Q & A’s with Borrowed & Blue

Events of Distinction recently teamed up with Borrowed and Blue, a locally-focused online wedding resource, to give couples everything they need to know about our event planning services.

Here’s our Q&A with Borrowed & Blue:

1.      If you could possibly narrow it down, what would be your favorite moment of a wedding day?

My favorite moment of the wedding is when all the talented wedding professionals arrive at the venue to begin the installation and setup of the wedding. The wedding couple secures the services of these professionals, and like a perfectly oiled machine, we magically transform an empty canvas into a wedding work of art.  We take the vision and dreams of our wedding couples, and together, the perfect team executes a wedding beyond the imagination of our clients.  It’s so rewarding to be of service to our wedding couples on one of the most important days of their lives.

 

2.      Describe your event aesthetic in three words.

Euphoric, Experiential, Epic.

 

3.      The first thing you ask when you sit down with a couple?

I always ask these questions:

  • What would you like your guests to say about your wedding?
  • What does that experience feel like?
  • What don’t you want to see or experience at your wedding?

 

4.      Top three pieces of advice for couples who just got engaged?

My advice is to first just revel in your engagement…quietly. Don’t tell everyone until you have had time to take it all in and discuss the details between the two people who matter the most, yourselves.  It’s time for you to simply savor the moment and celebrate your engagement quietly together.

Second, there is nothing more important in your initial steps of wedding planning than getting a grip on your guest list.  The number of guests you decide to invite will greatly affect the cost of your wedding, as well as many decisions that you will need to make.  For instance, you wouldn’t want to select a site for your reception without first knowing how many people you expect to have there on your big day. Create a guest list with the correct spelling of first and last names and correct addresses.

Since I am a wedding designer and planner, I willing acknowledge that I may not be totally unbiased about the subject of securing the services of a wedding planner.  With a myriad of wedding details that can be all time-consuming to plan, most busy engaged couples are enlisting the services of a wedding planner.  While you can certainly plan a wedding yourself, it will not have the same outcome if planned professionally. And the more complex the details of your wedding are, the greater the level of skill is required for your professional wedding planner.  Therefore, my third piece of advice for couples is to weigh the pros and cons, especially if you want a fabulous you-don’t-have-to-worry-about-a-thing day!

 

5.      Most important detail of wedding decor?

You want your wedding to reflect your personal style and elicit an emotional response from guests as the day unfolds.  My advice is to start and finish with a flourish and utilize the five senses.  Incorporate your style / design concept into the first communication about your wedding, such as your Save the Date card or invitation.  When choosing a style/design concept, make sure it can be communicated through not only the invitation, but your decor, music, food, beverage, tabletops and vignettes. Continue to thread elements of your style/design concept throughout the wedding, from the start of the ceremony to your last dance or final getaway.

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Tamara & Damon’s Save the Date and Grand Get-away

 

6.      Your thoughts on DIY weddings?

I’ll repeat it again, and quote myself this time from my book Countdown to Your Perfect Wedding: “While you can certainly plan a wedding yourself arguably, it will not have the same outcome if planned professionally.”  Ever try doing your own highlights on your hair, give yourself a manicure or cook a gourmet dinner for 100?  It’s worth the time and money to pay a professional to do these things, not to mention relieving yourself from the aggravation and stress.

 

7.      What would your ideal tablescape look like?

Rather than focusing on one individual tablescape, I prefer to design with the entire dining area in mind.  When guests first transition into the dining area, I don’t want them to see a sea of sameness.  Instead, I try to create a sense of excitement and interest through a variety of tabletop designs that complement each other.

A good example is Marissa and Matt’s wedding, where we had a combination of nine 54” square tables from Classic Party Rentals with “Williamsburg Celery” linens from La Tavola, four kings banquet tables with Rico Jungle Green linens, and two long farm tables.  Each type of table had its own sensational tablescape.

For the 54” squares, arrangements of plum, raspberry and fig flowers were placed into large clear square glass vases with added green accents.  On the banquet tables, low rectangular ceramic containers each had their own monochromatic arrangements. And for the two dramatic rows of farm tables, vessels of various shapes and sizes created a chic and modern look. Eclectic place settings featured a Green Swirl charger on the natural wood farm tables and a white square charger on the squares and kings banquet.  Each charger was layered with the Sophia dinner plate and a Camelot Kiwi folded napkin, which showcased the custom menu.

