Tips For Tropical Weddings From An Expert Coordinator In Costa Rica

Posted by FunkyTown Photography on February 18th 2015

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Victoria, British Columbia Photographer N/A

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I’ve spent the last four years photographing some beautiful destination weddings in Costa Rica, often teaming up with one of the world’s best wedding coordinators, Larissa Banting from Weddings Costa Rica. I’ve seen first-hand how an expert wedding coordinator can ensure couples and their guests have the best wedding possible, especially with all of the additional considerations and hitches that can happen in a tropical climate.

I asked Larissa to lend some of her expertise about organizing a tropical wedding in any destination (including my favourite place, Costa Rica).

Q: Tell us more about you and your business:

I was a film publicist and event producer in Canada for many years and I first came to Costa Rica in 2001 on a film shoot. During that trip, I met and fell in love with one of the local actors. I left everything behind to move down and we were married on the beach where we’d first met. This was before the internet was popular and blogs were unheard of so planning my wedding was rife with challenges, even though I lived here. I wanted to make the experience for other couples easier and I started Weddings Costa Rica in 2002, marrying my background in production with my knowledge of Costa Rica. We’re now the largest wedding design and planning firm that’s full-time in Costa Rica.

The market has changed greatly in our 12 years of business – when I started, there were only one or two other destination wedding planners here. Now, I can’t even begin to count how many there are! Competition is healthy for any industry, though, and the popularity of destination weddings and Costa Rica as a location continues to grow so I think there is a planner for every client. I’m a firm believer in creating your own ‘blue ocean’. I feel Weddings Costa Rica is unique as we are the complete package of creative designers and detailed planners, as often, you’re one or the other. My parents were event producers and I grew up in an atmosphere surrounded by ethnic culture – my family mounted massive productions like shows for the Montreal Olympics and the Commonwealth Games as well as multi-day festivals so I’m convinced they passed along some kind of planning gene. I was a professional dancer and choreographer for years before moving into event production and film/television so this duality of creativity mixed with obsessing over timelines and budgets.
Many of our clients are busy professionals who want a wedding that celebrates their uniqueness. I think our success has been partially due to our ability to read the ‘tea leaves’ and uncover what the client is envisioning, even if it’s not clear to them. We ask a lot of probing questions to discover what makes each couple tick, their likes and dislikes, those little things that may seem insignificant but can be explored to put their particular stamp on the celebrations. Then we put our creative spin on things and offer up various ideas. I love my job because no wedding is ever the same!

Q: As a professional wedding planner, what can a couple expect from hiring a professional like yourself?

Our jobs as wedding planners is to guide couples through the maze of planning the most expensive party they are likely to ever throw. The average wedding takes 250 hours to plan and most couples simply don’t have this time to devote to planning. If you’re planning a destination wedding, trying to find reliable vendors is akin to searching for a needle in a haystack as everything looks good in the internet! A professional wedding planner will listen to the client about what they want and what they don’t want. From there, they will make suggestions for locations, vendors as well as give creative ideas. A planner is there to give etiquette tips and act as the neutral third party to smooth over any dicey situations (and when something as emotional as a wedding is involved, it happens more often than not). Having someone who is not emotionally invested in the wedding allows for a clear perspective, someone to be the reality check when the heart starts to rule over the head, someone to give experienced wisdom on where to cut back on the budget and where you can splurge.

We are your accountant, designer, Miss Manners, producer, director, Little Black Book, concierge and psychologist all rolled into one.

I’m always amazed by couples who will spend large amounts on a location, photographer, decor yet balk about paying a professional wedding planner. Who do they expect to keep things running on time, to deal with the situations that arise (and trust me, they do despite all the planning), the questions about timing (when do we cut the cake? do the first dance?), get the bridal party lined up and down the aisle, cue the musicians, make sure the decor is as they envisioned, the seating cards are set up, the vendors are on time and with the correct items, keep an eye on the bar tab, ensure the food is coming out of the kitchen on time and hot? There are a million details on the wedding day that someone has to be overseeing. I think the most telling email I ever received was from a bride who’d opted to not hire us. After her wedding, she wrote me to say “not hiring you was the biggest mistake I made.”

You hire an accountant to do your taxes and a mechanic to change you oil, which are all jobs you could do yourself but they’re messy, complicated and in the end, you’re not saving any money. The same can be said about hiring a wedding planner. We’re here to save you time, money, frustration and ensure thing run smoothly.

Q: Tell us about some of the more innovative guest gift ideas, particularly for couples who are bringing lots of guests in from abroad?

I think it’s a great idea to feature something that’s locally made. Some of our favourite items include handmade, custom painted coffee mugs accompanied with personalized bags of the coffee Costa Rica is so famous for, traditional chorreadors (Costa Rican drip coffee makers), small boxes carved out of exotic woods and chocolate truffles made from organic cocao.

Q: Transporting the dress from abroad can be stressful for a bride, do you have any tips?

Sadly, the days of having your dress hung up in First Class if you’re travelling Coach are long gone. And trying to place a dress bag in an overhead bin so it won’t be damaged can be risky. One thing for sure – never never never pack your wedding dress into your checked luggage (or your wedding shoes or veil or any other important accessory). We’ve had couples whose luggage was MIA for two weeks. The Association of Wedding Gown Specialists sell a travel box for wedding gowns that fits into an overhead bin. My clients have been very happy with this box and I highly recommend it!

Q: What are a few things couples should be aware of when planning a wedding in the tropics?

