Friday, February 25, 2011

Location crazy

This weekend my saintly cousin (who will be a bridesmaid, even if she doesn't know it yet) and I will be trekking across Virginia wine country to see the next three venues that could hold the M&Y Wedding and Reception.  Except, just like last weekend, I don't think any of them will.  Even though they're all beautiful venues (one is a vineyard, and one is a historic site!) and I'd love to have my dream wedding there, practical concerns are making it hard for me to commit to any of them.

For one thing - at least 30% of our guest list is from out of town.  Mostly my family, as well as all my college friends from Illinois, and the majority of my bridal party.  I want to show our out of town guests that we appreciate them, and to me, that means making things as convenient as possible.  If we chose a venue 20, 30 miles away from the airport, we're just making life more stressful for everyone.

See that blue airplane below?  Only about 3 or 4 of our venue options are a reasonable distance from the airport.  Which makes me a little worried about the other 90% of our list - the outliers.

Possible wedding locations - told you I was organized!
Another concern is lodging.  I told M from the get go that I didn't want a hotel reception.  I've been to plenty of lovely weddings held in hotel ballrooms, but I wanted something a little different for ours.  He agreed, and that's what got us on the road we are today.  Except the further down the rabbit hole we go, the more I realize that hotel receptions provide so much convenience.  Being able to dress in our bridal suite, having everyone in a central location, a place to stay so no one drives home drunk, and of course - after parties.

This could be easily remedied by picking a location within walking distance to an inn or hotel, or finding one that has a shuttle service.  Except all the vineyard locations, barns, and most of the country clubs cultivate that "rustic, remote" atmosphere so well that there's no hotel nearby.  

Taking this all in stride, I decided to look into a hotel reception.  And when I found a hotel close to the airport, with a free shuttle, and a picturesque location that isn't the least bit "hotel"-y?  My heart started to flutter.  Then I wondered, what's the point of looking at reception sites out in Front Royal this weekend?  Am I wasting my time?

I still haven't decided.  I may end up canceling our appointments this weekend and save gas and my cousin's mind (she'll need it later).  But most likely we'll go, enjoy whatever wine tastings they shower upon us and a free tour of some pretty locations.  And just like last weekend, it'll help M and I grow closer to determining just what exactly we want and what isn't as important as we thought.

What do you think - should I cull the search to only venues close to the airport?  Have you been to a wedding as an out of town guest and found the commute inconvenient?  Has anyone thrown a vineyard wedding and figured out the transportation issue??

Monday, February 21, 2011

Varied Venues: How to not find a perfect wedding venue

On Saturday, M and I woke up bright, early, and excited to check out our first venues.  I didn't have high hopes that we would find "the one" that day, but it was the first step on our road to finding the venue.

 Why wasn't I hopeful?  In my mind, I'm still picturing a rustic, semi-formal reception with an outdoor ceremony at the same location.  None of the three sites we saw on Saturday matched that description.  But we knew they were some of our best options if we wanted to stay in the DC Metro Area, rather than venturing into the Shenandoah Valley region.  Plus, one of the venues was very reasonably priced and we wanted to see what we could get for the least amount of money.

  Our first visit was to the Grand Atrium in Tysons Corner.  Since they have their pricing online, I don't mind telling you that this place was downright cheap compared to a lot of the other venues I'd gotten pricing from - especially wineries.  Still, we could tell from the photos online that the hall colors probably weren't going to be to our liking or fit in with our wedding colors.  This was confirmed almost immediately, as the entire place is decorated in hunter green and burghandy.  Not bad colors in and of themselves, but at this venue they were very overbearing and made the whole hall look dated.

A view of the bar and cocktail lounge, from website
The other problem we had is the split level style of the banquet hall.  Cocktail hour was downstairs, dinner was upstairs, dancing and cake cutting were back downstairs.  We had a feeling that some guests would want to mingle at the very comfy couches downstairs, while others would stay at their tables upstairs - leaving M and I to run up and down stairs all night trying to talk to all our guests.  Overall, we thought this venue would probably work much better for a business holiday party or meeting.  It would have been great for our budget, but we didn't want to sacrifice our style, our wedding colors (which have particular significance to us, I'll talk about this later) or our poor legs to do it!

