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South Africa and Mauritius Itinerary

10 Dec

Are you interested in traveling to South Africa and Mauritius?  Well, check out my 2 week itinerary!

Day 1:  Depart for Cape Town.

Day 2:  Arrive in Cape Town.  Hotel:  An African Villa.  Transportation from airport provided by Discovery Tours.

Day 3:  Cape Point morning tour with Hylton Ross (penguins, Cape of Good Hope).  Lunch at V&A waterfront (in particular, the market).  City & Table Mountain afternoon tour with Hylton Ross of Cape Town including Table Mountain, Camps Bay, City Hall, a market, and Malay quarter.  Dinner at V&A Waterfront.



Day 4:  Great White Shark cage diving with Great White Shark Tours.  4:10am pick up.  Returned to Cape Town around 3pm.  Dinner near hotel – Sawadee (Thai food).


Day 5:  All day wine tour with lunch through Wine Flies.


Day 6:  All day Cape Town cultural and Robben Island tour through Hylton Ross.  Visited District Six Museum, Langa Township, and Robben Island.  Dinner at Raj in Camps Bay.


Day 7:  Depart Cape Town for Kapama Game Reserve.   Hotel:  Kapama Karula.  Afternoon game drive.


Day 8:  Morning elephant-backed safari.  Afternoon game drive.


Day 9:  Morning game drive.  4+ hours at the spa.  Afternoon game drive.


Day 10:  Morning game drive.  Afternoon depart for Johannesburg.  Hotel:  D’Oreale Grande Peermont.


Day 11:  Depart Johannesburg for Mauritius.  Hotel:  Sugar Beach Resort.


Day 12:  Beach day.


Day 13:  Beach day.


Day 14:  Catamaran – snorkeling, see dolphins, visit an island and lunch.


Day 15:  Beach day.


Day 16:  Depart Mauritius.  Return home.   7 hour layover in Johannesburg was spent exploring airport shops, lunch at City Lodge Hotel, and working out at Phela Live Wellness Centre.

Day 17:  Arrive home.

Wedding (Iberostar & General) FAQs

31 Jul


General Wedding FAQs:

(Q1)  What did you do about tipping?

(A1)  We only tipped our wedding coordinator and the DJ because we felt they went above and beyond what was expected.  I really believe that tipping should not be mandatory and that you should do what you can and want to regarding tipping.

(Q2)  Where did you buy your husband and groomsmen’s outfits?

(A2)  Macys.  Brand = Perry Ellis.

(Q3)  Who does the toasts for the rehearsal and wedding dinners?

(A3)  Rehearsal – we made a toast, but I think it is also common for the groom’s parents to make a toast and a bridesmaid and groomsmen.  Wedding – We had my mom and brother, my husband’s mom, the maid of honor and the best man.

(Q4)  What did you do for shoes?
(A4)  I wore flats I bought from Nine West.

(Q5)  Are wedding programs a must?

(A5)  I don’t think so.  Some of our guests didn’t get one.  It didn’t change anything.

(Q6):  What was the template for your wedding program?

(A6):  I just used one of the Vistaprint templates.

(Q7):  Any issues with tan lines from your dress?

(A7):  No.  I was really good about staying out of the sun.

(Q8):  Did the flight attendants allow you to hang your dress?

(A8):  No, but they did put it in an overhead bin without any luggage.

(Q9):  Any suggestions on sandals for men?

(A9):  My husband bought his at DSW and I believe they were Reef Sandals.

(Q10):  What did you pack in your checked bag and what in your carryon?

(A10):   I posted a packing list I found on in the post I did with a destination wedding planning Excel chart.  Click here.

(Q11):  I absolutely love your earrings and necklace! Where did you get them?

(A11):  My earrings were from Charming Charlies.  The Necklace was my Maid of Honor’s necklace and she said she got it years prior from Ann Taylor (she believed).

(Q12):  Did you and your husband see each other before the wedding?

(A12):  Not dressed in our wedding outfits.  We saw each other up until around 1:30pm before our 4:30pm wedding.  We were hanging out on the beach together, then we had a meeting with our officiant, and then we signed our wedding document.   After that, we went our separate ways and saw each other again at the ceremony.

Iberostar Rose Hall Suites FAQs:

(Q1)  Did the fabric on the huppah come with your package or did you have to bring it?

(A1)  It came with the package.

(Q2)  30 minute massage or 10 free wedding photos?

(A2)  Massage for sure!  It was one of the best massages of my life!

(Q3)  What were the vegetarian options?

(A3)  I only remember the lasagna offer, but they seemed to indicate that we could get whatever vegetarian meal we wanted for our vegetarian guests.

(Q4)  The forecast says rain everyday, what is actually happening?

(A4)  The weather tends to say rain in the Caribbean, but actually only have short showers off and on.  Our wedding week, it said rain everyday, but only showered the day before the wedding from around 4-8pm.

(Q5)  Does the resort give you shampoo and conditioner?  How’s the hair dryer?

(A5)  Yes, but I would bring your own conditioner.  The hair dryer was fine.   If you are particular or have difficult hair, you may want to bring your own since it isn’t very strong.

(Q6)  Is the international open bar worth it?

(A6)  I didn’t do the national open bar so I can’t compare, but we figured that our guests are coming far distances so we might as well let them celebrate with all drink options.

(Q7)  If you are using a florist other than Tai Flora, can you get credit for not getting the boutonniere, bouquet and table arrangement from Tai Flora?

(A7)  I have no idea.  We still took these and just used the bridal bouquet as the maid of honor bouquet.  I have heard that some people were able to get credit but received very little as credit.

(Q8)  When did you start hearing from the wedding coordinators?