DRESS: Think about where you’re getting married. A big, Cinderella ballgown is not a great idea for a tropical beach wedding – light, natural fabrics in a more streamlined dress work best. We had a bride almost faint in her tight-fitting, polyester mermaid gown with tonnes of tulling. We were putting ice-cubes down her dress during the photo session as she was so overheated!

Also think about your shoes since heels and sand don’t mix well If your dress needs heels, consider having a pair of platform flipflops for the beach ceremony.

And please, for the love of all that is good and holy, don’t make your guys wear a tux on the beach! They’ll be hot sweaty messes and unhappy campers. If you must have a suit, opt for a light linen/cotton 2-piece. A nice Guayabera shirt and linen slacks look dressy yet are super comfy.

CAKE: Keep in mind that the tropics are hot and humid with most event spaces being open-aired. Buttercream icing will melt in a matter of minutes so icing needs to be fondant or marzipan, as they can withstand the conditions. Cakes need to be kept in an air-conditioned location (never a refrigerator!) and displayed as close to reception time as possible as they will start to get soft. An experienced cake maker will place dowels within the cake to support the heavy layers so it doesn’t start to pull a leaning tower of Pisa as the cake starts to warm up and shift.

Another problem here are sugar ants, which are teeny tiny ants that show up in the millions when there’s food. Store the cake on top of glasses sitting in plates of water and spray the table area with insect repellent before displaying the cake.

FLOWERS: Costa Rica grows a wide range of flowers, from roses to orchids, Birds of Paradise to hydrangeas. If you’re having an outdoor event, there are some flowers that don’t have the staying power for heat and sun – blooms such as cala lilles, hydrangeas and roses shrivel under the sun’s strong rays. If you’re having a beach ceremony, the florist should set up the flowers in the last hour or so to minimize the sun damage.

MAKEUP: Less is more when it comes to makeup in the tropics. A good primer, waterproof foundation and waterproof mascara are all must-haves. Oil blotting powder is a girl’s best friend as well. Nix the beige lipstick for the wedding as it will show up blah in the photos. Pack oil-blotting sheets and stash them in your wedding day purse as you’ll need blot throughout the photo session. I highly recommend hiring a professional makeup artist and if you can find someone who does airbrush, go for it as the makeup stays put beautifully.

HAIR: It’s a sad fact but those long, loose sexy curls become straggly within minutes of hitting the humidity and heat. It will happen so please, find another hairstyle. A low bun or loose updo not only stays neat throughout the celebrations but it will keep you cool. And be sure to pack an anti-humidity or smoothing product to keep those luscious locks under control.

CLIMATE: We have two seasons in Costa Rica – the Dry Season (our summer) which runs December – April and the Green Season or Rainy Season (our winter) from May to November. The sun is strong here, as we’re so close the Equator so be sure to provide some shade and water for guests during the ceremony. In the Northern Pacific area of Guanacaste, we experience very high winds from December through March so outdoor events need to plan for this with decor (ie no tall floral arrangements, use electric candles, secure linens, reconsider long veils).

During the Green Season, plan for rain during your event. You will likely not see much but you never know. The weather changes on a dime here and a tropical rainstorm is like being under a torrent. Have a tent or a covered area.

TIMING: As we’re so close to the Equator, sunset is usually between 5:20 – 6:00 PM. The sun before 4 PM is very strong so we usually plan ceremonies for 4 PM, which allows for a photo session with the softening light after the ceremony is over.

Unless you’re having your reception in an enclosed room or in a location that is not close to hotels or other villas, the music cut off is 10 PM. This may seem earlier but keep in mind that the heat and humidity, in addition to busy travel schedules, beach time, tours and pre-wedding partying, tend to make people tire easily. An after-party in the pool is always popular.

Q: Where should a couple start when choosing a venue for their wedding?

When choosing a venue for your wedding, think about the atmosphere you want: do you want to marry on the beach or somewhere overlooking the ocean but not touching sand? Do you want to be in a garden?

What kind of setting do you want for your reception – an enclosed air-conditioned room or an open-aired terrace? Poolside or on a lawn by a beach? Do you want to be in a villa or at a hotel or at a beach club? How many people are you anticipating? How much traveling do you want your guests to do from the airport? And which airport are they going to fly into?

And finally, I’d take site fees into consideration as they vary widely from venue to venue. I’ve seen couples who fall in love with an expensive location, leaving very little money for the rest of the wedding. While you can cut back on some areas, my recommendation is to find a happy middle ground so you’re not resorting to peanut and butter sandwiches at a 5-star location because the budget is blown.

And if you’re in love with a remote location, instead of dragging 80 of your family and friends along, perhaps chose a more accessible spot and honeymoon in your dream location instead.

Q: Where are your favourite venues in Costa Rica?

We have 13 micro-climates here so couples have a wide range of options from beaches to mountains, rainforests to cloudforests and even volcanoes and jungles! Asking me to choose one or two locations is like asking a mother to decide who is her favourite child.

If I have to choose, I’d say one of my favourite venues has to be the stunning Zephyr Palace just outside of Jaco beach area. Situated on the top of a mountain, it has a commanding view of the rainforest and Pacific Ocean and the Nicoya Penninsula across the strait. It’s architecture is a unique mashup of Grecian Revivalist with Tropical Victorian and there is simply nothing else in the world like it.

I also love the private villa Punto de Vista in Manuel Antonio, with its clean, Bauhaus-influenced lines featuring exotic wood and local stone inlays. It’s 5th floor terrace has a breathtaking view of one of the most gorgeous beaches on Earth.

- Christina Craft

Photographer Contact Information

Victoria, British Columbia Photographer N/A

See This Photographer's Website

Photographer Bio

Christina Craft

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