On Making Art (and parenthood)

My husband and I met in 2004 while at art school in Detroit. We’d both grown up in New York but we met in Michigan. I was minding my own business posting fliers for an art show and stopped by the student tutoring center where Brendan was working as a tutor. He asked if I needed help with a paper which I found irritating because I had a degree in writing, which I told him. The conversation should have ended there but he shot back that he had a minor in history, and I pointed out that that had nothing to do with writing and so our lifetime of bantering began. It makes perfect sense. This is how New York people flirt, but to our Michigan friends it was bewildering. “Why did you give your number to someone who you feel insulted you?” my friend asked as we walked away. I explained, “Insults are how New Yorkers say hello”. Nowadays when Brendan tells the story he says I needed help, I just didn’t know it yet. And maybe maybe if you catch me on a good day he’ll get me admit that that was possibly true. Not with writing, obviously, but with so many other things. Visual art was new to me at the time, and my head was full of ideas for things I wanted to make, but my technical ability lagged far behind my ideas.

  (Look at how helpless I look? I can't make anything!... ok, this needs context. This was the staff photo for the art managazine I was EIC for way back in 2005. We were making books out of metal wire. It was maybe not one of my best ideas.

(Look at how helpless I look? I can't make anything!... ok, this needs context. This was the staff photo for the art managazine I was EIC for way back in 2005. We were making books out of metal wire. It was maybe not one of my best ideas.

Enter Brendan, who was a product design student with a strong background in crafts (woodworking, glass blowing, drawing, building, etc.) We went on a date, but didn’t hit it off. I don’t remember why. I think it was because he was more serious than what I was looking for at the time. But we did start making things together. Brendan helped me bring my ideas to life and, at that point in my journey, that was the most amazing thing a boy could offer. It became apparent to everyone but me that we were destined to be more than friends. As a matter of fact, when my boyfriend at the time broke up with me, he said something like “Now you can go date Brendan” and I remember being really blindsided by that! But of course, making things together is a great litmus test for being in a relationship, in its peculiar way.

The greatest thing we have collaborated on, by far, are our kids. We have two super fun little girls who’re blossoming into clever young women and I write about them a lot on this blog. Everyone says parenting changes you, and it’s true. But artists and makers face, I think, even more drastic changes than others. For starters, your time to make work becomes suddenly nonexistent as you are occupied with the task of caring for other human beings instead. In those early parenting years, especially, I felt like the character in Don Marquis’ poem, Mehitabel and her Kittens: 

the life of a female artist / is continually / hampered what in hell / have I done to deserve / all these kittens/ I look back on my life / and it seems to me to be / just one damned kitten / after another / I am a dancer / and my only prayer / is to be allowed / to give my best to my art / but just as I feel / that I am succeeding / in my life work / along comes another batch / of these damned kittens / full poem

  Viola spent her first year exploring the art at Cranbrook Academy. Totally normal playground for a 1 year old.

Viola spent her first year exploring the art at Cranbrook Academy. Totally normal playground for a 1 year old.

That’s not to say that it’s only women whose work is affected by parenthood. Brendan often gets freelance contracts to design toys for mass market, which means that we receive large boxes of product from Hong Kong for him to use as the basis for his redesigns. Sandbox toys or cowboy kits, not such a big deal in our house. But one time he received an entire crate of dolls and sparkly ponies. You try telling your three year old that she can’t play with the sparkly ponies because they’re daddy’s work. Cue all the tears. He eventually had to put a lock on the studio door because the girls kept sneaking in to steal the prototypes!                                                                                                             

these terrible / conflicts are always / presenting themselves to the artist / the eternal struggle / between art and life / is something fierce

I was at a party a few weeks ago and ran into a classmate of mine from the graduate school where I earned my MFA, who now has three small children. One of the first things she said to me after the initial catch-up small talk was “I don’t make art anymore”. It was so unexpected and it just kind of hung there in the air between us. I wanted to set her at ease so I said “Yeah, me too” and that was both true and not true. I don’t make the kind of art I made before, the kind that hung in formal white gallery spaces. And I don’t make the kind of art that I thought I would be making, either. But I do still make. Every day, every weekend, Brendan and I are still making things together. But now, instead of pouring concrete for sculptures, we are building pirate rafts for birthday parties. Instead of learning how to work with caustic, I am watching tutorials on how to frost tiered cakes. I’m pushing my sewing, painting, and crafting skills every day, learning new techniques to bring my girls’ crazy ideas to life.

