This post is my reflection-confession-review of one amazing destination wedding. Although it was written in April 2012, I’ve kept all the points up to date, so dig in, I promise you’ll find it relevant. Since my own wedding, my wonderful husband Rob & I have photographed nearly 100 weddings at Jellyfish and have also been back to Dreams Palm Beach more times than I can count. I sincerely hope it will help other brides prepare for & enjoy their Wedding. For all others, I’ll try to be somewhat entertaining!
Yes, it’s exactly like they say – over in a blink of an eye. By the time it was my turn to be a Bride, I had photographed 84 weddings. I thought I was as prepared as can be, but YOUR OWN WEDDING is a whole different beast!
We hosted nearly 50 of our close friends & family at a resort that remains one of our faves on the island, Dreams Palm Beach. We picked it for the following reasons: 1) one of the best value for money resorts in Punta Cana; 2) small & intimate, easy to run into each other without planning to meet; 3) fantastic food & no dinner reservations required; 4) no bracelets. at all! (at some resorts, like Barcelo Palace Deluxe for example, some of the guests can get ‘segregated’ because of the ‘class’ of their bracelet – so you won’t be able to hang out together in some areas… so silly!); 5) Dreams mostly cater to North American visitors – alas a great friendly crowd all around & great service from the staff; 6) kid-friendly & lots of great activities; 7) beautiful beach & surroundings; 8) very affordable outside photography fee or none at all (ask me about it); 9) close to the airport & Jellyfish restaurant (15-20 min drive).
In case you don’t already know, Rob & I made Punta Cana our home in October 2011 (we now spend about 8 months a year here). On the morning of April 12th (2012) there was something we were looking forward to even more than our wedding day … the arrival of some of our favourite people in the world, who were to get off the bus AT THE SAME TIME. We had photographed two back to back weddings on the 10th & 11th AND did a Rock the Dress shoot at sunrise before galloping to the lobby to finally start our wedding week. Happy tears, hugs & laughter. It was so surreal and totally magical!!!!
Rob & I have photographed weddings at Dreams many times & were really excited to spend a whole week being guests there. We’re a bit spoiled because we get to visit a lot of beautiful resorts and venues – but let me tell you, everything was superb. Of course there are always small things to complain about, but the staff really do their best to serve – above & beyond many other resorts here in Punta Cana.
WHY WE GOT MARRIED OFF-RESORT
The Dreams team does a good job with the weddings, but let me tell you, we were soooo happy to have our wedding off-resort property. All our guests felt the same way. Every afternoon there are at least 2-3 wedding receptions being set up in the pool & beach areas, right among the pool-bound guests. There are always a few brides running around the resort on most days. Many of our guests commented that the resort is a bit of a ‘wedding factory’ … and what we did (at Jellyfish) was much more special. I don’t mean to knock resort weddings in this post, just sharing my honest thoughts and feelings … Rob & I happen to see many MANY weddings here and wanted something different.
More reasons: 1) many of your guests might think your wedding is part of the ‘all-inclusive experience,’ whereas in reality, it’s costing you thousands of dollars; so why not spend the same money doing something a little more unique; 2) if it rains, your wedding is moved to a bare conference room; 3) sun goes down shortly after 6 pm and it often gets uncomfortably chilly & very windy, especially the closer you are to the beach; 4) whether you’re doing a plated dinner or a buffet, if the reception is outside, the food gets cold fast; 5) for resort receptions, party is over at 11 pm or earlier, whether you want it or not; 6) if your wedding is pool-side, you can sometimes hear the nightly entertainment for regular guests happening near the lobby, which can also diminish the experience for you and your wedding guests; 7) the decor will be extremely simple / minimal, they do not have trained talented decorators on the team (so if unique decor is important to you, that’s yet another reason to consider an off-resort venue).
Having said all that – the weddings at Dreams Palm Beach are fantastic and all the ‘little things’ I’m mentioning might not bother you at all!
