Vows to kisses: Tips for writing a wedding ceremony script for a destination wedding
Updated: Mar 29
What is a destination wedding ceremony script?
The wedding ceremony script serves as a program for your celebrant or officiant to follow during your wedding ceremony.
I'm a marriage officiant and I see the ceremony script as the most crucial part of your wedding day -- because it's where you exchange your vows and share some intensely emotional moments together. A ceremony can be in any style or feel because it's a moment in time a couple will never forget.
And it's gotta feel right for you.
It typically starts with the arrival of your guests (if you have them) the walk down the aisle, the kiss and the declaration of your marriage.
The ceremony is the section between getting dressed up and the wedding reception party. And the script is the words your celebrant will say.
Your wedding celebrant will work with your wedding planner to incorporate the finalised marriage ceremony into the wedding program. And you don't have to do anything, except arrive and have fun.
How do you write a wedding ceremony?
I'm a wedding celebrant, so my first recommendation is to find a celebrant you like and let them do the work.
If you're working with me, you don't need to do much writing. I do it for you.
But the first thing to do is think about how you want to feel during your ceremony. Many people have no idea about where to start and that's no problem. Your wedding celebrant will bring it together for you, simply by hearing your story. And getting to know you.
If you're writing your own ceremony head to the wedding ceremony outline for the tips.
Planning your ceremony
If you're working with me, we start with a conversation to get to know each other.
Then I'll give you a questionnaire to flesh out more details. If answering questionnaires isn't your thing, no problem. We can cover everything on our call.
We'll talk about the vibe or feel you want from your ceremony. You might want a traditional western style wedding. A Buddhist blessing your marriage may be more your style. You may want to incorporate some family or cultural traditions. You may want your best friend to play the saxophone as you kiss.
Because you're getting married in Vietnam, there are no rules when it comes to writing your wedding ceremony. Your celebration will be a symbolic one unless you comply with the local law to be lawfully married. So you can be outrageous, conservative, funny, meaningful and romantic - or all of the above - and I've seen it all.
Once I have everything I need, I will write some draft ideas for you to consider. Then we'll hone in together and over time your beautiful ceremony will take life.
TIP: A destination wedding is a holiday-wedding honeymoon. Make sure your ceremony and vows are finalised before you get on the plane so you're not thinking about it when you're supposed to be basking in pre-wedding relaxing.
A typical destination wedding ceremony outline
There are no rules when it comes to a ceremony abroad. You're able to include whatever you like and remove the parts you don't. Personalise the marriage celebration and enjoy it in style.
Here's an example of a wedding ceremony for weddings abroad.
1. Guests arrive
Your celebrant can help your guests feel welcome and outline the order of events.
Destination weddings tend to be less formal. Everyone is on vacation and having a good time. Many couples opt for open seating (or even ceremonies where the guests are standing).
Couples often greet guests on arrival rather than the more traditional entrance and processional down the aisle. It's a personal preference. Usually, one-half of the couple will meet and greet guests - or ask close friends or wedding attendants to make everyone comfortable.
Who sits where?
In traditional weddings, family and friends of the couple may sit on a "side" reserved for each person in the couple. Because everyone has travelled to your wedding, it's likely they've got to know each other and it's not as awkward.
You can consider set seating or reserving seats for family and leaving the balance seating open.
When is the best time for guests to arrive?
I recommend no longer than 30 minutes between arrival time and starting the ceremony. It's enough time for everyone to have a drink and mingle, but not so long they're getting bored (or drunk).
Because Vietnam is a tropical country, make sure you have an arrival drink for everyone.
TIP: Although your guests are on holiday time, it's always a great idea to ask them to be on time for your ceremony. If you're having a reception or party afterwards, delays mean food gets cold and drinks get hot. And happy chefs are great chefs.
Plus, it's always nice to remember the staff who need to clean up after you've finished your party.
Be on time. It's good form.
2. Start your ceremony
Welcome and etiquette
Before the wedding party arrives, it's time to set the scene for the ceremony.
The celebrant will make an announcement and let guests know the wedding is about to start.
