My husband and I were married July 1, 2008 at the Riu Palace Macao. We knew we wanted a beach wedding and we couldn’t have asked for more… the entire day was perfect! As a bride I found it difficult to find out information about a destination wedding, what needed to be done and what to expect so I decided to put together this review for those people who are thinking of having a destination wedding at one of the Riu resorts in the Dominican in hopes of providing you more info.
We had 52 friends and family members join us for our wedding and we all stayed at the Riu Palace Macao. My husband and I arrived three days before our guests so we had time to explore the resort and complete some pre-wedding planning (you must be in country a minimum of three BUSINESS days prior to your wedding).
The hotel rooms were nice, our guests were in standard rooms that had king size or two double beds. All rooms contain a full bar (which is stocked every other day), full bathroom with tub, TV, air conditioning, etc. A few of our guests complained that their air conditioning wasn’t working in their rooms – for those who’s air really wasn’t working the resort either fixed it or moved them to another room. A few things to note with the air conditioning – your patio door must be fully closed in order for the air to work. If the door is open even a slight bit the air automatically shuts off (this was the case with many people). Also, the air conditioning doesn’t run as cold as you may have it at home so don’t expect that you’ll come in to your room and it will be an ice box. My husband and I stayed in a Jacuzzi suite, our room was large and spacious and on our balcony we had stairs leading up to a private Jacuzzi outside. Our room was perfect!
The entertainment staff and the waiters at the hotel are awesome! Especially Johnny Bravo, Super John, Big Pappi, Angie & Antinito (waiter at the pool). We went to some of the shows – the ones held in the Copacabana are nice because the theatre is outside (the indoor theatre is musty and can get hot).
At night most people hang out in the lobby bar, the casino or go to the Pacha (the night club). You can get into the night club for free but you have to pay for drinks. We did go to Pacha a few times, and we just got drinks at the resort and took them into the night club with us to avoid paying while we were there.
The resort it’s self has many activities such as: Tennis, Water polo, Sailing, Windsurfing, Snorkeling, Kayaking, Body Boarding, etc.
The only activities NOT included are motorized water sports like Jet-Ski or Banana Boat Rides. Paddle boats, Sail boats, snorkling, and all sporting equipment can be borrowed free of charge.
If you want to go off the resort there are a ton of activities you can enjoy including the following (we did the reef explorer, dune buggy & monster truck tours):
Golf: The is the number one golf destination in the Caribbean , Names like Pete Dye, Robert Trent Jones Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus are trade marks to some of our more than 30 golf courses. Punta Cana offers a great choice for golf lovers. Play in a course designed following the lay of the land, using natural terrain to provide a route easily to remember long after the player has finished. The trade marks features are strategically placed, bunkers, mounds, and gently rolling terrain with well-defined and generous fairways and greens without forgetting an unrelenting wind.
Manati Park: 130,000 square meter preserve with permanent exhibits of birds, reptiles, and fish. A show with parrots, dolphins and dancing horses is included in the admission fee. Optional possibility of swimming with the dolphins for an extra fee. Reservations should be made as soon as you arrive in the country if you want to swim with the dolphins. Stroll along the lush gardens, take pictures of the beautiful orchids and tropical plants, or buy some local crafts in the souvenir shops.
Rafting: If you’re a whitewater fan, The Rio Yaque is the longest river in the Caribbean and offers challenging courses like the “Mike Tyson”, which features a 12-foot vertical drop!
Deep Sea Fishing: Half day trips or full-day excursions for the serious sports fisherman are available in one of the best fishing destinations in the world. Fish for Wahoo, Kingfish, Sailfish, Marlin or Barracuda.
Snorkeling & Diving: The water is warm, the reefs are plentiful and the region offers more than 20 open-water dive sites.
Santo Domingo: Don’t miss the opportunity to explore the first city in the "New World" and the capital of the . Visit the palace of Diego Columbus (son of Christopher Columbus) and the conquistadors headquarter for over 60 years; the Cathedral Santa Maria La Menor (first in the New World) and the Royal House Museum . These are just a few of the spectacular sites of this rich colonial and historical city. Enjoy time at leisure on El Conde Street (first commercial street in the new world) to explore on your own.