Photos: Arrowood Photography

 

8.      Your favorite of all the San Francisco wedding venues?

As a native San Franciscan, I love the iconic views of the Golden Gate Bridge from the James Leary Flood Mansion in Pacific Heights.  Known as the Convent of the Sacred Heart by day, this private all-girls’ school turns into a fabulous wedding venue for special events on weekends and evenings.

The Flood Mansion is a symphony of classical styles—Italian Renaissance, Rococo, Tudor and Georgian—featuring a “Grand Hall” with marble floors and great views of the Bay.  There is also a lovely enclosed courtyard off of the Grand Hall available for outdoor  ceremonies and receptions. The Flood Mansion is definitely a venue to show off the City by the Bay!

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Photo:  Grace Image

 

9.      What about Lake Tahoe wedding venues?

Just south of Tahoe’s most spectacular beach, Sand Harbor, the Thunderbird Lodge is the premier place to get married in the Lake Tahoe area.  An historic stone house and lush grounds by the shoreline, together with the azure Lake and surrounding mountains, provide an unparalleled backdrop for a sensational celebration.

 

10.  The most important part of wedding planning?

The most important part of wedding planning is learning the ability to be able to make a decision together.  The wedding planning process is the beginning of your many decisions you will make together as a married couple. Where will we go on a honeymoon? Where will we buy our first house? Who will do the cooking, cleaning and take out the garbage? Will we have children? How you make decisions and communicate with each other will affect every day of your married lives. Your wedding is a day, but your marriage is a lifetime.

Unexpected Wedding Costs

I recently provided some pointers to Credit Karma, for an article about unexpected costs at weddings that was posted on their website.  Here are the points that I made:

  1. Many event venues require General Liability insurance coverage from the Client (bride and groom). The amount of coverage typically required is at least $1,000,000 (sometimes $2 or 3 million) per occurrence.   The Insurer (bride and groom) must produce a Certificate of Insurance (COI), naming the venue as an additional insured.  The COI typically costs $150-$200.
  1. “To be determined” clauses in contracts can often lead to additional costs. If a contract has been signed with “TBD,” you are stuck with any prices that are subsequently “determined,” and you have no ability to negotiate that pricing, since the contract has already been signed.  Negotiate all pricing before a contract is signed to avoid unexpected costs.
  1. Many catering proposals are written with a basic level of staffing that is insufficient for a “fine dining” experience. If excellent service is important to you, you may want one wait staff person per table of eight and one bartender per 75 guests.  Be prepared for extra labor charges to obtain this high level of service.
  1. Some venues do not permit guests to drive to the venue, so group transportation by chartered coaches must be arranged.
  1. If you are at an outdoor venue there may or may not be electrical power for caterer, band/DJ, lighting, etc. You may have to bring in a generator.
  1. If you are at an outdoor venue there may or may not be restrooms. If not, portable restrooms are required.
  1. Many venues rent a site for a set amount of hours. If a couple wants a 7 hour wedding to include ceremony, cocktails, dinner and dancing and the venue is available for only 9 hours, this may not be the appropriate venue.  In addition to the time for the wedding itself, you typically want 4 hours for set-up (especially if you are bringing in lighting and special décor), and 1.5 to 2 hours for strike (tear-down).  In order for a couple to have their wedding at some sites, they may need to buy additional time from the venue – if the site will sell the extra time.  Be prepared for extra costs for securing more time.
  1. Setting up a wedding takes labor and costs money, but it is something that can get overlooked in initial pricing that the couple receives. That’s because it is not always clear who is responsible for set-up – sometimes it’s the venue, sometimes it’s the caterer, and sometimes it’s the rental company.  Whoever the responsible party may be, it should be clearly written into their contract.  And in any case, the couple is paying for someone to set up and tear down.

Five Top Secrets for a Memorable Memorial Day Party

I recently had the opportunity to offer my ideas for planning a Memorial Day party to Inspirations and Celebrations.  To create a memorable Memorial bash, I prescribed the following pointers:

1.  Start with style.  Send a colorful captivating invitation with clever wording that raises anticipation, sets the tone and theme of the party, and arouses a must-attend response.  Make it personal, don’t use mailing labels, and send it early.

Credit:  ohhowposh.com/blog

Credit: ohhowposh.com/blog

2.  Articulate your vision, then set the stage with red, white and blue.  The location (typically a garden, backyard or local park). The theme. The flowers. The linens. The food. The china. The music. The many, many must-haves to make a party work. Carefully consider all the details first, so you can be organized, not spontaneous and chaotic. Google “Memorial Day Party Ideas” for lots of wonderful images to help you get the creative juices going.  Target, Walmart, K-Mart all have great inexpensive décor to help with setting the theme.

