We are the nation’s capitol after all and quite the tourist location! Naturally, the Washington DC area is home to many destination weddings. If you are out of town and trying to plan your wedding in Washington DC, Maryland or Virginia, we have your back today. Rebecca from Blue Canary Events is giving us the scoop on how to plan a destination wedding in the Washington, DC area. She helped Cristal and Orialys plan their wedding in DC while they were living in Florida and it got me thinking that they certainly can’t be the only ones trying to plan their wedding in the DMV from afar. So, everything from how often you need to visit and what you need to do first, she has you covered…and then some! Take it away, Rebecca….
So, you want to have a destination wedding in DC? Maybe you grew up in DC and your family has since moved away, but you always dreamed of it for your wedding. Maybe you and your beloved met there, have moved away, and now live somewhere else, but you want to go back to where you met and fell in love. Maybe, like Cristal and Orialys’s wedding in Washington DC, you want to celebrate your love and marriage in a city that WANTS you to celebrate your love and marriage there, and your home state doesn’t allow it. Whatever your reason, WELCOME! The Washington DC area is full of many wonderful resources, and having a destination wedding here is no different than having a destination wedding anywhere (Okay, so we have fewer palm trees, more The Palm.)
Destination weddings can be overwhelming, whether they’re in wine country (We have wine country here, by the way!), on the sands of a beautiful beach (We have water here too!), or in a romantic city (Paris who??). Not every couple is cut out for a destination wedding. Destination weddings require you to, in many respects, be able to let go of some of the details and be able to trust the people you hire to make things happen.
So, first things first…hire a wedding planner! Unless your mom or best friend lives in the Washington DC area and you feel comfortable trusting her (or him!) to make wedding related decisions and not get too overwhelmed – much like moms can get sometimes, just trust me, and hire a planner. I have worked with so many couples who live out of town, and every last one of them has had things come up that they didn’t even think of, and wouldn’t have been able to do themselves, because they were in New Jersey/California/Miami/Australia. Not only can a wedding planner help save you money, but he/she can definitely help to save your sanity!
Do your research in terms of hiring a wedding planner. If you’re able to make a visit to meet them in person, obviously that’s ideal, but if not, definitely speak to them via phone, and, if you prefer, via video chat. I’m all about e-mailing most of the time, but you just get a vibe from someone in person that you can’t get via e-mail, and video chats are the next best thing to being there in person. If a planner isn’t willing to have such a meeting, it’s definitely possible that he/she isn’t the right planner for you. You need someone who will be flexible, and is comfortable with technology, because you might need those things for the next step, finding the venue.
Before you start searching for a venue, though, you must create your guest list. A destination wedding in the Washington, DC area doesn’t follow the same “rules” that one in, say, Curacao would. The standard rule is that between 10-20% of guests will decline your wedding invitation. For destination weddings, you can increase that number to 40%. But, as with any generalization, your results may vary. For example, does most of your family already live in the DC area, but you live elsewhere? Are your guests from overseas? The west coast? Within driving distance? Look at all of those factors to give a “guesstimate” of how many you can expect to attend. Then increase that number just a little to be safe, and that’s the size of the venue you should be looking for for your wedding. Never book a venue that can only hold 40% less than the number you invited – that’s just asking for trouble!
So, on to looking for that wedding venue. Think about what about a Washington DC area wedding was appealing to you. Do you love the history and the monuments? Then choose a venue either right downtown or with an awesome view. Does your state not allow gay marriage? Then you’ll be looking at DC or Maryland. Did you always want to get married on the water? We have lots of options, from the Eastern Shore to Baltimore to National Harbor and Old Town Alexandria. Think about why you’re getting married in the DC area – what’s different about it from where you live now, or where the majority of your guests will be coming from, and highlight that. Then have your planner send you a list of venues that fit those criteria, along with the size of your expected attendance.