IMG_1597.jpg
  Brendan is really bitter that Santa gets all the credit for this thing!

Brendan is really bitter that Santa gets all the credit for this thing!

I felt really guilty about what I was making for a long time. I dreaded running into artists i had known and having them ask what I was up to. I never said ‘I don’t make art anymore’ so forthrightly, but I did change the topic hella fast! I actively avoided places where it would come up. I looked back on nearly ten years of life and thought I’d made nothing. But then I realized that actually I’d been making a ton!

We make things for, and with, our girls constantly. Now that they’re old enough to participate it’s practically impossible to keep them away. And it’s given them an entirely skewed perspective on reality. Doesn’t everyone’s dad build them convertible sandboxes and floor-to-ceiling American Girl dollhouses and complex mini pet shops (though Santa still gets the credit for that one for now). Doesn’t everyone’s mom sew them elaborate teddy bear costumes and pink princess teepees, and sparkling gowns when the characters they want to dress up as aren’t popular enough to be productized? (I'm looking at you, Tremaine sisters!)

Still, that nagging feeling, man. It stalks you. It was a big reason why I started this blog, actually. I wanted to chronicle the things we were doing with the girls so that someday (once they know Santa isn’t real) they could come here and see a history of all the things we’ve made for them. But I also was looking for a kind of validation that even though I wasn’t making ‘art’, what I was making had value and was a worthwhile use of my time. It’s funny how those things become so ingrained in us through the Fine Arts education process, isn’t it? If I’m not moving the discourse of design forward, do I even make a sound? tbd.

Parenthood teaches us so much, and also leaves us with so many questions. I look around at other artists I attended school with and the many ways they’ve incorporated their kids and their parenthood into their work. Some use their children as subject mater, models, or supporting actors in their work, while others see their kids as their muses, and still others incorporate them into their art making process directly

I don’t do any of those things. And I also do all of them. And I grapple with the baggage around domestic crafts. But I'm also learning to unlearn that definition of ‘worthwhile craft’ that I picked up along the way, and learning to see the pirate ship and tiered cakes and masquerade masks and Halloween costumes and vacation outfits as my art, as much as anything that came before in my career of making. They decorate our home, our memories, our hearts, and this blog. And that’s something.

DSC03253.JPG
21.jpg
DSC07704.JPG
DSC07808.JPG
  (You know you may have been to WDW too often when they request a Jungle Cruise themed birthday party.... and you have all the props you need to give them one on hand! But how 'bout that 'backside of water'fall cake, huh?)

(You know you may have been to WDW too often when they request a Jungle Cruise themed birthday party.... and you have all the props you need to give them one on hand! But how 'bout that 'backside of water'fall cake, huh?)

But the very best part? After twelve years, I’m still making things with my favorite person every day. And through that making, we connect with our girls and pass on the design and craft ability that are so intrinsic to how we both identify. They are experiencing who we are, and how we love them. I love you, says the sewing machine. I love you, says the jig saw. I love you, says the paint brushes and hot glue gun and grommets and sparkles and wood stain. Making things together is a great way to say I love you

Fair warning, though: I feel sorry for the unlucky designers who end up with Viola as their Art Director twenty years from now. She is a brutal task master! Double checking my sewing against screenshots from her favorite cartoon to make sure that I recreated Sofia’s costume accurately in bear-scale! (In case you were wondering, Sofia has pearls around the neckline of her dress AND a necklace, not just a necklace, slacker. And those white designs on the skirt? The project isn’t done until you add those, regardless of whether you know how to or not. Hello tutorials about iron transfer!) I love you, teddy bear dresses. I love you, hand-sewn pearl edging.

Soon we will be celebrating all these years of making with a wedding at Walt Disney World, and I can't wait to share all the things we're creating for our big day with you! Please bear with me as we are super busy making for the next few months, I likely won't be posting much until it's over. But then: all the sparkles, I promise! :-)

Update: I haven't gotten all the projects posted, but here is a sort of sneak peak into all the projects we did and how we managed to get them all done! I really thought I'd have been all caught up by now (4 months post-wedding) but, alas, it's been nonstop with kittens since we got back!