Monster Truck Safari: The Monster Truck Safari offers an adventurous day full of breathtaking landscapes, sparkling rivers and streams and unforgettable experiences. Join friendly and professional guides on the large 8x8 all terrain trucks made especially for your comfort and safety as they take you through lush vegetation, back country roads and small colorful villages. Taste freshly cut sugar cane straight from the field, sample fresh brewed coffee and enjoy endless juicy fruits. Cool off with a swim in the river then sip on a Cuba Libre, a cocktail made of Cola, lime and rum, dance or just relax on the hammocks.
The Monster Truck Safari also offers an opportunity to go shopping at the local market where you can browse through a variety of handicrafts, hand-painted masks, ceramics and local coffee, rum and cigars. Be sure to bring your camera with you while enjoying the Monster Truck Safari since there are numerous photo opportunities offering great views of the Dominican Republic’s natural beauty.
Dune Buggy: We did the dune buggy excursion. It was $65. USD per person, and included horse back riding, a cave, and a visit to a beautiful natural beach. The whole tour is a half day and was a lot of fun! If you do decide to go, pack some clothes that you will not mind to throw out, ....you get covered in mud from head to toe. We decided to just toss our t-shirts and socks but our shorts and shoes I soaked when we got to the hotel and then washed properly when we got home. Most of the stains came out however if you take clothes you can just toss then this might be easier.
Helicopter Tours: A photographers’ dream come true! Discover the unspoiled beauty of Punta Cana, fly over its beautiful surrounding areas of lush tropical vegetation, golf courses, endless white sand beaches and turquoise water; enjoy the amazing view of wrecked vessels while flying above thousands of coconut trees swaying effortlessly to the rhythm of the breeze. Discover paradise from a different perspective.
There are two dinner seatings (6:30 and 8:30). You are assigned a table in the buffet restaurant, and you eat at that time for your entire stay unless you opt to go to one of the ala carte restaurants. Note: the men have to wear long pants to dinner. The buffet was ok, there was a variety of foods and enough to choose from. You need to make you reservations for the other restaurants between 7-8:30 in the morning, otherwise they are booked. We enjoyed the view from the Caribe Grille (where we also had our wedding reception). The steakhouse was ok and we quite enjoyed the Japanese place as well and found it to be the best! We’ve been to a number of all inclusive resorts and we found the food at the Riu to be quite good. That being said we did hear a number of people complain that they didn’t like the food… the thing that people have to remember is that you are not going to get food like you would find in restaurants at home so don’t expect it.
Another thing to remember is that whenever you go to a resort (this one or any other), be sure to lock your valuables in the room safe. The hotel provides you a safe for free and you should use it. If by chance something is stolen from your safe (this didn’t happen to anyone as far as we know) the resort will reimburse you for the items. If however you have items outside the safe that are stolen you won’t be reimbursed. We have a few guests who left cameras out or their cell phones charging while they weren’t in their room and these items were stolen. We reported these incidences to the front desk and to our travel company (Sunquest) but because the items weren’t in the safe there was little they could do.
I recommend that you pick a resort and start on all your proper documents roughly 3-4 months before you leave this will ensure that the judge is still available and gives you time to send a copy of your documents down there for approval before you go so that there are no surprises before getting there. I went to DRSI http://www.dominicanweddings.net/ in Toronto. This company specializes in assisting couples in arranging their marriages in the Dominican. They assure that all the legal requirements are met and they arranged for our passports, birth certificates, marriage application to be translated and legalized by the Dominican Republic Consulate.
There are two wedding planners at the resort Magnolia Crisostomo & Juliana Sandoval. Before arriving at the resort we worked with Magnolia – once there we worked with Juliana. The majority of the time (pre-arrival) we communicated via. e-mail. Typically responses would take a few days but she would always respond. Both of these women plan and execute multiple weddings a week so for them everything seemed easy. For me as the bride (not knowing what to expect) I struggled with this. Magnolia would answer my many questions as I asked them, and would on multiple occasions tell me not to worry about anything - that we’d sort it all out when we got down to Dominican. For someone who is as “overly organized” as I am I wasn’t entirely comfortable with that – for someone who’s more laid back this would be fine. I wanted to know every detail, how things were going to play out, what my options were, etc. Because I wanted to know all of these things and wasn’t sure what I’d get when I got to Dominican I did a lot of things at home and just packed extra suitcases to bring the stuff down with us. Having gone through it now, I can tell you that you can trust these ladies, they will do all they can to fulfill any request you have.
