By Emily Williams
Summer is the height of wedding season, calling the planners at Mountain Brook’s Mariée Ami not only to venues throughout the Birmingham area, but to far-off destinations as well.
According to owner and head planner Neillie Butler and planner Louise Pritchard, destination weddings are increasingly popular.
“When guests see each other on the same flight and the hotel lobby becomes a meeting place for family and friends, it just feels good,” Butler said. “There is a sense of community. Everyone in one place celebrating the couple.”
The wedding becomes a true family affair, with a smaller group of guests and, typically, an entire weekend of parties and celebrations.
In some cases, the planning process is a bit easier with a destination wedding. But a variety of uncontrollable factors can create a fair amount of mayhem, far beyond a chance of rain.
“Whenever we are planning a destination wedding, we have to go at least once before,” Pritchard said. “When we get there, we hit the ground running and by the time we leave, everything is in place.”
Popular locations within the United States are easier to navigate for Mariée Ami planners because they already have strong relations with vendors in places such as Highlands, North Carolina, Alys Beach, Florida, and Sundance, Utah.
That being said, Butler and Pritchard appreciate the challenge of organizing an event in a place that is foreign to them.
“Anytime we get to go somewhere we’ve never been before, it’s really exciting,” Pritchard said.
Not only is going to a new location an opportunity to experience a different culture, it’s a chance to take a fresh look at what they do.
“When you do a destination wedding, you are almost relearning how to drive this machine,” Pritchard said. “You have to find local vendors in the area, because it just doesn’t make sense to organize every detail at home.”
The two women recently traveled to their farthest destination wedding site, the small town of Sankt Paul im Lavanttal, in Austria.
“Whether we are in California, Utah or Austria, every region is different,” Butler said. “Southern weddings are like no other. They tend to be much bigger, have larger wedding parties and bigger bands. Much of the U.S. is similar. However, planning a wedding in Austria was much different.”
The bride, Kelli McBride of Mountain Brook, married Renée Hinteregger on May 13 in what for the bride’s family was a destination wedding, but for the groom’s family was a hometown event.
“One tradition we don’t see in the states is that the Austrian wedding day starts at 5 a.m. by waking the bride up with gun shots and schnapps, and the parties last until 3 a.m. the next day,” said Butler.
Throughout the process, the planners had to take into account the laid-back culture of the area as well as the traditions. Meals were shared throughout the weekend and the wedding day included both a civil ceremony and religious
“In Austria, we had the added language barrier, so the groom had to act as our translator throughout the process,” Pritchard said.
A perk on that trip, Pritchard and Butler travelled with the Rev. Bob Sullivan of St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Mountain Brook and took a pit stop in Italy.
“He is so amazing. We’re going to have to take him on every trip,” Pritchard said. “We spent a lot of time with him and the bride’s family and everyone was so welcoming and fun; it felt like we were a part of the family too.”
Pulling Double Duty
As with any out-of-town wedding, the planners had to act almost as travel agents. According to Butler, it’s important to make sure that there are enough hotel accommodations for guests. Pritchard added that, with any travel, it’s important to keep in mind that a number of uncontrollable factors could throw a wrench in the plans.
“One of my favorite travel experiences as a planner was when I realized 40 of our wedding guests were on our same flight out to Aspen,” Butler said.
That weekend trip coincided with the Ebola outbreak of 2014, and their flight out of Birmingham was stuck on the tarmac for seven hours while one of the passengers was being tested and cleared. As the guests and planners waited, they missed their connecting flight from Denver to Aspen.
“We ended up having to direct all 40 people to Aspen. We were planners-turned-travel agent in a moment’s notice,” Butler said.
One of Pritchard’s main tips for brides preparing for a wedding out of the country is to have a packing plan. Within the United States, things can be shipped to the destination. But when things are shipped out of the country, there is a chance a package could get stuck in customs and arrive much later than expected.
There is also a limit of three bags per person on a flight.
“There were three of us when we got on the plane to Europe and we had eight bags between us,” Pritchard said. “It was almost all things for the wedding. I packed a 15-pound duffel to carry on for the first time in my life.”
Whether travelling or having a wedding at home, Pritchard and Butler find that each one is equally rewarding, and each includes those favorite moments that keep them falling in love with wedding planning.
“Every night, when the bride walks out and you see the smile on her face is the best moment,” Pritchard said.
“I love the last minute when the mom and dad give me a huge hug and tell me it was the best night of their life,” Butler said. “It makes all the hard work worth it.”