Today’s post features a ceremony in a unique glass enclosed chapel overlooking the ocean and a fun reception in a to-die-for gazebo! This is the first of my new weekly Real Destination Wedding features. And so I thought it was fitting to start out with the destination wedding that served as the inspiration for this entire website – my very own Cancun Wedding!
My big day was photographed by the ahhhhmazing Morgan Lynn, an award-winning member of the Wedding Photo Journalist Association. I’m also proud to say she was recently named one of the World’s Top 10 Photographers by American Photo Magazine! She did such a fantastic job capturing our day, that it was really tough to choose the handful of images I’ll share here. So without further ado, here’s the story of my real destination wedding.
I was never one of those girls who had her entire wedding planned out from the age of 5. When I got engaged, I was starting with a clean slate. I wanted everything to be a reflection of who we were as a couple at that moment in time. We love traveling to tropical beaches, eating good food and dancing to our heart’s content – hence the reason we chose Cancun. Our style is modern, sleek and minimalist which would be reflected in the decor. And we are obsessed with Cancun’s stunning white sand and turquoise beaches – the inspiration for our color palette.
But what defines us more than anything else, is our strong ties to family and friends. That’s why we didn’t overlook any details when it came to making our guests feel special from the moment they stepped off the plane. On the first day, we greeted everyone with a welcome bag full of local goodies and a welcome cocktail reception. The night before the wedding, we treated everyone to a rehearsal dinner on the beach at sunset, complete with a three-course meal, an open bar, and an unbelievable fire dancing show. If I had to choose a theme for my destination wedding, I’d say it was all about the intertwining of two lives and two families.
We exchanged vows in the glass-enclosed chapel of the Gran Caribe Real (the only one of its kind allowed to perform Catholic Ceremonies in the area).
In keeping with the theme of appreciating family & friends, the first page of the ceremony program had a note thanking everyone for all the laughter, tears and joy they’ve shared throughout our lives. The front cover featured a custom logo of our first names wrapped around the initial of our new last name – a symbol of our new intertwined lives. I also used that logo on a custom aisle runner, shot glasses and the napkins on our tequila bar. I’ll get to that in a bit:)
After the ceremony, we headed over to Le Meridien (now called Sandos) for some portrait shots, cocktail hour, and a fun reception in the oceanfront gazebo.
Our guestbooks were a hit because we made them all about, well…our guests. We encouraged them to take pictures of themselves against the stunning backdrop using an instant camera we provided. They inserted their pictures on a blank page along with their well-wishes. Not only did everyone have fun posing for pics, but we have an awesome keepsake that we’ll cherish forever.
You know what they say- when in Rome, do as the Romans do! So it’s only fitting that when in Mexico, you drink Tequila! Our special tequila tasting bar included a variety of tequilas, chili powder, lime, salt and a serape (traditional Mexican cloth) for an added touch! The reception called for some more goodies for our guests. The women were treated to a basket full of flip-flops in all colors and sizes. And the men were treated to some authentic Cuban cigars straight from the humidor.
I had to jump in on the action because hey…it’s my wedding and I smoke (or pretend to) if I want to!
As day turned to night, we cut the cake and enjoyed a few memorable speeches.
As you can imagine after kicking off our shoes, having a few tequila shots, and smoking cigars, we had nothing left to do but hit the dance floor…and we did. In a big way.
Check out our trash the dress photo session on the beach the next day at sunset!
Photographer: Morgan Lynn Photography
Bridal Gown: Demetrios
Groom’s Tux: Men’s Warehouse
Shoes: Nina Shoes
Bridesmaid Dresses: Eden Bridals and Bari Jay
Ceremony: Panama Jack Resort (formerly known as Gran Caribe Real)
Reception: Sandos (formerly known as Le Meridien)
Hair & Makeup: Fernando Fuentes from The Makeup Pros
I cannot begin to tell you how happy I am to have found your site! My guy proposed to me on 7/29 in Riviera Maya so naturally we decided almost instantly that we wanted to get married in Mexico- its our happy place! And then we came home… and then the questions began… and now I am more stressed than I ever thought I would be because I do NOT know where to begin!
Can you tell me if you used a planner? How did you go about getting started? Like you, I have not had this all planned out my entire life, but I want to be super excited (and I am!) but I think I just need to nail down a few specifics before it can feel like its really definitely going to happen! What suggestions do you have for first steps? Looking forward to hearing from you! And thank you SO much for all the great content on your site! I’m sure you are helping a lot of lost gals like myself!
Thank you so much for the kind words. I’m so happy that you’re finding the site helpful! It’s comments like yours that keep me going each day. 🙂 Congratulations on your engagement! I personally did not use a planner but that’s because I have an event planning background and just felt more comfortable doing everything on my own. That being said, if you’re feeling overwhelmed I would definitely recommend that you start by hiring a good wedding planner or a destination wedding travel specialist. The first thing you should determine is what type of wedding venue you want. Do you want to get married in a resort or a different type of venue (i.e. a restaurant, park, etc..)? If you want to get married in a resort, I would recommend you work with an experienced destination wedding travel specialist. They can help you narrow down a resort based on your budget and requirements. They can also arrange all the travel for you and your guests and will put you in contact with the resort’s in-house wedding planner, who will coordinate all the wedding details.
