Every wedding is unique and special. Ours was no exception. Would you be surprised to learn that 1:4 weddings today are destination weddings? It is a growing trend for many reasons, some of which I share in my blog post "Top Four Reasons We Chose a Destination Wedding. Is It Right For You?". There are so many aspects that go into a successful destination wedding, we'll save those for other blog posts. I really just want to recap our destination wedding week and share why it was our "dream come true".
When we arrived at the airport in Punta Cana we were with a couple that were part of our wedding guest party who coincidently ended up being on the same flights as us. We decided to forego our private limo (included in our wedding amenities) and share a ride to the resort with our friends. Why? Just because we were the bride and groom and we could. It was fun to chat with them and get their first impressions as we made our way to our resort.
I was thankful that we knew the routine for entering the country and where to find our transportation to the resort since our resort offered a pre-wedding visit called "Love at First Site" that we took advantage of 6 months earlier. As a result of that visit we were able to help all our guests know what to expect prior to travel and to make final choices/decisions on wedding details. I highly recommend taking advantage of a program like this if it is available at your resort.
This is the view in the lobby when you pull up to the Paradisus Palma Real! You feel like you are stepping into paradise...and you are! Our friends were taken to the front desk while we were whisked away to a private reception area. I was confused since I knew the area we were being taken to is for Royal Service guests. Royal Service is an upgrade where you have extra amenities that other guests don't have, like a private butler, private pools, beach, restaurants, etc.
How did I know this? On our pre-visit 6 months earlier we were upgraded to Royal Service. Talk about being pampered for 3 days, it was heavenly. My future hubby and I decided that we couldn't afford that for the wedding week since we were helping our 6 kids with their accommodations and airfare. But guess what? Our travel designer surprised us and was able to upgrade us anyway! I was so thrilled and grateful. Hint: Use a travel designer! 📷 Photos below are from the Private Royal Service Lounge and my selfie in the lobby showing how happy I was.
Days Leading Up to the Wedding
We arrived on a Wednesday and our beach wedding was scheduled for 5:00 Saturday. Over the next few days the rest of our guests arrived. Transportation to and from the airport was included and we only had a couple of glitches. Guests were able to pick what worked for them. Most guests chose a 3 night/4 day package but some chose longer and a few even opted for the Royal Service. Our travel designer was able to get us a free room based on the amount of rooms booked in the group which we used for our officiant and his wife.
The resort's wedding planner (who was amazing by the way) booked reservations for all of our guests at different restaurants during the week we were there. Reservations are required at this particular resort. I didn't know they were going to do this or I might have requested specific reservations at select restaurants with a specific number of guests. The first night wasn't a problem since they were able to accommodate us all at one restaurant, but as more guests arrived it became more complicated and I was a bit stressed about how to divide people up. It all ended up working out and sometimes people made their own arrangements which was fine, especially if they had butler service (the butler makes them for you). If you stay at a resort that requires reservations I suggest checking into this prior to your arrival.
The rest of our time prior to the wedding was spent hanging by the pool, relaxing at the beach, final preparations for the big day and exploring the night life. One of the big draws for me in deciding to do a destination wedding was that our adult children could be on their own, hang out with each other and have fun without us having to "entertain" them. Believe me, they took full advantage of the resorts' all-inclusive amenities. I even "let loose" one evening after a couple too many "Two Friends" cocktails (yes, my kids took photos!). Evidently what happens in Punta Cana does not stay there!
Friday evening before our wedding day we had a dress rehearsal on the beach...in my bathing suit! How many people can say they went to their wedding rehearsal in their swimsuit? We did have one glitch to our rehearsal, one of our best men wasn't there. Yes, every wedding has a story and this is ours.
My husband decided to have two best men, both long time friends. I had my bestie from 7th grade on up as my matron of honor and my husband's daughter as my bridesmaid (remember I am the mom of 3 boys, welcoming a girl to the family is a big deal!).
So, back to the best man. BT and his wife JoAnn decided to save some money and book their own airfare instead of booking through our travel designer (guests had the option). They also did not purchase trip insurance (something I highly recommend). Their flights had two connections. As often happens, one of the flights ran out of carry on space and BT had to check his carry on. Guess what? He had stuck his passport in his carry on and the airline sent that carry on through to Punta Cana. So, when they got to Miami they would not let him board the plane without his passport. YIKES!
They ended up having to spend the night in Miami while they verified that his passport was in his carry on in Punta Cana. Our travel designer was able to eventually let us know where he was and why he wasn't there. They were scheduled to arrive the day before the rehearsal but after the passport fiasco they arrived later in the evening the night before the wedding...after the rehearsal took place. They lost a whole day and night in paradise. 😞 We were just glad they finally made it! Rehearsal photos below.
The Big Day
Finally the big day arrived. I woke up to this. Sunshine! The week before our wedding I checked the weather forecast for Punta Cana and everyday said RAIN. I was devastated. I learned not to listen to the weather forecast. Our day was perfect in every way, weather included!
My husband and some of the guests were off to a cigar factory tour that morning that also included rum, chocolate and coffee on the excursion. My bestie and I were off to the spa for my complimentary hair and make up treatment as a part of my wedding amenities. My makeup and hair artist, Anny, was fantastic and she even squeezed in hair and make up for my matron of honor. I really felt like a true princess when she was done.
Upon our return from the spa we were scheduled to meet in our room for the photographer to take photos of us getting ready. My hubby was relocated to another room to get ready with the guys. Tropic One was the onsite photographer and they did a great job. In hindsight I would have asked for some additional photos, more shots of certain people, additional poses/types and locations of photos, but in the end I was happy with them.