(A8)  The communication was really bad until we got to the resort.  I got my final details sheet to fill out four months before the wedding.  I turned it in 3 months before the wedding.  Up until we left I maybe got one email a month.  I didn’t even get my confirmations until the Sunday before our Saturday wedding.  However, once we got to the resort, Nicole was very available and super helpful.

(Q9)  Is expediting the wedding certificate worth it?

(A9)  NO!  We did it and got it around the same time as the brides who didn’t expedite it.  I think we got it 5 or 7 weeks after the wedding.

(Q10)  How did the sky lanterns work?

(A10)  We lit them at 10pm with candles I bought at IKEA.   Nicole (the Wedding Coordinator) assisted everyone.

(Q11)  How long was your ceremony?

(A11)  I believe 20 minutes.

(Q12)  Did your ceremony start on time?

(A12)  It was just a few minutes late because my hair and makeup took so long.

(Q13)  Can you get internet in the room?

(A13)  Yes, but bring an ethernet cord.

(Q14)  What did you do with the welcome bags once you got to the resort?

(A14)  I brought them to our welcome dinner.

(Q15)  Does the rehearsal dinner have to be at the same restaurant as the wedding dinner?

(A15)  No.

(Q16)  What was the best cake flavor?

(A16)  We had both vanilla and chocolate.  Both were pretty good.  I also heard the cheesecake is really good.

(Q17)  Do I need bug spray?

(A17)  I never had any issues.  Only one of my guests complained about bug bites.  I guess it wouldn’t hurt to bring some.

(Q18)  How much was the dance floor?  Did you also get a quote from Tai Flora?

(A18)  We were charged $300 from Cover Me Up Tents for the 12’x12′ dance floor.   We got quotes from Tai Flora for our tent, but they were so much more expensive that we didn’t inquire further about the dance floor.

(Q19)  When did you send your official documents for the wedding certificate?

(A19)  About 2 months prior to the wedding.  If you are in the U.S., don’t send it through the USPS! We originally did that and the documents never made it even with tracking!

(Q20)  How long was the champagne toast?

(A20)  We didn’t stay long because we went to do photos.  I was probably there five minutes.   And, there was no official “toast.”

(Q21)  Are we able to substitute foods?

(A21)  I believe so.  We were able to change the menus for both our rehearsal and wedding dinners.

(Q22)  Did you get a complimentary suite the night of your wedding by any chance?

(A22)  No complimentary suite.

(Q23)  Did you have a rehearsal the day before the wedding?

(A23)  Yes.  It was around 3:30pm.

(Q24)  Does the Mexican restaurant just have tacos? Is there any chicken options? And does calabash have any chicken options or is it all meat? Just want to make sure there’s something for everyone.

(A24):  They wouldn’t give me a chicken option for Calabash but I heard another bride was able to get chicken.  The Mexican restaurant has other options than tacos.

(Q25):  Hi Courtney… I had a quick question. I know you said the Mexican restaurant was your favorite.  Can you tell me what the menu is like for a normal dinner? Also if you ate at the Mediterranean or calabash and saw what the regular menu is like? We only have 20 people and I’m wondering if the menu we will order from will be different than the smaller menus that some people have to use for a big group. Thank you so much

(A25):  I don’t eat seafood so I didn’t go to the Mediterranean one because the menu is all seafood except for one item.  Calabash was good for a welcome dinner since it is formal. Most of the food was good I just hated the dessert. I had asked for us to have different options but they messed that up so we all got the same weird gross chocolate goo. The Mexican has Tex-Mex options like tacos, etc. I love Tex Mex so it was my favorite. Some of our guests thought it was just ok. However, the “special tacos” were really good and the appetizer buffet is filling! The dessert buffet is really lacking once again. You know we did reservations at the Mexican for like two tables with 15 persons (maybe it was more) and they accomodated it and we got the menu.

(Q26)  You recommended the Japanese resteraunt, but in my packet of details all I see for restaurants is the Mediterranean, the Mexican, Calabash, and Aunt Ruby? Is there also a Japanese?

(A26)  The Japanese is at Iberostar Rose Hall Beach (which is included with your stay at the Suites). It is a fun atmosphere and you may be able to get 20 people around one hibachi grill. If you have over 20 you would have to move people to the next table. They say 18 persons per table but I really think they can get 20. However, if you want to make sure everyone is together, maybe try Calabash (if you want classy) or Mexican (for another fun atmosphere).

(Q27)  When we are filling out the final details sheet that we are mailing to the WC soon, where it says welcome dinner, that is just reserving a table in whatever restaurant we choose, right? Is there also a place where we are supposed to list the itinerary of our whole week and wedding day?

(A27)  With regard to the final details sheet, you do just pick whatever restaurant you want. I did a separate sheet where I explained in more detail everything I wanted and the itinerary (for example, I wanted two welcome dinners). The accommodated everything.

(Q28):  What time do you recommend doing the bonfire the night before the wedding?

(A28):  I recommend 9-10pm.   Our guests were still eating until almost 9pm so it was the perfect time.  Plus, I only needed to pay for one hour of bonfire and open bar.

(Q29):  Did you get negative feedback about the cost for attending?

(A29):  Only from a few persons.  However, all those persons that came after being apprehensive about the cost, I believe really enjoyed it and didn’t regret the cost.

(Q30):  Did you have any issues with planes flying over and making noise during the ceremony?

(A30):  None at all.

(Q31):  Does it cool off at night?

(A31):  Yes.   And, there is a breeze.

(Q32):  How many people did you have at your welcome dinner and did they charge you for it?