Vacationeeze.com is one of our preferred destination wedding travel specialists (you can contact Jack Benoff and tell him I sent you)…there are many others as well which you can easily find by doing a search in our vendor guide. If you want to get married in a different type of venue that isn’t a resort, I would suggest you hire a really good wedding planner since you won’t have the resort’s in-house planner to lean on.
I also suggest that you browse our real wedding section and more specifically our featured Cancun/Riviera Maya weddings. You can get a lot of ideas from brides who have already had destination weddings in Mexico. Each of our featured weddings has a list of vendors at the end so if you really love a wedding album, you can see who the wedding planner was, the venue, photographer, etc.. and reach out to them. And finally, I suggest you sign up for our newsletter because we send out a lot of really great monthly content that is personalized and will help you with each step in the destination wedding planning process. And you can always contact me with any other questions. Good luck! 🙂
HELLO. DO YOU HAVE THE INFO OF THE HOTEL WEDDING PLANNER WHO HELPED YOU BOOK YOUR CEREMONY IN THE CHAPEL? ALSO HOW FAR OF A RIDE WAS THE GRAN MELIA FORM THE CHAPEL?
Hi Christina – Her name was Denisse Campos Carlos. I don’t know if she’s still working there. The ride from the Gran Melia to the Gran Caribe was like 3 or 5 minutes tops! It’s on the same strip just down the street…super close!
Thanks! And how far away was sandos from the chapel? Did you set up a shuttle for all? And why did you and your guests stay at melia was it nicer or more affordable? Thanks just trying to explore all Options. It can be very overwhelming to start this process with so many great choices! Your blog and responses are a huge help.
Hi Carol –
All three resorts were very nice and were all very different from each other. Sandos is a slightly smaller property and very elegant. The Gran Melia is huge. I chose to have the wedding at Sandos because I fell in love with the gazebo. I made the decision to have all my guests stay at the Gran Melia because I didn’t want them to be in the same resort where we would have the wedding for an entire week. I wanted them to see the wedding venue for the first time on the day of the wedding. I kind of wanted that wow factor and I felt that because Sandos is not that big, and the gazebo is right by the pool they would be seeing it all week long. It was just a personal decision I made. I wanted my guests to see and experience different venues and locations throughout the entire week. I also liked that the Gran Melia was really big with a lot of pools and restaurants so my 60 guests could hang out during the week but could also have their own space if they chose to. I didn’t want a small resort where everyone would be on top of each other all the time. It didn’t hurt that it was also affordable and absolutely gorgeous.
Sandos is also very close to the chapel. All three resorts (Gran Caribe Real Chapel, Sandos and Gran Melia) are on the same strip and only 3-5 minutes away from each other. They’re so close to each other that I walked from one resort to the other during the week for food tastings and site visits (not on the wedding date). For the wedding day, I chartered a bus that took everyone from one venue to the other. Hope this helped:)
Hello again! I hope you don’t mind I keep referring back to this post when I have questions as I plan to book this same venue! What month did you have your wedding? I read April is the best weather month in Cancun not too hot and out of hurricane season. We plan to get married April 2019 but are going to visit the glass chapel this January. Also, how far ahead did you send out invitations? Did you do a save the date? I would like to give our guests a decent amount of time to plan.
Thank you ?
Hi Christina! I totally don’t mind your questions at all. I created this blog to help other destination brides. 🙂 I got married on April 23rd and the weather was amazing. I do remember than when landed in Cancun a week before the wedding (April 17), it was pouring when we arrived at the airport. But it didn’t rain again the rest of the 2 weeks we were there. It was warm but not unbearably hot. The rehearsal dinner and wedding reception were both in the evening and we had the most perfect breeze both nights –everyone danced the night away.
I really like this site: https://www.wunderground.com/history You can look up the historical weather in your destination to see exactly what the temperature has been on that exact day every year in the past.
I sent invitations in October for my April wedding. I wanted to send them out way before the November/December holiday rush. I didn’t want to risk the invitations getting lost in the shuffle.
I did not send out paper Save The Dates. I created a personal wedding website and sent out a link as the save the date – I sent that out as soon as the date/location was locked down which was about 9 months before the wedding. I blogged about my favorite personal wedding websites here: https://destinationweddingdetails.com/destination-wedding-website.html
Hope this helps! 🙂
Yes!! You are gen best thank you thank you thank you!! ?
So glad I came across your blog. Thank you for sharing your wedding photos and all of the tips! That glass chapel is beautiful. Never thought of it. Now I’m going to search for similar chapels for my destination wedding. Thank you!
