Planning your OBX Wedding | Outer Banks Wedding Photographer

Courtney Hathaway Photography


You’re engaged!! Congratulations! If you’re here, I’m guessing you’ve either already decided on an OBX Destination Wedding or you’re considering it? As a lifelong resident of the Outer Banks, and an OBX Wedding Photographer for over 6 years, the most common thing I hear from brides is “We have no idea where to start!”. That’s okay, you’re not alone! Hopefully this blog post will give you some insight on the first steps to take, as well as some helpful hints for planning along the way. Even though we’re photographers, we love to help, and are happy to point you in the right direction and answer questions!


Courtney Hathaway Photography

1.) What area of the OBX will your wedding take place? Many brides and grooms are already frequent vacationers to the OBX and have a specific area they love. For first timers, choosing the right spot can seem daunting. With roughly 114 miles of beautiful beaches making up the OBX, stretching from the tip of Corolla down to the Ocracoke Island, there are plenty of options! If you aren’t familiar, or aren’t sure what area is the best fit for you, here’s a breakdown:

  • 4×4 Area {Carova} – This area of the OBX is accessible only by 4×4 vehicle. Guests will either need to have their own four wheel drive truck/SUV, or rent one (there are a few options locally). The alternative is hiring a transportation company that specializes in getting folks up to the 4×4 area. Carova is a beautiful area of unspoiled beaches. With a private and secluded feeling, you often see the wild horses roaming the beaches and usually get a birds eye view of them right off your deck! If your guests are not staying with you, you will need to hire and provide transportation to get them to/from your wedding.
  • Northern Beaches {Corolla, Duck, Southern Shores} – While not as secluded as the 4×4 area, the Northern Beaches are a little bit more removed from the main parts of the OBX. With plenty of housing and a couple of hotels, there is no shortage of places to stay. They do boast two major grocery stores, and some shopping as well. Keep in mind there is only one road in and out, and for this reason the Northern Beaches are a great choice for those who prefer to rent their house and stay put for the week. You can find some activities up there (jet skis, kayaking, wild horse tours) and some restaurants, but NB vacationers are usually more content to relax around the house or beach.
  • Middle Beaches {Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head, South Nags Head, Roanoke Island/Manteo} – The middle beaches are a great choice for first time OBXers, or those who are really active. This area is considered the “main hub” of the OBX and offers the most options for housing, restaurants, shopping, and activities. This area is a bit more crowded, but is a popular choice for those who want to make sure their guests have plenty of options and activities to please everyone. The middle beaches have the most variety of housing, where you can find anything from hotels, 1 bedroom condos, and small cottages, right up to 10+ bedroom houses. This area also gives you access to our many local attractions like The Lost Colony, Roanoke Island Aquarium, Wright Brothers Monument, Jockey’s Ridge, and a host of other cool places to visit.
  • Southern Beaches/Hatteras Island {Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, Frisco, Buxton, Hatteras Village, Ocracoke Island} – The southern beaches are a little bit like stepping back in time. Similar to the 4×4 area (but without the need of a truck) the southern beaches boast many secluded areas and beautiful untouched beaches. A mixture of smaller original cottages, and newer larger homes, as well as many mom & pop motels, there is truly something for everyone. Because it too only has one road in/out, most people check into their cottage/motel and stay “on the island”. Don’t worry, while most vacationers down that way do tend to relish in the quiet relaxation, there are plenty of activities to keep you busy!

Courtney Hathaway Photography


2.) Venue or Event Home? – In some cases, deciding between hosting your wedding at a venue or an “event home” can also help you narrow down what are of the OBX you host your wedding. Finding the perfect spot just depends on personal preference, style, and the the feel of your wedding.

  • Event Home – This is one of the most popular options for an OBX Wedding. Event Homes are vacation rentals that are specifically designated as one that will allow a special events, such as a wedding. It is VERY important that you never try to host a wedding at a home that is *not* designated an “Event Home”. An Event Home not only serves as wedding week accommodations but also the ceremony and/or reception venue. Couples either plan their wedding under the open sky, or opt to rent a tent if space permits. It’s important to always have a “Plan B” when opting for the Event Home wedding. If bad weather pops up, you want to make sure you have a backup in case you can’t get married outside.