(A32):  We had about 20 at the first welcome dinner at the Japanese restaurant and 52 at the second welcome dinner at Calabash.   These were free.

(Q33):  You gave out your welcome buckets at the welcome dinner.  Did you give people something before hand/at check in to let them know where to go?

(A33):  I emailed all of our guests before they left for Jamaica with the itinerary.

(Q34):  Did anyone make a toast at the welcome dinner?  Was it hard to talk without a mic at a non private dinner?

(A34):  We made a toast.  No microphone was needed for our 53 guests to hear us.

(Q35):  What time was your bonfire?  How long did it go for?  Did the WCs help/stay around for the wish lanterns?  Did you have live music?

(A35):  Our bonfire was from 9-10pm.  We lit sky lanterns at 10pm.  The wedding coordinator was around to help us light the wish lanterns.  We had a mento band.  If I were to do it over again, I would get the fire dancer and just have a Ipod with speakers.

(Q36):  Where did you get the notarized photocopies of your birth certificates?

(A36):  UPS store.

(Q37):  Did the rooms smell musty?

(A37):  A bit.  We just opened the deck window.

(Q38): How many people per table?

(A38):  The round tables fit 8-10 persons.  The rectangular tables can seemingly fit any number because they just add more square tables.

(Q39):  Your bouquet is sooo pretty! Did any of the flowers wilt throughout the night? What kind of bouquet is it? I want to copy it!

(A39):  They didn’t wilt throughout the night.  It was a mixture of hydrangeas, roses and orchids.

(Q40):  How long was your whole wedding reception/ dinner? (What time did it end and did you party after?) With food and all was there plenty of time for everything plus dancing?

(A40):  It was from 6:30-10:30pm.  Dinner was probably over by 8:30pm.  We went to the night club after.  Some of our guests were up until the next morning.  There was plenty of time for everything.  In fact, I actually remember towards the end of the reception thinking that I was ready for it to be over.

(Q41):  How many wish lanterns did you bring?  One per person or one per couple?

(A41):  One per couple.

(Q42):  You mentioned your guests thought the steel pan band was too loud during your cocktail hour on the lobby terrace.  Did you pay for them or did they just happen to be playing in lobby at the same time?  If you did pay for them and had you moved to the blue moon music bar would they still have been too loud there too? Also in regards to your ceremony time/pics you said you felt rushed. I assume your ceremony ended around 5, so from 5-5:20 both you, your husband and all of your guests were doing pics before cocktail hour started? Also I assume you and your husband missed cocktail hr to continue to take pics. Then you just met everyone towards the end or at dinner?

(A42):  We paid for the steel pan band from 4:15-5:15 (ceremony and champagne toast) and then from 5:20-6:20 during cocktail hour on the lobby terrace.  I do feel that if we would have done it in Blue Moon Music Bar the noise wouldn’t have been an issue.  The lobby terrace was kind of tight with the food, drinks, music and 53 guests.   Our ceremony did end around 5 pm.  Our guests were hanging out at the champagne toast and taking pictures until 5:20pm.  Then they went to the cocktail hour while we took pictures.   We took photos until the reception started at 6:30pm.  We met everyone outside the tent.  Everyone was taking beautiful sunset photos at that point.

(Q43):  Is wine included in the cocktail hour?

(A43):  I believe so since we weren’t charged for wine.

(Q44):  Do you remember what the steel pan drum band played?

(A44):  Not at all.  I was so focused on my husband that I don’t remember anything they played.  The only song I requested was “One Love” when we were exiting.

(Q45)  Where did you get the chairs that the guys lifted you up in?

(A45)  I have no idea.  They just appeared.  I am guessing they were the chairs used at the reception without the white cover.

(Q46):  What kind of food did you have at your sit down? Did they give you alot of choices? Are they flexible with foods choices for dinner and cocktail hour?

(A46):  We gave our guests the option of chicken, steak or vegetarian.  They are somewhat flexible. For example, we added chicken.  Originally they only gave one option – steak with salmon.

(Q47):  You need a credit card upon check in correct ? And does everything you do get charged to the room, ie. spa treatments ? And when you check out, can you pay for your charges in cash or does your card have to be charged ? I have some guests asking, they want to bring cash to avoid foreign transaction fees, and I didn’t think you could pay for services in cash.

(A47):   I don’t think I gave them a credit card upon check in, but I can’t remember.  You can charge the spa to your room, but I also think you can pay at the spa.   I think you can pay in cash when checking out, but I am not too sure.  We paid with credit card.

(Q48):  Was your huppah draped in fabric and nothing else?  Did it look ok or was it beat up?

(A48):  I just had the huppah draped in the white fabric.  I thought it was beautiful.   I am sure if you looked really close there are probably some beat up areas of it.

Beach reception specific FAQs:

(Q1)  Did you have an issue with bugs?

(A1)  Only ants.  There were ants, but nobody said anything.

(Q2)  Was it hot?

(A2)  It was warm under the tent, but the uniqueness and beauty of our beach reception made us not worry about it.  And, when people were warm they could step out and get more of a breeze or even go into the ocean.

(Q3)  Is the dance floor worth it?  Does it get slippery?

(A3)  Under a tent, yes.  I think it creates just a classy reception.  If we didn’t have the tent, I would probably say no.   The dance floor was a bit slippery with the sand, but I told some people to take their shoes off.

(Q4)  Is there a bar open at night by the pool/beach?   Is it really going to cost $10pp/hour for reception drinks at a beach reception?

(A4)  There is really no close bar open at night by the pool/beach.  It will cost the $10pp/hour if you want to serve drinks to your guests (unless they change the packages).

(Q5)  Is it extra to have a dinner reception on the beach?

