Florida Beach Weddings and Receptions – Planning Trip #1

Chapel By-The-Sea (Captiva)

Having spent the past few months doing research into the differences between traditional versus destination weddings, my fiancé and I have our hearts set on a Florida beach wedding at Sanibel or Captiva Island.  We created our list of venues for Sanibel Island weddings, and decided to take a trip to the island and do some exploring.  Join us as we walk you through our first steps to planning a beach wedding.
Preparing For The First Trip:

We started planning a beach wedding by compiling our list of venues – a result of many hours of Google searches and combing through reviews on various websites (such as WeddingWire, TheKnot, etc).  My fiancé and I contacted the Banquet/Catering managers at each of the destination wedding locations and requested their packages and pricing.  By doing this, we were able to get some preliminary pricing which helped us narrow our focus to the particular destination wedding locations which appeared to fit within our budget.  After examining the prices (and pretty pictures) online, our focus narrowed to the following options:  Sundial Beach & Golf Resort (Sanibel), South Seas (Captiva), Tween Waters (Captiva), Casa Ybel, and the Chapel-by-the-Sea (while not a “beach” wedding, we were entertaining the “old charm” of Chapel-by-the-Sea).

NOTE:  If you just started researching Sanibel Island weddings yourself, we wrote up our list of Florida beach wedding locations to help get you started!

The Thistle Lodge at Casa Ybel (Sanibel)

Our plan of attack was as follows:

  1. My fiancé and I made appointments to meet with the Catering/Sales manager at the destination wedding locations for a tour of the property and wedding/reception venues (beaches & banquet rooms).
    • This allowed us the opportunity to meet the folks we would be working with (“put a face with the name”).
    • We got to see the destination wedding locations (accommodations, banquet rooms, and beaches) that weren’t otherwise pictured on websites or brochures.  It seemed most of resorts had options which were less glamorous (but more than adequate) and increasingly budget friendly.
  2. While slightly inconvenient, we booked a stay in the accommodations at each of our top picks.
    • This was our chance to walk a day (or two) in the shoes of our guests (wedding invitees).  Were the destination wedding locations convenient, the employees friendly, and the room(s) clean?
  3. We made sure to leave ample time (minimum one hour) between each scheduled visit.
    • We approached this as time for travel between locations (traffic on the island can get crazy).
    • We hoped to record our thoughts on the locations, people, etc immediately following the meeting while it was fresh in our mind.
Having completed our research and finalized all our preparations, we were ready to head to Sanibel!

Our First Destination Wedding Planning Trip:

As we arrived in Florida, it immediately felt like vacation (too bad we actually had work to do)!  As a northerner (Ohio), it always amazes me how beautiful the foliage and wildlife can be in tropical climates.  Even on our way to the island, I made my fiancé stop on the Causeway for some photographs!

We checked-in at our first location and started exploring the island.  While my fiancé was quite familiar with Sanibel and Captiva, I was a “newbie” to the island scene.  She took the time to show me around the various sites:  The lighthouse, Bowman’s beach, and some of the various restaurants.  I took notes, figuring these would be places we would encourage our guests to visit should they decide to make our wedding more of a vacation.  Each day, we met with the various sales/catering managers at the various destination wedding locations, making sure to ask pertinent questions which didn’t seem to be included in the materials previously provided.  As an example:

    • What was the refund policy (due to hurricanes, natural disasters, etc)?
    • What was the site fee for each location?  Was this discounted based on group bookings for accommodations?
    • What was the backup location for the beach-side ceremony?
    • Was there a list of “preferred vendors” and what was the policy for utilizing vendors which were not on the list?
    • Did the catering fees include cake cutting.  What was the policy on cakes from outside vendors?
    • What were the options for a rehearsal dinner and thank-you brunch?
    • What were the “minimum” food and beverage limits?  Did these vary based on particular locations within the property and/or days of the week?
    • Did the Site fees include setup/teardown?

NOTE:  We highly recommend you see our list of questions to ask your wedding ceremony and reception venues.  We also have written a number of checklists/questions for wedding vendors that may be worth keeping bookmarked!

We also took a half day during our trip to attend the “Bridal Blast” expo at the Germain Arena.  I was skeptical as to whether this was really worth our time (as I imagine most typical grooms would be), but I was quick to realize my gross underestimation of how useful the expo was.  My fiancé and I came away from the Expo with a ton of new ideas for our wedding, as well as a huge list of potential vendors that we got to personally interact and talk with.  Of particular importance, we got to meet a number of great DJ’s and Photographers, and had the chance to taste some sample cakes from the bakeries.  You may be tempted to attend an expo closer to home (and that’s great for ideas), but I strongly urge you to check out an expo closer to your potential destination wedding locations (or if you’re like us, Sanibel Island weddings).

Incidentally, we fell in love with one of the bakeries (the people, the cake, their designs, etc) at the Expo, and decided right then that we HAD to have them do our cake!  Check that one off our list!

Sundial Pool and Beach

What We Learned On Our First Planning Trip:

So one thing is for sure, we came back from our trip with a few surprises.

  • The Bridal Expo was a huge help.  We had names of Photographers, Officiants, Bakeries, and Florists ready to go!  We had also already decided that Mason’s Bakery was our bakery of choice!
  • After looking at the Chapel, we decided that we really wanted the “sandy beach” wedding and not an indoor wedding.  One thing is for sure, the Chapel By-the-Sea is a historical building with character – beautiful in its own right.
  • The wedding/reception location (on Captiva) we initially had at the top of our list fell to the bottom.  The room we stayed in was in poor condition overall, but the “sticky stuff” on the headboard was too much even for me!  I definitely felt as though I did NOT want any of our dear friends and family staying there.  Also, the catering manager came across as a “my way or the highway” type, making it sound like destination events were run like a well-oiled, carbon-copied machine.  This just wasn’t our style.
  • A location that we thought *could* be affordable potentially could have been, but this was one instance where the “cheaper” option definitely looked cheaper and left us feeling like our “special” day would be “ehh.”  The “butterfly garden” was just another name for “brick-paved roadway leading to trash compactor.”   Don’t get me wrong, their prime wedding and reception locations were gorgeous, but unrealistic due to our budget.
  • One location didn’t look large enough to fit the potential number of guests we hoped to invite.  It was gorgeous though, as it definitely has an “island” feel and gorgeous landscaping.  The downside, the reception location had stairs with no elevator, which could have caused issues for some of our older guests.
  • The location which left us with a “so-so” initial impression (via website and brochures) ended up completely winning us over.  The sales manager was more-than-accommodating to our questions and pleasantly friendly.  The sales manager was also extremely flexible and willing to help us work within our budget, offering (and showing us) locations at sister properties (including a golf course) which we could potentially use.  The resort staff (bartenders, waitresses, etc) we spoke with had nothing but great insight about the island and events they’ve seen at the resort in the past.  Congratulations Sundial… you won us over!!

Now, to make sure we can sell it to the parents of the bride!!  What were some questions you had when researching destination wedding locations?  Feel free to leave us some comments if you have questions about our experience and/or want to contribute your own experiences for other southwest florida destination wedding brides!

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About Rob

A northerner that recently moved South! My newlywed wife and I are long-time vacationers around southwest Florida, and our hearts definitely belong on Sanibel Island!


  1. Hi!
    My name is Jane and I’m with Dwellable.
    I was looking for blog posts about Sundial Beach & Golf to share on our site and I came across your post…If you’re open to it, shoot me an email at jane(at)dwellable(dot)com.
    Hope to hear from you 🙂

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