If you are flying down on a charter flight (most are) then they will let you take your dress on board and it won’t be counted as my carry-on luggage. It had to be stored in the overhead compartments – but they’ll likely reserve one for you so you don’t have to worry. My husband and I flew Air Canada and they wouldn’t allow me to carry my dress on (even though we were in business class) – and because I asked ahead of time I was able to make arrangements for my dad to take my dress on board his charter flight.
* Be sure to talk to your wedding coordinator about every detail. I had emailed Magnolia quite often leading up to our trip, and she doesn’t mind, she wants to make sure that you are going to be happy. Magnolia also arranged to meet us the day after we arrived in DR to go through every detail and finalize everything.
You will need two witnesses holding valid passports that can be traveling with you or you can ask local hotel staff to witness your wedding. Note: Witnesses can not be blood related on either side.
Documents required to get married in the DR:
1. Original birth certificates. (Send three photocopies).
2. Valid and signed passports. (Send three photocopies of the main page).
3. Notarized statutory declarations of single status done according to our sample. (Bring or send one original and two photocopies).The Notary Public must be a Lawyer with a notary's seal or stamp.
Click here to see a sample of the Statutory Declaration.
4. Divorce certificate or death certificate, if applicable. (Send original or notarized photocopy and three simple photocopies.) In both cases, a minimum waiting period of ten months applies before a woman can remarry.
5. Filled in Information Form and Document Checklist.
The 3rd and 4th documents are translated and legalized by the Dominican Republic Consulate. The birth certificates have to be translated into Spanish. Some hotels ask for birth certificates to be legalized as well, please find out if that is the case with your hotel and let us know.
We had 4 groomsmen & 4 bridesmaids. The girls all wore purple dresses (different lengths) & flip flops, and the guys wore beige linen pants and purple shirts that matched the girls dresses with sandles. My husband chose to wear a white linen suit (including jacket) and a purple shirt, and I wore a traditional wedding dress. I went shopping for a beach type flowing dress but fell in love with the one I wore. Both my husband and I thought we’d be way too hot but were willing to suck it up for one day. Because both the ceremony location and the restaurant for our reception were on the beach we had a nice breeze for the entire thing and neither of us were overly hot.
The girls and I all had our hair and make-up done by Maria at the resort, she came to my suite and had us all done by 2:30pm. My hair cost $50.00 USD and the girls cost $40.00 ea.; make-up was $20.00 ea. Something to note is that Maria didn’t have any pictures of hair samples – Luckily, I had done some searching ahead of time so had some print outs and my girls and I just chose from them. She’s working on getting a book of photos, but it would be worth doing the research ahead of time and taking pictures with you.
The Riu offers 3 locations for a wedding ceremony to take place.
• The gazebo at the Palace Punta Cana – It’s quite pretty and right near the beach – probably the most private of all of the locations (however anyone on the beach near the gazebo will watch).
• The gazebo at the Riu Bambu – This gazebo is just up from the beach and outside one of the restaurants. This location is just off the main sidewalk connecting the resorts so you should expect quite a few onlookers.
• On the beach outside the Caribe Grill at the Riu Palace Macao. – This is the location we knew ahead of time we wanted and we were thrilled with the results. You have to be prepared for lots of onlookers both on the beach and on the sidewalk between the resorts. The staff at the resort will do what they can to keep sun bathers and spectators from interfering and being in photos. The aisle is up a wooden boardwalk down some stairs crossing the sidewalk and standing on sand.
We purchased the Caprice Wedding Package that was aprox. $2375.00 USD. The wedding package we bought included:
• Caprice decorations set up of the ceremony location for up to 80 people – This included covered chairs for the ceremony and flowered arches.
• Bouquet of flowers for the bride and a matching boutonniere for the groom – We bought the following extra flowers bridesmaid flowers ($30.00ea), Boutonnières ($10.00), and mothers Corsages ($20.00). – All turned out beautifully. You’ll be able to pick your flowers once you get to the resort (the wedding planners have lots of photos).
• CD or recorded music during the ceremony – We went with the CD which was AWESOME!
• Twenty four color photographs with a special photo album and CD – this was fine for us as we had a photographer with us taking pictures. However, if you didn’t have your own photographer the on site photographer did a great job and you can buy additional photos, albums, etc. from him.
