When my fiancé Gray and I were deciding where to have our wedding, we had three choices: Tallahassee (our current home), Pittsburgh (my hometown) and Satellite Beach (where Gray grew up). Ultimately, we decided that Pittsburgh was just too far for us to be going back and forth and we didn't want to burden my parents with too much responsibility. (Also, flying out of Tallahassee regularly would have been a monstrous expense.) We crossed Tallahassee off the list because I wanted a fall wedding, which meant that we'd be competing with Florida State and Florida A&M football.
So, we picked Satellite Beach and signed a venue contract this past week (!) for a beach wedding at a Crowne Plaza in Melbourne Beach. Our wedding venue is located just 10 minutes away from where Gray's mom lives, but it's more than four hours away from our home in Tallahassee. We're currently dealing with the challenges of planning a long-distance wedding and we're sort of learning as we go. Here are some of the things that have worked for us so far.
Photo courtesy of Crowne Plaza in Melbourne Beach
1. When you're ready to visit venues in your chosen location, pick a weekend where you can get a lot done.
Gray and I opted to go look at venues during the first week in August because I noticed that a bridal show was taking place that weekend. Check local associations for wedding professionals to see if they have any events coming up and plan around that. You would have the benefit of finding a lot of vendors in one place. Here’s a schedule for Great Bridal Expos around the country.
We also scheduled six venue visits during this weekend and a trip to a wedding planner. Now, all of this would have worked perfectly had I not come down with bronchitis that week and lost my voice. I made it through the first day of five venue visits, but Gray had to go to the wedding planner (with his mom) and visit the final two venues alone. Sadly, we ended up skipping the bridal show because all I wanted was my own bed by that time.
2. Find out what information you need to get from your venues/vendors.
Almost a month before our visit to Satellite Beach, I made a list of about 25 questions for our potential venues. (Important: Remember to pack those questionnaires! We didn't, but we were able to reconstruct the list on the car ride with a little help from the Internet and my mom via cell phone.)
In addition to all of the serious financial questions, I also needed to know if they would allow me to have a cookie table, an important Pittsburgh tradition. We also asked about parking space and restroom availability. Check out 11 Questions to Ask Your Reception Site to help you get started.
We took along a notepad to take notes at each place, something that my fiancé continued to do when he went alone. He also took photos on his iPhone of the sites so I could see them when he returned.
3. Consider hiring a wedding planner.
When we began our wedding journey, I couldn't even really imagine the idea of using a planner. I wasn't sure if it would be worth the cost. (Sorry, Susan, if you're reading this!) Since then, I've come to see the value that they offer to couples. Gray's mom had a former coworker who now works as a wedding planner and persuaded us to meet with her. I missed the meeting because I was too busy coughing and downing cups of tea that my future brother-in-law kindly made for me, but Gray reported back to me.
Our wedding planner gave us a list of potential vendors that she thought were both good and reliable. She told us the pros and cons about some of the venues we were considering, and even offered some alternatives for us to check out. She gave us to-do checklists, etiquette reminders, and a list of responsibilities for the maid of honor, best man and groom (which Gray has dubbed the "Be a gentleman and don't screw up" list).
Planners offer all sorts of packages from consultations to day-of services to event coordination for not only the wedding, but all of the pre-wedding activities as well. If you're having a semi-destination wedding in a popular area, like I am, you should be able to find tons of planners who work with different wedding styles and budgets. So, it may be worth your time to at least schedule a consultation. Check out some Frequently-Asked Wedding Planning Questions, along with David Tutera's advice.
4. Sometimes, it’s worth paying extra for options that are more convenient.
Last Monday, in the comfort of our own home, Gray and I went over the wedding options and numbers. We narrowed it down to two choices — the Crowne Plaza and the Brevard Zoo. Having run the numbers multiple times, I knew the zoo was cheaper, but also more work. First off, I felt we would have to shuttle our guests from the hotel to the zoo. Additionally, the zoo provided the space, tables and linens, but we would have to use separate vendors for everything else.
With the hotel, the bar, meal, cocktail hour, cake and champagne toast were all included in one price. The guests could stay there and enjoy the beach all day before getting ready for the wedding. And we would have an onsite planner to ensure everything went smoothly. The zoo, in contrast, did offer an attendant to make sure there were no building problems, but that person would not help with any sort of set-up. Given that Gray and I, plus my entire family, are not residents of the area, we wanted to make the process as smooth as possible the day of, so we opted to pay a little bit more.
5. Skype it up!
BG's Web Producer, Stefania, suggested that I use Skype to "meet" with wedding pros from afar and I totally plan on taking this advice. Can’t schedule a face-to-face meeting with a photographer or another vendor you’d like to use? Try setting up a Skype date instead so that you at least get to know their face and voice before the big day. Unlike a regular phone call, this communication tool also allows you to show the vendors visual aids, like color palette swatches or must-have photos you'd like to take on the wedding day.
Tell us: Are you planning a wedding far from home? I’d love to hear your tips to make the day a success.
Kathleen Haughney, a native of Pittsburgh, and her fiancé, Gray, work as journalists in Tallahassee, FL. The couple met in November 2010 and were engaged this past Memorial Day. They are currently planning a 50's/60's beach themed wedding that will take place in Florida's Space Coast.
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