1. How many guests do you want, and how mobile are they?
Is your dream wedding small or a Broadway-worthy production? Your answer may determine the location. Why? Even though the day is about you, it’s also about your guests. If your closest friends all have toddlers, is it fair to request their presence at a safari wedding in South Africa? If relatives are elderly, can you expect them to make it safely to the beach? You won’t be able to please everyone, but consider making a concession or two if it means your loved ones will attend.
2. Do you want a religious ceremony?
Fifty-three percent of couples who wed in 2007 did so in a church. A few things to consider:
A traditional religious ceremony may have to be held in a place of worship, so be sure to ask up front. (In that case, book the date at your place of worship before you book your reception location.) Also, some religious establishments frown upon elaborate decorations or flowers as well as skin-baring dresses, so inquire about these details.
If you and your fiancé have different religious beliefs, consider having the ceremony at a neutral location, like a reception hall. Talk early on with both families about your decisions.
If organized religion does not play a role in your lives but you want to incorporate a spiritual element, consider hosting the ceremony in a natural setting, such as a beach or a park (be sure to ask about a permit).
3. How much work are you willing―or do you want―to take on?
Depending on the location, you may have to do some heavy lifting. Before you commit to an “I do”-it-yourself undertaking, weigh the pluses and minuses of these settings:
A unique location:You may have your heart set on a big wedding-day hoedown in a picturesque barn, but who’s going to clear out the hay, haul in the tables, set up the Porta Potties, arrange for lighting, and―oh, yeah―move Bessie out to pasture? There’s also Mother Nature to keep in mind. If you’re planning an outdoor ceremony or reception, you’ll need a backup plan in the case of rain, which means twice as much work.
A reception hall: The establishment usually has a one-size-fits-all feel, but its staff is probably well equipped to take care of the dirty work for you, which may include―and this is important―post-party cleanup.
2 of 5Jason Walz
What it is: A religious ceremony, often in the bride’s hometown, followed by a party at a reception hall.
Good for: Couples with religious ties, a significant connection to a hometown, and a sizable guest list. Many halls can accommodate 100 to 400 people and come complete with everything you need (silverware, dinnerware, food, alcohol, and linens), saving you money in the end.
What to know: When the ceremony needs to be scheduled and what time your reception can begin. Catholic churches, for instance, normally want the ceremony to be completed by 3 or 4 p.m. on a Saturday, leaving time to prepare for the five o’clock service. But most reception halls won’t cater to guests until 6 or 7 p.m.
What it is: A ceremony held at someone’s residence.
Good for: Twosomes with a connection to a childhood house or with access to a grand home. Or a pair who want a more, well, homey celebration in their own pad and aren’t afraid to work for it.
What to know: While it might seem as if a backyard wedding could be a money-saver, it just might break the bank. No, you’re not spending $200 a plate at a reception hall, but consider the extras you may need to rent. You will be responsible for supplying every fork, knife, table, and linen, and the bigger-picture details can also fall on you: generators for the band, a rented floor to cover the lawn, extra restrooms (you’ll need one portable toilet for every 50 guests), a fire extinguisher, and a tent in case of rain. Rentals for all of the above can cost upwards of $5,500. Plus, you’ll have to spray the grounds for bugs, mow the lawn, deal with any home improvements, and figure out parking (a valet company can cost around $2,000).
Resources: Contact your city or town hall to ask whether you need a permit and to obtain information on noise and traffic ordinances, fire codes, and tent permits. And call your homeowner’s insurance company to inquire about taking out an umbrella policy for the day. The cost is normally a few hundred dollars, but if someone gets hurt, you’ll be protected.
4 of 5Wendell Webber
What it is: A getaway―usually somewhere exotic, like a resort―with activities that span a weekend.
Good for: Duos who have a connection to a location or want just close loved ones (up to 75 people) to attend. Many resorts offer all-inclusive packages for everything from a guest welcome to a farewell brunch, making the planning process a cinch.
What to know: Marriage-license rules vary from city to city and country to country. Some cities, like Venice, require that you file for a license a minimum of four days prewedding, while other locations demand blood tests and X-rays (for example, Guadalajara, Mexico). Also, know that destination weddings aren’t always more expensive than those at other locales; the cost depends on where you go and how elaborate the celebration is. However, they may be more expensive for your guests, who usually have to fork over more to attend. As a courtesy, try to restrict the travel time to about two hours by air or six hours by car.
Resources: A listing of marriage-license requirements by state is available at usmarriagelaws.com. For the Caribbean islands, log on to caribbeantravel.com, and for Europe, go to marryabroad.co.uk. You can also visit any city’s tourism-board website; the requirements should be posted there.
5 of 5Jason Walz
What it is: A ceremony somewhere off the beaten path, such as a museum, a barn, an art gallery, a botanical garden, a civic center, or a sports venue.
Good for: A couple who wants a unique event. Costwise, price tags are all over the map, but it’s possible to bargain at these locations―weddings aren’t their primary source of business, so the numbers may not be set in stone. For example, at some museums and galleries, you can purchase a membership and receive a discount.
What to know: Be sure to get―in writing―information on whether the place has a liquor license, can house your head count, and can execute a fire plan (some cities may require you to hire a fire marshal). Also ask if you need liability insurance, which costs around $200 and covers from $250,000 to $1,000,000 in liability for accidents or property damage, depending on your policy. You can usually buy it about two weeks beforehand.
Resources: Contact your local chamber of commerce (uschamber.com) for venue recommendations. Log on to museumsusa.org for a comprehensive directory of museums, including many lesser-known institutions. And visit uniquevenues.com, which lists creative spots, such as theaters and universities (contact your alumni association to ask about a discount).