(A5)  Yes.  You need to contact Iberostar to find out the latest cost.  I was charged $58pp for the beach reception dinner and open bar, but I believe those prices have changed.

(Q6)  Your day looked so beautiful. I am wondering if you recommend a tent like yours ( but smaller ) for 20 guests? Do you think it would be too much for only 20 people? It looked so beautiful with the lights you had.

(A6)  They have smaller tents. I think tents with lights are so beautiful and can work for any size group. My only concern for you is whether Iberostar will allow you to have a beach reception. Is there a minimum?  I don’t think there is if you are just doing dancing or also if you are doing appetizers/cocktail hour. However when we were asking about a beach reception with dinner and everything they said 40 person minimum. I don’t think this is right though because I could have sworn I saw another bride’s photos with a tented beach reception and she had a smaller group than we had. I would email the wedding coordinators.

(Q7)  So since you had your reception on the beach did you have to pay for them to set up all of the large tables there or was that included? I know you probably had to pay extra for the tent you had but was that all that was extra? We thought that all we could have included was those small cocktail type tables for the beach reception, so this would be good to know. We are planning on just having appetizers so it isn’t as formal. We weren’t sure if a meal could be served on the beach, instead of in one of the restaurants? I know it is free to have a meal in the restaurant after the wedding.

(A7)  The tables and linens were all included in my $58pp. The tent (900 – Cover Me UP Tents), lighting (200 – DJ Kevan), dance floor (300 – Cover Me Up Tents) and curtains (320 – Cover Me Up Tents) around the tent were extra. No vendor fees for any of these vendors. The small tables are brought out if you are just doing appetizers on the beach. I think you have to have the full meal on the beach to have the large tables. We had a full meal – appetizers, steak, cake.

(Q8):  I have no idea what kind of lighting to request. I don’t want anything crazy and clubby, just enough to make it look really nice and lit up and appropriate for a reception feel! Any suggestions?

(A8):  Just tell DJ Kevan that and he will know what to do. We had no particular color request and when he showed us photos I just said that the blue/purple looked nice.  He went with that but then the lights changed throughout the night.  It was amazing!   He is really good at what he does!

FAQs regarding Jamaican vendors:

(Q1)  Stephen Henrique (Jewish officiant) told me that I just pay him the day of and there’s no contract, is that how you did it?

(A1)  Yes.  I was nervous, but he turned out to be very reliable.  He showed up right on time, meeting us at 12:30pm for us to pay him, go over the ceremony, and sign the wedding document.

(Q2)  How important do you think it is to hire an outside make up artist?  Essential or not?

(A2)  Not essential.  I have heard that the resort does a good job.

(Q3)  Is the steel pan band worth it?

(A3)  It made the wedding even more special and Jamaican, so I think so.

(Q4)  How early should I start reserving my vendors?

(A4)  If you are going to be particular about any sort of vendor, like your wedding photographer, book ASAP.    Vendors get booked really early.  I remember contacting some vendors 9 months prior to our wedding and they were booked.

(Q5)  How did you pay DJ Kevan?

(A5)  Through his website.

(Q6)  How did you pay everyone, including the resort?

(A6) Officiant – cash.  Hair & Makeup (Rashel Edwards) – Moneygram.  DJ – through his website.  Resort – credit card.  Photographer – cash and Paypal.  Videographer – I believe Paypal.  Tent vendor – check.

(Q7)  Do you recommend the catamaran cruise company that you used?

(A7)  Yes.  Island Routes was amazing.  We booked our private catamaran for $2925 + $10 pp and included 3 hours, open bar, appetizer, Margaritaville, and snorkeling.

(Q8)  How far in advance did you contact the flower vendors?

(A8)  About 3 months prior.

(Q9)  Did you book your vendors or did the WC?

(A9)  We booked all of our vendors.

(Q10)  Did the vendors eat dinner with you?  Were they counted as guests?

(A10)  They did not eat with us and they were not counted as guests.

(Q11)   I forget if you told me if you were charged a fee for floral fantasies? I asked the woman if she could deliver the flowers to my room, do you think i’d get charged a fee for her to do this?

(A11):  No fee because they just drop it off with the wedding coordinator. The wedding coordinator then delivers the flowers.

(Q12):  Who did you have to pay vendor fees for?

(A12):  Just the photographer and videographer.  Each had two persons so I paid $400.

(Q13):  How long was your catamaran trip and did you feel it was right or could have been longer or shorter?  Were the inflatable slides from Margaritaville?  Were they worth it?

(A13):  Our catamaran trip was 3 hours long.  It was the perfect time or could have even been longer.  We had so much fun.  The inflatable slides are at Margaritaville.  They are also a lot of fun.

(Q14):  Do you think I should just use the Tai bouquet for my MOH? Did you think it was nice enough? I just want white orchids for hers. I know you said there was added greenery to it to try to make it seemed more full? I don’t want to go with the bouquet for her from Tai and not have it look nice compared to mine but also don’t want to spend extra money if not needed.

(A14):  My MOH bouquet was just orchids and was the one included with Tai Flora so if you want to save money just do what I did. She didn’t say anything about the bouquet, I just really noticed the difference since the 2 bridesmaids had bouquets from Floral Fantasies that were nicer than the MOHs.

(Q15)  Do you know if we can bring our bouquet back with us on the plane?   Also, do you know if there is a place to preserve the flowers?

(A15)  I don’t think you can bring them back, but that would be a customs/Agriculture Department question.  I also don’t know anything about the preservation of the flowers.