Credit:  PartySwizzle.com

Credit: PartySwizzle.com

3.  Remember the reason for the holiday.  Memorial Day is a day on which those who died in active military service are remembered, traditionally observed in May. We all know someone who has served in the military past or present. Memorial Day entertaining is all about connecting with family and friends. To make a lasting impression, consider their needs.  Pick a time when everyone’s relaxed and off work …Saturday day, Sunday day or Monday day.   Make your food and beverage selections something your guests will recognize and love!

4.  Have elements of surprise and make it interactive. For an at-home party, play a game to get your group in the spirit.  If you’re at a local park, play soft-ball, volley-ball or good old relay-races!

5.  Read the crowd.  Be in tune with the environment and observe how your guests are reacting.  If you’re not playing in the games, they won’t be either. If they’re not dancing, change the music.  If their glasses are empty, pour the beverage.  And always end on a high note (don’t let the party drag on and on)…great parties are remembered for a lifetime.

Keeping Wedding Toasts Short and Sweet

I recently had the opportunity to offer my perspectives about wedding toasts to a writer for Brides Magazine, which has just published an online article called “THIS Is How You Tell Someone You Don’t Want Them Giving a Speech at Your Wedding.”  Here is the complete version of the advice I provided:

Toasts are carefully scheduled by the Wedding Planner in the wedding day timeline, which is sent out two weeks before the wedding.  So they are not extemporaneous.  Typically, the toasts are given in the following order:  The Best Man traditionally gives the first toast; per newer traditions, the Maid or Matron of Honor follows the Best Man; then the Father of the Bride follows the Maid or Matron of Honor.  These three toasts are given when guests are seated prior to dinner (or the main meal) being served.

Photo: Dennis DeSilva, Studio Seven

Photo: Dennis DeSilva, Studio Seven

These toasts need to be “short and sweet” for two important reasons:

  1. The First Course is ready to be served (or perhaps food stations open) immediately after the completion of the three toasts. If the toasts went beyond the scheduled time, the chefs and banquet staff would be extremely upset.  Chefs do not like to serve wilted salads, cold soups or any other type of food that is delayed from being brought to the guests.  Basically it is extremely important to time the toasts carefully with the Banquet Staff, so any unscheduled toasts would not be appropriate.
Photo: Withers Wanberg Pictures

Photo: Withers Wanberg Pictures

  1. If the 3 individuals – Best Man, Maid or Matron of Honor and Father of the Bride – exceed their designated time (typically, they are asked to keep it to 3 minutes each, for a total of 9-10 minutes) not only will the Banquet Team be unhappy, but from my years of experience as a wedding planner, the wedding guests will not be happy either! Guests do not appreciate listening to long-winded “Roasts or Speeches” which are not suitable for weddings.   Also, the toasts need to be understood by all guests – no “inside jokes” that most guests would not understand.

Following the meal, typically during the band or DJ break, there are 2 additional toasts that take place during the Cake Cutting Ceremony.  Prior to actually cutting the cake, the Bride and Groom are positioned at cake table, and the Groom toasts his lovely bride for the first time, then the Bride may reciprocate the Groom’s Toast.

Photo:  Paco & Betty

Photo: Paco & Betty

Additional toasts are not appropriate at this time, because the guests want to eat cake and dance the night away!

My Most Memorable Moment with Robin Williams

The shock and sorrow from Robin Williams’ death will remain with all of us for some time.  But in her unimaginable grief, his wife was courageous enough to ask us to remember him for “the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions.”  So it is with that request that I want to recount the story of how I met Robin Williams.

About a dozen Decembers ago, I was onsite at the Flood Mansion in San Francisco to manage a holiday party for a private business association.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with this property, it is an event venue by night and a girl’s school – Convent of the Sacred Heart – by day.

As part of the cocktail reception that preceded dinner, the girls in the school’s choir sang an assortment of holiday tunes to entertain the guests.  The parents of these girls were told by school officials to wait outside the building until the performance was over, and then their daughters would be escorted outside to meet the parents.  All of the parents dutifully obeyed this directive… except for one dad.

Just after the girls’ performance ended, this guy wearing a backwards baseball cap and ski jacket suddenly burst into the room full of formally-attired guests.  At the time, I was circulating through the room, graciously inviting guests to be seated for dinner in the adjacent Grand Hall.  I did not recognize him because, in addition to his out-of-place outfit, he was also wearing glasses.

