December 25, 2014

Wedding Planners Tell All

As fairy tales and movies would have you believe, weddings are magical days when the weather is always sunny, the bride’s dress never malfunctions and the best man couldn’t possibly miss the ceremony because of jellyfish stings the night before.

Three seasoned Naples wedding planners will tell you this is dreaming—but who’s to say your wedding can’t come close? Our trio offer their experience with budgeting, planning and dealing with the unexpected to make that perfect day as close to perfect as possible.

The early bride gets the worm

When it comes to planning weddings, don’t fall for the “it’s never too late” approach. Instead, act as if “it’s never too early,” especially when your sights are set on a popular destination like Naples. Particularly during season, couples should send their save-the-date cards 12 months out, says Melissa Read of the Naples Beach Hotel, which primarily caters to destination weddings.

“Most books and magazines don’t tell them that,” she says. “Because it’s high season, they need to give the people notice to book hotel rooms and flights. I’ve had destination weddings that waited until five or six months before their wedding and then wanted to know why they couldn’t get any rooms.” For those during the off-season, she still recommends sending save-the-dates about nine months in advance.

But there’s plenty of planning to be done even before you let your guests in on your date. Brides and grooms should conduct interviews with all potential venues and wedding planners to ask questions and find out what their responsibilities will be. Will they handle the food and setup and leave the rest to you? Or will they be there to line up your bridesmaids and send them down the aisle? It’s essential to know who will take care of which tasks early on in order to avoid unnecessary stress before the big day.

One of the first—and the most important—things to do once you’ve picked your location and wedding planner is to create a timeline and stick with it, says Susan Savino, also of the Naples Beach Hotel. That includes not just the planning process but also the progression of events on the wedding day. “The day of, people think that just happens,” she says. “When you invite your guests to the resort, we can’t control when they arrive, but we can control getting them to the ceremony outside and getting the musicians and the processional going. It’s a big responsibility to keep things moving on a timeline so they don’t feel rushed.”

When to splurge and when to save

With people watching their wallets these days, the budget often becomes the biggest challenge. “You have to be creative in finding ways to redistribute your money,” says The Ritz-Carlton wedding planner Nicola Long. “Everyone wants to get a good value.”

So what’s worth spending on, and where can you save? It depends largely on the couple’s priorities—for some, the cake may be significant; for others, the music and entertainment may be most important. But Long’s top priority for spending, she says, is the photographer.

In general, people will remember the food the most—good or bad—so be picky about your menu and bar selections. “The conversation after somebody leaves a wedding is going to be, ‘Oh my gosh, that food was just wonderful, I’ve never tasted a filet like that.’  Versus, ‘Did you notice the color of peach in the décor?’” says Savino.

If you’re blessed with the creative gene, put it to use on details like menu cards, place settings and programs. Read recently worked with one bride who made her own table themes based on places she and her husband-to-be had visited together. But rather than just using their names, she included a story on the back about why it was important to them. “I saw all of her guests reading them and making comments about it,” she says. “She didn’t spend a lot of money on it, but it was well done.”

Savino agrees: “I had one bride who got battery-operated lights and covered them with shells, and it looked really pretty. I often tell them there are no rights and no wrongs; it’s your day. There are a lot of different things you can do with creativity.”

Trust them, they’re experts

One thing our trio agrees is worth a splurge is a wedding planner—and not just because it’s their profession. “For a bride, in most cases, this is the first large event they’ve planned,” Long says. “It’s always best to go with someone who has been in the business, knows what to look for and can help them overcome situations they may not be anticipating.” Particularly for couples who live out of town, they may only have a weekend to fit in several appointments. A wedding planner can organize multiple meetings and take the notes for you, so your only job is to decide what you need and what you don’t want.

Remember, planning a wedding should be enjoyable, not stressful. “Especially with TV shows about ‘bridezillas,’ people go out of their way to think they have to be like that. They don’t,” Long says. “Join forces with your wedding planner. Become their best friend if that’s what you need to do. They’re going to be the first person you call if you have issues or a new idea.”

She knows from experience—one wedding she planned at The Ritz-Carlton in Jamaica saw its fair share of issues when the entire wedding party sped down a waterslide the night before the wedding, only to land in a pool filled with jellyfish at the bottom, thanks to a hurricane that had just passed through. Long spent six hours in the emergency room that night, but the wedding did go on—minus the best man, who was first down the slide and suffered most of the stings.

Savino has also solved last-minute emergencies, like when the father of a bride had to buy a new suit 20 minutes before the ceremony because his first one didn’t come back from being pressed in time. Meanwhile, the same bride was discovering a ripped zipper on her dress. “I literally had to sew her zipper up the back of her dress with her in it,” she says. “You have to learn your idle chit-chat at that point to keep it light and easy. As long as you remain calm, that brings them down, too. We were very late, but it worked out beautifully.”

“It’s not just a party”

For one night not long ago, The Ritz-Carlton was transformed into an all-white paradise. The beach was covered in white orchids and lights, the ballroom was recarpeted, four-foot-tall centerpieces filled with white roses covered the tables, and guests danced into the early morning hours in a white, South Beach-themed ballroom. To them, it seemed perfect, effortless; to those who know better, it was the result of hundreds of hours of planning.

“People have this illusion that it’s a fun job because you get to plan parties,” Savino says. “It’s very serious. You’re making a memory for people. It can’t be done lightly.” She says she can be working on 20 to 25 weddings taking place within in the same six-month period at once, so organization is key. Keeping open communication is also important, and can become difficult when brides, grooms, mothers of brides and other relatives are involved and each wants a say.

“You can’t impose your vision on brides,” she says. “You have to give your recommendations where you can, and that’s where your expertise comes in. It’s a great industry to be in, but it’s not just a party. You just have to finesse your way through and hope everything works out.”

Jellyfish and all.