Thousands of weddings are being cancelled in the wake of a hurricane this week. Hundreds of weddings were cancelled last week and the week before in the wake of another hurricane. It’s historic to have two Category 4 hurricanes make landfall in the United States in the same season. And it’s total chaos for brides and grooms.

Mother Nature has disrupted wedding plans all over the United States and the Caribbean this fall, and she’s showing very little mercy. Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc on anybody getting married on the Texas coastline. Hurricane Irma barreled her way through the Caribbean,

Weddings destinations Hurricane Irma messed with

Brides and grooms with imminent wedding plans on the islands of St. Martin, Barbuda, Tortola, St. John, and St. Thomas, or in any of the Florida Keys, need to be rethinking their wedding plans. We don’t even know the extent of the damage in the Dominican Republic and Cuba yet, but it’s safe to say they’re on the same nightmare list.

Let’s be perfectly clear here. Some of these islands were hit catastrophically. Crime is running rampant, and military and police are being brought in to restore order. It will be a long time before some of the wedding venues in these places will even be reachable, unless they’re part of a big chain. The wedding venue and vendors on those islands are just trying to survive right now. They’re bringing in cruise ships to evacuate people. It’s a truly horrible situation and these people are not thinking about weddings.

There’s no guarantee that any of these islands will be ready for weddings during the winter season of 2018 yet, and a destination wedding isn’t something you can put on hold, in case things do come together in time. Too many guests have to spend money on travel and accommodations arrangements to simply hope for the best.

There are some areas in Florida above the keys that may be cleaning up for a very long time, too. Miami got whacked predictably hard, but areas that are usually relatively safe from the worst storms are going to struggle, too. Jacksonville, for example, experienced record-breaking flooding when Category 3-size storm surge totally swamped many parts of their city, despite the fact the storm was barely a Category 1 when it got there. Savannah and Charleston flooded due to storm surge too, despite the fact Hurricane Irma turned before the eye of the storm got to those cities.

Will you have to change your plans?

Right now, anybody who has planned a wedding this fall for any destination between the Caribbean and South Carolina coast should be very, very concerned about whether they’re going to have to cancel their plans, and reschedule the wedding.

If your wedding venue is located in a destination that has been affected by Hurricane Harvey or Hurricane Irma, in most cases, the venue’s determination on whether the wedding can go on will be the couple’s biggest deciding factor about whether to move or reschedule their wedding plans. They won’t be able to service your wedding if their facilities have been seriously damaged. Many venues won’t be able to re-open until they’ve had some sort of safety inspection for insurance purposes, if they sustained real damage. In some place, there won’t be reliable electricity – or any power at all – for quite a while. And if the area surrounding them is surviving on generators, they’re not going to be able to put on the kind of show they’ve promised. Most have a “force majeure” clause in their contracts that relieves them from responsibility in the case of circumstances beyond their control. A hurricane qualifies.

Who to contact first after the hurricane

Use common sense and don’t send out any global announcements to your guests until you have your ducks in a row. You have to talk to your major vendors first. If you have a wedding planner, she should be able to tell you what to do. If you’re a DIY bride and groom, the first call is to your wedding venue to see what they can reasonably do to work with you.

Listen carefully to the exact phraseology they use when you talk to the venue. In some cases, hotels do not want all of the weddings to cancel, despite the fact that they may not be able to offer everything that was promised when you booked your date. If your contact person suggests that you should relocate your wedding, or reschedule your wedding, don’t ignore that advice.

Quite possibly, that person is risking their own job by tipping you off that you will not be pleased with the results if you go through with your wedding there. So if they hedge a little in telling you that they expect the venue to be ready, or point blank say that things will not be as they should be, pay attention! Nobody at any venue wants to turn you away – they’re losing a ton of money due to these storms. However, some event employees at those venues who actually have to deal with wedding couples and their guests once they arrive may guide you away from sticking to your initial plans. You may have the opportunity to get back all of your money if the venue is in a disaster zone, and you cancel immediately. If you wait four months and it’s up and running, but still not the way you want things to be, you’ll likely lose most of your deposits.

When to tell your wedding guests

Notify your guests of the postponement as soon as you know that you have to change the date – don’t wait until you’ve confirmed a new date. You want to stop anybody who hasn’t bought their tickets yet, and help any of your wedding guests who already have. At this point, not all hope is lost for friends who have already purchased flights. All of the major airlines servicing the affected areas have been very generous with their rescheduling and cancellation policies, especially in the case of truly devastated islands like St. Martin and St. Thomas.

Unless your wedding is in the next month or so, you can take a few days to research the actual situation in the spot where you were supposed to say “I do,” before you notify anybody of anything. It’s possible that you won’t need to change anything, and wouldn’t it be a mess if you told people to cancel their arrangements too soon?

What are your best alternatives

If you wouldn’t make wedding plans at your destination now, given the havoc wreaked by the storms, seriously consider pushing back your wedding date way back, or moving your wedding to another destination. You don’t necessarily have to start over completely. In fact, it’s better for your guests if you don’t do that.

If you were getting married in the Florida Keys, for example, you may not be totally out of luck if your venue got clobbered by the hurricane. Check out other venues on nearby keys for availability. Many of those islands are going to be out of commission for a while, but some escaped with not too much damage. Most venues in the continental United States will have some idea in a few days as to how long it will be before they’ll have power back, and be able to fix what’s been broken. If you were getting married on the Florida coast, you should be looking for an acceptable destination that is serviced by the same major airport as your original wedding venue. That will save guests lots of hassle and money when it’s time to change their travel arrangements.

If you were getting married on one of the Caribbean islands who took a hit from Irma, consider getting married in Puerto Rico, or St. Croix, instead. The vast majority of wedding guests coming from the United States, and who were traveling to St. Martin, St. Thomas, or Tortola (or a number of other islands), had to book their flights through the San Juan International airport anyway. Puerto Rico and its little sister islands of Vieques and Culebra were very, very lucky, and sustained fairly minimal damage in comparison to the others. By choosing to move your wedding to Puerto Rico where everybody had to go anyway to change planes to get to your original wedding destination, you’ll probably save everybody a lot of money they would have had to spend changing their flights.

St. Croix, Nevis, St. Kitts and many other more southern Caribbean islands weren’t affected by the recent storms. Find out if the secondary airline your guests were flying from San Juan to your destination also services the other Caribbean islands that didn’t have a problem. If you were flying Cape Air, for example, to the British or US Virgin Islands, contact their headquarters and ask questions about their flexibility in changing your guests’ tickets to another destination they currently serve. You may be pleasantly surprised about how helpful businesses are in the wake of a natural disaster. You need to get all the answers to your guests’ questions before you reach out to everybody with instructions about what to do.

Finally, if your wedding is being affected by these dreadful hurricanes, it’s okay to freak out. You’re allowed to have one really big ugly meltdown, but then you have to pull it together. You owe it to everybody who loves you and made plans to be at your wedding to calm down and figure out a solution to the problem. Have a good cry – or scream – and then straighten up your crown, and start moving forward. You’re still going to have an amazing wedding, just not necessarily where or when you thought you would.

Remember, if you’re married to the idea of a particular island that got hit, you can always postpone your wedding date and be one of the first to bring business back to those islands as they’re rebuilding. They’re going to need a surge of tourism to help them get reestablished. If you felt passionate about your destination, you don’t have to give it up.

Until next time, good luck to all of the hurricane brides out there, and happy wedding planning!

Sandy