“Sir, you were told to wait outside until we could escort the girls out of the building,” I said to him sternly.  “Right now, I have to get the guests seated for dinner, so if you could go back outside and wait a few more minutes, you’ll be able to take your daughter home soon.”

Did he listen to me?  Of course not.

Instead, he ran up into the Grand Hall, where Dick Bright’s band was getting ready to play, and grabbed a microphone.  Then he launched into an impromptu impersonation of an airline pilot making announcements to his passengers.  As everyone began to realize who this crazy dad was, we became enraptured travelers on a most hilarious flight.  The guests were immediately drawn into the Great Hall by his performance and they obediently sat down when he told them it was time to fasten their seat belts.

At the end of his amazing monologue, the Snow Queen character that we had hired for the event rushed over to wave her magic wand and sprinkle fairy dust on him.  Meanwhile, I scrambled to grab my cheapo camera (no iPhones back in those days) and managed to snap this blurry image for posterity.

Snow Queen & Robin Williams

After he had left with his daughter, my client came over to me and said, “I know we had money in the budget for the Snow Queen, but I didn’t think we had enough to afford a performance from Robin Williams!”  I just smiled and replied, “No, we didn’t have any money in the budget for that performance.  But none of the guests need to know that.”

While his hysterical antics on TV and in the movies have brightened my day more times than I can possibly count, this was the first and only time I ever saw Robin Williams live and in person.  And it is this memory of him that I will always cherish the most.

Rustic & Vintage Weddings: Fad or Fixture?

I was honored to be contacted by Special Events Magazine to offer my perspectives on the current popularity of rustic and vintage weddings.  I am most grateful that some of my comments were even included in an article published in their weekly “Eventline” e-newsletter.

But since this is such an important topic into today’s wedding world, I thought it would be helpful to share the complete set of comments I made on this subject.  So below, I have listed the questions posed to me by Special Events, and my responses immediately following.

1)      Is the rustic/vintage wedding theme still a hot trend, or is it starting to fade?

First of all, there is a difference between “rustic” and “vintage.”  Rustic is weathered, time-worn pieces (furniture) and accents (accessories) in a more casual setting.  Examples include an old barn or a vignette of weathered country furniture.

“Vintage” applies to more refined furnishings, from the early 1900’s to the 1950’s, typically more “refined” than rustic.  Examples are painted French chairs, glided sconces, toile or lace fabrics, mercury glass containers, pieces of silver and crystal chandeliers.  “Antique” furniture is 100 years or older.

I don’t think rustic or vintage is a fad, but a style that will stay with us.  However, it’s also important to note that neither rustic nor vintage should be considered a “theme.”  Rustic and vintage are styles (and 2 of many style options) for a wedding couple to potentially select.  Typical styles include:  traditional, formal, casual, contemporary, modern, rustic, vintage and whimsical.

2)      If it’s still hot, what are some of the “must haves” for the rustic/vintage wedding? (That is, in linen, floral, tabletop, chairs, venue, etc.)

The plethora of bridal blogs show the typical items used at rustic or vintage weddings.  But unfortunately, I believe these blogs are all swimming in a sea of sameness.  If the rustic or vintage style truly resonates with the couple, I would encourage them to develop a unique “theme” which fits within that style, but also incorporates their unique tastes and personalities.

For example, Tamara and Damon’s wedding had a distinctively vintage style, but we developed a “Signs of Love” theme to make their wedding uniquely their own.  Here’s a synopsis of their story:

As their relationship blossomed, Tamara and Damon created many romantic rituals that reflected their playful personalities.  They loved to take drives in Tamara’s Mini Cooper convertible with the top down.  Every time they stopped at a red light, they would kiss.  Whenever they spotted a Volkswagen Beetle on the road, they would play a game of “Slug Bug,” giving each other a love tap on the arm.  And if they ever found a photo booth during their travels, they would always stop for a strip of pictures.

At home, Tamara and Damon kept mistletoe hanging in the hallway all year round, so they could kiss whenever they passed underneath.  Once each week, they would take turns cooking “lovey dinners” – culinary creations that they had never tried before.  And before quaffing a cocktail, they would dream up a poetic toast that rhymed.

After this darling couple selected Events of Distinction to design and plan their wedding, we first set out to develop an appropriate color palette for the celebration.  When we asked Tamara what her favorite color was, she replied, “poppy red… and cobalt blue, aqua, peach, taupe and gold.”  OK, no problem.  Working with a graphic illustrator, we were able to develop a logo for their wedding that included all of these colors, while vividly depicting the couple’s “signs of love.”  We used this logo on several printed pieces, including the Save the Date from Union Street Papery, beautifully photographed by Caroline Ghetes:

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 On the wedding day, for a pre-ceremony beverage, guests were greeted beside a vintage truck at Beltane Ranch and a display of vintage linens and boxes in the color palette of the wedding.