1. Jellyfish, in my humble opinion, is THE best venue on the entire island. It’s one of the most beautiful spaces you will find in Punta Cana – gorgeous decor, beachfront, private feel, stunning beach – I could go on and on. Even more importantly, it’s a well-oiled machine and they really know how to make even the most demanding Bride happy.
2. Mayte Mari is a creative genius, the most talented and hard-working wedding planner we’ve EVER worked with. Hands down. She’s not there anymore though and has moved on to work independently in Punta Cana. Still yet, the owners Gabriel & Isaac, decorators Gianna & Clara, and the staff are phenomenal and that makes all the difference.
3. Our wedding felt much more special because we were the only ones there – no onlookers in pictures, unlike at most resorts.
4. It’s nice NOT to share the spotlight with a bunch of other brides on your Big Day.
5. Mayte came up with and took care of many unique elements that a resort wedding coordinator simply wouldn’t pull off! I mean … there was electricity in my gazebo!
6. Regardless of the weather, your wedding will be perfect. No surprises. No moving locations feverishly or checking the forecast (which isn’t accurate half the time anyway!)
7. Our guests LOVED the adventure – seeing a place other than the resort, building the anticipation on the bus ride (which is only 20 mins by the way).
8. Transportation is arranged by Jellyfish – it’s very comfortable, affordable and reliable.
9. The food is unreal. Cocktail hour – we got mozza sticks/spinach pockets/vegetarian spoons – so good. Wedding dinner: caprese salad & calamari for appetizers, main course – seabass with lemon butter sauce, chicken with mushroom sauce and langostinos with a baked potato … these were the biggest hit and the presentation is incredible. Rob & I are total foodies (especially me!) – we loved that Jellyfish invite all their wedding couples for a tasting. If you can, really take advantage of this.
10) Jellyfish work with the best vendors in Punta Cana – entertainers, florists, bakers, musicians, etc. Here’s a shot from the ‘crazy show’ – you will not regret getting this. Your guests will be blown away!
These brilliant capoeira dancers…
And of course the Fire Show – absolutely a must and a great way to get the guests enjoying the cool evening breeze! My advice is to surprise everyone with this right after dinner. Get them drinking and moving! These guys get better and better every time.
11. Jellyfish prices are very fair, especially compared to what you pay at a resort. Worth every penny.
12. I’m sure there are other reasons, but that will do. If you think I missed any, please let me know!! 🙂
We fought long & hard to have our sunrise 6 am ceremony. Our guests said we were crazy, Dreams Palm Beach said it was impossible. Mayte was the only one who saw our vision! By the time Dreams reluctantly agreed, we knew Jellyfish was the best option. I won’t lie, getting up at 4 am wasn’t easy or fun. My amazing girlfriends Margo & Beauty had to get up at 3 am to make themselves look presentable and then come over to do my hair & make-up. Once we put some music on and opened a bottle of champagne though, things were looking up and the butterflies in my stomach were beginning to feel festive. At this point I really feel compelled to mention that if you attempt this, be prepared for emotions & nerves running higher than ever. It was pitch black and even this close to the wedding ceremony, my parents found a way to make me bawl on the way to Jellyfish. Of course it was silly and they didn’t mean it, but for me, it remains absolutely, positively the most brutal, stressful and painful memory of the Day.
Thanks to our amazing photographers (Nordica), looking at the image below, you wouldn’t think there was any tension at all.
My girlfriend Margo did a better job on my hair at 4:30 am than the Dreams Spa girls did later on that day (after I napped & hung out in the pool, it needed re-doing). I wouldn’t recommend the spa – since my wedding, two amazing make-up & hair artists have moved to Punta Cana: Anna Nuet & Krystie Ann. Look them up and book one of them, they are off the hook awesome.
I was really nervous for the bus to get to the resort on time. 5:45 am. Everyone made it. An important detail to remember? Champagne.
Our sleepy guests got to Jellyfish just before 6 am and started enjoying coffee & Baileys. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the breathtaking ceremony site – my knees went weak, it was so beautiful. The clouds lifted for the most spectacular sunrise I’ve ever seen.
We got seriously lucky – because minutes before we got there, it was spitting rain and the gusts of wind were so strong, Mayte was scared it would blow HER away, along with all her hard work.