Courtney Hathaway Photography

  • Wedding Venue – The OBX has some amazing venues – everything from elegantly restored historic buildings, to oceanfront pier’s or ballrooms, and botanical gardens. With so many great options, finding the venue that fits can sound challenging, but as past OBX brides will tell you, “When you see it, you’ll just know!”. Many brides will still plan a beach ceremony, while opting to host their reception at a dedicated venue. This is a great option for brides who like a little more piece of mind, as the venue becomes the perfect place for a “Plan B” in cases of inclement weather.

Courtney Hathaway Photography

3.) A Wedding Planner / DOC vs. The Family Friend – One of my favorite sayings is, “A wedding planner is the best gift a bride can give herself!”.  Remember, all those months of planning come down to one day! The events of the day don’t happen on their own, and someone needs to be there to prompt them and make sure things stay on track.

  • The job of a wedding planner is to not only keep you organized and on budget, it’s also to be an advocate for YOU. Their main goal is to make sure your day go as smoothly and stress-free as possible. While not all brides need a full wedding planner, if you are having a wedding with more than 50 guests, consider the services of a “Day of Coordinator”. A DOC will handle many of the same “day of” jobs as a wedding planner, but without the before-the-wedding duties such as vendor meetings.
  • While it can be tempting to save the money and ask a family member or friend to handle the job, it isn’t always the best decision. In the world of weddings you’re either a guest or working, and it’s very difficult to do both. Even the most dedicated family or friend isn’t going to be “on” at all times. Your Planner/DOC is going to have your interests in mind and make the best possible decision to keep the day running. Most of the time a family member or friend will interrupt the bride to make the final call – often leaving the bride stressed out and worried.


Courtney Hathaway Photography

4.) Choosing your vendors! – The biggest panic moment seems to be choosing vendors. With over 200 members making up the Outer Banks Wedding Association, it’s safe to say there is a vendor to fit everyone! So how do you choose?

  • Ask for referrals! Vendors are always willing to suggest others they think are a great choice. Your wedding planner or DOC is an asset when it comes to helping select your vendors. They can suggest and facilitate meetings for vendors they think will fit within both your style and budget.
  • Check out their website! Most brides say they could tell immediately by looking a website if it was a vendor they wanted to talk to. You can tell a lot about a vendor from their website.
  • Talk to them! When you think you’ve found a vendor you want to work with, have a chat with them. If you can’t meet in person, set up a Skype or FaceTime meeting. I personally love to Skype my clients – it means I can have our meeting while still in my PJ pants (Just kidding!!! Or am I?).

5.) Managing your expectations! – Pintrest is a wonderful thing, I mean, who isn’t addicted to planning the baby or dream house you aren’t even close to getting? BUT, it’s important to remember that just because you saw it on Pintrest, doesn’t mean you’ll get it at your wedding. This is predominantly true with photography. Dying for that sunset beach picture? Remember, the sun sets to the west, so you won’t get a golden sunset over the ocean. Choose vendors that you love and trust, then let them do their job. The worst thing you can do is micro-manage, it will leave both you and your vendor feeling stressed out.

Courtney Hathaway Photography

6.) Wedding Insurance {Should you get it?} – Some venues will require you to purchase some form of wedding insurance. Even if your venue doesn’t require insurance it is highly suggested that you take the step and purchase it for your own peace of mind. Wedding insurance will cover your event for a variety of reasons, including weather, which is a huge benefit when planning an OBX wedding. Other things to consider – the dry cleaners ruin your dress, a vendor doesn’t show up, you have to evacuate for a hurricane, you cancel or postpone your wedding. All of these are things that are out of your control, and unfortunately, they are also out of the control of your vendors. While many vendors will try to help in any way they can, retainers are non-refundable and you don’t want to be out your entire budget for a natural disaster! I suggest WedSafe as a great option for wedding and event insurance. **Disclaimer : I am in no way affiliated with WedSafe or any other insurance provider. They have not asked nor paid me to promote their service. I am simply an experienced wedding vendor who has witnessed about every scenario imaginable that could cause someone to experience a monetary loss of wedding funds.


Courtney Hathaway is an Outer Banks Wedding & Portrait photographer specializing in beach and destination weddings.

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