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During the ceremony, the chuppah included a vintage needlepoint heirloom that Tamara’s grandmother had made.

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At cocktails we had a vintage display of silver champagne buckets used for the escort cards and a vintage stop light at the bar.

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The dinner area had crystal vintage chandeliers from Twilight Design hanging over a tablescape of “Sevres Antique” china from Classic Party Rentals and floral centerpieces from Michael Daigian Design.

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3)      Do certain color palettes dominate the rustic/vintage wedding? If yes, what are they?

Absolutely NOT!  All it takes is a little courage and confidence to create color schemes for any theme wedding (and style).   Start with your  favorite colors.   Change your mood (from ceremony to cocktails to dinner and dancing) with color.  For Tamara and Damon’s wedding, we used peach to poppy red for ceremony; cobalt blue and gold for cocktails and aqua and peaches for dinner.  After dinner we used gold, aqua and peach, as shown in these delightful desserts from Patisserie Angelica.

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4)      Is there a certain profile of the “typical” rustic/vintage bride? (Maybe her age, where she’s from, other?)

For some city-dwelling couples, a farmstead wedding may serve as an escape from the urban concrete jungle.  After all, the grass is always greener on the other side (even when we’re in a drought).  Couples who have an appreciation for history may find the vintage style particularly appealing.

 

5)      Why do you think the rustic/vintage wedding is so appealing to brides? (Does it seem more “authentic” or more human in a high-tech age, other?)

The vintage-inspired wedding started to become popular as the economy was taking a downturn around 2008-9.  Couples in the luxury market did not want to appear “over-the-top” and started thinking more about “green” weddings.  Hence, vintage items from neighborhood garage sales and flea markets found a new life as nuptial décor.

I also think this style of wedding may be partly a generational issue.  Millennial couples who have embraced the rustic and vintage styles may be doing so just to assert their independence from their parents (and style of wedding their parents had).

 

6)      But if the rustic trend is starting to fall off, what trend is coming on strong? Old World elegant? Hip minimalist? Strong personal themes? Other?

I believe the word “trend” should never be used in the context of wedding & event design, because the key to developing a “trendy” design does not come from following the latest fads, but from capturing the couple’s unique personalities.  Following a “trend” only results in creating a copycat look.  That’s why I always focus on developing very personalized designs.

 

7)      What are the biggest drivers that influence your brides’ desires—Pinterest images? Bridal magazines? What their friends just did at their wedding? Your advice?  Other?

Brides do have an insatiable appetite for what’s new, but they are also inspired by great ideas from wedding design professionals.  It’s up to the designer to be the creative genius and convert the couple’s personal tastes into a workable design.  So the biggest drivers that influence our clients’ desires are my creative juices, along with their combined shared interests, ethnic heritage and personalities.

Bringing Your Wedding Vision Into Better Focus Than 20/20

ABC television, in a recent broadcast of its 20/20 program, aired a rambling episode that they called “Wedding Confidential.”  This episode consisted of several segments, one of which was an attempt to portray wedding industry professionals as scam artists who gouge engaged couples at every opportunity.  In case you missed it, you can watch the entire show by clicking here.

Many outraged members of the wedding industry have offered insightful rebuttals to the 20/20 segment. If you want to read some of the commentary about the 20/20 program, please visit the blogs of my colleagues Alan Berg and Andy Ebon.  Since I have previously commented on these kinds of accusations in another blog post, I will not repeat my prior observations here.  But after finally watching the program online and mulling over the massive outcry it generated, I wanted to offer a slightly different, and hopefully helpful, perspective.

Yes, there are a few bad apples in every industry, and the wedding industry is no exception.  But what is truly important for the engaged couple is to know how to avoid the bad apples.  Brides and grooms certainly won’t learn that by watching 20/20, a program that was designed to entertain, not educate.  So in the paragraphs that follow, I want to take this opportunity to offer my advice to couples on how to make sure you are getting fair value for the wedding services you need.

The single most important thing you can do to ensure that you’re paying a fair price is to obtain proposals from more than one service provider in each vendor type that you need for your wedding (i.e. florists, photographers, caterers, etc.).  And it’s fine to inform each vendor you contact that you will also be getting other quotes – most vendors would expect you to do that anyway.

