It’s time to start planning your destination wedding reception! This is where the fun really begins. The jitters from the morning have passed. You’re finally married! And now you get to enjoy a delicious meal and celebrate all night with your closest family and friends.
There’s a lot that goes into the wedding reception. From the basics like decor, dinner, and dessert (is wedding cake the best, or what?) to the emotional moments like speeches and first dances. Then finally, celebrating by dancing the night away. This is where a lot of your time planning will be spent – and most of your budget too.
If you’re in the very beginning stages of planning your wedding, you may want to check out The Ultimate Guide to Destination Weddings first, and then come on back when you’ve made it to the reception portion of your day.
When you’re ready, we’ll get started with a basic timeline for the night, and then we’ll dive into important moments you may want to include as part of your celebration.
Destination Wedding Reception Timeline
You’ll have a lot of flexibility with your wedding day timeline so this is just a general idea to get those creative juices flowing. If you want to switch up the order, feel free to! It’s your day and you get to call the shots.
This is what a typical destination wedding reception will look like:
- Grand Entrance
- Cake Cutting
- First Dance
- Father-Daughter Dance
- Mother-Son Dance
- Dance Floor Opens
- Bouquet & Garter Toss
- Last Song
- Grand Exit
Seems easy enough, right? But on top of that, you’ll also need to plan out the decor, the music, and the seating arrangements for dinner. Not to mention any other special shows or events you may want to include.
Before we get to the details, let me take a quick minute to discuss the venue.
Wedding Reception Venue
First, are you getting married at an all-inclusive resort or an outside venue?
If you’re getting married at a resort, you’ll likely have a dozen different options for your reception location. You’ll need to decide if you want to have your reception indoors or outdoors. Maybe your heart is set on having a wedding reception on the beach.
Indoor receptions tend to be more elegant, but you’ll spend a lot more money on decor since you can’t rely on the beauty of nature. If you want to stay cool in the air conditioning, though, this is the way to go.
To embrace the destination wedding beachy vibes, then an outdoor reception is going to be better for you. Depending on your resort, you’ll choose between having your reception at a terrace, outdoor restaurant, or right on the beach. Either way, you’ll have beautiful scenery and fresh air for your reception. You can’t go wrong with that ocean breeze.
Your wedding planner will present you with all of the venue options and you can decide which feels best.
On the other hand, if you’re getting married at an off-resort venue, they’ll likely have one area for dinner and another where the dancing portion of the evening takes place.
At Kukua, you’ll have dinner in the restaurant, and then there’s a dance floor outside for all of your reception activities. At Jellyfish, you’ll have dinner in their restaurant, and then the dance floor is set up on the beach.
While it may seem like the venues are more limited, you’ll actually have a lot more options to customize your reception space. They’re more flexible when it comes to decorating and adding any extras you’ve been dreaming about.
Once you’ve decided on the venue, you can move on to your decor.
Destination Wedding Reception Decor
This is probably the “easiest” part since you don’t have to do much aside from gathering inspiration. Your wedding planner will take care of the rest.
You’ll just need to choose a decor style that you like. Do you prefer bold and bright colors? Or soft and creamy? Whether your style is tropical, romantic, rustic, or elegant, your options are endless for your reception decor.
Check out The Ultimate Guide to Destination Wedding Decor if you haven’t found your style quite yet.
Next, you’ll want to choose your colors as well as the tables and chairs for the dinner reception. There may be a certain look that goes best with your wedding style.
Ghost chairs have an elegant look and can help bring a more formal feeling to your wedding reception. Crossback chairs will have a more rustic look. And Chiavari chairs work in almost every wedding setting.
Once you’ve made your selections, you can decide which elements you’d like to include in your wedding decor. From lighting to centerpieces, wedding signage to accent pieces. Gather as much inspiration as you possibly can.
Browse through real weddings on our blog. Scroll through Pinterest. Check out your wedding venue’s website. And decide which look you love for your own wedding day. Then express your ideas to your wedding planner so they can bring your vision to life.
Ready for the next step? It’s a fun one!
Destination Wedding Reception Music
Music helps set the tone for the entire wedding day. When it comes to the reception, you’ll want to choose one music genre to play during dinner, and another more upbeat genre to play for the party and dancing.
