For the past eight years, I’ve been planning Caribbean destination weddings on the tiny island of Vieques, Puerto Rico, and on our sister island of Culebra just across the water. Both islands, considered the “Jewels of the Spanish Virgin Islands,” are located several miles off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico. Everything has to take a ferry or plane to get here. Nothing is simple.
Last year, I made a reality television show – “Wedding Island” on TLC – that showed the inside/behind-the-scenes real happenings at my wedding planning company on Vieques, complete with our mistakes, arguments and near disasters. Everything the clients never actually see. We pulled it off 12 times. Despite the fact we had to crank out two real weddings every week for six episodes, a speed that would usually cause my staff to mutiny and my husband to run away.
Something I’ve always preached to my interns, staff, and my readers (I was a well-respected Huffington Post wedding blogger long before I made a reality show) is that if I can plan flawless weddings somewhere as completely back-assward as tiny Vieques Island (no stoplights, wild horses everywhere, I am THE lighting and flower company too), I can plan a wedding anywhere. And now, we’re going to put me to the test. Let’s hope I don’t end up eating those words.
Let me explain what I mean… and how I got into this mess.
I have a new bff named Andrea. She is a Mother of the Bride in Distress (MoBiD), and I’m going to help her unf**k her daughter’s wedding. In less than eight weeks. On another island. This is the first time I’ve done this but I’m 100 percent confident that I will not only unf**k what the wedding planner she just fired screwed up, but I will create an overall better experience for her, the bride and groom, and all of their guests.
It’s going to be a challenge because Andrea, the MoB, is located in Australia, 12 hours ahead of me. And the bride is graduating a week before her wedding and is pretty much completely detached from the planning. She’s sent her mom pics of what she wants and mom is making it happen. But she didn’t want to and doesn’t have time to plan this wedding. Andrea hired a wedding planner a long time ago. It just didn’t work out. So I’m going to step in and unf**k this wedding for them because they deserve the perfect day. Have I lost my mind? God, I hope not.
True story: Andrea hired a wedding planner located in the southern United States to plan a wedding in Cabo San Lucas for her daughter. This planner was recommended as a “Cabo” expert, and Andrea trusted the referral. Unfortunately, it was a bunch of bulls**t because the first debacle occurred when the “expert” wedding planner assured her new clients that passports were not required for U.S. citizens to travel to Mexico. Not true. Enter Puerto Rico. (p.s. I would have fired her then.)
But the wedding planner didn’t know Puerto Rico, and she dropped the ball out of the gate by failing to secure the wedding date at the Ritz Carlton. It was available when they first inquired. She did, however, find them a spot at what is widely considered to be the most luxurious beach resort in Puerto Rico. It’s absolutely fabulous, but the room rates would bankrupt most of the guests. So the planner proposed putting only the parents and bride and groom at the posh venue, and putting the rest of the guests in a less expensive hotel nearby. Nearby as in at least AN HOUR AWAY BY BUS. No, I’m not kidding.
And that’s only the beginning of the disaster that is currently Andrea’s daughter’s wedding. Fortunately, she’s a sharp cookie and when the planner was unresponsive and didn’t follow up on vendors, Andrea made the contacts, screened them (more carefully than she had her wedding planner), and started collecting bids. Still, she’s in Australia and she’s never been to Puerto Rico to the best of my knowledge. There was no way she could pull this off with that hot mess of a wedding planner. Enter me.
Andrea sent me an email titled “Fire My Wedding Planner” and it got my attention. She’d written the basic details of the wedding disaster in the making and asked me what she should do. It was a long email and at first, I mentally set it aside because I was busy. But it kept bothering me.
I’ve preached long and hard about using wedding planners who are located at your destination, or who at least know your destination, and I felt badly for the Australia-based MoB who was clearly spending a fortune trying to save what was rapidly becoming the Titanic of weddings.
But I’ve also blogged about how to fire your wedding planner, and when NOT to fire your wedding planner. That’s actually how Andrea found me. That, and my show “Wedding Island” on TLC. So I emailed her back and asked her a few questions.
I was so outraged at her wedding planner by the time I finished reading her responses that I picked up the phone and called Andrea in Australia and said “You have to fire that wedding planner. Now!”
We talked through where everything stood – and there’s a LOT still up in the air – but she’s doing the work anyway, so why pay this other woman to do it and travel to Puerto Rico on their tab? Plus, the planner isn’t doing anything. And she’s got the wedding party staying an hour away from the venue. For real. It’s just so messed up.
Andrea told me what she had lined up, and I told her what she still needed. I wasn’t charging her – I was trying to undo the damage a colleague in the industry had done to this wedding. Call me “professionally appalled.”
By the time we said goodbye, Andrea was asking if she could hire me, and I promised to think about it. This is not what I do. But I could. If you can plan a wedding on Vieques, you can plan a wedding anywhere. And I unf**k weddings for new clients at the last minute all the time here.