Make sure that you ask for similar levels of services from the vendors you contact, so that you can make an accurate comparison of the quotes you receive. Getting 2 or 3 proposals from qualified service providers is typically enough for you to make an informed decision.  (Getting 20 to 30 proposals is unnecessarily draining on everyone’s time – especially yours.)  Your decision on which vendor proposal you prefer may be based on the price quoted, but that shouldn’t be the only thing you consider – you may, for instance, decide to select a more expensive photographer because you liked their style the best.

Assuming I’ve convinced you of the value of getting multiple proposals, an important question may still be nagging at you – “How can I be sure that all the vendors I am contacting are qualified, capable and trustworthy?”

My advice is to look for service providers that have credentials, experience and established reputations.  Many qualified vendors belong to non-profit associations that seek to advance the level of professionalism in the industry.  These associations include the Wedding Industry Professionals Association, the International Special Events Society and the National Association of Catering Executives.

If you’re looking at wedding websites to find qualified service providers, check out listings of vendors that have been carefully screened, such as those appearing on Here Comes the Guide or Style Me Pretty’s Little Black Book.  With these listings, the service providers have all received rave reviews from couples as well as other respected professionals in the wedding industry.  Other website listings may only require the service provider to pay a fee to be listed, so there is no mechanism in place to confirm the qualifications of the advertiser.

So I hope the above advice will help you find reliable service providers that you can count on to make your wedding day a wonderful experience.  But before concluding this blog post, I wanted to address one more issue that was brought up in the 20/20 program segment – whether service providers typically charge more for weddings than they do for other types of events.  The answer is that sometimes they do, and let me explain why that can be the case.

I can assure you that the amount of time you will put into planning your wedding will far exceed the amount of time you would put into planning another event, such as a birthday party.  After all, birthdays happen every year, but a wedding is a once-in-a-lifetime event, and you will want to fondly remember your wedding day for the rest of your life.  Your wedding vendors want that for you, too.

But this means that your service providers may also need to spend more time working with you to prepare for your big day, to ensure that your wedding celebration is a much more special occasion than a more “ordinary” event like a birthday party.  So it’s not the selections of flowers for your centerpieces, or entrees for dinner, or music for dancing that are themselves more expensive – instead, a somewhat higher price can occasionally result from the extra time that your service providers take to make sure those centerpieces, entrees and tunes are exactly what you want for your wedding.

Overall, the vast majority of wedding service providers work very hard and earn a very modest living.  What motivates them the most is not making money, but making all your wedding dreams come true.

A great example of the kind and generous spirit of most wedding service providers was clearly (and ironically) illustrated in another segment of the same 20/20 program.  This other segment told the story of a bride who supposedly had terminal cancer (she actually did not have cancer, but that is beside the point I’m trying to make here).  What did local wedding service providers do when they heard about this bride’s terminal cancer?  Did they try to overcharge her because she wanted to get married quickly?  No, they offered their services for free or a deep discount because they wanted to help her!  (Unfortunately, since the bride was faking having cancer, it was the wedding service providers who actually got scammed.)

So let me finally wrap things up with what I think is the moral of this story:  If you do your homework to find qualified service providers, and put your trust in these knowledgeable professionals, they will skillfully implement your beautiful wedding vision with much more sharpness and clarity than the producers of 20/20 could ever envision.

What I Do On My Summer Vacations

It’s that time of year when the kids are all back in school again, and their teachers have started dishing out homework assignments… like writing an essay about “What I Did On My Summer Vacation.”  To commemorate this time-honored topic for English class, I have decided to write my own little essay about what I do in the summer when I get to take little vacations from my work.

Whenever I can find a little “down time” in between weddings and/or teaching, I like to get outdoors, far far away from my studio… and go kayaking

or hiking

or windsurfing

or biking 

or water skiing

or running

or paddle boarding.

[Photos courtesy of my husband and business partner, Dana Becker]

I must admit that if I had turned in the above essay in Grade School, Sister Rita would have given me a pretty bad grade, because there’s not very much text here.

But moving from the world of Grade School back to the “real world,” you may be wondering why I’m even bothering to write about my favorite playtime activities on a blog that pertains to my business.  After all, why should you care about what I do in my spare time?

Here’s why:   In order to be an effective Wedding Planner, I have to be in good shape.

On the day of a wedding, I am typically on my feet for about 12 hours.  I am constantly on the move at the wedding location, overseeing all of the service providers to ensure that they are working in sync.  Of course, I am also continually monitoring the couple and their guests to make sure that all of their needs are being taken care of.