These things can include:
asking the guests to find their seats or whatever your arrangement is
thanking the guests for coming
and telling guests how long the ceremony will take. (People prefer to know - it's a thing)
giving any special requests or instructions. A good example is throwing petals over the newlyweds after they kiss and coming and joining everyone
to talk about photos and social media
A couple of things on photos, phones and social media
if your guests are busy recording your ceremony or holding up their phones to take photos, they're not focused on you and your ceremony. Plus, the professional photos aren't as beautiful because it's full of people holding phones in front of their faces. Consider this and decide if you're ok with it. If you don't want people to use phones or take photos - tell them. Some couples go as far as having a phone basket in the seating area so people can't use their phones
if you don't want people posting their pictures on social media, tell them. Straight up. You may want to be the first to post. That's cool too. Just tell your guests.
reassure guests there will be opportunities for photos with you after the ceremony and you'll share your professional photos with them
Invite people to get comfortable and stand for the arrival of the wedding party.
3. The processional
This is a fancy word for the entrance of the wedding party. There are usually musicians or music playing.
At Vietnamese weddings, the couple and their parents arrive together. They take their place on stage and it's fireworks time. Literally. The music is so loud you can't hear the person next to you, there are champagne towers and confetti canons everywhere. It's quite the sight.
The celebrant can introduce attendants, parents and the couple as they arrive, or let the flow happen. It's a personal choice.
In destination weddings, the processional is up to you. Here's what I see:
The couple walking down the aisle together
The couple walks down the aisle separately with their respective "besties" or escorted by parents
One-half of the couple standing with me at the alter with their attendants in traditional western style
The other person is being escorted by a family member or close friend. (You know, traditionally the bride and her dad. But I'm being PC. And it could be either or both of the couples with an escort.)
The main thing is, to do what feels right for you. If you want to arrive on a jetski - do it. I've seen it.
4. The giving
This is the old-school take on the "who gives this person in the marriage to the other person" question. It's not very common in first marriages anymore. Where it's a second marriage, a couple may have an elder child answer "I do."
It's more common for couples to get the guests to shout "We do" after I ask "Does everyone here support this couple in their marriage?"
But more often than not, couples aren't into this bit.
But if you're into "the giving" the celebrant will ask the question.
5. Opening and welcome
For the opening, the celebrant will thank everyone for travelling to the wedding and allowing the couple to start their married life surrounded by the people they cherish.
(And promise them a big party later.)
Couples also have special messages they like to include too - and these will form part of the script. It's about what feels good for you on your wedding day.
This is a good time to acknowledge the guests who couldn't attend the wedding. Or to make special mention of loved ones who've passed away.
It's nice to include a little about your history and love story and the reason you're having a destination wedding. It's still uncommon to go overseas to get married. And the reasons are usually lovely and well worth including.
(The reasons couples choose to get married in Vietnam are my favourite - because they're always so different.)
TIP: Thanking guests for coming to your wedding is always polite. Even if you are having a short ceremony or they haven't travelled far.
6. Meaning of Marriage
This is where we get to the reason we're here. It's a section about the significance of marriage and what it means.
You can write your own words about what marriage means to you. I have oodles of poems, stories and lyrics talking about marriage.
Some couples prefer a lighter, more humourous touch in this section. Others want romance. Others want a spiritual, or more religious flavour. The most important thing is to do what feels good for you.
The words may be different for a second marriage than a first, for example.
if you had a formal wedding already, you might want to skip this altogether.
Either way, I can help you decide what works.
But a couple of sentences about the commitment to marriage always sets the scene for the vows soon to follow.
7. Reading or guest participation
This is a nice place to have a friend or family member read something for the couple. Well wishes, a short speech or singing a song. It could also be a family or cultural tradition you can include.
Nothing is out of the question.
One couple asked me to include the words to Adam Sandler's I Wanna Grow Old With You as a reading in their ceremony. I'm not sure if you know the song (it's from the movie "The Wedding Singer"), but you can't read the words without singing them. It feels odd. So I sang the words.
I'm a terrible singer. Please don't ask me to sing.
You can find lots of wedding readings online. And I've got dozens. I write poems too.
8. Exchange of vows
You can write your own wedding vows or you can choose from many I've written in the past. Or mix and match.
Some cultures don't include vows exchange in their ceremony, but for this article, I'm including them so you can decide if you want to or not.
Because your wedding in Vietnam is not recognised, there are no words you're required to say by law to make your marriage official.
I've seen couples struggle with writing their wedding vows and you can head here for a guide on writing your wedding vows.
But remember, you don't have to write vows if you don't want to.
And if you do, stay relaxed and approach it with a smile.