As the guests were settling in on the white pillows and shielding their faces from the sand – we looped Deva Premal’s Gayatri mantra, one of the most powerful yogic mantras, a beautiful prayer to the ‘giver of light & life,’ the sun (savitur). This was a tribute to our passion and lifestyle – you might know that we are also yoga teachers.
One of our dearest friends, Sugar, played guitar as I walked down the aisle. The ceremony was symbolic – our hilarious Italian friend Tony married us. He was there when we met & fell in love, he was also the first person to say ‘those two are gonna get married’ – we had known each other for just a few days at that point. Having a symbolic ceremony is really the way to go – not having to deal with the judge/pastor and their restrictions as well as having all legal documentation translated (which must be done according to the Dominican law) is AWESOME. It will save you money and stress, so just get married at home before you come. (We went to Vegas and got married by Elvis – that was our anti-wedding!)
Throughout the whole ceremony, I was shaking like a leaf. Everything felt so surreal. I just wanted to somehow pause everything, including the sunrise, and go sit on one of the pillows as one of the guests. The wind only added to the drama – it was everything I had dreamed of … it was more.
My Manolo Blahniks kept sinking into the sand, I clung onto Rob for dear life. I kept reminding myself to look around and catch as many loving glances as I could. I witness so many of our couples getting through their ceremony never looking at their family and friends… Guess what! All eyes are on you. Look around & take in the love.
What we missed: totally forgot the sand ceremony (Rob’s parents were supposed to bring sand from a North Coast beach where Rob proposed to me & the other sand was supposed to be from our favourite beach here in Punta Cana). We also missed our personal vows! Well, perfect reason to do a vow renewal for one of our anniversaries.
Our guests LOVED the ceremony. Everyone said it was definitely worth waking up for! We stayed at Jellyfish for a little less than an hour after the ceremony. Sugar played guitar. We hugged, drank mimosas and took some family pictures. Then back on the bus!!
It was really important to us to hang out with our loved ones on the wedding day and actually have time to enjoy their company as much as humanly possible. As soon as we got to Dreams, everyone went for buffet breakfast. The staff were very accommodating and got a few tables together for us.
Here’s my favourite shot of my bouquet, at the breakfast table while everyone is busy filling their plates. I was a little upset when I saw it first… It was supposed to be white peonies & feathers. These were coming from Miami and were late getting through customs. Oh well. So, if you want something specific – make sure you order your flowers well ahead of time. Also, don’t be bent out of shape if it’s not what you expected. This is Dominican Republic!
I LOVED my couture Amy Michelson wedding gown, all ivory silk & lace. I loved it so much. Rob & I picked it out together at a boutique in Las Vegas the day after we eloped. We spent such a long time at the store, I didn’t want to take it off. (Huge thank you to my parents for gifting us with it, among many other things!)
The only thing I regret is that the cup liners in it were too big and I never really noticed it until I moved in it. It made me look like I have huge knockers! Which isn’t entirely a bad thing. So, wear your dress for more than 5 minutes and really feel if there’s anything that needs attention. I’ve photographed brides than had to re-tape their breasts with duck tape every couple of hours, brides whose dresses were so tight they could barely sit, etc etc. Your wedding dress must make you feel amazing and still let you be you… (or a version of you with much larger boobies!) Oh, I also had it altered to have the slit raised 3 inches. (Between you & me, Rob said that he has a new-found appreciation for my legs after he’s seen me rock that dress all day.. yay!)
The vintage two-piece garter was from Nano Rose Designs on Etsy. It’s the prettiest garter design I’ve seen.
My birdcage veil was a special design by the beautiful & talented Tessa Kim.
I borrowed the pearl earrings from my mom and got my gorgeous bracelet from an uber talented designer (I swear we’re going to be good friends one day!) – Red-I by Chelsea. For all your destination wedding jewelry / beach bling needs – look no further. She is the star. The attention to detail, quality & good ole LOVE she puts into her business and her art is amazing. She also designed a pair of ‘barefoot jewels’ for me – I’m heartbroken these were among the few things that were lost in the chaos of our wedding and/or endless bags and suitcases of stuff. Especially if you’re up for a Trash (Rock) the Dress or Underwater shoot, those are a must.
