An expert’s guide to destination functions

The Santa Elena Skywalk through the Costa Rican rainforest. Credit: Dirk van der Made.
The Santa Elena Skywalk through the Costa Rican rainforest. Credit: Dirk van der Made.

By Ellen Paderson/

Today, with families more spread out than they used to be, the idea of a destination function is more appealing than ever. Having guests travel to one location can be efficient, fun, and serve as a vacation at the same.

When it comes to weddings, destination functions can actually be less expensive for the couple getting married than paying for 150 guests at a fancy venue. Hosts can choose the friends and family members they want to spend the week with (no need to invite the other 125 “less close” people). A week in a more exotic place can be smaller and more intimate, and people really get to know each other.

There can also be cost savings with a destination bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah. It can cost less to go away for a week than to pay for one large three-hour event. All sorts of options are available. Among popular destinations for bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs are the historic synagogues with sand floors (used to muffle sounds when prayers were held secretly) in St. Thomas and Curacao, the Costa Rican rain forest, and the centuries-old synagogue in Barbados. Bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs on cruises are also a great option—really fun for multigenerational families. They can have the ceremony in the St. Thomas synagogue during the port call, or in the cruise chapel. I work with a cantor who prepares the child for the ceremony and usually joins us at the resort or on the cruise ship. Families should choose the destination based on what is convenient for their family but, more importantly, on what is of interest to the special boy or girl.

Honeymoons are, by their nature, vacation affairs. Trendy destinations that I recommend exploring include Tahiti, Fuji, and the Maldive Islands. Couples love the Costa Rican rain forest and its beautiful waterfalls for exploring and photographic memories.

While we’re used to the idea of booking a hall and caterer in our hometown, the idea of doing it in another city, state, or country can be intimidating. But with the Internet you can see, and sometimes even go on, “virtual tours” of venues. You can also maintain close contact with everyone you need to work with to make the day perfect. Of course, the services of a professional like me makes things smoother, easier, and gives you access to places and people that you may not otherwise find. As I like to tell my clients, “Let me do your worrying.”

Ellen Paderson owns Smiles and Miles Travel, She has arranged more than 5,000 trips, including at 300-year old synagogues in San Juan, St. Thomas and St. Martin, and can arrange ground transportation, tours, photographers, flowers, kippot, kosher food, and other requests. See

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