Photo: Catherine Mead
I want you to imagine you've spent months, or years, planning your wedding day. Everybody you love most in the world is going to be there. You might be excited, and nervous, as you pack for the trip to your wedding destination, the romantic spot you researched and saved up for. The big day is just around the bend. And so is a hurricane. Or a blizzard. Ultimately, the consequences may be the same.
Natural disasters are an unfortunate fact of life. And you don't have to be planning a destination wedding someplace exotic for Mother Nature to seriously mess up your wedding plans. Plenty of hometown floods, storms, and other natural emergencies can create serious problems for brides, grooms, and all of their guests.
Sometimes, the disaster that is impacting your wedding weekend might not even be happening where you're actually getting married. But it can still wreak havoc on your big day.
Unfortunately, I've got real life examples for you.
When Hurricane Matthew Threw Off a Vow Renewal
Just recently, Mother Nature was unkind to my clients who planned for years to renew their vows on their 10th wedding anniversary in Puerto Rico. Their anniversary was on Friday, October 7, 2016, the exact same day that Hurricane Matthew whomped Florida and Georgia.
The brides and their children arrived on Tuesday, before the storm's path had been confirmed. And they never worried a bit about their big day, because the storm was already north of Puerto Rico, and there was nothing else threatening the Caribbean.
On Wednesday, as their guests prepared for bed, luggage packed for the destination wedding, and ready for their early morning flights out of the mid-Atlantic region, all hell broke loose. One after the other, they began receiving notifications that their flights to Puerto Rico had been cancelled. On a variety of different airlines.
The problem was that the vast majority of flights to the Caribbean had to go through Atlanta, Miami or Fort Lauderdale. Anybody who didn't have a direct flight was really stuck. And most of them spent all night long on the telephone, pleading for mercy, trying to be re-routed through anyplace that would get them safely to Vieques Island before the wedding ceremony on Friday afternoon. About half were not successful.
Fortunately, their out-of-town photographer was able to rebook on a direct flight, saving them from losing a ton of money they'd spent to get her to their destination, and the cost of paying another photographer to step in. But as a wedding professional, she'd been watching things carefully, and she was one step ahead of the rest of the guests.
Ultimately, they had a beautiful ceremony and fun wedding reception, but some of their favorite people in the world weren't there to celebrate with them. And quite a bit of money was lost in the process.
When Two Different Storms Grounded the Guests
A similar situation occurred for my own Caribbean destination wedding, on Labor Day weekend of 2004. The weather in Puerto Rico was beautiful, and there were no storms threatening the wedding destination. Everybody arrived without incident. However, our wedding date fell smack dab in the middle of Hurricanes Ivan and Jack. And Hurricane Ivan was one of those weird storms that did loopty-loops, and made landfall in several places, devastating numerous cities and their associated airports.
My guests had a worry-free vacation for the week of my wedding, but when those guests who were tech-savvy enough to have registered for email alerts (remember, this was 2004) started getting flight cancellations for their trips home — in the middle of my wedding reception — it would be safe to say the mood was shot.
At least half of my wedding guests got stuck in San Juan for at least a night. A few who could not miss work bit the bullet and rebooked on other airlines that could get them home sooner, at considerable additional expense. Everybody had to pay for hotels for which they had not budgeted. My bridesmaids all bunked in together, due to a room shortage caused by all the cancelled flights off the island.
I try not to focus on the return trip disaster when I remember my wedding, but my client's experience with Hurricane Matthew's flight cancellations brought it all back. My hope is that they'll concentrate on the celebration they had, and not the number of people who missed it. Because it really was a beautiful day in paradise for their 10th wedding anniversary.
Sandy Malone is the owner of Sandy Malone Weddings & Events and author of How to Plan Your Own Destination Wedding: Do-It-Yourself Tips from an Experienced Professional. Sandy is the star of TLC's reality show Wedding Island, about her destination wedding planning company, Weddings in Vieques.