Come May 2, the day after their 160-person wedding celebration in Cleveland, Courtney Hunter and her fiancé, Matthew Doyle, were supposed to be on a Norwegian Cruise, sailing through the Mediterranean Sea.
They fantasized about wandering the ancient streets of Pompeii, admiring Florence’s cathedrals, and eating gelato on Rome’s Spanish Steps. But the coronavirus pandemic had other plans for the couple.
Hunter is among the thousands of brides and grooms who have been forced to rejigger their wedding and honeymoon plans as travel has become nonexistent, gatherings are banned, social distancing has become the norm, and non-essential businesses have been shut down nationwide.
“It's a weird kind of stress I've never dealt with before,” Hunter told Yahoo Money.
The couples had to cancel plans that have been in the making for months or even a year, reschedule for a brand new date, and swallow any nonrefundable deposits and change fee costs along the way.
“The amount of time and effort that has been wasted is so tragic because you already have your wedding planned and then you get this wrench thrown in it and you basically have to plan again,” said Christina Baruch, NJ-based event planner and owner of Events Made Golden.
The process is much more complex than shifting plans from one day to another, she said.
“Some vendors are not available on your new date and then you have to go through the process of interviewing a new vendor and figuring out if they work in your budget,” she said. “It really is like planning another wedding.”
‘This isn’t going to happen’
When the outbreak was still localized in Italy and Asia at the beginning of March, Hunter and her fiancé first reconsidered the location of their honeymoon to avoid putting themselves in harm's way.
As a contingency plan, the pair booked a mini-moon at Walt Disney World in Florida where they thought tourism would remain unaffected.
By mid-March, all Disney parks were closed indefinitely, convincing the couple their contingency plans weren’t done.
"It doesn't feel like we're going to get married in a month and a half," Doyle told members of his family. “It just has that feeling of this isn't going to happen.”
On March 18, they cancelled their wedding and honeymoon.
‘Was naive and was insulated’
Gabie Kur and her fiancé, Pablo Oliva, of Queens, New York, were supposed to marry in front of 125 friends and family on April 11. Six days after that, they planned to travel to Argentina, where Oliva is originally from, and host a second reception for another 100 guests.
“I somehow, for some reason, was naive and was insulated and thought something like this couldn't escalate to the degree where we wouldn't be able to skate by with our wedding and we would still be able to move forward,” Kur said.
As Kur made final wedding decisions in mid-March, social distancing and restricted gathering decrees cropped up in New York. The idea that certain guests wouldn't be able to attend was a reality before government-sanctioned curfews, travel bans, and shelter-in-place orders.
Then, on March 15, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised against gatherings of 50 or more people for the next eight weeks.
“We really made the final decision when the CDC made the recommendation...which would run directly into our original wedding date,” Kur said. Their wedding is now rescheduled for Oct. 3.
‘It would be selfish...to push forward’
Courtney Armstrong and her fiancé Pete Petersen can relate. Their wedding for 160 guests was planned for April 6 and is now June 8 in Orlando.
Before the postponement, farflung guests were starting to back out and their attendance list was suddenly in flux. Armstrong admitted she felt “a little weird” about going forward with their plans in spite of certain guests no longer available to make the trip.
The CDC’s recommendation on gatherings gave Armstrong a way out.
“I know it wasn't a requirement, it was a recommendation, but we don't want to put anyone at risk,” Armstrong said, noting many elderly relatives and those with immunocompromised conditions planned to travel. “We just felt that it would be selfish of us to try to push forward.”
‘It’s just a party’
Canceling or postponing a wedding is almost as time consuming and stressful as planning one. Couples planning to marry in spring and summer 2020 had to spring to action and start making decisions based on a lot of unknowns and variables.
There was no time for self-pity. There were myriad vendors, officiants, event planners, and guests who needed to be informed of the major change in plans. But where to begin? The brides-to-be deputized parents, sisters, and best friends to shoulder the load of keeping everyone apprised of an ever-changing situation.
Hunter created a private Facebook group to centralize communication; Armstrong has been sending emails to all of her guests; and Kur’s parents have been running interference.
“My dad is retired now and has taken on this brand new job of being a wedding planner just for me and he’s done such a stellar job,” said Kur, who plans to keep the vow books she ordered that will have her original wedding date on them. She considers it a part of her journey.
“Honestly, I had two days where I pretty much was crying at the drop of a hat because I was just so disappointed that this was happening and I felt how unfair it was,” Kur said. “But since then, and just following the news, I just realize that it's just frivolous. It's just a wedding. It's just a party.”
‘Is September far enough away?
Armstrong was able to seamlessly transition her wedding from its original date while keeping most of the major details intact and no collateral damage to her budget.
Hunter and Doyle lost $600 in non-refundable deposits for their Cleveland wedding. The only dates available at their original wedding location were September 11 and Christmas.
“We just said that's not for us,” she said. "Sorry we just have to cancel.”
The couple was ostensibly at square one of being forced to find a wedding venue and begin the planning process all over again, but a date during their contingency mini-moon at Disney World in September was available for a wedding. Even though a Disney wedding will fulfill her girlhood fantasy, she remains cautiously optimistic.
“It is one of those things though, that every now and then I stop and I go: ‘Is September far enough away? Is that enough?’” Hunter said. “But we're hoping six months is enough time.”