My Manolo heels … felt like slippers. Well, until about 9 pm and then barefoot was the only way. (I had the same pair as Carrie from Sex & the City).
After breakfast, we came back to the room and collapsed for about an hour. It was supposed to be a 5-minute snuggle nap … and I had fallen asleep in my dress & veil.
I was a little delusional to think that I would be keeping up with my daily yoga practice on my wedding week. I am, however, really grateful for this image. P.S. Not to be a smarty-pants, but inversions bring fresh blood to the brain and are great if you need a pick-me-up. Of course there’s also coffee and mimosas.
It felt so good to shed my wedding gown for a couple of hours!
This is one of my absolute favourite pictures of Rob. While I was hanging out at the pool, he was busy moving our wedding things to the awesome honeymoon suite the girls & I were to get ready in.
Some fun at the spa with the girls. They come prepared.
Sugar played me down the aisle on his guitar. And I don’t remember hearing a thing – probably a combination of the strong wind & my nerves. It was so amazing to shut everything out and hear the song he wrote for us. I loved that we made time for that.
We promised we wouldn’t give each other gifts. But I couldn’t resist.
The guys got Dominican cigars. The girls got Dominican coconut oil (for skin & soul). Small but meaningful gifts.
There’s an old Eastern European wedding tradition – the ‘stealing of the Bride’. I barely had a chance to munch on a spinach pocket – the mc’s (two of my closest girlfriends) had me carried away! This is also my favourite shot of my Manolo heels.
Picking up speed in stilettos (they raised about $1000 for me!). I love my friends.
Mayte’s beautiful decorations…
We’ve wanted to invest into a photobooth for some time. These are always such a big hit at weddings we’ve seen in the the States & Canada! (Huge thank you to our friends Dale & Meredith of Benfield Photography who brought this 50 lbs thing for us!) This state of the art system is now here in Punta Cana and we are ready to start offering it to our brides!! Seriously, there’s no better way to spend a cocktail hour and/or breaks from eating and dancing at the reception than at the PHOTOBOOTH! HERE is what the pictures look like. For my brides – we still have this PhotoBooth and offer it at all our weddings. The photos would be up in a private link within 48 hours of your wedding.
This one is a little creepy, but cute.
For the guest favours we chose sand & shell wine stoppers from Advantage Bridal. These are beautiful and functional gifts, everyone was excited to take one home.
We also had a ‘hot sauce bar’ because at the time, we were a little bit fanatical about spicing up our food. So, we asked our guests to bring us one that was either a) their favourite; b) was in a cool bottle; c) one that they remembered to pack. We only got a few, but luckily we had quite an extensive collection at home, especially after our trip to New Orleans! Since then we’ve slowed down on the spicy stuff, as it’s not very good for you 🙂
The reception was amazing. Rob & I wanted to have a table for just two of us – we had spent the entire day attending to our family & friends, making sure everyone was happy & having a good time – we just wanted to eat in peace. This set-up is also great for pictures & video – and your loved ones aren’t that far away. I would highly recommend this.
It was really something to be on the other side this time. Normally, during speeches, I’m crouching down, on my knees, with tense shoulders and sore wrists, shooting and shedding some tears along with the bride. I savored every moment of speeches meant for us. It was so touching and emotional.
There was also a lot of laughter… and surprises…
We used the resident DJ’s at Jellyfish and they were great. We just gave them a list of songs NOT to play (we blacklisted ‘ymca’, ‘i got a feeling’, and any country songs) and kept giving them suggestions as the night went on. I know everyone seems to be crazy over ‘DJ Mannia’ – just so you know, there are many different DJ’s under that company name and they are no better than the ones we had. In fact, we’ve seen a few of them do a horrible job (cutting off songs, barely speaking english, etc). This is my time to speak up, so there’s my two cents. Here’s how good the music was:
The ‘crazy show’ performers started the party so skillfully – there was no way we were going to clear the floor for the first dance. So, we skipped it altogether! We also didn’t cut the cake – instead we had Mayte order some delicious mini-cakes and truffles from the best bakery here.