Typically, you’ll want soft, instrumental music playing while you and your guests are enjoying your meal. Acoustic music or easy-listening works great here too. Or maybe you want a live musician. Whether you hire a band or a professional wedding DJ, they should know exactly what to play here.
Whatever you choose, be sure to keep it soft and low-key. Your guests should be able to have a conversation without shouting over the music. After dinner, you can turn it up and get the real party started.
Wedding DJs always know how to get the party started. It’s best to give them some freedom here instead of creating an entire playlist for your reception. You can give them a list of a couple of songs you’d love to hear as well as the ones (if any) that you don’t want to be played at your wedding.
You’ll also want to choose a song for each specific moment below.
- Grand Entrance
- Cake Cutting
- First Dance
- Father-Daughter Dance
- Mother-Son Dance
- Bouquet Toss
- Garter Toss
- Last Song of the Night
Did you get all that? I hope you’re not feeling too overwhelmed. Remember to take the wedding planning one step at a time. So now that we’ve got the music covered, let’s talk about seating arrangements.
Destination Wedding Reception Seating Chart
Eventually, you’ll need to decide how to arrange the seating for your reception.
This will be one of the last things you do in your wedding planning because it will fully depend on how many people attend your wedding.
Hopefully, you get lucky and all of your guests book their travel plans well in advance. That way you know early on who will be attending your wedding and you can start on your seating chart sooner rather than later. But don’t feel the need to rush this. You’ll only stress yourselves out, and this can be done closer to the wedding date than you think.
To make this process easier, however, you’ll want to head over to The Stress-Free Guide to Creating Your Wedding Seating Chart.
Don’t Forget About Your Own Seating
Will you and your groom sit alone at a sweetheart table? Or do you prefer to be with your wedding party at a head table? Maybe you have a small guest list and you’ll do one big horseshoe table for everyone. You’re in charge here!
Chat with your fiance about it and decide which works best for you two. It is your day, after all.
Okay, so now that we’ve made it through the basics, it’s time to head back to the timeline so we can dive into each big event.
The Grand Entrance
This is the big moment when you and your groom enter the reception venue. You may also want to announce parents and your wedding party.
Typically the entrance order goes like this:
- Parents of the Bride
- Parents of the Groom
- Bridesmaids & Groomsmen (paired off, and going backward so MOH and Best Man are introduced last)
- Bride & Groom
Have a chat with your wedding party about the entrance. Maybe you want to arrange a dance or fun way to enter instead of simply walking in. It may also help your MC if you write out a list of all of the names and in the correct entrance order.
Don’t forget about you and the groom! How do you want to be announced? If you’re taking his last name, you may choose to be announced as Mr. and Mrs. [insert last name here]. If you’d rather keep it neutral, your first names are fine too.
At this time, you can decide to head straight to your tables for dinner, or you can start the first dances right away. I prefer the flow of having all the dances after dinner, but it’s totally up to you! That’s where I’ll head to next, but as I mentioned above, you can change your own wedding day timeline to fit your needs.
Here we’ll have a few different elements in play. You’ve already chosen your seating arrangements and the music, so all that’s left is the style of meal you’ll serve and your menu for the night. Oh, and we can’t forget about the drinks.
There is a lot to consider here. After all, it is one of the most important and the most expensive pieces of your wedding day.
Plated dinners are the most common style for destination weddings. You’ve probably heard of serving family-style or having food stations at a wedding but that’s not something they really do here in Punta Cana.
Some resorts offer a buffet menu, but this isn’t an option at most outside venues. And don’t worry – it’s not needed at all. The menus are amazing!
Feel free to ask your wedding coordinator for the options and decide from there.
Choosing a Menu
Once you’ve chosen the serving style, you can select your menu. You’ll be given a list of options from your resort or venue, likely with different price points depending on the type of food you choose. Typically the menus will include an appetizer and a main course.
It’s common to include meat, fish, or chicken as the main dish, but you’re in Punta Cana! Why not embrace the seafood life and serve up some lobster or prawns?
Just don’t forget to consider any allergies or special dietary requirements.
Your wedding dinner will probably have the biggest price tag of your entire wedding budget. Food and drinks typically account for about 40 percent of the total.
So what about the drinks?