You're going to live your vows by your actions for the rest of your life.
When you think of it that way, it's not the big deal it seems to be.
Different ways a couple can exchange wedding vows
share private vows prior to the ceremony and using traditional vows during the ceremony
writing a declaration of intent and reading it to your partner before taking your vow. A declaration of intent is a note that says you are willing to marry your partner and often includes your promises, the reasons you love them and what your marriage means to you. Often this declaration is more personal and includes anecdotes or funny memories.
instead of vows, which embody the concept of "attachment", try statements of appreciation instead. This is a Buddhist concept with its foundations in nonattachment.
choose traditional wedding vows and simply say "I do". Or I can take your words are turn them into questions so all you need to answer is "Yes, I do." This is great for couples nervous about public speaking.
an example of traditional vows is: Do you x, take x to be your spouse, to have and told hold, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, until death do you part?
Vows are my thing. I love them. And I'll help you write yours if you get tongue-tied or stuck.
TIP: Don't leave writing your vows to the last minute. Wedding vows are best if they're less than one-minute long. You can whisper more sweetness later.
TIP TWO: Get your officiant to read your vows prior to your wedding. Why? Couples can write vows that don't align in tone or length. If one set of vows is humourous and the other sincere and romantic, they may cause awkward moments. Plus, your celebrant can hold a backup set in case you forget yours in the rush out the door.
9. Exchange of rings or wedding bands
Some couples exchange rings immediately after the vows. Others choose special words to accompany the exchange.
As always, I've lots of options to explain the symbolism behind the wedding bands and together we can create the words that mean the most to you.
For example, A ring is a fitting symbol for a wedding promise. It is a circle with no beginning and no end: Love without end is what we hope to achieve in marriage.
Then, as you exchange rings you say: With this ring, I join my life with yours.
TIP: If you're getting a child to walk with the rings, ensure they're secure. Especially if you're having a beach wedding. No one wants to be digging around in the sand looking for a lost wedding band. If you're using a box, consider where you'll keep the box during the ceremony. A box bulging out of a suit jacket ain't great for wedding photos. (I can always hold them too.)
10. Destination Marriage Unity Ceremony
Seal the deal with a unity ceremony. It's a simple ceremony that symbolises your marriage and the joining of families.
Unity ceremony ideas
a sand ceremony - combining sand from your wedding location, and representing your individual self, then pouring together to join as one. Accompanied by lots of meaningful words
a candle ceremony - each person lights a candle to represent their individuality, history, and family. Then using both candles, light one larger candle to symbolise the marriage
rock-throwing ceremony - if you're near water, rock-throwing is great fun. Your wedding bands were once underground in the earth. Through luck, it was dug up and moulded into something beautiful - like your relationship and your wedding ring. So we find rocks, and you throw them into the water. They will ebb and flow at the place you married for eternity, even if you may never return
the ring blessing - pass your rings around your guests (keep them secure) and ask them to bless them with luck and well wishes
sealing the vows - there are loads of alternatives here. You can bury your vows where you wed. Or you can seal a box that contains champagne, flutes and your vows. And open it on your first, tenth or 50th anniversary. Up to you.
champagne toast - you may choose this moment to have your guests share a champagne toast with you. It usually works better after signing the certificate and as you kiss
a handfasting ceremony - some couples (I had one couple use five pieces of fabric representing their Celtic family heritage for their handfasting) bind their hands when they take their vows. Or they may have a handfasting following the ring exchange and I recite the hand ceremony
The Hands Ceremony – Author Unknown These are the hands of your best friend, young and strong and full of love for you, that are holding yours on your wedding day as you promise to love each other today, tomorrow and forever. These are the hands that will work alongside yours as together you build your future. These are the hands that will passionately love you and cherish you through the years, and with the slightest touch will comfort you like no other. These are the hands that will hold you when fear or grief temporarily comes to you. These are the hands that will countless times wipe the tears from your eyes, tears of sorrow and tears of joy. These are the hands that will tenderly hold your children, the hands that will join your family as one. These are the hands that will give you strength when you need it, support and encouragement to pursue your dreams, and comfort through difficult times. And lastly, these are the hands that even when wrinkled and aged will still be reaching for yours, still giving you the same unspoken tenderness with just a touch.
11. Sign the symbolic certificate
If you want a keepsake certificate, this is when I recommend you sign it. Choose witnesses to witness you signing your wedding certificate. This is a great opportunity to involve close friends and family who haven't played a role in your ceremony.
