Main photo: Lori Douglas
Planning for Wedding Day Setbacks: Every couple needs a backup plan – especially when planning a wedding on the Outer Banks. Weather, traffic, and tides are just a few things you’ll need to consider when tying the knot at the beach.
Rain on Your Wedding Day
Of course with any outdoor wedding, you must consider the weather. Everyone is hoping for clear skies on your big day, but when the storm clouds roll in, you should have a backup plan. On the bright side, dramatic skies make for some strikingly beautiful wedding photographs. Some local planners will even encourage couples to embrace the rain (tradition says it is good luck) and incorporate into the photo shoot a few umbrellas that match the wedding colors.
Even if the skies are clear, there are other factors to consider. The Outer Banks is one of the windiest places on the East Coast because of the unique way the islands jut out into the Atlantic Ocean. After all, our steady winds attracted the Wright Brothers to our sand dunes. So if blustery breezes make an appearance during your wedding, be sure not to set the table cards next to the candles – as one planner told us made for a very exciting reception. Also consider using a microphone during a beach ceremony, especially if you have a large audience. On a gusty day when the wind is blowing just right, no one will be able to hear what you or the officiant is saying without reinforcement.
Then, of course, there is the summer heat – another reason for the popular shoulder season (spring and fall). If you are planning a summer wedding, a shortened or late afternoon ceremony can really benefit everyone in attendance. Make sure guests are aware of average temperature ranges before they arrive on the Outer Banks so they can dress accordingly.
Choosing the Date
Most Outer Banks wedding planners will tell you they coordinate more weddings on weekdays than on weekends, and they prefer that. The norm for vacation management companies is to rent homes from Saturday to Saturday, or less often Sunday to Sunday and Friday to Friday. This arrangement makes weekend weddings difficult as most couples do not want to worry about arriving or leaving just one day before and after their nuptials. You can try to set up an extended rental week or midweek dates with the rental agency, but do not rely on it.
When holding a ceremony or reception at an event home, you will come to realize that most property management companies will only book up to one year in advance. Their reservation calendars give priority to guests who rented the same week the year before. But do not stress, you can always put your name on a waitlist. Check with the management company to see when waitlisting will become available, and waitlist more than one home. Most agencies will allow three. Again, it’s all about flexibility.
Planning a weekend wedding is not only a challenge because of the vacation rental check-in day tradition. If you have been to the Outer Banks before, you know all about the weekend traffic woes. Crossing the Wright Memorial Bridge in the summertime can take hours, and those staying in Duck or Corolla have a slow road ahead of them after that. If you choose to say your vows on a summer weekend, expect to have transportation delays. Travel will be delayed not only for your wedding party and guests but for the vendors, too. If you are having trouble getting to your venue on time, so are your florist and caterer.
Traffic and off-season rates are a few of the reasons couples select the popular shoulder season for their Outer Banks weddings. Many also opt for a midweek wedding or even one on Friday if work schedules limit guests’ availability. Of course, a Saturday or Sunday wedding may be a necessity if that is the date your dream venue is available; but when planning a toes-in-the-sand, seaside wedding, remember that you are on island time. The ocean is there each and every day of the week.
Unexpected Wedding Guests
The possibility of unplanned guests needs to be addressed when planning seaside nuptials. Visitors flock to the Outer Banks by the thousands each week in the summer, and beaches are open to the public. Some couples will search for that secluded piece of coastline for their ceremony – and may find it – but the fact is that beachgoers may be present at all of the beaches on the Outer Banks. The key is in the timing.
To avoid an excess of sunbathers, surfers, and splashing children, avoid midday if you decide on wedding in the height of summer. Opt for something closer to dinnertime. There is still great natural lighting, which your photographer will appreciate as opposed to the high noon, whiteout look.
Go with the Flow
The ebb and flow of the tides is part of the Outer Banks lifestyle, especially in Carova where locals and visitors drive on the four-wheel-drive beaches daily. (You could call them the most tide-minded people on the island.) And just as swimmers must be aware of the potential for strong rip currents during low tide, those planning oceanfront nuptials should keep track of the tides to ensure the best experience for all in attendance. After all, you don’t want the Atlantic infringing upon your beach ceremony.
Make sure to know the tide schedule, even if you are planning to wed in an oceanfront beach house in Carova and not on the beach. You want your guests to make it to your soiree in a timely manner, which can be difficult during high tide. (Low tide affords for an easy commute with smooth, hard sand for tires.) There are tide tables available online and free apps for your phone. There’s no need to know the specifics in terms of water level and type of tide, but the peak high and low tide times are important.
The Off-Road Beaches
The four-wheel-drive beaches north of Corolla offer some of the most beautiful natural scenery on the Outer Banks, particularly when the wild horses decide to make an appearance in the background of your wedding photos. These beaches make for an ideal setting for ceremonies, receptions, and family gatherings provided that you know the rules and regulations for driving on the beach and holding an event in view of the Atlantic.
Four-wheel drive is required once drivers leave the paved road at the northernmost end of NC 12. Before heading onto the beach, let the air out of your tires, (15 – 20 psi is a safe range.) The track marks on the beach are considered a state road, and standard driving laws such as having a valid driver’s license and no open alcohol still apply. The speed limit is 35 miles per hour but is lowered to 15 miles per hour within 300 feet of people or wildlife. Remember, pedestrians have the right of way all along the beaches.
While driving, follow the well-established tracks of other vehicles. Traffic flows near the dunes – but never on the dunes or vegetation – and near the shoreline, with vehicles parked in the middle of the beach. Watch for fishing lines and beachgoers, especially children playing near the water. And it is advised to always have tow straps, a shovel, spare tire, and jack in case of emergencies. Keep in mind that wedding ceremonies cannot block traffic.
Sunsets and Sunrises
If you are expecting the sunset in the background of your wedding ceremony, you should look for a soundfront venue. Photographers can capture the sunset from the beach, but the photos will have sand dunes and rooftops instead of waves as a backdrop.
You can always say your vows on the beach and then pick an attractive soundside location for sunset photos following the ceremony. Or consider the increasingly popular day-after shoot, in which just the bride and groom get together with their photographer for a more relaxed, intimate photo session. Plan yours on the beach at sunrise for those awe-worthy images. It’s a great opportunity to trash the dress as well.
Respect the Island
On the Outer Banks, residents and visitors harbor a deep connection to the ocean and the wildlife, which is why respecting nature and keeping the island beautiful is of the utmost importance.
Popular wedding day activities such as releasing balloons and sky lanterns can have a devastating affect on the environment and the wildlife. Turtles, birds, and fish commonly mistake balloons and ribbons for food and can become entangled or ingest the items. Sky lanterns have been known to start fires, especially on the Outer Banks where there is an excess of dry beach grass.
During your wedding, have your planner keep an eye on banners, ribbons, streamers, and any décor that may be taken away by the wind. It is also important to pick up sparklers (fireworks that explode are illegal due to the dry beach grass and easily spooked wildlife). Also remember that leaving items behind at night is illegal in some towns. Use organic and biodegradable materials for your wedding when possible, and always respect the wildlife. The wild horses can be incredibly captivating, but residents and visitors must stay at least 50 feet from them and avoid feeding them so they are able to maintain their way of life. Of course, feel free to take photos with the horses from a safe distance.
When the time comes, should something go not according to plan, maintain your state of grace and focus on the love in the room or on the seashore. Because in the long run, mishaps will make for a humorous story at your 50th wedding anniversary party… at the beach. ♥