Overall, it is a physically demanding day.  And to ensure that I can do my job well, so that the wedding flows flawlessly, it is essential that I am in good physical condition.

So whenever I have some time to get away from work and enjoy some summertime fun, I am still helping my clients… by choosing activities that help me stay in shape!

A Destination Wedding in Cabo: My Nuptial Journey

Kevin and I said I Do this past June, at the oceanfront Villa Vista Ballena in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Standing under the gorgeous orchid and lace strung canopy, surrounded by 125 of our closest family and friends, I realized at that moment, that the past one and a half years of planning, organizing, sweat (and occasionally tears) were all worth it.

We knew when we began the process that planning a destination wedding would have its unique challenges. However, we were not expecting the end result to be so profoundly fulfilling, far exceeding anything we had envisioned our destination wedding to be. Here I share my own experiences and advice about the planning process, in hopes of inspiring other destination wedding brides.

 

Taking the First Step

Kevin and I debated long and hard whether a destination wedding was for us. Did it convey who we were as a couple? Would our guests be able to make the trip? How would we plan everything from 1500 miles away? We made a list of pros and cons. Of course, the pros certainly outweighed the cons, as we felt that a destination wedding reflected our adventurous spirit, would allow for quality time with guests over an extended period of time, would be unique, and of course, so much fun! From that moment on, we never looked back.

Narrowing Down the Options

While exotic locales such as The Cayman Islands or Bali certainly topped my list of dreamy destination wedding settings, we had to be realistic and practical. We had two criteria in selecting a destination wedding location: (1) the cost of the flight and hotel rooms to be manageable, to relieve the financial burden on guests (2) the flight from Northern California had to be less than 4 hours, so that our older grandparents would be comfortable and our guests would have to sacrifice too much time en route.

Geographically, we narrowed the possibilities down to the western coast of Mexico and quickly decided on Cabo, as it offered a wide variety of hotel options. Next, I spent a lot of time researching online. Our demands were lengthy as we needed a hotel that with a variety of price points for rooms, large enough to accommodate all our guests (as we wanted everyone to stay at the same hotel), close to the main attractions and downtown scene, quality service, food and ambiance. We felt the hotel would reflect us as a couple and the tone we wanted to set for the wedding weekend.

Picking the Right Hotel

Once we had narrowed our search down to about 5-8 hotels, we booked a trip to Cabo to see them in person. Of the three we liked, I began getting into the nitty gritty of pricing, availability, the bridal suite, minimum blocks, concessions, etc.

Once we chose the hotel we wanted to work with, we negotiated a fair room block rate. We also wanted to give our guests options, so we made sure that the hotel also had flight+hotel packages on popular online travel sites and wholesale vendors such as Costco, which offered ‘kids eat free’ package deals ideal for families.

Hotel contracts can be tricky, so read them carefully and seek out advice. And always negotiate!

On Site or Off Site Wedding

Having the wedding and reception at the hotel where we were all staying was certainly the more practical (and cost effective) option, as guests would already be there, we wouldn’t have to arrange for transportation, pay a separate venue rental fee, etc.

However, we decided to go with a private Villa about 5 minutes away from our hotel, as I simply loved the change of scenery, the elegance of the authentic Mexican Villa, the excitement of shuttling guests to our secret wedding location, and the complete privacy the Villa would offer.

Hire a Wedding Planner

Navigating the sea of foreign vendors can be difficult. Many vendors operate solely by word of mouth, without websites or being listed in wedding directories. Without resources like Here Comes the Guide to rely on for references and reviews, a wedding planner is your best investment. Having a planner that was familiar with Cabo and had strong connections in town was the best decision we made. While I was personally involved with the decision-making, design and concept, the wedding planner played a crucial role in executing everything to perfection!

Did You Get That?

Working with Cabo vendors was challenging for two reasons. First, the language can be a barrier. While the vendors and I could talk basics, the details of texture, color, taste, etc was often lost in translation. I quickly realized that words carry a variety of interpretations, so I relied heavily on photos to explain what I wanted. I also enlisted our wedding planner to act as liaison, as she was the one who took the extra time to ensure that we were all on the same page. It was certainly frustrating at times not being able to just pick up the phone and call our florist or caterer and ask a simple question, but it was the price we paid of doing business in a foreign country, and we knew we had to accept this.

Put Everything in Writing

The second challenge we faced was the lack of written contracts. As we were selecting our officiant (the most popular one in Cabo, mind you), we were told that in Cabo, verbal agreements were the standard. Of course I understand that much of this tradition was based on culture and trust, however I am a skeptic (and an attorney at heart) so I still insisted that everything be in writing. I’m pretty sure the vendors all thought I was nuts, but it gave me the peace of mind I think all brides should have when planning such a significant event.