(Q16)  On another note, with the wedding, I contacted Chantel at FF and she seems great. She is very responsive so I think I am going to go with them. I saw a bouquet on their site called Lovey Linda, which is beautiful. What flowers were in your bouquet again? Did you get all of your flowers from FF? I want to see if Tai will give me different options rather than getting the free included bouquet and boutonnière and just go with the table arrangement and possibly get another table arrangement in the place of the other two things. Do you think I should just write on the final details sheet I am using FF but would like to see what options I can get through Tai? I just don’t know if I should contact Tai about this or do you think Nicole can handle it a few days before the wedding when we arrive? Lastly, you said you didn’t get charged a vendor fee, a few other people said that as well. Does Nicole just get the flowers from FF and then bring them to our rooms?

(A16):  Flowers: We had hydrangeas, roses and a few orchids in my bouquet and the bridesmaids bouquets (2 – I used the Tai Flora bouquet for my MOH bouquet). I also got 4 boutonnieres (3 groomsmen + 1 for my brother – I used the one from Tai Flora for my groom). Then we got the table arrangements from Floral Fantasies and used the Tai Flora one for the sweetheart table. I don’t know if Tai Flora will change out any of your arrangements. I believe one past bride said she was able to do it for something small but I think that was after a lot of negotiations. They don’t seem to be very flexible. You might as well ask though. I would ask this directly to Tai Flora and maybe even ask the WCs at the same time – it doesn’t hurt to send two emails. I didn’t get charged a vendor fee for FF. FF just drops the flowers with Nicole and then Nicole sets them up at the reception and brings the bouquets and boutonnieres to the rooms you request on the day of the wedding.

Jamaica FAQs:

(Q1)  Is Rick’s Cafe worth it?  How long is the trip?

(A1)  I think that Rick’s was 2 hours from Montego Bay.  And, yes, it was worth it!  Make sure to jump and see the sunset!

Last Important Pieces of Advice:

(1) Hair/makeup appointments – make it for an hour before you think you need to. Mine was not finished until five minutes before the ceremony started.

(2) Bring: (a) envelopes to put in cash for tips and vendors and for checks/cash you receive as gifts (we didn’t expect anything but people ended up giving us cards and so it was good that we could secure the checks in a separate envelope); (b) conditioner; (c) ethernet cord to connect to the super slow internet.

(3) I wish my husband and I had made reservations every night for dinner. We had two nights where we left it up to guests because we didn’t want to over schedule them, but then our guests still wanted to do group dinners so there was a lot of confusion. I wish we had just made group reservations for every night and whoever wanted to come could come.

(4) Our welcome buckets were well liked – our group LOVED the sunscreen (dollar store), aloe (dollar store), sunglasses (LOVEDDDD everyone wore them to everything –, and snacks from Costco.

(5) Do wish lanterns. Everyone LOVED them!

Iberostar Rose Hall Suites Wedding Review

6 Jul

Photo by Sandy May

Iberostar Rose Hall Suites Wedding Review

Wedding Coordinator (Nicole) – A

Prior to the wedding it took a long time to get answers. However, as soon as you meet Nicole you realize that you are in the BEST hands. She is so patient, sweet and organized. She was also there for us throughout our wedding weekend despite having weddings almost every day we were there. In fact, she was even with us the night before the wedding at 10pm to teach our guests how to light sky lanterns.

Ceremony Location: A

It’s right in front of Aunt Rubys, but at 4:30pm there were not many people at all in the restaurant or around that area. Also, something you don’t notice in the pictures is that Aunt Rubys is to the side of the resort in between Iberostar Rose Hall Beach and Iberostar Rose Hall Suites. What this means is that most beach goers are not in that area – they are more in the middle of their respective resort. Therefore, it still felt private even though it was exposed. Plus, the resort keeps people from walking behind your wedding so there were no random people in the back of our photos. Finally, my biggest concern about a beach wedding was the weather. It all held out. In fact, even the wind was fine because my hair was completely down but wasn’t blowing in my face.


The Ceremony: A

It was amazing. Nicole coordinated the entrances so well. Our officiant was amazing. If you are Jewish, you need to hire him!

Wedding Reception Location: A

We had our reception on the beach at Iberostar Rose Hall Suites under a tent. It was between Aunt Rubys and the pool. It was gorgeous.

The Reception: A

The reception was a ton of fun. It started at 6:30pm with DJ Kevan introducing the bridal party and then the bride and groom. Each bridal party member had their own intro song clip and then the bride and groom had one longer song clip. Then we went into the first dance. After the first dance everyone was seated and dinner began. Dinner was slow so we did speeches in between courses starting with the best man speech and maid of honor speech and ending with the family speeches. After the speeches and dinner the dancing started. DJ Kevan really knows how to keep the party going so there was always people on the dance floor. It was an awesome reception.


Dinner: B

The steak was really tasty. The chicken was just ok. The rest was ok, nothing special.

Wedding Cake: B

I tried both the vanilla and the chocolate (we did one of each). They were both good, nothing special.


Wedding Day Schedule

12pm Hair & Makeup for bride and 3 bridesmaids began in bridal room.

(Courtney’s comment: I would have moved this up one hour so that I would have had time to take more photos in the room. The makeup ended five minutes before the ceremony was to start so I was just rushing to get dressed. I wish that I would have had more time to enjoy the pre-wedding time with taking photos, having some champagne, etc.).

12:30pm Met our officiant to go over the ceremony and then signed the wedding document

4:30pm Ceremony on the beach

(Courtney’s comment: I would have moved this to 4pm so that I had more time to take photos, had time to see the cocktail hour, and would have been able to relax at the champagne toast)

5:20pm – 6:20pm Cocktail hour in the lobby terrace

(Courtney’s comment: I would have moved this to the Blue Moon Music Bar or cancelled the steel pan band for cocktail hour. Guests indicated that the band was too loud on the terrace and so many of them just went to the lobby bar. In addition, I would have had the cocktail hour go on for an additional half hour so that we may have been able to stop by and try the appetizers – this would have only worked if we moved the ceremony up to 4pm).