This wedding is on the big island of Puerto Rico and I’m well acquainted with some of the vendors and the specific area where the Titanic is sailing in May. Over there we have access to REAL vendors like lighting companies and elaborate décor companies so we won’t have to build a canopy ourselves. Me likey.
I wasn’t surprised when Andrea emailed that she and her husband had decided to put the entire mess into my hands if I would take it. She has had enough. In less than two months, she has to travel halfway around the world for her daughter’s wedding. And there are still a zillion wedding details for us to finalize, investigate, budget and contract.
So I said yes, and jumped in with both feet. I wasn’t going to do a wedding that weekend because it’s my birthday so I had the date clear, but Andrea and her daughter were clearly in a potential wedding-tastrophy situation and they chose to call me for help. Flattery will get you everywhere… and me into trouble.
Lots of homework for me as I comb through every contract – those signed and those pending – to figure out what we’ve got coming and how things work. I have two pages of questions for the event coordinator at the venue, and I’ve already sent the florist a new set of bouquet pictures and requested a revised bid because the bride changed her mind.
Btw, that totally cracked me up because I own Flowers in Vieques and am regularly tortured by having to revise bids multiple times. It was sorta fun to give it back to a very well-known, highly-reputable, almost-famous florist on the big island who knows so much more about flowers than me. Maybe I can learn something while I’m at it!
Our team is going reconstruct this wedding the same way we do any event on Vieques that arrives in our hands in a shambles. We’ll make at least one trip over to the big island to meet face-to-face with all of the vendors. If I haven’t worked with them before, I want to discuss expectations ahead of the big day. It’s important for the venue to understand who is in charge, and for the DJ to know he’s not the MC for the event. I want to meet the cake person and see all of the rooms we’ll be using at the main venue and back-up hotel. If I do it right, we’ll only need one pre-planning trip and that saves the clients’ some money.
The first mess I’ve already cleaned up involved moving the entire group to a hotel located not far from the actual wedding venue. They’ll still need to shuttle them over and back, but it will be much easier on the guests and less expensive on the hosts picking up the tab. And the hotel I moved them to is, imho, much better for the resort experience they were looking for to begin with. We’re going to have a rehearsal dinner there now, something that wasn’t even possible to have before because people were too spread out to organize it properly.
Must say I’m not impressed thus far with the travel agent who helped the wedding planner to create this monstrous mess, but I’m giving her a chance to unf**k her own mistakes and fix it with Andrea. I actually don’t really owe her a chance because she wasn’t very nice when she finally returned my call – my name is “Sandy,” not “Candy.” And even if you didn’t understand my voicemails, I was bcc’d on the email telling the travel agent to get in touch with me. She had my name. But she didn’t know who I was. Her bad for not doing her homework pre-call. I assure you I knew who she was.
She was surprised to hear I actually lived in Puerto Rico, and she realized pretty quickly she was busted because she’d booked the whole group’s travel through an outside broker and she, the expert on travel, actually recommended the hotel for the guests more than an hour from the wedding venue. Which tells me she doesn’t know Puerto Rico very well. I bet she’s learning fast now.
More to the point, when I asked her our options for moving the guests, she gave me a set of prices that were actually a little less than what the guests were paying and the MoB was thrilled. Til a couple hours later when the travel agent called her in Australia to tell her she was wrong about the prices – the new hotel is a little more expensive. Oops! Seriously? SERIOUSLY???
But she got the guests moved and I’m going to give her credit for that. The execution sucked (Andrea is shaking her head with me), but I do believe she’s trying. I’m going to help her finish unf**king the accommodations and transportation thing to the best of my ability so that the wedding guests, bride and groom, and host parents can all breathe easier knowing they’re actually all staying in the same region of Puerto Rico. No lie, it was that far.
Some reality TV humor here – I guess on some level my reputation (or my famous scream) do precede me. After I got off the phone with my new friend the travel agent in Louisiana, she called the MoB freaking out.
“You didn’t tell me you hired a CELEBRITY!!! I’ve seen her show. She’s going to yell at me!” Bahahaha! Not if you get your s**t together, honey. I’m about fixing what’s broken and leaving alone what’s not. Why re-invent the wheel? Most of the vendors the MoB found are top notch. I just need the travel end sorted out so that we can email all the irate wedding guests who haven’t been getting responses to their travel inquiries either. If you fix what you f**ked up, I won’t yell at you. If you don’t, no promises. I am my client’s advocate. And I have the client’s permission to yell as much as necessary.
As for that wedding planner Andrea fired, I’m not going to “name and shame” her because she actually had one of those fine print lines in her contract that prohibits her clients from giving her reviews of any kind online. For real. I read about that for the first time last week and tweeted about how horrified I was to hear wedding vendors would have the nerve to do that. And now here it is, right in my face. I am utterly disgusted.
While I’m 100-percent confident that my team will make Andrea’s daughter’s wedding everything they all hoped it would be from the beginning, we’re taking on a huge challenge here. If it goes well, I’ll keep you posted. If it doesn’t go well, you’ll probably hear about it anyway. We’re going to find out if I can truly unf**k a wedding anywhere.