By Philip Hall, August 2017 Issue.
When it comes to pulling off a successful same-sex destination wedding, professional event planners Tim Smith and Dan Donohue of Eventi Productions will be the first to tell you, “this shit ain’t easy, gurrll!”
After seven years of playing “is he the one?” the two San Franciscans tied their own knot this summer in Pozzo della Chiana, a quaint Tuscan hilltop town overlooking the scenic river valley sandwiched between Cortona and Arezzo, Italy.
The weeklong wedding festivities were a huge success, but that doesn’t mean it went off without a hitch.
“The planning process began in fall of 2015, which was key to giving us the time we needed to get all the pieces of this crazy puzzle assembled,” Smith said, sipping his third glass of prosecco during a sunset dinner they hosted at the Villa Fontelunga bed and breakfast they booked for close friends. “But don’t for a second think it was easy.”
From selecting the ideal location more than two years in advance and performing multiple site visits to dealing with remote vendors and navigating the often-overlooked impact cultural differences and communication barriers can have on the final result, let’s just say there’s a reason Under the Tuscan Sun is classified as a romantic comedy.
Having received a coveted invite to the summer soiree, I thought it prudent to share some of their lessons learned in this quick list of destination wedding do’s and don’ts, specifically tailored for same-sex couples.
Do select a venue that’s known for being LGBTQ friendly. If the owners are LGBTQ, even better! Not only is it nice to support our extended family around the world, their acceptance and understanding helps eliminate any pushback or awkwardness around potential unconventional requests, like clothing-optional pool time or the need for Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” to play on continuous loop in the common areas.
Don’t select a venue in a major city or you’ll be a small fish in a big pond and receive less bang for your buck. Take over a small city or town 30-45 minutes away from a major metro for a few days and you can still access all the vendors of the city, just on your own terms. It’s more personable, and local restaurants, caterers and vendors are willing to do more for less, because they value your business. And don’t worry about the extra travel time for your guests; If you’re having them schlep across continents and oceans, taking public transport, a cab, or renting a car to get another 30 minutes out of a congested city center isn’t too hard or costly and is totally worth it.
Do hire a wedding planner who speaks your native tongue and who is based in the nearest major city to where you’re planning the celebration.
“Our local planners Elizabeth and Ann from Original Tuscan Wedding were our ground infantry and conduit to the multitude of moving pieces,” said Donohue. “The time difference was a huge burden, and having them coordinate on our behalf during local business hours was totally worth the expense.”
Don’t assume the weather is going to cooperate. Try your best to pick a time of year when the weather is most consistent and comfortable, but have a backup plan ready when weather forecasts are fine-tuned the weeks before the main event. Parasols and hand fans are a cheap and easy way to prevent your gaggle of gays from melting in extreme heat. Tents, umbrellas, and an option to move everything indoors will help with surprise showers.
Do plan multiple events and activities. Your closest family and friends are spending good time and money to celebrate your nuptials, the least you can do is spend time with them. A welcome dinner, a themed white party, morning-after brunch, etc., will give you ample time to schmooze with your guests and for your guests to schmooze with each other. You can also plan sightseeing, wine tasting, lunch outings, shopping trips, cooking classes, museums visits and more. Calendar various activities and arrange for shuttles if needed, and let your guests opt-in to pay for whatever floats their boat. Not only will this make your wedding more memorable, but everyone will get to know each other, which makes for a kickass wedding reception. Prorate the shuttle fees and include that in the per person cost you send to your guests so you’re wedding budget doesn’t take the hit.
Don’t overbook yourself. Try your best to keep your calendar clear the three months prior to your same-sex destination wedding, because you will inevitably underestimate the amount of time and energy required to get everything done leading up to the big event.
Do get everything in writing. Most of your communications with venues, your wedding planners and vendors will be via phone and email, but when decisions are finalized, get your agreed upon terms in writing. More often than not, you’ll find out about a surcharge or unforeseen rental fee at the last minute and you’ll want to reference those emails when you put your foot down and say “we didn’t agree to that.”
Don’t be overly prescriptive about wedding attire. A lot of guests will extend their stay a few days on either end of your wedding, making luggage space a premium. If you ask them to bring a special outfit, color or style of clothing and they can’t easily wear it again on the trip, then you’ll hear grumblings. Pick a slightly vague dress code like “garden elegance” and people will interpret that how they want. Besides, nobody is ever kicked out of a wedding for being underdressed, so relieve your guests of all the pressure of “black tie” because that’s just a pain in the ass to procure and pack.
Do make sure 100 percent of your guests are comfortable with the “gay” part of your same-sex destination wedding. I know, I know, what a Debbie Downer perspective in this age of acceptance and tolerance, but if you’ve got multiple generations coming, straight cousins with little kids, and once or twice removed relatives closer to your parents than you; bathhouse-talk and after-hours party antics might make some uncomfortable. They wouldn’t be there if they didn’t love and support you, but since they can’t just drive home when the activities of the day wind down, it’s always a good idea to make sure your destination wedding is universally inclusive and a good time for all attending.
Whether you choose to tie the knot Italian Wedding style or opt to get Maui’d in the islands, destination weddings don’t need to break the bank to be amazing, but any problems you can’t throw money at are going to require more planning and research on your part. If all else fails, make sure you have loads of food and large quantities of liquor and you’ll be fine. Oh, and don’t forget to stock up on tissues and waterproof mascara, because there wont be a dry eye in the house!