6:30-10:30pm Reception on the beach

(Courtney’s comment: Perfect! Sun was setting. It was gorgeous. And, the four hour reception was the perfect amount of time. I actually remember at the end thinking, “ok, I am ready for this to be over and take off the dress.”)

11pm – Whenever Nightclub at Iberostar Rose Hall Suites

(Courtney’s comment: This was a lot of fun. I changed into a lighter dress and a lot of the guests met at the lobby bar. We then went to the nightclub. Some of our guests ended up staying up until around 5am going to different parts of the hotel property. The party continued, continued and continued.)


Wedding Day Vendors:

Flowers – Floral Fantasies:

PROS: BEAUTIFUL flowers. They truly understood what we wanted and gave us a really great price. We also got to keep all the flowers and vases, which not all floral shops allow that.

CONS: None.


Officiant – Stephen Henriques:

PRO: If you are Jewish and want a Jewish ceremony, book him! He was amazing. Our guests loved talking to him about his family’s history in Jamaica and about the Jewish community in Jamaica.

CON: He booked a wedding for right after ours so there was no wiggle room for any delays.


Tent – Cover Me Up Event Rentals:

PROS: Conrad (owner, I believe) was extremely helpful sending us photos of the different tent options and pricing for each. He had the tent set up the night before the wedding and was there the day of the wedding to make sure all the rest of the details were correct including the dance floor, curtains, etc.

CONS: None.


DJ – Kevan Stewart:

PROS: AMAZING! Book him! He was our DJ and did our lighting too. He was incredible. He totally created the party.

CONS: Absolutely none.

Hair & Makeup – Rashel Edwards’ Company:

PROS: They are really good and they come to your room. Her hair person did exactly what I dreamt of for wedding hair but never thought would be possible – beach waves with a small braid on both sides (coming together in the back) that kept the veil secure.

CONS: They didn’t finish my hair and makeup until two minutes before our ceremony. Therefore, I had no time to take any pictures with my family or bridal party before the ceremony. I also didn’t have time to make any changes to the hair, makeup or dress because we were so rushed.

ADVICE: Book really early – like a year in advance. She fills up quickly. Also, have them come earlier than you think you should have them come. This will leave some wiggle room for any things that come up and gives you plenty of time to relax and take pictures before the ceremony.

SAM_6504Video – RG Weddings/Roxroy Gough:

PROS: Super professional. He had multiple cameras, special lighting, microphones, etc.

CONS: We are still waiting on the video so I can’t speak to that just yet.

Extra advice for future IRHS brides:

General Wedding Recommendations

25 Jun

1)    Learn about and use Vistaprint early on.  There is so much you can do on Vistaprint.  We made our welcome brochures, wedding programs, and stickers for our wedding welcome buckets all on Vistaprint.  Some brides even use Vistaprint to make their invitations and save the dates.  And, with all of the coupons for Vistaprint, mixed with the frequent Groupons/Living Socials, Vistaprint is super cheap!


2)    Divide the tasks early on between you and your fiancé.  And, truly trust your fiancé to get his tasks done.

3)    Early on in the planning process, create a time line of wedding tasks and try to stick to it.  Keep it in a visible place where you and your fiancé can check off completed tasks.

4)    Make wedding tasks/chores a fun time for you and your fiancé.  For example, only discuss the tasks at a weekly lunch at your favorite restaurant.  Bringing the wedding stress home can lead to fights.

5)    Early on have frank conversations with your families about finances to find out who is willing to pay, what their willing to pay for, when are they willing to pay, and how they would like to pay (e.g., a check to you after you pay or do they want to be the one that pays the vendor).

6)    If you plan to change your name right after the wedding/honeymoon, don’t book any trips for after the wedding/honeymoon.  In particular, do not book airline tickets.  It seems that most airlines make you cancel your reservation if your name changes, which means a cancelation fee (South African Airways wanted to charge me $600 to cancel the flights and then rebook them).

7)    Make a thorough vendors list that includes the vendor’s name, contact person, phone number, email address and the time arriving.  Keep this organized so you know when and where your vendors are supposed to be.

8)    Find a day of coordinator even if it is just a friend.  The last thing the bride should be worrying about is vendors.  The bride should be enjoying the day.  Have someone else coordinator the day of and make sure that everyone and everything are in the right place.

9)    Really enjoy the day.  Don’t worry about the small things.  Everything will come together or at least it will be some funny story you will tell your kids about.

10) Find a photographer that you LOVE, not just like (or worse, sort of like), but LOVE.   These are the photos that you will look at throughout your life.  Do not skimp on them.  Choose a photographer that knows wedding photography and fits with the kind of photography that you want (e.g., artistic, traditional, etc.).  Even better is if the photographer has done a lot of shoots at the venue so they know where to get the best shots.  Finally, find a photographer that you get along with and that is flexible with their day with you.


12) Get your bridesmaids and groomsmen on board with helping you out the day of the wedding.  Tell them about any concerns you have whether it be about a vendor not showing up or a drunken relative.  Have them take care of your concerns.