Drinks at your Destination Wedding Reception
When it comes to serving alcohol at your wedding reception, you’ll have a couple of options depending on your venue. Most places will give you the choice to have a fully open bar starting at dinner and going to the end of the reception. Or you can include beer and wine for dinner, and then open the bar fully after dessert.
Maybe you’d like all of your guests to take a shot of tequila before heading to their seats. You know, get the party started right away! Or maybe you’d rather hold off until after the speeches to avoid any embarrassing secrets spilling out.
Consider your budget and your guest list and decide which option fits best for you. It’s your choice!
You’ll also want to choose which type of alcohol to serve. If you’re a more laidback couple, local or generic alcohol brands will do just fine. The Dominican Republic is famous for its rum, after all. If you’re going for a more elegant reception, you may want to spend a little extra on that top-shelf liquor and fine wine.
What about the champagne? Do you want to include a couple of bottles for a toast? Champagne is expensive, so feel free to skip it if it’s not within your budget. Guests can cheers with whatever they’re sipping on during dinner.
Also be sure to include plenty of soda, water, and juice for any guests who would rather not indulge in the open bar – and for the kiddos, of course.
So your dinner is served and your guests are getting a little tipsy… Let’s move on to the toasts.
Kicking off the wedding speeches is usually the father of the bride. He can welcome the guests and say a few words before dinner, or he can wait until after the meal.
Next comes the maid of honor and the best man. Usually, these are done after dinner.
Finally, the bride and groom can give a speech of their own to thank their guests for coming. If you have any other close friends or family members that would like to say a few words, now is the time.
Speeches should be kept short and sweet. Usually around 3 minutes is ideal, no longer than 5 minutes.
You may want to cut the cake before speeches so your guests can enjoy dessert while they listen. Or you can do them during dinner – just be sure that you’ve had enough time to eat before they begin. Especially if you’re getting video coverage of your wedding day. You’ll feel awkward with a camera on you (and everyone looking your way) as you’re eating your meal. And it’s so important to eat during this time.
Wedding Cake and Dessert
Let’s get into the sugary details! Are you keeping it traditional by serving a wedding cake? Or would you rather opt for different desserts? Cupcakes seem to be all the rage right now! But donuts are making a surprise appearance, too. You can even incorporate a full dessert bar. It’s entirely up to you.
When it comes to choosing a wedding cake, you’ll need to choose a flavor, a filling, and the cake design, as well as a cake table to place the cake on. Outside wedding venues like Kukua and Jellyfish will blow you away with their cake decor!
Don’t forget the cake topper and a cake-cutting knife and serving set. You’ll also want to choose a song to cut the cake to!
Not a fan of cake? Your resort or venue will offer a ton of different dessert options to choose from. This is also a great way to save on your wedding budget. Who knew wedding cake was so expensive?!
Okay, enough of that. How are you feeling so far? Are you ready to get the party started? Me too!
Bride and Groom First Dance
It’s your first dance as husband and wife! How exciting!
Have you already picked a song? It’s an emotional moment so be sure to choose something that reflects the two of you as a couple.
Aside from choosing the song, you may want to practice a few dance moves together. Are you going to sway side to side? Or perform a choreographed ballroom dance? Maybe you want to make it funny with an over-the-top, theatrical number. Showcase your personality and have fun with it!
If you’re going for a formal dance, taking dance lessons could be a good way to practice and to bond before the wedding day. You’ll be sure to create memories that last a lifetime!
What a great moment to honor your father and express gratitude as you step into this new chapter in your life. Talk to your dad about what song he’d like to dance to and decide together. It can be a heartfelt, emotional song, or you can choose a more fun, upbeat tune.
Practice dancing together a few times before the wedding day. It’s a great bonding experience and is sure to bring some laughs!
Now if you don’t have that type of relationship with your dad or he’s no longer in your life, feel free to make this time your own. You can dance with your mom, another family member, or an important person in your life. Or you can skip this part of the evening altogether. It’s your wedding day, and you can do whatever works for you.
This is a sweet moment for the groom and his mom. She’s probably been waiting for this! It’s a great way to honor their special bond and to enjoy a few precious minutes together.
They can choose a song that reflects their relationship, or choose something upbeat and fun to set the stage for the rest of the night. I always recommend a few practice dances before the big night.
After the mother-son dance, guests will be encouraged to join them on the dance floor. I know I said it before, but now it’s officially time to get the party started!