My advice is to perhaps talk with a photographer at home before you go, check out wedding albums to see what type of photos you like and want or if you can afford to, take your own photographer with you. Below are just a few of the many photos they took of us getting ready.
Walking Down the Aisle
After we got ready in the rooms my fiance and his best men were escorted to the beach where everything was set up. The resort on-site wedding crew do a marvelous job. They had the music ready and playing, they block off the beach area so other guests cannot interfere with your special moment, the photographer was ready...all systems go!
Before my entrance I was waiting in the shadow of the beach restaurant and my mom snuck over to see me. She was the only parent of both my husband and I that was still living and I was so grateful she was there.
My husband's parents had both passed in 2008 and my dad, who I was very close to, passed of brain cancer in 2003. She looked at me and began to cry. She said, "You look so beautiful. I know your dad would be so happy today." I began to tear up and jokingly told her to stop she was going to make me cry and ruin my make up.
She was right, I know my dad would have been thrilled with this marriage. I was sad he wasn't there to walk me down the aisle. My oldest son's girlfriend knew how sad I was that my dad wouldn't be there so she found a picture of him online on my FB page and the night before the wedding she gave me one of the best gifts I have ever received, a charm with his picture in it to tie to my bouquet so he could walk with me down the aisle with my 3 boys. 💝
The ceremony on the beach was perfect. It was short, meaningful, fun and light. Our officiant was the husband of a high school friend. My husband and I were friends in high school, although we never actually dated then. It is nice that we have so many friends in common.
My bestie and Matron of Honor read Corinthians 13 which is not only a popular wedding verse but also significant for the sorority we both joined in college. During our vows when the officiant had me repeat, "for richer, for poorer" I said, "mostly poorer", which of course got a few laughs. Courtney, Dan's daughter, read a funny, light-hearted poem about marriage (people listening on the beach applauded when she was finished reading it) and we even played a joke on BT who had "misplaced" his passport by asking him for the rings when the other best man actually had them.
Now presenting Mr. & Mrs. Dan Johnston!
Following the ceremony we were all served champagne on the beach. We stuck around for some photos there and then our guests were taken to the reception area while we did a few more photos in various locations around the resort.
Reception ~ Let's Party
The reception was held on the Olympus Terrace by the pool. We had opted for a some extras like an LED dance floor, bistro lighting, dinner table floral centerpieces, a DJ with extra lighting and a saxophonist during cocktails and hors d' oeuvres.
We did not order any decor for the 3 high boy tables used for the cocktail hour or any extra colors on the tables since many of those were an extra cost. Once again the resort wedding team surprised me. They had placed vases on the highboys with water and a single classy green leaf in them, the dinner tables had lights underneath them that created a beautiful pink glow to go with our color scheme. It was lovely!
I am attaching a video that was taken by our high school friend Carrie (her husband, Steve was our officiant) on my son's go pro. It shows the cocktail reception. We didn't have the money to do a professional video, so I am grateful that Carrie was kind enough to take on videotaping for us.
Following the cocktail hour we were officially introduced along with our bridal party. The DJ announced us as "Ms. & Mrs. Dan Johnstastein". Everyone was cracking up. He did correct himself later. Next was the first dance. We selected Peter Frampton's "Baby I Love Your Way" since it was popular during high school when we met and was meaningful for us. Next we cut the cake. We had to do all of these things before dinner since our photographer was only secured for a certain amount of time and we wanted photos of them before he had to leave.
The best part of the reception happened when it was time to throw the bouquet. I was in on the surprise but most of the guests were not. There were only 3 single ladies to come out on the dance floor to catch the bouquet, my niece, Tiffany, Courtney, Dan's daughter and my son's girlfriend, Ali. So, when it was time to throw the bouquet...well, wait. Why don't I just show you. 😉
It was perfect! The minute I passed the bouquet to Ali, my oldest son, Kirk was out on the dance floor down on one knee, proposing. I couldn't have asked for a better gift. The guests all cheered! Ali was in tears and on cloud nine the rest of the night. Dinner followed and then we danced the night away.
I don't think I sat down more than once or twice the whole evening. I was out on the dance floor most of the night along with our kids and guests.
The cool thing about a destination wedding is that you see your guests through out the time you are at the destination so you don't feel obligated to talk with each of them during the reception.
Everyone had a blast, especially our kids. We had a song list for the DJ, however he really didn't play the songs we had asked him to except for the ones for the first dance, cutting the cake, throwing the bouquet, etc. I wish he had played more of our 70's tunes, but I have to admit the last song "Uptown Funk" was fun. Even my mom was dancing!
Dreams Do Come True
Our destination wedding was everything I dreamed it would be and MORE! I got my dream of being married on a beautiful beach to my best friend, my hubby got to golf the day before (his "must have" was golf and mine was a gorgeous beach), the weather was perfect, we had 28 guests to share our special day with, plus our honeymoon started right away in paradise!
✨Bonus: My oldest son got engaged. We will celebrate his wedding this summer. I have already planned their honeymoon to Jamaica!
Can you feel my joy?
Our destination wedding is the reason I am now a travel designer for destination weddings and honeymoons. I want to create this kind of joy for all couples. If you know someone who is engaged please share this blog post with them and have them sign up for my online travel tips newsletter (free honeymoon quiz included!). They can do that by clicking here.
Thank you for listening to our destination wedding story.