Florida is a popular spot for destination weddings with the romantic appeal of our beautiful beaches and the presence of a number of notable theme parks. I have officiated destination weddings for couples from other areas of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, the Caribbean (though you would think they would have their own incredible beaches), Germany, Sweden, Portugal, Japan, and Ghana. I could start my own Wedding World Cup!
But what exactly is a "destination" wedding?
It simply means travel for everyone attending the ceremony and festivities. If the couple and their guests will be spending more than a few hours on the road, boarding a plane or train, or embarking on a ship to get to the wedding venue...it's a destination wedding. Consequently, the destination is usually a romantic or exotic local ~ somewhere couples would opt to go on holiday or for their honeymoon.
These do not tend to be huge affairs. The couple are not obligated to pay anyone's travel expenses, so guest lists for destination weddings are usually fairly modest. Not all of us can afford the trek from Leicester to Melbourne Beach for a friend's wedding. The destination weddings I have officiated have been attended by about four to twenty guests; on rare occasions perhaps ten or so more than that.
I recommend hiring a local wedding planner or package provider such as Florida Beachside Weddings when arranging for a destination wedding. The expertise, experience, and local knowledge will prove invaluable and can truly help avoid potential problems the day of the wedding.
The beach is not the only appeal Florida holds for destination weddings. We have gorgeous inland natural settings, popular theme parks, historic old homes, and elegant urban venues. In the Orlando area for example, I have officiated destination weddings at Walt Disney World, the Grand Bohemian (hotel), 310 Lakeside (restaurant), Casa Feliz (historic home), Paradise Cove, and the Kraft Azalea Gardens.
Florida is an excellent place to combine weddings, family reunions, and honeymoons!
There are several important things you should consider when planning a destination wedding in Florida: the weather, unique challenges associated with beach weddings (if appropriate), and the marriage license.
Some times of the year are simply more comfortable than others here. If you think an outdoor wedding in Toronto in February is a bad idea, than you have to accept an outdoor wedding in Miami in August is not terribly bright either. Miserable is miserable whether you're shivering or sweltering. Florida is a long narrow state with profoundly different weather in Jacksonville and Key West. Check out average temperatures and rain fall patterns in the area of the state you are interested in for the wedding.
The beaches in Florida can be very different depending upon whether you are on the Atlantic Coast, the Gulf Coast, or in the Keys. If you have not been to your destination before, look up pictures and request information from the locals. You should familiarize yourself with sunrise/sunset times and tide schedules. Click here for more information about beach weddings on the Atlantic coast in Central Florida.
3. Marriage License
You can obtain a marriage license in any county in the state and it will be valid everywhere else in Florida. However, you must obtain a license in Florida if your ceremony is to be held here and you want it to result in a legal marriage. You can obtain the marriage license through the mail (a matter of a few times mailing paperwork back and forth), or go to a courthouse in person once you arrive. The three day waiting period is waived for out-of-state residents, so it will be valid the day you get it. All you need is photo i.d. (driver's license or passport for example) and an appropriate method of payment. You will have your license in hand in a matter of minutes once it is your turn at the counter. Your officiant should be able to help guide you through this process. Click here for more information about the Florida marriage license.
Above left: Shannon Perez of Simply In Love Photography
Above right: Gift of the Bride and Groom
Mark faced me so as not to see Becca until the very last moment.
Jimmie in Florida: We are both school teachers so we are scheduling our wedding during the summer. We are interested in a waterfront wedding, but we know it is going to be really hot that time of year. What can we do to prevent everyone from melting?
Rev. Ann: I am afraid I have to be completely honest with you and tell you there is not much you can do if you insist upon having it outdoors in Florida during the summer. The heat will not be quite as oppressive if you select a shaded ceremony site. Becca and Mark, shown above and to the right, held their summer wedding riverside in a park with plenty of trees rather than on the beach in full sun. This alleviates the squinting and discomfort, but there will still be plenty of sweating going on.
You can schedule your wedding for sunset, which may bring the temperature down a few degrees, but then you may lose lighting for great outdoor portraits after the ceremony. A sunrise wedding is a wee bit cooler as well. While I can ingest enough coffee to officiate a dawn ceremony and actually quite like them, guests tend to grumble and moan.
If the view is more important than the setting itself, consider booking waterfront venues such as a ballroom in a beachfront hotel, yacht club, the Cocoa Beach Pier, the Porcher House behind Riverfront Park in Cocoa Village, or the Front Street Civic Center in Melbourne. Your ceremony will have air conditioning for the comfort of your wedding party, guests, and vendors. However, you will have easy access to pop out for gorgeous waterfront portraits intermittently throughout the reception portion of your festivities.
Photo Attributes: Friends of the brides and grooms posted these on Facebook, so I swiped them!