13) Choosing bridesmaids/groomsmen:   My #1 rule is to choose people you truly think you will be friends with for a lifetime.  How many times have we opened our parents’ wedding photo albums to have them tell us that they are not friends with their bridal party any longer or they don’t know where these people are nowadays?   The way I believe you can overcome a lot of this is not having a bunch of ladies from different areas of your life, but instead choosing the ladies that are in your close group of mutual friends.  It is harder to lose contact with one of your girlfriends if you are all part of one group.  Also, this makes it easier on everyone since everyone knows each other already and are close. I chose three of my closest girl friends from college.  We were all part of the same sorority.  I think it worked out beautifully and our friendship really shines through in the photos.



Do you have any good suggestions for brides?   Please email me at or write them in the comments section!

Destination Wedding Recommendations

20 Jun

1)    Choose a resort that is well recommended and not just a resort that it super affordable.  You may think you want a lot of guests and thus choose a cheap resort, but if all those guests are only having an ok time because the resort sucks, then you will be sorry.  Better to be at a great resort and have fewer but much happier guests. 


2)    Make sure that you are not entertaining all weekend but actually enjoying the activities.  I realized that I was more focused on making sure everyone else was having a good time that I completed missed out on enjoying a lot of the activities I planned.

3)    Our welcome buckets were well received.  The sunglasses from were used by almost everyone throughout the wedding weekend.  Our guests loved them.  We also put sunscreen and aloe in the buckets, which we saw our guests using on the beach.  The snacks we got from Costco were good munchies to have in the room between meals.


4)    The sky lanterns were also well received. has them for really cheap.


5)    Join  I think it is the single best source for planning a destination wedding.

6)    See if there is a forum specific to your resort.  Iberostar Rose Hall Suites has a few popular groups on Facebook.  These forums can be really helpful especially if you are at a popular resort with few wedding coordinators lending to delays in responses to your questions.

7)    Plan daily optional activities for your guests on non-wedding days.  These can even just be “wedding couple will be at the beach next to ____ from ___am to ___ pm.”  I found that many guests wanted to know where we were going to be so that we all had more time together.  One thing I would have done differently is to tell all our guests where we were going to go to dinner each night and at what time.  They could then make reservations at the same restaurant if they so pleased.

8)    Have everyone stay at the same resort.  People seemed to really bond and we got to spend a lot more quality time with each of our guests.

9)    Stay organized.  Make an Excel chart with (a) vendors, (b) guests, (c) gifts, (d) budget, (e) tables (place cards), (f) wedding songs, (g) schedule, (h) wedding tasks, (i) packing list, and (j) miscellaneous.

10) Book your vendors early!  The best ones get booked early!  Don’t miss out!

11) Pack envelopes to put any checks/cash presents into.  The envelopes make it easier for keeping track of presents and the money.

Have any suggestions for wedding couples planning a destination wedding?  If so, please put them in the comment section or email me at!

Excel Chart for Destination Wedding Planning

15 Jun

I have created an Excel chart that is a good starter for organizing your destination wedding.  See attached:  Excel Chart for Destination Weddings.  Please send me your thoughts, comments, questions and suggestions!

Happy planning!

Courtney Mara

P.S. The packing list is information I collected from other brides on


How to Plan a Destination Wedding

7 Jun

So, you want to have a destination wedding…


Here’s how to begin:

(1)  Work on your budget. How much do you have to spend on your wedding?  Talk to your family to see if they are willing to help and, if so, how much, for what, and how do they want to pay (e.g., directly to the vendor, give you a check, etc.).

(2)  Join  It is the best resource for brides considering, planning, and returning from their destination weddings.

(3)  Find a few different travel agents.  Get their opinion on locations if you haven’t picked one.

(4)  Pick a location (city/state/country).   To figure out your location, answer a few questions.  What feel do you want the wedding to have?  Do you want warm weather or cold weather?  Do you want a mountain, garden, indoor, beach or cliff side wedding?   Are you getting legally married in that location?  If so, make sure to check the country’s marriage restrictions and whether you can abide by the laws/regulations to get legally married there.  Some countries even require blood tests or have in-country stay requirements.  Also, are you fine with a marriage certificate in another language?  If not, make sure to choose an English-speaking location or find out if they have the option of having the certificate in English.  Finally, how far are your guests willing to travel?

(5)  Once you pick the destination, pick the resort and/or location for the ceremony/reception.  Ask travel agents for their recommendations for weddings in that particular city/state/country.  Then check the pricing of the resorts to see which ones are affordable for your guests.  Also, check reviews of the resort on TripAdvisor,, and other websites.  Finally, make sure to find out the cost of a wedding at the resorts/locations that you are looking at.  Pricing can really differ at the resorts and also ask if you can use outside vendors if you have particular vendors you want to work with.

(6)  Talk to the resort/location and get a date locked down.

(7)  Get price quotes from a few travel agents and pick whichever travel agent gives you the best quote, mixed with the one that you work well with (are they easy to get ahold of?),  and that gives you good benefits (e.g., free stay for the wedding couple, champagne in the room, etc.).  Sign a group booking contract with your travel agent.

(8)  Once you have your particular location of the wedding weekend, see if your travel agent has any past brides that you can talk to.  Also, look for the forums for your location on and if there are any on Facebook.  For example, Iberostar Rose Hall Suites, the resort where my wedding was held, has three forums on Facebook and a few on  These forums can be very helpful since it can be hard to reach wedding coordinators at popular resorts.

(9)  Talk to vendors.  Read their reviews.  Check WeddingWire, Facebook, Google, and  Find out if their price point fits your budget.  Book them early.  10 months prior to my wedding, a lot of vendors were already booked.  Really talk to vendors early and book them!

(10)    Make a thorough Excel chart with (a) vendors, (b) guests, (c) gifts, (d) budget, (e) tables (place cards), (f) wedding songs, (g) schedule, (h) wedding tasks, (i) packing list, and (j) miscellaneous.  Get organized early on!

