduction to a new culture," they say. At Mauna Kea Resort, they work closely with local Hawaiian musicians who sing and play the ukulele while the bride walks down the aisle in a beautiful sunset ceremony.
MANTL believes there's something unforgettable about a beach wedding. "When you stay flexible and do your homework, you'll host the most memorable beach wedding that your friends and family have ever attended. Most importantly, you'll have a wedding venue that you can visit for many anniversaries to come."
That's something we can all celebrate!