As I promised last week, I am posting the remaining portion of my review on my experience with hosting my destination wedding at The Royal Playa Del Carmen in Mexico. As you can see, it's pretty long, so without further ado...
Welcome Cocktail Reception
On Thursday, February 3rd, we invited our guests to meet down at the Lobby Bar at The Royal for drinks so that everyone could meet and get to know one another. I selected this particular bar at the resort without having seen it first based on some reviews I had read online, and it turned out to be the perfect place! The lobby bar is a huge space with a lot of seating, featuring live entertainment in the evenings. It's the first bar you see when you arrive at the resort, opening up from the main reception area, so it's very easy to find. Once we arrived, we gathered up some tables and chairs in one area in the bar so it felt like a private party, without having to make any sort of reservation or special requests beforehand.
We made no official plans for everyone to have dinner together after the cocktail reception because we didn't want to commandeer too much of our guests' vacation time, but many of us ended up going to dinner together, anyway. As the cocktail reception began to dwindle down, my parents walked over to one of the resort restaurants nearby, Asiana, and spoke with the manager about seating our group (of about 18) for dinner. We were told that it would be a 45 minute wait, and we'd have to sit at two seperate tables next to one another. After waiting an hour and speaking with the manager a couple of times, they were finally able to accommodate some of us about 15 minutes later, and the rest of our party waited a little bit longer for another table nearby to open up.
Everything was fine once we were all seated with drinks in hand, until my fiancé joined us at the restaurant about 20 minutes later. Because he was technically the 9th person to sit at our table, the manager told us that we would have to split up yet again. We didn't understand why ONE person (who fit at the table with us just fine) was a big deal, but fortunately, there was a four-top available just a few feet away, so a few of us moved over there to eat.
Once all of the fuss over seating was over, we were able to enjoy our dinner together. We were a pretty loud group, so I would say that the staff was pretty patient with us, overall! The food, which was Asian cuisine, was absolutely delicious (it was definitely my favorite restaurant at the resort), and I highly recommend it.
The next evening, we had our rehearsal dinner offsite at The Bistro at La Tortuga Hotel & Spa in downtown Playa Del Carmen, which was just a few blocks from The Royal. The main reason for our decision to have dinner off the resort property was because of the resort's policy against allowing more than 8 guests to sit together at one table. The only way that the resort would allow us to do so was if we paid an extra fee per person for a "semi-private event," which was basically a larger table and a dedicated waiter at one of the resort restaurants that was still open for regular business.
I had actually reached out to Jose, the manager at The Bistro, about a month prior to make a dinner reservation for 12 guests. He was very responsive through email at first, and sent me menus, photos of the restaurant and pricing right away. However, when I emailed Jose again a couple weeks before the wedding to confirm the reservation date and time, he was completely unresponsive. I wasn't even sure if we still had a reservation there anymore. Luckily, our amazing concierge at The Royal, Veronique, was able to secure the reservation for us the day before.
The food at The Bistro was good, and there was a nice variety of meal options for those who wanted seafood, steak or more traditional Mexican cuisine. It was a nice restaurant with dim lighting, white table cloths and no cheesy costumes or décor. We had a table outside on the covered terrace, which we enjoyed, but beware the bugs that come at night! One of the highlights of the evening was when Jose congratulated Dale and I with some complimentary Mexican coffee drinks, which were made right in front of us. Three waiters did an extremely impressive tableside demonstration involving fire, alcohol, coffee and sugar. Everyone enjoyed watching the little show, and the drinks were delicious!
Our wedding was incredible. We were married on Saturday, February 5th at 3 p.m. at the gazebo on The Royal property, which was followed by a cocktail hour on the gazebo lawn at 5 p.m., and the reception right on the beach from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. We got very lucky with the weather that day, as it had been cloudy and rainy most of the morning and the day before. Fortunately, it cleared up about an hour or so before the ceremony was set to begin – sun shining and all!
We were married in a gazebo set right beside the beach, which turned out to be the perfect spot because it was quiet, private and the beach provided a beautiful backdrop. The gazebo setup that was provided by The Royal as part of our wedding package included plenty of sheer white fabric for draping around the gazebo, a red aisle runner, white covered chairs and a table that was set inside the gazebo with a floral arrangement on top. I wasn't fond of how they typically draped the white fabric on the gazebo, so I asked that the fabric be hung looser, not tightly wrapped around the gazebo posts for a flowy, breezy look. I also brought my own paper lanterns to hang inside the gazebo, opted for yellow rose petals on the ground instead of the red aisle runner, upgraded to white chiavari chairs for guests (I thought the covered chairs were hideous) and brought a set of yellow pomanders to hang on the chairs lining the aisle way. **More to come on our ceremony decor another day once we get our professional wedding photos back!