Next up was Hidden Creek County Club in Reston, only a few minutes away from our house.  The nice part about this venue is that it is very close to the Reston Town Center, which has a ton of hotel and dining options.  It would have been so convenient to have our friends and family stay in a hotel just a few blocks away and be able to shuttle to the wedding/reception site.  Not to mention, going out for drinks or dancing after the reception would be a cinch.  Price-wise, they have several wedding packages and they were very flexible about working with us to make sure we stayed in budget.  The coordinator we had was super friendly and a delight to talk to.  No problems there.
The general flow was much better here - the ceremony would be on a deck with a nice veiw of the golf course, then our guests would move to a covered patio for cocktails while the new Mister and I take a golf cart out for some pictures (M was very excited about this!):

Covered Patio

Carting around to take pictures!
(I have personal photos of all these venues, but forgot my camera at home.  So you'll have to rely on what I could find online.  These are nicer though, since it's of an actual summer wedding, whereas all of ours look dead and wintery!)

Then we'd move into an inside reception area connected to the patio for dinner and and dancing.  It was all very nice, but...  In the end the place just didn't have the right "feel".  The reception room felt a little too crowded, the dance floor was oddly positioned, and again, there were hunter green accents everywhere (what's with these places and hunter green??).  We checked it off as a "....maybe" and moved on.

The third place was our best bet out of the three.  Fairfax Country Club was a little pricier than Hidden Creek, but we were hoping we could get a deal, because not only is M's granddad a member - he used to be president!  Honestly, when that name got dropped, I saw our coordinators eyebrows raise sky high.  I felt like I was marrying a Kennedy!

M - Is that you?

We also found out that M's parents had their reception here, which made it a place of Great Interest to us.  Despite the fact that it wasn't our ideal location, we were optimistic!  M had been to the club before, but they had recently remodeled the ballroom, so it was new to both of us.  It was lovely looking, and done in a very neutral palette with gold accents.  Happily, with purple and gold as our wedding colors, we'd only have to add in some purple to make it match completely.  The ballroom was spacious, the dance floor was huge and well positioned (not splitting the room in two, nor tucked away so people can't see it).  The coordinator was very nice to work with, the catering was reasonable, and there was a small patio outside that our guests could access.
Overall, it was a great location, and with a generous discount from being sponsored by M's granddad, totally within our budget.  So why wasn't I in love with it?  Maybe I still have my heart set on that vintage winery wedding, or maybe it all felt a little too stuffy (let's just say no one in my family is even a member of a country club!).  Either way, something felt off.  Thankfully M agreed with me, so we decided to continue the search.  It's nice to know the Fairfax Club is still there if we can't find anything better, but also nice to know we still have plenty of time and don't have to settle.

This weekend I'll be checking out a few more locations, and I have a list of probably eleventy-hundred more if those don't work out.  We're still getting a good head start so I'm not worried about a place not being available for our (very flexible) summer 2012 dates.  At this point it's just about scoping things out and figuring out what works for us and our guests.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Location, Location, Location

Two weeks into wedding planning, and I already have a spreadsheet that is 30 rows long and looks like this:

Names not included, to protect the innocent
 M says I'm obsessed; I say thorough.  When you're on a budget, you have to investigate every possibility.  And if you don't keep track of the details, you'll waste time trying to find information and re-tracing your steps.  Yes, I have emails from most of these locations that have all the same information as this spreadsheet, or links to websites where I could look it up again, but it's easier to have it all in one location so that I can compare, sort, and make decisions based on all the information that's important to me.

If you're wedding planning, and haven't put together some kind of organizational system for tracking prospective vendors, I highly recommend it!

The other reason M says I'm crazy is because there are places on my list that I'm not even considering.  Meadowlark Gardens, my dream location, is on the list, even though I know that at $8,000 their reception hall is way over our budget.  I don't keep it on my list because I love to look at the pictures and dream about "what if"...
Okay, maybe a little...  [Source]
 I keep it because I can use it to compare values and figure out what an $8000 location would get me over a $1000 location.  Also, I know that if I ever need to look them up again (we're still considering having our ceremony there and the reception elsewhere) all the information is easy to find.