 Cranbrook, 2009

Cranbrook, 2009

 Cranbrook, 2016

Cranbrook, 2016

Making Wedding Invitations for our Disney Wedding

(8 months out)

We sent out our Save The Date cards are early as possible after signing our wedding contract and locking in our dates, to give our guests as much time as possible to plan their trips. We asked them to Pre-RSVP if they could, to help wittle down the numbers of full invitations we would send out (because we knew the invitations were going to be expensive!)

You can read about the Save the Date card design and construction here. 

Once they were in the mail, we pretty much immediately turned our attention to the full invitation and planning booklets. 

 


GOALS & CONCEPT

Our guest list for our wedding was around 100--- that’s 100 addresses, many of which were families of 2 or 4. We were told that Disney weddings has an RSVP rate around 80%. We were skeptical that that many folks from our list would be able to make it, and thought that our RSVP rate would be much lower. Taking a trip to Disney is a big ask, especially for those who don’t go regularly.

With this in mind, I wanted to go above-and-beyond with our wedding invitations. For most of the folks on our list, we figured that this would be their only participation in our wedding and we wanted them to feel included even if they couldn’t come. We also wanted to share with our distant friends and family details of what we’d been up to in the past ten years since we’d originally gotten engaged!

On Pinterest I came across great examples of Destination wedding invitations (which can be more like mini-vacation planning packages) as well as some really lovely photo-album inspired invitations. I decided to fuse these two concepts together to create our invitations.

You can see my Pinterest research board here! 

 


DESIGNING THE DESIGN

In my past life, I attended design school and spent years making hand-crafted books. However, since 2009 I’ve been working in the technology sector designing software interfaces. I haven’t made a book in years. So this was a fun excuse for me to pull out my saddle-stitcher and bone folder (yes, I have those kinds of supplies and so much more!)

Once I had the initial design mocked up, I started the process of sourcing the paper and printing--- this was the first major hurdle that I experienced. Many of the printers that I had worked with years prior were no longer around! They had quietly retired or gone out of business, and the print shops that I was able to find did not have the types of paper that I really wanted to use. (I realize that this sounds a bit snobby, but bear with me: paper is one of my favorite things, so of course I wanted to use a lovely paper for my wedding invitations!)

Eventually, I reached a point of complete frustration and, crunched for time because we wanted to give our guests as much time to plan their trips as possible, I compromised and went with a standard paper stock with the intention of hand-altering it with stamps or other embellishments. This is something that I still regret, but it was necessary.

Near my office is a Paper Source and I stopped by there every few days to look at their crafting supplies. One day, one of the employee’s was giving an embossing demonstration. I wasn’t familiar with hand-embossing and immediately realized that the technique would help distract from the lousy paper I was printing on. I bought a variety of rubber stamps online (much less expensive!) and once they’d arrived I stamped directly onto my design mockups until I got the spacing just right. I even found a floral stamp that (unintentionally) looked like a Hidden Mickey when stamped upside down! #winning!

Note the spaces in the background pattern to accommodate the stamps. This took a lot of trial and error.

Another feature of the design that was problematic was the actual construction. I knew that we wanted to do a folder with vacation planning materials inside. We talked about printing a huge double-sided trifold, and then gluing in a pocket, but the trifold would have to be over 30” which would have been extremely expensive to produce. One afternoon while describing the challenge to my coworker (also a designer) the solution hit me. Instead of gluing a pocket into a 30” trifold, I could glue together two 20” bifolds, cutting down the excess flap of the second bifold to create the pocket! (This makes more sense once you see the photos below). Not to pat myself on the back or anything, but I thought this was a pretty genius solution!

I did several design mockups to make sure that I had all the margins correct for the complex assembly and stamping that I was planning before sending the files off to be printed. I received them back from the printer in batches, which worked out well because it forced me into more of an assembly-line production method--- I had originally been planning to assemble each book completely, and that would have been disastrous in hindsight.

 

 


EMBOSSING THE FOLDERS

If you aren’t familiar with stamp embossing, basically you use a slow-drying ink (I used Versamark), dust it with a special embossing powder, and then hit it with a heat gun to melt the powder. I experimented with a lot of stamps and inks on the actual coated paper we were using to find a combination that looked great. Some powders were too fine, while others too course, for the stamps I wanted to use. And some of the stamps I wanted to use had designs that just weren’t good for embossing. Eventually, I found a combination that worked well.