Thanks Stephanie! I’m so glad you’re enjoying the blog:)
Cythina, first let me say that everything I’ve seen here is just GORGEOUS! Thank you so much for providing all this helpful information. I’ve been searching for something as detailed as this. So glad i found it here. we haven’t officially started planning our wedding, we don’t have a date or anything yet, but I’ve been browsing, just trying to collect information here and there. Your blog has excited me even more!
Thank you for sharing this information. I want to have my ceremony at Gran Caribe too and host my reception at a different hotel. I have a couple of questions…
1. Was it mandatory to host your rehearsal dinner at the Gran Caribe in order for you to have your ceremony there in the chapel?
2. Are the vendor fees at Sandos high?
3. What company did you use for the bus transportation to and from the ceremony site?
Thank you so much for this blog! Your pictures were key in my decision to have my wedding at the Gran Caribe. All of my events will be held at the Gran Caribe and the Hyatt Zilara (formerly THE Royal Cancun). I am in need of some help.
Could you please share your ceremony program with me as I do not know where to begin. A template to follow would be very helpful. Also, would you mind sharing what items you put in your welcome bags?
My wedding is May 24, 2014. Things are moving along very quickly and now I am just working on the little details. Your help will be invaluable.
Thank you very much in advance.
Thank so you much for the in depth reply! Everything you mentioned was exactly the information I was hoping for! You have helped me tremendously by giving such a thoughtful reply. This leads to one more question that I forgot to mention before: How much was the cost for each guest who attended your wedding? Flight/hotel stay and how long did guests stay The resort?
Glad I could help:)
Nearly all my guests stayed in the resort 5-7 days. I negotiated a group rate of $100 per room/per night. So if there were two people sharing a room, they only had to pay $50 each per night. That was a really great deal because it was a beautiful resort (but not all inclusive). The flights were pretty cheap at the time – between $280 – $350 for a round trip ticket.
I am at the beginning stages of planning a wedding, and I was wondering what the total cost was for your Cancun wedding was. It is absolutely stunning! I hope this question isn’t in bad taste- I have yet to set my own budget so I’m just curious. Also, what were your two biggest expenses? Thank you so much,
Thank you so much:) I created this blog to help couples plan their destination wedding, so the question is not in bad taste at all – I’m happy to help.
Before I give you my budget, I have to disclose some info. First of all, I planned my wedding in four different venues. My guest & I all stayed in one resort (Gran Melia) and I hosted a Welcome Reception there. I had the rehearsal dinner and Ceremony in another resort (Gran Caribe Real) and my cocktail hour and reception in a third resort (Le Meridien, now called Sandos). Then after the wedding we headed to a different resort in Playa Del Carmen for the Honeymoon.
The reason I tell you this is because having my wedding in such an unconventional fashion drove up the costs. Had I planned all events in one location my budget would have been slashed in half. I had very specific reasons for doing it in 3 different venues and I had the budget for it but it’s not the way you have to do it.
Ok, so that being said my final budget including EVERY single thing that had to do with the wedding was a little under $20k. That budget included literally EVERYTHING in the list below:
– me/my hubby’s flights
– 2 week hotel accommodations in oceanfront Suite
– Photography (wedding day, trash the dress, and rehearsal dinner)
– Welcome Reception with open bar for all guests
– Rehearsal dinner with 3 course meal, open bar and Fire Dancers
– Cocktail hour
– Reception food & open bar for 5 hours
– Wedding Rings
– Buses to transport guests from one venue to the other and back to their resort
– Special Lighting for the reception gazebo
– I paid extra for the fitted chair covers and organza sashes because they had to be rented from a different city in MX. If I used the ones the hotel has (traditional chair covers & satin sashes) it would have been included in the overall price.
– All decorations
– Custom Monogrammed Aisle Runner
– Grooms Attire
– Welcome Bags
– custom shot glasses
– Flip flops for all guests
– Cuban Cigars for all guests
– Marriage License
– Guest Book
– 5 hour DJ & Emcee
– Flowers (ceremony, reception, bouquets, boutonnieres)
My single biggest expense was Photography – it accounted for 25% of my budget. I flew my photographer in from the U.S. and she has a price tag that is hefty but worth every single penny. The photography also included a trash the dress photo shoot on the beach the day after the wedding and she shot my rehearsal dinner too. She was beyond awesome.
My second biggest expense was the reception dinner/drinks.
Third biggest expense was the rehearsal dinner
Fourth expense was flights & 2 week hotel accommodations for me and my hubby.
And the fifth biggest expense was our wedding rings.
Those five expenses accounted for 80% of my budget.
I also paid for hotel/accommodations for a few of my guests and my bridesmaid dresses. It’s not necessary to do that at all, but I had a little bit of money left in the budget and just wanted to help out a few people who were really important to me.
I honestly think you can have a wedding like mine for under $10k because I splurged on a lot of extra stuff that were a priority to me but probably wouldn’t be for most couples. Even if you strip a lot of those extras you would still have a gorgeous wedding.
This was a lot of info but I really hope you found it helpful:)