We left on the last bus around midnight. Some of our guests kept partying, but we. were. so. done. We stumbled back to our ‘honeymoon suite,’ ordered room service pizza, talked and laughed about whatever was fresh on our minds … and crashed. Hard.
PHOTO + VIDEO
Everyone kept asking if we were going to take our wedding pictures ourselves. Okay, they were probably trying to be funny 🙂
Of course, I can’t say enough about how important photography and videography are. Save money anywhere else, but NOT here. You only get one chance to live this, one chance to have your wedding documented in a way that will retell the story time and time again. Now that we’ve experienced this ourselves … my wedding pictures are priceless. Period. Our AMAZING photographers, Cole & Jakob of Nordica Photography flew in from Vancouver and our AMAZING videographers Kiera & Josh of Jakfoto Productions – from California. These guys are masters of their craft and also wicked awesome people – we felt so lucky to be in their presence – I sometimes wanted to pinch myself! I also loved that they captured the day as it unfolded, without too much guiding, posing and interrupting to do lame cliche things. (As a bride, I feel I’m allowed to call things as they are, just this once – I cringe a little when I see work of some photographers here in Punta Cana … there’s no shortage of lame & cliche).
Photography & videography were almost 50% of our wedding budget (which of course ended up getting stretched more and more), so it was over 10K. Yes, just for pictures & video… And it was SO worth it. We are head over heels happy and honored with how everything turned out. Brides write to us all the time, sharing that they love our work, but their photography budget is $1000-1500… That’s cool too – but do your homework and get someone who will capture your day the way you want to remember it. Also, get someone with whom you’ll happily hang out all day!
Last but not least – if Rob & I are not available for your Big Day, these guys TRAVEL THE WORLD and would happily come back to Punta Cana for your wedding!
DAY AFTER PORTRAITS / ROCK THE DRESS
Cap Cana / Fishing Lodge charge a $300 photoshoot fee, but it’s absolutely worth it. It’s an enormous exclusive gated community that stretches along 6 miles of beach – the photo opportunities here are endless. Coming here is very different from staying at the resort, I would definitely recommend it. There are other places around the area that are incredibly beautiful, like Macao Beach (no fee), the public pier next to Dreams Palm Beach (no fee), Sanctuary Cap Cana (around $200 fee).
View of the Marina from the Fishing Lodge.
Peeking out of the chapel.
Our friends Dale & Meredith of Benfield Photography treated us to an incredible experience. They brought their underwater equipment and had their way with us at one of our favourite places here – Ojos Indigenas Lagoons at the Punta Cana Ecological Center. We are blown away by what they’ve done, all the holes in my gown are so so worth it! We did this Trash the Dress session there a while ago and can’t wait to do some underwater stuff there ourselves!!
There’s another person without whom this wedding would be a different event… Jolyn of Wander Love Travels is the absolute BEST travel agent / wedding planner I could dream of! She helped our group with so many last minute changes – she really goes out of her way to make sure everything is covered. There were many times I was losing my mind trying to keep everyone in order and remind everyone about the deadlines… Jolyn took so much stress off for us and took care of everyone. She works with Canadian and American groups – so if you don’t have the perfect travel agent yet – she is your girl.
Looking back, I cannot believe how stressed we were until the wedding day was over (and then some). We had a ton of fun, but what Rob calls being ‘on’ all the time definitely took a toll on us. This advice is easier to give than take – but don’t worry about keeping everyone happy. It’s impossible. Check in with each other often and find quiet minutes alone.
Last but not least, tip generously. It will make you feel good and bring you good karma.
IF YOU’RE A BRIDE & FOUND THIS HELPFUL, PLEASE BE A SWEETHEART AND SHARE THIS ON THE FORUMS WHERE YOU HANG OUT! XOXO
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Last but not least — I invite you to check out my most massive contribution yet — DESTINATION WEDDING 101 (password: LOVE)