In practice, for the large-scale production of our invites, the embossing process took some time to develop a rhythm. Because the slow-drying embossing ink is clear, it’s really hard to line it up and know that you’ve gotten the whole image stamped before you dust it with the embossing powder… and of course, once you’ve dusted it with the embossing powder, it’s too late to go back and re-apply the ink. To help with this, I started marking the stamps’ wood block handles to line up with visible elements on the printed page.

  I even found a teal heat gun! Though I had to endure endless teasing from my partner about its unfortunate shape...

I even found a teal heat gun! Though I had to endure endless teasing from my partner about its unfortunate shape...

The folders were the first pieces we received from the printer, and were the two bifolds from which we were going to create the structure of the invitation and the pocket. These were embossed with a total of 4 stamps, then scored and folded. It was good that we received just the folders first (even though I’d originally wanted them all bookletized!) because it allowed me to throw away about 10% of each where the stamps hadn’t turned out well, and combined only those that had good stamps. If they’d already been combined, then I would have ended up in the situation where the first three stamps went well and the fourth one ruined the whole thing, which would have been really frustrating!

I returned the covers to the printer to be scored and folded, and for the left side to have the photo album pages inserted. When they were returned, I cut down the right side to create the pocket shape, and glued it into the left side, using sparkly silver tape to close the outside edge and create the silver element visible when the invitations were closed.

After assembling dozens of these, that sparkly tape started to feel like sandpaper and really tore up my fingers!


LIBRARY CARDS, FRONT INVITE, ENVELOPES

In addition to the envelopes, we embossing the library cards, library card pockets, invitation for the front of the packet, and the teal mailing envelopes. All of these little embellishments were hefty crafting projects in themselves, and I worked to get them completed while we waited for the main elements of the invitation to come back from the printer.


PICTURE ALBUM

Once assembled into the embossed folder covers, we added the replica photos into the photo album pages using inexpensive photo corners. I purchased a variety of photo corners, in silver, sparkly, and black. The ones that worked best were the super cheap black ones which came on a roll because I was able to apply them quickly to the photos. In order to speed things up we decided to use only two corners for most of the smaller pictures. This was also an aesthetic choice because having four corners on the smaller pictures was very heavy visually.

We applied the corners to the photo, and then stuck the photo into the booklet in the appropriate place. Remember the sticker-by-number books they had in the 80's? Yeah, it was sort of like that. The album pages had been printed with the captions already in place which helped guide the photos. I also created four “sample books” that my helpers followed in order to know which picture went where.

My daughters were both eager to help and so I laid out all the photos and they bundled one of each image in the order that they appeared in the booklets and rubber-banded them together to make little packets. This really helped in the assembly of the albums because we didn’t have to rifle through the pile looking for the next picture.

We found pictures that told the story of our lives together up to now (the wedding): from early childhood pictures, to snapshots from when we first started dating in college, trips we took together, the day we bought our first home, had our children, and more recent family trips. My partner kept it very "non-Disney", though on the last page of the album (once we were into the "trip planning" portion of the invitation) we cobbled together a picture of me with Minnie Mouse on the Empress Lily in the 1980's and a picture of Brendan at the Beach Club in the 1990's with current pictures of us with our kids at Walt Disney World!  


RSVP STATIONARY

Our RSVP’s were definitely non-traditional. For guests who were attending we needed to gather more information than just the traditional “beef or chicken” selection. I created little trifolds that had a check list of activities for guests to return in a supplied envelope.

For guests who could not attend, we decided to do a Disney postcard where each one is unique. I ordered the Art of Disney postcard set (which you can actually send through the mail, though that’s not the intent) and asked guests to write us a little note for our wedding album. We even tried to match up the post card design to the guest we were sending it to. We’ll have these at our wedding to mark everyone part of our special day, even if they weren’t able to join us in person!

To save on stamps, we included one stamp in the package held on with a heart-shaped paperclip. I had read a wedding tip that you should number your RSVP cards so that if guests forget to add their name or if their signature is illegible you can match it up. We did that and it was definitely a life saver!