Keeping Everything Else Low Key

Six of our close friends were also getting married the same summer. With so many weddings and wedding-related events, we were nervous about asking guests to travel to a destination wedding. So we made a decision early on not to have a large engagement party or over-the-top bachelor / bachelorette parties. Our pre-wedding events were low key, near our hometowns and limited to close family, to alleviate the burden on extended friends and family. I know everyone appreciated the gesture.

Rallying the Troops

This was certainly not hard. Our friends and family shared our love of travel, and appreciated the chance to get away and be pampered over 3 days of organized events. With everyone’s busy schedules, our wedding was a great excuse for guests to make use of those unused vacation days. We were honored that the majority of invited guests made the journey to Cabo San Lucas. Every single person had a blast, and we have the video footage to prove it!

Follow Your Instincts

The destination wedding planning process is about you and your partner. Listen to your gut instinct, as it is often right. Don’t hesitate to ask questions, be insistent about what you want. After all, it is your day.

A Destination for Your Celebration?

Joyce and I share a love for travel and adventure. Between the two of us, we have traveled to the some of the dreamiest spots in the world. So we have decided to create a series of occasional posts about destination weddings, highlighting some of our favorite places to tie the knot.

But first, I want to address a fundamental question that newly engaged couples often ask themselves:  Why should we consider having a destination wedding? 

Here are 7 reasons to take your celebration on the road, along with my “Trip Tips” for making it an awesome experience for everyone.

1.  Be unique.  Only about 20% of American couples have destination nuptials, so if you get out of town to get hitched, you won’t have to choose from the same old spots that the other 80% of your married friends have already booked.

Trip Tip: Pick a locale that represents you as a couple. Think of memorable vacations that you have enjoyed, or places that you have always wanted to visit.

Photo: Chris Gin

2.  What a Great Excuse!  Believe me, your guests will appreciate a destination wedding.  With everyone’s busy schedules, a destination wedding gives guests an excuse to travel and plan a vacation.

Trip Tip: Make sure to send your Save the Date cards well in advance, to allow guests plenty of time to arrange their work schedules and travel plans. Wedding couples should determine their venue and date as soon as possible, and then let guests know!

3.  Quality time with your loved ones.  The standard wedding lasts 6 hours, and the bride and groom spend most of the time running around trying to say hello all their guests! A destination wedding usually spans a minimum of three days, which means the bride and groom have plenty of time to spend with their guests, and in a more relaxed setting.

Trip Tip: Plan easy and fun pre and post wedding activities.  Some favorites include relay races, cooking classes, sunset cruises, bike tours and spa days!

4.  Simplify your Guest list.  Having a wedding at home can often lead to the feeling of obligation to invite everyone you know (or sometimes don’t know) like parent’s friends or distant relatives. Since those who aren’t close to you are unlikely to make the trip to a destination wedding, this keeps the guest list nice and simple.

Trip Tip: You can consider having a cocktail party with extended family members and friends once you return from your destination wedding.

5.  Happy Wallet.  It follows that with a simplified guest list, a destination wedding can turn out to be more economical as well. If you keep it to just close family and friends, this will help keep the budget down.

Trip Tip: Many hotels will offer wedding packages or special group rates. All inclusive hotels are also a nice option for some couples.

6.  Neutral ground for blending & bonding. The opportunity to get married some place different sets up an equal playing ground between families. This way, there will be no hard feelings about setting the wedding in one family’s hometown or another. If the destination is something new for both families, it will become a place special to them, as well as to you. With you and all of your guests spending time in such close proximity and away from home, it creates a much more intimate setting, and a great way for families and friends to mix and mingle.

Trip Tip: Be the gracious host, remember to introduce everyone to each other by first and last name and their relation to you or your fiancé. Encourage conversation topics that highlight common hobbies, careers, hometowns, etc.

7.  The Honeymoon can be part of the package.  Consider combining your honeymoon with your wedding celebration. This is not only cost effective, but you’re already in a location that you love, so why not stay and enjoy longer!

Trip Tip: After the wedding, transfer to a different hotel, or even better, a different part of the city, for a change of scenery. And don’t forget to splurge on the Honeymoon Suite!

Honeymoon Suite at Meeru Island Resort, Maldives

In our next post, we will focus on one of our favorite locations for a destination celebration.  In the meantime, pull out a map of the world and start thinking about where you might want to wed.