Since we did not have an official wedding rehearsal the night before, we didn't actually meet the minister who married us until the day of. For that reason, I provided our wedding coordinator, Michelle with a full script to pass along to our minister ahead of time, as well as a detailed timeline of the entire wedding day for her to refer to. The minister did a good job of following our script to the letter; she actually read directly from her papers the entire time, which wasn't ideal, but it's still better than her messing up! I will say that our minister had a heavy accent and a quiet voice, so she was sometimes a bit difficult for us to hear, even with a microphone. I was concerned at first, but I asked some of our guests later on if they had trouble hearing her, and most said that they could follow along just fine.
We used an iPod for all of our music played during the ceremony and the cocktail hour. We put all of our preferred songs onto our old iPod for Michelle prior to the wedding, and divided the songs into playlists including, "Before ceremony," "Walk down the aisle," "After ceremony," "Cocktail hour," etc. We didn't have any problems with the sound, music playing at the wrong times or anything, really. Michelle made sure that everything ran smoothly.
Immediately following the ceremony, we were greeted at the end of the aisle with glasses of champagne for a celebratory toast. After mingling near the gazebo for about 15 minutes or so, our photographer took some group shots with all of our guests at the gazebo. Most of our guests were then free to go back to their rooms to freshen up or get another drink at the pool bar for about an hour before the cocktail hour began. For the next hour prior to the cocktail hour, we took more photos with our family and wedding party at the gazebo and down on the beach. Everyone then joined together again to enjoy the cocktail hour, while Dale and I stayed with the photographer, Erick Rodriguez, to take more pictures together on the beach. The beach was a great place for photos, with the exception of some people walking around and getting in the way occasionally. We were definitely glad that we allotted the extra time (about 1.5 hours) in between the ceremony and the cocktail hour for photos. We ended up using the entire hour and a half break and the majority of the cocktail hour taking photos on the beach and around the resort before the sun went down.
The cocktail hour took place on the lawn beside the gazebo area at 5 p.m. The area was set up beautifully, with white chairs, short cocktail tables covered in white linens, a small banquet area in the center of the tables offering appetizers and a full bar. We were expecting to only serve champagne at the cocktail hour (because an open bar was extra money), but Michelle generously provided a full bar anyway, which was a pleasant surprise! We had selected 5 or 6 hot appetizers, all of which were delicious. Looking back, our guests actually enjoyed the food at the cocktail hour more than the dinner!
Immediately following the cocktail hour at 6 p.m., we all walked over to the beach for dinner and dancing. Fortunately, the sun had just gone down as we arrived on the beach, so there weren't many people left on the beach to stare and ogle at us by that point. Like everything else that day, the reception turned out looking better than I ever could have imagined. Everyone seemed to love having the reception right on the beach; I think many of our guests were even a bit surprised at how nice the entire setup was. Our wedding coordinator from The Royal, Michelle, did an amazing job translating all of my drawings and diagrams into the real thing. She even thought to take our white paper lanterns from the ceremony to the reception, and place them next to the lights set up on the sand, making the lanterns glow around the dance floor. The dinner table looked exactly as I had hoped, as well. Despite the fact that the resort typically uses round tables for weddings, I had my heart set on having one long, rectangular table (since there were only 23 of us), and Michelle made it happen for me. Michelle also made sure that all of the place settings were set up like I wanted them, using the silver chargers, menus and sand dollar escort cards that I brought with me from home.
Our table centerpieces turned out beautifully, as well, although The Royal didn't handle those at all. Because of a significant difference in pricing, we had decided to bring in an outside vendor, rather than work with the resort's florist. A local florist in Playa Del Carmen, Marvin from Maya Diseno Floral Professional provided all of the bouquets, boutonnieres and centerpieces for the day. The Royal usually charges a hefty fee for using an outside vendor (we had to pay it once already to use an outside wedding photographer), but fortunately, we were able to avoid incurring The Royal's fee for the flowers as long as no one from The Royal was involved in the picking up or setting up of the flower arrangements onsite. A few hours before the ceremony was scheduled to begin, my aunt and some of the guys in my wedding party met the florist in the lobby, and transported all of the flowers to my aunt's hotel room until we were ready to use them. My aunt then took charge of making sure all of the flowers were delivered to exactly where they were supposed to be, including all of the table centerpieces for the reception. (Thanks again, Aunt Laurel!!!)