An unintended consequence of this was that when I checked the mail I knew immediately whether I was receiving a Yes (teal envelope) or a No (happy postcard!). The adorable Disney postcards also made the No’s not feel so personal. For an anxious person like me who already doesn’t love opening envelopes, it was nice to know right away what the answer was. Though, of course, we received some postcards inside envelopes and some Yeses on postcards because either my friends were trolling me, or they can’t follow directions, or both! #thestruggleisreal!

But srsly, how cute is my mirror full of "no we can't attend your wedding" notes?


PLANNING BOOKLETS

I don't want to forget the planning booklets, but because they were only digitally printed and not embellished at all it's easy for them to get left out! The planning booklets were chock full of useful information about the trip, including a guide to the activities we were planning to do with our guests, details about the resorts, and contact information for booking a Disney Vacation. 

We even designed a map of WDW that showed where all the wedding activities were located, and priced out sample trip packages ranging from $300 for a family of 2, up to $3,000 for a family of 4 for a full week. We went into details about how to get dining reservations and make fast passes and the difference between booking with Disney Weddings vs. booking a traditional wedding package. 

They were super thorough... unfortunately, they went unread by many guests. How frustrating is that!? Maybe thorough isn't always the most helpful? (Nah!)

If you're looking for some ideas, I've linked our booklets below as PDFs.


FINAL PRODUCT

The last step was to put it all together. The library card envelopes I’d bought from the librarystore.com were self-adhesive. Those went in to the front of the left envelope. There were two planning booklets: one laid out the activities we were planning, and the other was about Disney vacations and accommodations. These stacked in the back pocket with the RSVP items so that the postcard was visible with the heart-shaped paperclip.

On the “front” outside of the packet I used sticky zots to affix the “traditional” looking wedding invitation, and the whole thing was tied up with a silver cord and put into the teal envelopes which I hand-addressed and sealed with leftover sparkly tape.

Most of the invitations arrived fairly quickly, but some took several weeks to arrive and I don’t really understand why there was a delay for some but not all.

We received many compliments on our finished invitations. Even though I’m never going to be happy with the paper we used, I’m thrilled with how they turned out. Most importantly, it was wonderful getting to work with my hands and put together physical books again after so long. Even though it was a lot of work, I loved every minute of it!

Check out the photos of our invitations from our wedding day! (I am still planning to do a more product-centric photo shoot of the invites, but haven't yet found the time. It's up there on my to do list, I promise!)

Making Save the Date Cards for our Disney Wedding

(10 months out)

As soon as we’d locked in our venues and dates for our Disney Wedding, we got to work on our Save the Date cards because we wanted to give our guests absolutely as much time as possible to plan their trips in the hopes of being able to take advantage of the 180-day dining reservation window to secure group meals.

We also put together our wedding website with all the details we knew, such as which resorts we’d room-blocked, the contact information for our Disney Vacation Planner, and the activities we were thinking of to do with guests while we were down there. We asked guests to pre-RSVP on the website, to get them thinking about this information and also as a way of wittling down our guest list before our wedding invitations went out (because we knew they were going to be big and expensive).

 


CONCEPT

Originally, I’d had this concept about using a library card as a Save the Date which I got from Pinterest. But I also came across a tutorial for making hand-made scratch-off save the date cards which I also fell in love with! For a while I tried to find a way to make the two ideas work together, but it was hopeless. My partner suggested that I save the library card for the full invitations, and design around the scratch-off technique for the Save the Date card.


DESIGN

We put together our Save the Date cards so early in the wedding process that we didn’t really have a solid ‘look’ figured out yet. As a result, they’re much more ‘rustic’ than our full invitation and other printed material.

We had taken a few pictures while we were down at Disney for our Site Visit and those were the primary design elements that we used for the Save the Date Cards. That, and the color teal, of course!


Scratch-off-paint

I found an online tutorial for making your own scratch off paint by mixing silver (or any color) paint with dish detergent. Before applying the paint to your cards, however, you have to cover the text beneath with packaging tape. Because our design was to have the date in a heart-shaped design, I found heart-shaped hole punches to cut the packaging tape. 

Unfortunately, the packaging tape gummed up the punches. I went back to the craft store and found contact paper that was backed that worked with the hole punches, though this created an additional step of having to peel the paper off of the contact paper.

After the tape is applied, then you simply paint over the hearts with the handmade paint. I found that it took two or three coats of paint to fully cover the hearts. If I were to do this over again, I wouldn’t have the dates set on a white background but on something darker and easier to cover (like silver!)  Oh well, you live and learn!