(11)    Lastly, tell your guests early on about your plans to have a destination wedding.  Send out save the dates, create a wedding website, and get your guests in touch with your travel agent.

Stay tuned to for more wedding and travel planning advice…

Iberostar Rose Hall Suites Review

1 Jun


Arrival/Check In – B

We never got a welcome drink!  We also arrived at 1pm and were not able to check in until 3pm.  This is one of the few times where a resort really has not allowed us to check in before the designated check in time.  However, you are allowed to enjoy the resort (including the restaurants) until check in time.  You just leave your luggage at the front door with the bell hop.

Resort – A

Beautiful grounds, beach was beautiful, lazy river is super lazy, but still a ton of fun to go around with a big group, the pools were awesome, there were always activities going on from dancing next to the pool, volleyball on the beach, volleyball in one of the pools, etc.  The lobby and other areas inside the resort are very classy.


Room (Oceanfront) – A

The beds were comfortable, the balcony was huge and had a gorgeous view.  I only turned on the TV once but was able to find our home baseball game on and the show “Friends.”  The shower and tub are big.

Nightclub – A

Best all inclusive night club I have ever been too.  Good music, fun lights, big bar.


Breakfast Buffet – A

Lots of choices and really good.  Great fruit, bacon is crisp, and LOTS of fresh juice choices.

Lunch Buffet at Aunt Rubys – B+

Food was good, just not so many choices.   Although, my brother was able to get a huge turkey sandwich one day, which I don’t think is that common at all-inclusive resorts.  Convenient location (next to beach).

Dinner at Aunt Rubys – B

My pork was ok.  My husband and his mom didn’t like the tenderloin.  Most everyone else seemed to order the rib eye and really enjoyed it (it was HUGE).  Plus, the dessert was the best for any of the restaurants.  I LOVED the apple pie.

P1030773 P1030774

Dinner at Calabash Gourmet Restaurant – C

My husband’s steak was really good.  The lamb was only ok.  The appetizer of asparagus soup was really good and so was the salad they gave us.   My husband who is the pickiest eater and doesn’t like to try new things even liked the asparagus soup.  The dessert they gave us was some chocolate soft thing – it was terrible.


Dinner at the Mexican Restaurant – A-

Loved the special tacos.  The appetizer bar is really good with a lot of Mexican and non-Mexican options that I almost didn’t need to eat the meal.  The dessert table was really lacking.  Nothing I wanted to eat.

Dinner at Iberostar Rose Hall Beach’s Japanese Hibachi Restaurant – B

The atmosphere and experience deserve an A, but the actual food deserves a C.  The chicken was really good, but the rice was burnt and the steak was terrible.  SAM_6370Pool Bar – A

The drinks were great.  I recommend the Dirty Banana.

Beach – B

Beautiful.  I just wish there was more room to swim out and around.  There are a lot of parts with seaweed or maybe it was coral – but where you couldn’t swim too easily.   Lying on the beach is awesome though.  Lots of shade and sun areas.


Pool – A

Multiple pools.  Lots of activities.  The pools really made my husband and me into pool people.


Water Activities – B

The kayaking is fun and relaxing.  Just reserve it in the morning for your afternoon time.  Parasailing was $120 per couple.   Our friends liked the sailing which was free.


Spa: A

Get a long massage!  I had the best massage I have ever had and I tend to be picky about massages.  Plus, the atmosphere they have in the room and rest of the spa makes you feel that you are at a five-star spa.  Also, they have spa pools that are free to use.  Check them out.

Fitness Center:  C

We didn’t use it because I like to run with a TV and they didn’t have it set up so you can do that.  I remember there being one TV, but either you couldn’t see it from the treadmills or there was no noise.

DC-Area Bridal Salons Under $2000

29 Sep

When I searched for bridal gowns, I had the hardest time finding a list of salons in the Washington DC area that sold gowns under $2000, preferably under $1500 (I just couldn’t live with myself if I paid more than this for a dress that I wear only once).   After much research I finally came up with my own list and would love to share it with you.   The following are a list of salons that have reasonably priced gowns:

  • Alfred Angelo in Springfield, VA.   I ended up buying my gown here.
  • Katherine’s Bridal in Alexandria.  This had my second choice dress.  Beware:  they won’t let you take pictures which was important to me since I wanted to see how I looked in photos with the dress on.
  • Ellie’s Bridal Boutique in Alexandria, VA
  • Moni’s Bridal Boutique in Manassas, VA.
  • Jeanette’s Bridal in Manassas, VA.
  • David’s Bridal in Rockville, MD.
  • The Bridal Boutique in Columbia, MD.  Not great for beach brides since most of their dresses are pretty heavy.  However, a large selection of gowns.
  • Bobbie’s Bridal in Fairfax, VA. – I didn’t find anything here for me, but other ladies may find dresses here.
  • Rosalin’s Bridal in Falls Church, VA.
  • Distinctive Designs Bridal in Rockville, MD.  – This one was far for me but it was my favorite of all the salons.  Absolutely great salon.  I love the layout.  Beware:  they won’t let you take pictures which was important to me since I wanted to see how I looked in photos with the dress on.
  • Pattrapon Bridal in Kensington, MD.  Cute neighborhood especially if you love antiques.

The Ring Has Arrived…

30 Dec

As you may know, Matt proposed in Tahiti, French Polynesia, in August 2011 (see posts about the proposal and the EngagementMoon).  Well, the official engagement ring has finally arrived and it is better than I could have ever imagined.  Justin at Diamond Exchange in Rockville, MD, really helped Matt with creating my dream ring.  I thought I would share a photo with everyone since it has been 4 months in the works…