Music & Entertainment
We decided to upgrade from our standard wedding package for the reception in order to have a DJ, along with a light up dance floor and some extra lighting. We were very happy that we did! Everyone loved the light up dance floor, and it really added to the party atmosphere on the beach. The DJ did a good job, as well. I had given him a very short list of songs for our special dances, and gave him free reign after that. Everyone was so surprised when the sparklers started going off behind us during our first dance! The DJ also brought out some fun balloons and masks for all of the guests to play and dance around with, which everyone really seemed to get a kick out of. My only regret was that if I could do it all over again, I probably would have given the DJ a full playlist to work off of or for him to at least keep in mind when he was selecting songs to play. Don't get me wrong, I personally loved everything that he played, but I noticed that he didn't play as many older songs and classics for the parents at the reception. To give him credit though, whenever anyone did request a song, he played it almost immediately, and if he didn't have the song saved on his laptop already, he downloaded it right on-the-spot. He was great, but I would have given him a little more guidance if I could go back and do it over again.
Our three course dinner was just okay. I noticed that most people didn't finish all of their food, and I know that I didn't either. The first course was an avocado crab salad, which had an odd mushy texture, and a very strong onion flavor that turned me off. The second course, which was a beef with mushroom sauce, was pretty good and a safe bet for our guests. The dessert course was a chocolate shell filled with a sweet cream and fresh fruit, and it was probably the best course of the evening. Delicious! A while later, we had a tres leches wedding cake, and we loved that dessert even more! Our only complaint (and it ended up being our biggest complaint of the evening) was that my mom had asked the staff to make sure that they saved the extra cake for us to enjoy later, and we never got it. They probably figured that the tres leches cake wouldn't stay good sitting in a hotel room, but we probably would have enjoyed it later that night if we were given the chance!
The Royal Staff
I wanted to make sure that I mentioned that the wait staff at the reception was all kinds of awesome. We had a very attentive team of servers taking care of us throughout the evening. I only wish I had written down their names so I could give them props right now! Always extremely professional, The Royal staff went out of their way to make sure that we were all having a great time. They were pouring us shots left and right, and bringing them out to us on the dance floor. At one point, the servers even made these pink shots and did a whole blindfolded thing for almost all of the guests individually!
I hope that this goes without saying, but our onsite wedding coordinator, Michelle, was truly amazing! Both Michelle and Claudy, who was my coordinator in the many months leading up to the wedding, always responded to my questions via email within a day or two, and they followed through with everything that they promised. I can only hope that other destination brides have such amazing wedding specialists by their side!
We met Michelle in person for the first time on the Thursday before the wedding in order to go through all of the wedding details, and she made us feel comfortable right away. I explainted to her exactly what I wanted for the day, while she took notes and made sure that she understood what I was envisioning. I walked out of that first meeting knowing that she knew exactly what she was doing, which helped alleviate a lot of my worries surrounding the wedding. Michelle definitely had her work cut out for her, too. I felt bad for her at first because I brought her one huge suitcase of items to set up for the wedding including white lanterns and pomanders for the ceremony, and a ton of flip flops, silver charger plates, sand dollar escort cards, menus and favors for the reception. She even assembled all of my white lanterns to hang in the gazebo, and unwrapped all of my sandals, which were wrapped individually in plastic. Michelle went above and beyond the call of duty to make sure that we were happy and did it all with a smile on her face. I never felt like I had to check up on her or micromanage her; she always had it together and remembered every single detail as I had wanted it.
When the time finally came to walk down the aisle on our wedding day, the whole scene took my breath away. The gazebo area was set up exactly as I had described to Michelle. She was there throughout the day, always discreetly in the background to make sure everything moved along as scheduled. I can't say enough about how amazing she is, and I'm sure that she did much, much more for us behind the scenes than we even realize.
When we woke up the next morning after the wedding, we realized that all of the flowers, extra favors, lanterns, plates, etc. that we had brought with us from home were already packed up in crates and back in our hotel room. That morning, we also had a wonderful "honeymoon breakfast" delivered to our room as part of our wedding package. The breakfast was plentiful, beautifully plated and tasted delicious!