From your venue list, narrow it down to, say, 7-8 venues, then search local sites like United With Love (List of wedding venues in the Washington DC area.) or photographers’ blogs (List of wedding photographers in the Washington DC area.) to find pictures of weddings that occurred at that venue. Yes, the venue will have pictures on their web site (I hope!), but the best way to judge the venue is to look on a wedding blogs or just search the Internet for posts and pictures about the wedding venue. Ask your planner if he/she has worked that venue, what are the benefits/drawbacks, etc. Then, again, the ideal scenario is if you can come to town and see your top 3-4 choices in person. If not, have your planner go and do a venue tour via video chat with you live. That way you can ask questions, see things that aren’t in the pretty pictures on their website. For example, I’ve been to gorgeous venues that have the worst bathrooms. I have also seen venues that are in a terrible area, and your family might not be happy about your wedding in the sketchiest part of town, no matter how pretty it is once you get there.
Your Guests + Getting Around
Keep your guests in mind when selecting a venue. If they’re all from out of town too, how are they getting there? Will they need to drive? If so, what’s the parking situation? As a general rule, if you have a large number of out of town guests, especially if they’re from smaller places, you don’t want to have to ask them to drive in the city. Sure, it’s easy for us…now. But, remember when you first moved here (if you lived here before) and how scary it was?? Traffic patterns in DC are tricky – do you really want them trying to figure out what time of day they’re allowed to get on Rock Creek Parkway? In addition, although the GPS says it’s an 11 mile trip, it could take them over an hour in Friday traffic to get from DC to Rockville? Keep all of these things in mind when choosing your venue.
Save the Dates + Website
Once you find your wedding venue, and book your date, send out your save the dates as soon as possible. If guests are traveling, especially if they’re flying, they want to book as far in advance as possible to get the best rates. Then set up a great wedding website (I’m a huge fan of Wedding Jojo and Riley and Grey, but there are many options out there!) and put tons of information on on your website. What is the closest airport? Are there good bus or Metro lines that go there? Is it close to Union Station? (i.e. don’t tell guests to take the train if you’re getting married in Warrenton, VA– how are they going to get there?!) Maybe even set up a part of the site where guests can do ride shares from the airports or from certain areas (Your aunt in North Carolina is driving up? Maybe she can take 29 and stop in Charlottesville to pick up your college roommate!) Include your hotel room block information (See the post on how to do a hotel room block in the Washington DC area.), so that your guests can book as quickly as possible, and talk up the area! On your website, you can talk about all of the fun things to do, especially if you’re doing something like setting up tours for guests or having a welcome reception or day after brunch. Use your wedding website to show off the area that you love!
After that’s all done, next you’ll be booking all of your vendors from afar, so, again, trust your wedding planner! You hired this person for his or her expertise – use it! Trust them when they tell you who the best caterer is for you, based on your tastes, venue and budget if you’re not able to come into town for a tasting. Yes, your planner will send you a list of photographers that they love – use it! Of course, there are tons of other talented photographers out there, but do you know how many photographers there are in this area!? The ones your planner will send you are ones he or she has worked with before, whose clients love their pictures, and who fits in your budget. If you don’t like any of the options your planner sends to you, explain what you’re looking for (whether it’s a different style of photography, a more modern cake decorator, or a more offbeat DJ etc.); it’s important to let your planner know what your style is, your likes and dislikes, so you can have the wedding you want!
This area is so amazing for so many reasons – we have every season, we have city and country, we have mountains and the bay, rivers and lakes. We’re thrilled that you’re considering a destination wedding in the Washington DC area! With the right vendor team, you can coordinate your destination wedding without ever setting foot in the city until a few days before your wedding and still have the wedding of your dreams!
Thank you so much, Rebecca! I feel better already about those planning a wedding in the DC area from afar! For more about Blue Canary Event‘s wedding planning services in the Washington DC area, be sure to check out their website.
In the meantime, for more on how to take care of your out of town guests, you can read this post on tips for out of town bags for Washington DC weddings or get one of these cool welcome to DC stamps for your bags! You can also find loads of DC area specific wedding planning advice and browse for the best DC area wedding vendors.