In preparing this post I was looking through Pinterest and found that another designer did something similar, but according to their tutorial they used white crayon in lieu of packaging tape to keep the silver paint off the text. I don't know if that would work, but it sounds plausible and would be so much less aggravating than cutting packaging tape into little hearts was!! 

It's so easy, a four-year-old can do it! And I'm not above child labor!

Step 1: Print cards

Step 2: Punch hearts out of packaging tape or contact paper

Step 3: Apply hearts to cards

Step 4: Paint and let dry

Step 5: Repeat step 4 as needed

Step 6: Mail


FINISHING

As a finishing touch we wrapped each card in paper string with a small charm attached that said “2016”. They’re the same type of charm that you get for graduation tassels, and I found them very cheap on etsy! Also some other designs of the same size.

I love the final look of these Save the Date cards, even though the more “rustic” elements didn’t ultimately carry through to our wedding design. Guests loved the lotto style scratch-off paint, too! 

Sorry the images are so dark and grainy but I worked on the Save the Date cards mostly in the evenings after work. 

CHECK BACK: I'll be adding high quality images of the finished Save the Date cards as soon as I have a chance to photograph them!


WEDDING WEBSITE

For our wedding website, I was able to grab the domain cakeandfireworks.com... which I'm tempted to keep even after the wedding, but I have no idea what I would use it for! I chose to host the site through squarespace because it's the service I use for this blog and I'm comfortable/familiar with it.

The initial design only had pages for Our Story, Accommodations, Activities, and Pre-RSVP. The design borrowed heavily from the Save the Date card design as you can see. 

The Pre-RSVP included a nifty form widget that Squarespace offers. When people fill it out, the results automatically populate a spreadsheet over at google docs. That might not sound super impressive, but it made me feel extremely organized!

Later on, after the invitations were finished, I uploaded PDF's of the planning booklets we'd included with our invitations. I also replaced the Pre-RSVP with a full RSVP form that had a check list of all the optional activities we wanted guests to consider. I added a "How to Book" page with all the contact information for Disney Weddings, Dining Reservations, park ticket prices, etc.  and a Registry page (even though we don't really have a traditional registry and aren't asking for gifts). 

In addition to our wedding website, I created a Facebook Group so that guests could virtually meeting and communicate directly between each other to help facilitate things like room sharing and carpooling. I'm hoping to make this social element more robust so that guests who couldn't attend our wedding are able to participate and follow the goings-on if they want to.

Disney Wedding Part 4 - Menu Tasting & Planning Session Trip

(April 2015, 7 months out)

Planning Visits for Disney Weddings are usually scheduled about 6 months out, but we already had a trip planned for April, so we decided to repurpose that trip for our Planning Visit. I’ve written previously about the Site Visit, which is all about seeing the Disney wedding venue options. The Planning Visit happens after you’ve signed a contract, and it’s your opportunity to sit down face-to-face with your planner to discuss options like flowers, decorations, add-ons and also to do a menu and cake tasting. Some couples have to do this remotely by phone, but my understanding is that most couples go down in person. I think going down in personally definitely helped because we went through a LOT of stuff and it was helpful to be able to see the examples of what we were discussing and to be face-to-face.

The planning visit and food tasting takes a full day. We set aside a day in the middle of our trip for it. In addition to the day we set aside, we also made an effort on our April trip to schedule a variety of meals specifically to try out the food--- at least, that was my reasonable sounding excuse. We booked several different dessert parties since we knew we were having a Fireworks Dessert Party and thought this would be a good way to reacquaint ourselves with the options (there is not a Dessert Party dessert menu tasting, alas!)

Ahead of your planning visit, you're given a lot of “homework” about the options available, and are asked to select a few cake options and menu options for your tasting. You're given long lists of delicious sounding goodies that you somehow have to narrow down to only 8 things to actually taste! It was really hard to narrow down the cake options, I wanted to try them ALL, but somehow we narrowed it down to 4 cakes and 4 frosting options.

The menu tasting options were a little easier for us to narrow down. First, we went through and removed everything we knew we didn’t like (anything with onions or mushrooms or fish was right out!) We are frequent Disney Diners -- we love Disney restaurants and over the past few years have made it a priority to try new restaurants on every trip – so we were able to remove a lot of other items that we’d eaten at the resorts or parks before (like the Brown Derby’s Signature Cobb Salad) and had a good memory of what they were like. That left a small list of things we were interested in, but hadn't tasted before, and we made our menu tasting choices from there. Still, it was a challenge... Disney has AWESOME food!