• Reception dinner for the wedding group at one of our specialty restaurants –See reception details below.
• Wedding cake for up to 15 people – As we had 50 people at our wedding we decided to pay for a larger cake that would serve everyone. The additional cost was $10.00 per person.
• Three bottles of sparkling wine – We decided to save the champagne until the reception and because you can get champagne included in the restaurants (we did our toasts, etc. there with their champagne) they just sent the 3 bottles to our room which we enjoyed when we were alone together.
• Natural or Chocolate body exfoliation for the bride and groom
• Aromatherapy massage for the bride and groom
• Deep-tissue or Lomi Lomi massage for the groom
• Manicure, pedicure and hairstyle try out for the bride
• Ten percent discount on all spa services for the bride and the groom (restrictions apply)
• Complimentary room upgrade subject to availability upon arrival (External Jacuzzi Suites are not included)
• Breakfast in bed the morning after the wedding
• Surprise gift and fruit basket
• Minister/Judge service & wedding certificate are included
The Wedding Ceremony
As mentioned, we purchased the caprice package. The package included almost everything we wanted and we only paid extra for the hair & make-up, the additional flowers, and a larger cake. The ceremony it’s self was at 5:00 pm on the beach and was quite short (just a few minutes).
We asked Magnolia if we could have a few readings and/or a unity candle lighting during the ceremony and she advised that this would be possible if we brought them down with us. We chose to do two readings which was actually quite nice and extended the ceremony a little.
For the ceremony, I had printed programs at home and brought them with me (because I wasn’t sure if the resort would do this). I was happy with the programs that I brought, however I did find out the resort would do this for you and would have saved me from bringing them down there.
Knowing that it was likely going to be very hot we also had fans made at home that had our names and wedding date on them, we gave these to Juliana when we met with her (upon arrival in DR) and she had them placed open on every seat for when the guests arrived at the ceremony – this was a really nice touch.
The Judge conducted the ceremony in Spanish and Magnolia was on site and did the translation during the ceremony.
The set-up was beautiful, and the time of day was good. The temperature was not as hot at that time and we managed to get some beautiful sunset pictures. Everything for the ceremony was perfect!
I knew that we were aloud to have our group at one of the speciality restaurants for dinner (keep in mind this is only for one seating so you’ll have to choose either the early or late seating). We really wanted to have more time and have the restaurant to ourselves so I asked Magnolia what the options were. She advised that if we paid $600.00 USD we could reserve one of the restaurants for the entire night, they would set it up however we wished , and would decorate! We decided that because we had such a large group this was definitely the option for us and decided to book the Caribe Grill (the restaurant on stilts, on the beach) - I’m so glad we chose to do it this way!
For a group our size, they set the room up in a giant U shape with the head table being closest to the sea (as a backdrop). They let me do a seating chart (I had name cards I brought with me) and they set it up exactly how I had asked. The tables and chairs were covered in white linen and they had candles everywhere – it was BEAUTIFUL!
For the meal the guests got to order off the a la carte menu which was nice as people got to pick what they want rather than be stuck eating a pre-ordered meal.
We also hired a DJ for the night (through the wedding planners). For the small cost of $300.00 USD he played romantic music all through dinner, provided a wireless microphone for speeches, played our first dance, father/daughter, and mother/son songs (we brought those on a CD), as well as played a variety of music for the remainder of the night.
Basically, we had a full reception like you would have at home including speeches, cake cutting, bouquet and garter toss. We had the restaurant booked from 6:30pm – 10:30pm (although we slipped the restaurant staff and the DJ a generous tip and they let us stay until 11:30pm).
We also pre-ordered cigar labels (off the internet) and brought them down with us. Upon arriving at the resort we arranged to buy 100 cigars from one of the cigar vendors and the guy put our labels on for us – which saved us a ton of time! Magnolia and Juliana put the cigars in a beautiful basket and had them next to the guest book at the reception for when the guests arrived.
We were thrilled with the way the wedding turned out. Magnolia and Juliana were wonderful and they made sure that everything we wanted happened. Not a single thing went wrong and we certainly couldn’t have ask for more…. Except that maybe the day lasted a little longer.
I’ve tried to attach some pictures so you’ll know what to expect.
Good luck in finding your perfect destination wedding location!