For many brides, Hawaii is the ultimate destination wedding location. But with a half dozen islands and a wide array of resorts to choose from, planning the perfect wedding can seem overwhelming. Should you wed on popular Maui or quiet Lana'i, on a Big Island beach at sunset or next to a lush waterfall on Kauai? Or maybe bustling Waikiki on Oahu is your ideal.
There are many factors to consider as you plan your big day in a place that, let's face it, is pretty far away. Getting the actual marriage license is relatively easy, but here are seven planning tips to get you started.
1. Do Your Research
• Start Googling! This is the best way to get an instant overview of the breadth of wedding locales in Hawaii - from large-scale resorts with ballrooms to intimate villas offering unparalleled privacy. Hawaii also offers plenty of non-traditional settings, from secluded waterfalls and beaches reached only by helicopter to romantic catamarans sailing at sunset.
• Play the loyalty card. If you have a favorite resort brand - one you've vacationed at before and loved - check to see if it has properties in Hawaii. Most of the majors, such as Hyatt, Hilton, Sheraton, Westin, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons, Fairmont and St. Regis are there and offer wedding details on their websites.
• Know your islands. While all of Hawaii's islands make a lovely backdrop, each is a bit different and offers a unique ambience for your big day.
2. Decide on a Budget
Once you have an idea of the kind of wedding you envision - say, a beachfront blowout for family and friends or an intimate ceremony for just the two of you - figure out what you can spend. You can get married on Hawaii for as little as several hundred dollars (for a simple ceremony for two with a photo package and romantic dinner) or for as much as $100,000-$250,000 (for a luxurious multi-day extravaganza). Most weddings here fall somewhere in between.
• Estimate guest count. Due to the distance and expense, a wedding in Hawaii will likely draw one-third to one-half the guests than one held in your hometown.
• Create a proposed three-day schedule. While a smaller guest count theoretically cuts down on expenses, you'll have to get to Hawaii, spend three or four nights and pick up the costs for more than just the ceremony and reception. Couples typically host a welcome dinner (or luau) and a post-wedding-day brunch for all guests, not to mention a rehearsal dinner, a welcome amenity (such as an in-room gift bag of local products) and a sightseeing outing.
3. If You Can Afford It, Hire a Wedding Planner
Planning a wedding thousands of miles from home is a challenge, so any large-scale, reception (say for 75 guests or more) could probably use some expertise. Choosing a wedding planner with local connections who has already planned weddings at your venue is key.
• Start with your resort. Most Hawaiian resorts have a wedding team on staff who'll work with you via e-mail and phone - although how much they can diverge from the property's wedding packages varies by resort; many will gladly customize while, depending on the wedding size, others may be more restrictive.
• Personalize. If you're not feeling the love after the initial resort contact, hire an outside wedding planner to give you the customized wedding you desire, perhaps even at a location you may not have known about. Hawaii has a number of experienced planners, while many planners based in California (and even Chicago, New York and other cities) regularly work in Hawaii. Check online bridal forums for planners recommended by brides who have recently wed in Hawaii.
4. Consider Your Guests
If you want a good turnout, do the following:
• Pick a date at least a year in advance. Then, send out Hawaii-themed "Save the Date" cards to alert potential guests to the long-distance festivities and give them time to schedule vacation and save for the trip.
• Set up a wedding website. This should detail the date, venue and planned itinerary as well as tips and links for booking flights, hotel rooms and rental cars. Include the URL on your "Save-the-Date" card.
• Be a savvy traveler. Monitor airfares and alert your guests via e-mail if they drop. If you book 10 rooms or more at your resort, you'll get a group rate for your guests.
• Offer options. If your resort's rates are on the high side, also provide more affordable lodging options nearby.
5. Make Your Priorities Known
Is a killer sunset during your vows a must? Will a little rain ruin your wedding parade? If you have any "musts-haves" or "oh no's" make them known from the start. A few general FYIs:
• Onlooker alert. Hawaiian beaches are public, so you are apt to have crashers (often in bathing suits) gawking at your ceremony. Many brides don't mind the attention, but if you want a less-public ceremony, choose a setback gazebo, garden or terrace for your "I do's."
• Mind the weather. It rains in Hawaii. Some months (such as December through March) are rainier than others as are some sides of islands (generally the windward side). Most rain occurs at night, but showers have been known to dampen sunset weddings. Have an indoor back-up just in case. Be advised that large event tents can get very expensive, especially on short notice if you're having a wedding during hurricane season.
• Check the sunset. Not all beaches face west. If a full-on sunset ceremony is your dream, ask where it sets in relation to the beach or terrace where you'll wed.
6. Stay True to the Locale
You're getting married in paradise, so why would you want to ship in hundreds of pink roses when the local flora is so fabulous?
• Think tropical. Orchids, frangipani, hibiscus, heliconia, ginger and birds of paradise all make gorgeous bouquets and centerpieces, not to mention leis and floral crowns.
• Incorporate Hawaiian instruments. The ukulele and slack-key guitar are guaranteed to bring smiles to your guests' faces. Even if your wedding song is a rock classic, have a local band interpret it and watch the fun begin.
7. If You've Never Been to Hawaii - Pay a Visit
Don't make your once-in-a-lifetime wedding your first visit. Get to know the area where you'll guests will be staying, as well as the local culture. This is one of the most common errors that couples planning a wedding in Hawaii make.
• Treat yourself to a scouting trip. Before you book a venue, see it in person. Online photos may look amazing, but the real beach or ballroom may not live up. Schedule a tasting with your caterer or venue to get an idea of what type of food will be served at the event.
• Comparison shop. By visiting several resorts/venues you can compare pros and cons and rest assured that your Hawaiian wedding will be every bit as wonderful as you dreamed it would be.
About the Author
Donna Heiderstadt is a New York City–based freelance travel writer and editor who has spent her life pursuing her two main passions: writing and exploring the world.