At one wedding, I announced the couple were going to sign their certificate and a beautiful guest yelled "But they haven't kissed!"
I know. I understand. In traditional ceremonies (western), the couple signs the official paperwork after the ceremony.
Destination weddings are different because it's a wedding and a holiday. And your guests are enjoying themselves and swept up in your love. They don't have to rush home. They don't have work calling. They don't have the everyday pressure.
So once you're declared married, and you kiss, you'll be swept up in wedding celebrations and photos.
It makes it awkward to interrupt the flow of the moment and ask a couple to sign the certificate.
TIP: A destination wedding certificate in Vietnam is a symbolic one. So don't feel compelled to have one unless you want a souvenir.
12. Declaration of marriage and kiss
Hoorah! It's time to celebrate.
Here we include some exciting and encouraging words celebrating your marriage.
I like to get couples to take a moment to just soak up the moment and enjoy it. No doubt it's been a long time in the planning and in the morning, there'll be no wedding planning to do. So I find a short poem or write some nice words to allow you to reflect and quiet your mind before you kiss.
But if you're keen to get on and party, you can close with a more traditional declaration.
"Now that you have exchanged your wedding vows and wedding rings, it's my pleasure to declare you married.
Please share your first kiss as a married couple."
Then invite everyone to stand and welcome the newlyweds.
TIP: Your ceremony should be between 20 - 30 minutes. If it's longer your guests will be looking for the bar or losing their minds because they can't touch their phones. And it's hot in Vietnam. Don't leave your friends to melt.
How do you personalise your wedding ceremony?
There are lots of ways to make your ceremony your own:
Couples exchanging their vows in private. I've had a number of couples write very personal vows they exchange prior to the ceremony itself. They share them during the "first look" photography or choose a time when they are alone and make their vow exchange more personal. Then they exchange different vows during the ceremony.
Include a meaningful reading. It could be the words to a song or your favourite scene from a movie. (A reading is a selection of words that are included in the ceremony. Readings include poems, a section from your favourite, a letter from a friend, a biblical reference or anything that means something to you.) The celebrant can read them or a friend can read them.
Friends and family share good wishes. Although more common at the reception party, couples are opting to have one or two people read or share some words during the ceremony. At one of my first weddings, the couple had their parents share "words of wisdom" for a long and happy marriage. It was a highlight of the ceremony. The words were real, personal and warts and all.
Well wishes from absent friends. Not everyone can make it to destination weddings. But there's no reason they can't send a note to include in the ceremony and be there in spirit. (The notes are sent to me as the celebrant, so they are a surprise for you.)
write a special note to your partner to say before your vows
write your own vows, in your style and your way. There's no need to follow any special rules here
have a Monk bless your union
and incorporate things only you do as a couple - the funny sayings, the hand gestures - all the things that make you, you
Perform a unity ceremony. Some include a hand ceremony, a candle ceremony, a ring blessing and rock throwing. Throwing rocks is cool.
chose a location that has meaning for you. If you're into nature, head to the forest. If you love the beach, find a quiet spot. If you're into long boozy brunches - have your ceremony in the morning and follow up with a brunch reception
create a theme or colour for your ceremony. Some couples hold beautiful miniature Vietnamese lanterns instead of flowers. Some wear the official wedding attire the Vietnamese people wear at their weddings - the Áo dài
The list is endless. I've had couples bring their pets. One couple played "Thunderstruck" by AC/DC as their "kiss" song because the groom and his best friend loved the song - and he'd passed away. (It was a lot different to "All of me" by Ed Sheeran, that's for sure.)
But most of all, have fun.
Leanne Summers is a destination wedding celebrant in Hoi An, Vietnam. Leanne specializes in wedding ceremonies, elopements, and wedding vow renewal ceremonies. If you're having a small wedding of fewer than 15 people, Leanne can help you plan the celebration too.
A recovering corporate lawyer from Australia, Leanne had lost her sense of humour and soul. She sought more meaning in life. Her adventures lead her to Vietnam where she found her sense of humour and humanity. Now she creates wedding ceremonies and officiates for couples from all over the world. She's celebrated weddings with over 400 couples (and counting). A Vietnam "local" for over 10 years, Vietnam is her spirit country.
Leanne is also an SEO Consultant and Copywriter.
Want to get in touch?
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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