I chose to illustrate using pictures from Keely and Jonathan Ede's wedding because it was a perfect example of the importance of a Plan B. Their intention to have a beach wedding was rudely interrupted by a little bit of weather we fondly refer to as Hurricane Sandy. Shannon Perez of Florida Beachside Weddings and Lucy Paulson of the Cocoa Beach Pier rescued the day for Keely and Jonathan. The couple were still able to exchange vows by the ocean and include both a Sand Ceremony and a Wish Upon a Shell ritual in their wedding ceremony, but avoid the wind and rain. I am thoroughly impressed with Shannon's ability to capture their day considering the tight quarters, unnatural lighting, and sheet glass windows behind us. Your wedding professionals make a huge difference, especially when conditions are less than optimal.
Nature is beautiful and romantic, therefore gardens and beaches make absolutely lovely settings for wedding ceremonies. They are ripe with potential for spectacular photographs.
Alas, an outdoor ceremony also has the potential for disaster. Nature is unpredictable and as much as we would like to believe all will be well, the sad truth is that the weather doesn't care who is getting married at any particular moment in time.
As odd as this sounds, if you have your heart absolutely set on an outdoor wedding ceremony, you probably shouldn't plan one. These occasions demand a bridal couple willing to make accommodations if inclement weather threatens the event. I recommend the following if you are interested in exchanging your vows in the great outdoors.
1. Know the general climate and weather patterns of your wedding location like the back of your hand. Although Florida is known as the Sunshine State, it could just as easily be called the Intermittent Thunderstorm State or Unbelievably Hot and Humid State. I have encountered couples from up north who planned destination weddings here and honestly did not realize how uncomfortable the summer months are, even at sunrise and sunset. In the shade, temperatures can routinely exceed 90 degrees in July and August. Likewise, it can come as a surprise to some people that we do have days during the winter that are downright cold. I once officiated a wedding on New Year's Day where the poor bride and bridesmaids shivered through the entire thing in their strapless gowns on a blustery day with a high I'm not sure exceeded 40 degrees.
2. Arrange in advance for an alternative location for inclement or uncomfortable weather. No one should ever plan an outdoor wedding without having an alternative venue lined up just in case it's rainy, too hot, too windy or too cold. If you're getting married at a hotel, country club, or other such venue that routinely books weddings, you're likely to have a back up location readily available. If your preferred venue does not have convenient shelter on site, either arrange for something else relatively close by as your back up or strike it off your list and move on to your next choice. This holds true whether you have two guests or two hundred. Have a back up plan!
3. Be prepared to use your alternative venue and have someone else make the decision when the time comes. Brides can become emotionally attached to their mental expectations of the wedding and therefore are not the best person to make the call when inclement weather threatens the ceremony. A wedding planner, venue staff, officiant, family member or friend with sound judgment should be allowed to determine whether or not the ceremony will proceed outdoors as planned. As Florida is the lightning capital of the world, I will be the "bad guy" and move a ceremony indoors if I feel safety is an issue. I certainly hope brides would prefer to be married indoors than see someone struck by lightning at their wedding.
4. Be mindful of comfort as well as inclement weather. Rain may wreck havoc with sound equipment, musical instruments and the officiant's text thereby sending everyone inside, but that's not the only thing to consider when planning an outdoor wedding. Keep your comfort and your guests' comfort in mind. If the temperature falls below 50 or exceeds 80 you really should consider using your alternative indoor venue. Don't put the men in three piece suits or black tuxedos if the weather is expected to be hot. Position the ceremony in a shady spot on hot days. While the bride may only be at the ceremony for 15-20 minutes, the guests can be sitting out there waiting for it to begin for half an hour or more. Choosing a shady location also makes for better photographs as it is pretty much impossible to remove squinting with photo editing software.
5. If it is in your budget, hire professionals to handle the decorations for an outdoor wedding rather than doing it yourself. Companies such as Florida Beachside Weddings offer packages that include chairs, flowers, arches and other such structures to enhance the location and provide a visual focal point for your wedding. The advantage here is that should weather become an issue, professionals can more easily tear down and reassemble your decorations than you could. In their capable hands, you won't have to scramble at the last minute and break a sweat. Additionally, they have the experience to know what kind of decorations hold up to the elements better than others. I've seen a lot of do-it-yourself efforts turn out wonderfully, but unfortunately, I've also seen too many fall flat - once quite literally.
6. Consider an indoor venue with access to a beautiful natural setting for your portraits instead. You can always get married inside and then take advantage of the beauty and romance of nature during the post-ceremony picture taking. Many beachfront hotels have ballrooms and restaurants with glass walls or huge windows overlooking the beach. You can get married in the comfort of air conditioning without any risk of wind or rain ruining your decorations (and hair!) and then step out onto the beach for spectacular portraits.
Lest I sound too negative regarding outdoor weddings, I can assure you I have officiated oodles of successful weddings in natural settings. I would estimate at least 75% of the weddings I officiate take place outside and by far, most are perfectly fine. It's the exceptions that stick in the memory and all of these would have been helped tremendously with the considerations above. Be realistic and flexible and you'll do just fine!
Photo Attribute: Shannon Perez of FloridaBeachsideWeddings.com
Rev. Ann Fuller
The commentary on this blog is my own opinion developed over years of officiating a wide range of wedding sizes and styles. I am always happy to answer any questions you may have.