So where are we looking?  Good question!  This weekend we're visiting three sites, all of them about as far away from my "dream" wedding as possible (this might be an overstatement).  Of course, no wedding is perfect, but it helps to write down these kind of goals with your beloved early on in the process.  M and I wrote several lists the first week we were engaged:
  1. Priorities:  We wrote what our top three priorities in a wedding were (aka: where should we splurge in our budget), the lowest three (what we could cut out or skimp on), and the three things we'd be willing to put in some elbow-grease and DIY.  Our answers matched up pretty well, so we have a better idea of where we're going to spend our budget.
    And speaking of budget....
  2. Budget:  Okay, not technically a list, but this was easily the most important thing we put together.  I'll tell you more about it an another post.
  3. Goals:  When I read $2000 Wedding's post about creating wedding goals I immediately sat M down to write our own list.  While it doesn't look anything near Matt and Sara's list, it does look like us, and that's the most important thing.  I'll share this later as well!
With those three important decision-lists in hand,we can can make confident compromises.  Having an outdoor wedding is important to us, but staying within our budget is important, too.  We decided that an indoor reception was okay as long as our ceremony was outdoors (with a rain contingency), if it helps us save money. 

What kind of decisions did you and your honey make early on in the process?  Did they change as your wedding planning went on?  How are you keeping track of the data overload that comes with wedding planning?

And as the three places we're seeing this weekend....?  Check back Monday for a full review and details!  ;)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Dreams vs. Reality

I was never the kind of little girl who dreamed about her wedding.  I went to relatively few weddings as a kid, and even when I hit college and my cousin and sister got married, I was happy to be a bridesmaid, but the planning gears didn't start turning.  I think, in my heart, I didn't want to become fixated on a certain color or a certain aspect of the wedding and then not be able to do it.  All this changed about a year ago, when I'd been dating Mr. Toshella for about six months and began to realize he was truly my "one".  One night we were lying in bed, and for some reason started talking about wedding colors.  The next day, it was like a lightbulb turned on.  I trolled the Knot for purple and gold weddings and built up an imaginary wedding scrapbook on Evernote.  I didn't tell M about this (he already said I was pressuring him!), but in my mind I began to plan out my perfect wedding.

I knew I wanted an ourdoor ceremony, preferably overlooking water or maybe next to a gazebo.  The reception would be outdoor as well, on a patio or under a tent, though I was willing to fantasize about that perfect barn reception.  I wanted cute details to ensure that my guests had a good time - like complimentary parasols and flip-flops.  And above all, I wanted to have it at a winery - one of M and I's first dates was at a winery, and we enjoy spending our summer weekends sipping wine on the patio of our favorite spots.

At the time, I didn't think there was any harm.  With wedding colors already picked out, and knowing M's style as well as I do, I planned my modern, vineyard wedding.  My (impeccable) taste was validated just last week, when I finally got to show M everything I'd been planning.  Of course, he didn't agree with everything, but he love the idea of an outdoor wedding, and we agreed on enough to move forward.

So what's the problem?  Budget.  I thought I would be okay; I'd been saving for my wedding for a year, and the vineyards I was looking at were so far from DC I figured the prices wouldn't be inflated too much.  But I severely underestimated what a vineyard wedding- or even an outdoor wedding! - costs.  Last weekend we put together a budget spreadsheet, and I almost cried.  I knew immediately we couldn't afford the vineyards I'd been looking at.  At this rate, even a tented reception at a cheaper venue was very likely out of our budget.

All week I've been gathering alternate reception sites and my mindset has adapted.  I realize now we might end up with an indoor reception, or a less picturesque ceremony.  Or we might just bite the bullet and put more money into this shindig than we'd originally planned.  I'll share some of our possible venues, as well as the cheapest places we've found in the NoVA area later this week.

Stone Mansion, Arlington, VA

I'd love to have your opinion - have you had any pre-wedding dreams fall through?  How did you cope?  Is there anything you refused to compromise on?