Destination Wedding Timeline Itinerary

Wedding Day Timeline Infographic

Destination Wedding Timeline Infographic

Tips for planning your timeline itinerary for your destination wedding

Wedding planning can be daunting and like any major project, it’s the gittin’-goin’ we all struggle with.  So now what?  Well, I’m gonna toss some high grade fuel on your wedding planning. I’m assuming you have your resort selected, if not, check out my 10 Tips for Planning your Destination Wedding post for tips on those initial choices.  With your resort set, let’s talk wedding schedule…


Date selection has it’s own set of guidelines you should be aware of – not necessarily to follow, but be aware.  Pick a time of year you’d like to travel and check the resort’s availability.  The busiest time to travel south is February through March so naturally rates are typically higher around then.  For these reasons, couples prefer to avoid those times so April and May are the busiest times for destination weddings.  Check out my interview with destination wedding travel specialist Pauline Blacoe for more information about travel and timing.

Coral Bridesmaid dresses


With your date secured, you now need to set your ceremony time which is where couples can get themselves into unexpected timeline conundrums (I worked “conundrum” into a post, sweet).  Selecting the wrong time can tilt your day in the wrong direction and have you playing catch up to tick each checkbox on schedule.  This is where you’ll want to sit down with your wedding photographer and resort coordinator to help you formulate (conundrum and formulate, outrageous) your game plan for the day from the start of hair/makeup through to the last spin of the DJ’s record.  But everything revolves around your I Dos so getting the ceremony time right is crucial.

My advice?  Have your ceremony either earlier in the day or later in the afternoon ie. 1pm or 4pm.  With the 1pm option, you’ll have plenty of time after the ceremony for photos around the resort as well as time to freshen up in your room before hitting the beach for those amazing Caribbean sunsets – one of the main reasons we all love destination weddings!  After the ceremony, your guests have plenty of time to change and hit the pool/beach for the afternoon – after all, they’re on vacation bab-y!

Destination Wedding Ceremony photos

Destination wedding ceremonies on the beach in Punta Cana

Door #2 is the 4pm-ish ceremony.  I say ish because the sunsets vary between 6 and 7pm generally depending on time of year using Punta Cana, DR as an example. Weather conditions like rain or cloud-cover can speed up a sunset.  Typical ceremonies take 20-30 mins leaving you at least an hour or two to hit the beach for those stunning sunset wedding photos.  This allows your guests to enjoy their day uninterrupted up until the 4pm ceremony and with just a small amount of time to kill before the reception. With a quick freshen up + cocktail hour they’ll be happy campers!  The key to this option is the First Look.  You’ll have your amazing reveal with your hubby a few hours before the ceremony earlier in the afternoon, in private.  Afterwards all of your wedding photos are taken care of before the ceremony (except of course the sunset shots).  This option allows for more photos and you’ll be maximizing your use of your day without the feeling of being rushed, win-win.

Immediately following most destination wedding ceremonies, you and your guests will be served champagne while everyone gathers around to congratulate you.  This usually lasts 5-10 minutes which turns into the best time to get some group photos done – 1 large shot of all your guests and then (time permitting) a photo with each of your guests.  It’s best to do this now while everyone is all together – guests have a tendency to wander off, especially in paradise!

Quick Tip:  Prepare a quick shot list for your photographer of the guests you want to make sure you get photos with after the ceremony. I ask my Brides to assign me someone (usually the Maid of Honour) who knows everyone on the list so they can get them organized in the background while I’m shooting away.  This saves an enormous amount of time and the last thing I want my couples to worry about is having to organize anything on their day.

Destination Wedding Photography Punta Cana


Now that you have your ceremony time firmed up, we can work backwards to see when you should start getting ready.  This is where you need to include your Hair and Makeup Artist(s).  They’ll be able to tell you when they’ll need to start based on a host of items ie. how many people do they have to service etc.  You can read more about this process in my interview with destination wedding hair and makeup diva Krystie Ann.  Quick Tip:  Ask your resort wedding coordinator to send lunch to your room (or wherever you’ll be getting ready), they’ll be happy to and your bridal party will love ya for it!

Rock the dress on a beach


The best things in life take time.  Leave plenty of time to get in your wedding photos. When you look back on it the sounds of your DJ will be gone, the flowers and cake will be an after thought and like everyone says – the day will have flown by so fast you’ll have only a vague memory to fall back on.  But your wedding photos and albums will be your return ticket to that amazing day in paradise.  But great photos take time.  Again, talk to your photographer for their input.  They’ll be able to firm up your timeline so you get the most out of it and a good timeline won’t leave you feeling rushed or that you missed out on anything.

With my destination wedding timeline I generally budget for 3 hours of bridal shooting time in + the hour or two on the beach at sunset. This is of course in addition to the usual getting ready photos, ceremony, reception etc.  Now, this isn’t a marathon photo shoot by any means – it’s as hot as a $%%@#*$* down there so we never pass a bar!  We’ll take our time with pit stops along the way to hydrate and share some laughs keeping everyone’s spirits high.  Bridal parties are happiest and smiliest when they can let their guard down and let loose.  I always make sure to get you back to your rooms to freshen up briefly before the ceremony and reception.

Destination wedding schedule planning


Quick advice for your reception is to do your speeches during dinner – combining the two will free up more time for the party and dancing afterwards.  Most resorts require the reception to be wrapped up by 11pm for the sake of the other resort guests so a solid timeline is important.  Option: Many couples do a welcome dinner or rehearsal dinner the day before, why not have your speeches done then when there’s no timeline to be concerned about?  This leaves more time for the party during the reception.  Just a thought.


Resorts offer an entire lineup of wedding vendors that you can choose from.  Most resorts also allow outside vendors to come in for the day as well, however they charge an outside vendor fee which generally varies from $100 up to $800.  Be sure you speak with your resort before starting to book outside help.  One key thing to note, those same resorts nearly always waive the vendor fee if that vendor stays at the resort during that time.  This comes in handy when you bring your photographer from home.

A final word of advice, please never plan your wedding day around your vendors (photographers, makeup etc.) but definitely get them involved early in the planning stages and soak up their wisdom and experience.  Even the most prepared Bride can learn from an experienced wedding professional.  In the end, it’s your day – take in all the advice but you’re the boss, you have the final say.

Bridal party having fun

As my infamous friend PhotoPhil says, “You’ll get your dream wedding, but only if you plan for it.”

Planning a destination wedding? Contact me and let’s talk photography!

In the meantime, here are a few destination wedding planning tips to help you get started:
Tips for planning your destination wedding
Should I bring a photographer with me to my destination wedding?
Song ideas for your walk down the aisle
Beach vs Garden Gazebo Ceremony
Guest OOT Bag ideas
Getting the best from your destination wedding photos


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1866 Elana Drive, Orillia, Ontario Canada

(705) 627-9376