Finally! Get all your guests onto the dance floor. They’ve probably had a few drinks by this point and should be loosened up.
An experienced DJ will be able to choose the right mix of music to get the party started – and to keep it going!
It’s time to let loose and enjoy. Dance with your groom. Dance with your guests. Have a couple of drinks yourself. And celebrate your new marriage!
You may want to include other special dances here like an anniversary dance, a dollar dance, or any dances specific to your culture.
Don’t forget to relax, have some fun, and enjoy the party!
Bouquet & Garter Toss
This is one of those longstanding wedding traditions, but to be honest, the trend has been dwindling in recent years. The tradition includes gathering all of the single guests and tossing the bouquet to the girls and the garter to the guys. Whoever catches it is said to be the next to get married.
It can be a good way to get your guests involved, but it can sometimes feel awkward or uncomfortable… Especially if you don’t have a lot of single friends.
Decide if you want to partake in this tradition, and if you do, we’ll be there to capture the moment!
Destination Wedding Reception Extras
If you want to add a unique touch to your wedding reception, including extra shows or events can be a great way to do this!
Since you’re getting married in Punta Cana, you may want to embrace Caribbean tradition and include a crazy hour. Or wow your guests with a Fire Show. You can even hire a cigar roller to make fresh cigars. If you have any other traditions in your family, this can be a great time to include them.
Another silly option is the shoe game where the bride and groom have to answer a series of questions without seeing the other one’s answers. If you’d like to add any games, it is usually best to do these right after dinner to avoid a break in the dancing. Again, it’s your wedding day, so you do whatever feels right for you.
Eventually, the night will come to an end, so let’s talk about those final moments.
The last dance song is the end to your evening and signals to your guests that it’s time to head back to the resort. You basically have two options here: keep it upbeat or switch to a slow dance.
If you want to go out with a bang and finish the night surrounded by your friends and family, you’ll want to choose a fun, upbeat song to close the night. Get everyone dancing and singing (or shouting?) the lyrics together.
On the other hand, a slow song can be a romantic way to end the night for you and your new husband. You can bring all the couples onto the dance floor for one last slow dance.
Remember, it’s the final moments of your wedding day so make them count.
Destination Wedding Reception Send-Off
Are you ready for your grand exit? The wedding reception has come to an end and to be honest, you’ll probably feel exhausted by this point. Let’s take one final moment to honor your wedding day and your new marriage.
Gather all of your guests together to bid you farewell.
Typically, this is a bigger event at traditional weddings since the couple will leave their guests to head off to their honeymoon. At destination weddings, it doesn’t really work the same way. You’ll probably head back to the resort with your guests. And maybe you’ll even spend a few more days with them, too. But if you want to plan a big exit, here’s a great idea:
Plan an amazing sparkler send-off for your wedding
This grand exit option has made a big splash on social media in recent years.
Here are a few tips to make these photos shine:
- Don’t use regular sparklers. They burn out too fast! The longer sparklers (20-36 inches) will give you more time to get those stunning photos of your send-off with all the sparklers burning at once.
- Light all of the sparklers at the same time. Once a few are lit, your guests can help each other to light the others. It helps to have extra lighters to get this done quickly.
- Walk down the aisle, don’t run! You can even dance if that’s more your style. But don’t rush it.
- Don’t forget to kiss!
Bonus: Check with your wedding planner to make sure sparklers are allowed at your venue or resort. They’ll have to bring the sparklers to the wedding for you since you can’t travel with them on the plane.
If you don’t have photography and videography coverage until the end of the night, you can do a sparkler tunnel earlier in the night. When you’re heading to the dance floor after dinner is a great alternative. Reach out to us to discuss your timeline and come up with a plan for your special day.
Your Destination Wedding Reception is Over
You’ve made it through the day! The biggest day of your lives! It’s going to be so bittersweet.
On one hand, you’ll feel so relieved to have the day over and done – it’s like a huge weight has lifted off your shoulders. On the other, it will feel so strange not to have to do any more planning or prep. You may even feel a little sad that this big day is actually over.
But now comes the best part:
You’re married to the love of your life! You get to start your life together.
Enjoy your last few days pampering yourselves in Punta Cana before you head back to reality. Maybe you want to schedule a trash the dress photoshoot before you head home. Get in contact with us to learn more!