A beach wedding can be a beautiful and romantic choice, but there are some practical considerations which are important not to overlook when planning your perfect ocean-front wedding.
Picking a beach:
When trying to decide on a location, think first about how far you and your guests are really willing to travel. If you want to ensure that most of your friends and family can attend, a destination wedding to a beach in the Bahamas may not be the best choice. You also want to avoid crowded, tourist-filled beaches. State parks are often good choices; they are cleaner, more natural, and not overflowing with tourist shops and salt water taffy vendors.
Don’t forget to find out if a beach has bathroom facilities available, or if you will have to bring in porta-potties. Also note how far parking is from your intended ceremony site; some of your guests may have difficulty walking any significant distance through sand.
Picking a date and time:
Tropical locations usually have a rainy season, which you will obviously want to avoid. It is also especially a good idea to avoid holiday weekends, when larger numbers of people often flock to the ocean.
It is wise to time your ceremony for the morning or early evening hours. The sun is strongest from a little after noon to 3:00, and can make both you and your guests miserable. If you have your heart set on a midday ceremony, make sure to provide some sort of shade for your guests.
Consider having your ceremony around sunset. The temperature is cooler, and the sunset can provide a great backdrop for photos, especially if you are on a west facing coast where you can watch the sun set over the ocean.
Formal wedding attire generally won’t work well for a beach wedding. Heavy, floor-length bridal gowns can become extremely cumbersome in the sand, tuxedos can be stifling, and high-heeled shoes are nearly impossible to walk in. Make your beach wedding slightly less formal; you don’t have to get married in a cotton sundress (though you certainly can!), but choose a lighter, more breathable fabric and a slightly higher hemline. Men can wear khakis with a button down shirt, or even shorts and a T-shirt if that’s your style!
You also want to keep in mind that the wind can be pretty active at the beach. This is not the place for that long, flowing veil (unless you can find a way to pin it down securely.) It’s also a good idea to keep the wind in mind when choosing a hairstyle.
When deciding where to set up your seats, pay attention to both the sun and the wind. You won’t want the wind whipping up sand into guests’ faces, nor do you want them blinded by the setting sun. It is often a good idea to do a trial run or two…set up a couple of beach chairs around the time of day you plan on getting married and sit in them for a half hour or so to see if you notice any issues.
If you plan on having a ceremony during the middle of the day, you should seriously consider using a tent to provide shade. At the very least, plan on having plenty of water available and small tubes of sunscreen for your guests. (You should also not be hurt or offended if particularly sun-sensitive people bring their own umbrella during your ceremony.)
Also, don’t forget to check on the tide. If the tide is coming in during your proposed ceremony time and you put your chairs too close to the water, you may find your feet getting wet before you make it to the I do’s!
When choosing chairs, stay away from dark or metal chairs, which can get hot enough to burn in the summer sun. White plastic folding chairs are a pretty and economical choice. If you like, you can decorate the backs with ribbon bows.
Beach ceremonies are no different than other outdoor ceremonies, and are subject to the whims of the weather. Even if it hasn’t rained a drop during any June of the past seventeen years at your location, there is no guarantee that it won’t rain THIS June. Rather than worry endlessly up until the actual moment of the ceremony, make sure you have a backup plan. A nearby hall, pavilion, or tent will alleviate any weather-induced stress.
Planning the ceremony:
Many destination wedding locations provide a sort of all-in-one package, where you choose from a set of options. This can make planning a wedding ceremony in a distant location much more simple, especially since the wedding planner should be familiar with what works and what doesn’t in their location. If you are working out all the details yourself, it is a good idea to get advice from someone who has been involved with a beach wedding. Certain flowers will hold up better than others in the heat and salt air.
You should also keep in mind that the background noise of the ocean will make it much harder to hear. It is often difficult to hear a couple say their vows in a silent church; if you have added wave and seagull noise, it would make sense to rent a small PA system. Or, if you don’t like the idea of using a microphone, practice projecting your voice beforehand (and maybe still have the officiant use the microphone.) Don’t forget that your PA system will need to be powered somehow…there are battery powered systems available that you may be able to rent.
Food and/or reception:
Many couples prefer to plan a beach ceremony, followed by an indoor or tented reception. Of course, there is no reason you can’t have a reception on the beach as well (as long as your location allows it,) but be aware that sand may get in the food and dancing will be difficult without a hard surface. Caterers should be able to advise you on the best types of food to serve at a beach wedding, or you could just do a BBQ or clambake. If you plan on serving alcohol or having small children present, do be aware of the danger of drowning and find a way to ensure that drunk guests or small children are kept out of the water. Since the reception is usually significantly longer than the wedding ceremony, you will need to pay even closer attention to the tide tables to ensure everything stays dry.
A beach wedding is by its very nature more relaxed and public than other weddings. Most beaches are public spaces, and you will not be able to stop people from walking by during your ceremony. You may even have children building sand castles nearby; make sure you are aware of and comfortable with this sort of thing beforehand. If you are planning a beach reception on a public beach, think about how you can deal with potential wedding crashers. (Also, be aware that most public beaches will not issue permits for alcohol, and you will need to make sure all trash is picked up afterward. )
It is a good idea to communicate appropriate footwear suggestions to all your guests beforehand. Not everyone will realize that high heels are a poor choice, and others may not realize that the sand can be uncomfortably hot to go barefoot on. Suggest that people bring flipflops or sandals.
Seagulls are easily attracted by food; yet another reason to consider hosting your reception inside a tent or other location. For the same reason, avoid throwing birdseed and opt for bubbles or flower petals instead.
When choosing a photographer, make sure you choose one that is knowledgeable with outdoor photography. Outdoor photography can be significantly different from indoor photography, and you want to make sure your photographer has had experience photographing outdoor weddings.
With a little extra planning, a beach ceremony and/or reception can be a beautiful and memorable experience, one that you will remember for the rest of your life.