DESSERT PARTY RECON

  Polynesian Luau

Polynesian Luau

Much like with our Site Visit, we used our vacation time in Disney to do what reconnaissance we could on our own first. At every meal we paid special attention to ordering a variety of desserts and keeping note of the ones we liked and disliked.

Over the course of the week we ate at 1900 Park Fare (which had a huge dessert buffet and the famous Strawberry Soup!), Be Our Guest (where you can try the grey stuff, of course!), Akershus, Kona, the Polynesian Luau (where we found the perfect teal napkins!), the Boathouse, Hollywood&Vine (also a great dessert buffet!), Diamond Horseshoe, Grand Floridian café, and O’hana (oh that great paradise juice!). 

We’ve always loved Disney's food and especially desserts, but with our “wedding glasses” on we sampled more broadly and were a lot more critical of the treats.

  Cotton candy... just to be thorough.

Cotton candy... just to be thorough.

  Strawberry soup and other goodies from 1900 Park Fare.

Strawberry soup and other goodies from 1900 Park Fare.

  Be Our Guest (though the grey stuff is not our favorite, the strawberry cupcakes are to die for!)

Be Our Guest (though the grey stuff is not our favorite, the strawberry cupcakes are to die for!)

  The sundae from Kona @ the Polynesian!

The sundae from Kona @ the Polynesian!

  Breakfast buffet options.

Breakfast buffet options.

  Macaron taste-testing!

Macaron taste-testing!

We booked the Tomorrowland Terrace Dessert Party as well, specifically to sample the desserts (OK, and also because we love to watch the fireworks from there, too!) At the Dessert Party, it felt like the treat options had been reduced from previous years, and that what options there were weren't as good as what we'd had before. This was disappointing. I did take the opportunity to chat up several servers about what were the most popular desserts. I figured that since they work the dessert party night after night, they'd have a great pulse on what people like, and they did have great suggestions: basically, they said, anything that comes in a little cup or mini glass is a winner!

All-in-all, our April vacation was a great trip for food as you can see! It was also our first time visiting the parks as annual pass holders and using the Tables-in-Wonderland discount, which made sense for us to buy because of the frequency of trips we are taking in 2016 due to the wedding!


 

PLANNING SESSION

Our planning session was on Thursday, smack dab in the middle of the trip. We sent our girls off to the parks with their grandmother and headed over to Franck’s Studio from the Polynesian resort for our appointment at 9:00am. There is a lovely little water-front walking path that connects the two resorts, and the wedding pavilion / Franck's is right at the end of it.

At Franck’s we met our wedding planner for the first time (our assigned planner was different than the one who’d shown us around for our site visit). Our planner spent some time getting to know us and our story. We discussed our likes and dislikes and ideas about what a wedding “should” be for us. She wanted to know what color scheme we’d settled on and I was supposed to have brought a swatch with me but I hadn’t actually selected my bridesmaids dresses yet (I’m such a slacker!)

Then we started going through the enormous list of things we needed to make decision on. Basically, this was a first pass. She marked down everything that we were slightly interested in to include in our wedding budget. The approach Disney takes is to put in everything you think you might want up front, and then they let you pare it down in later revisions. This allows you to get accurate pricing (because for many of the things we discussed, she had to request pricing). I will admit that the pessimistic side of me thought that this was an upsell strategy, but I found that the planning team totally expects you to pare down the budget and strip out things. They never once have made me feel guilty or “cheap” for removing items, and I really appreciated that!

This process was long and thorough. It helped us form a list of things we needed to go home and research that we hadn't even really thought about yet (First dance song? No clue. Who’s in the bridal party? Don’t know yet. Who’s escorting the moms? We’ll get back to you.)  We ended up with a really long list of TBDs, but we were also able to check off a lot of items fairly quickly. Cinderella’s carriage? Nope. Theme park photo shoot? Nope. Mickey at the reception? Nope.

  Not even this candle with Hidden Mickey gems on it...

Not even this candle with Hidden Mickey gems on it...

  ...or a castle cake! Though it's tempting!

...or a castle cake! Though it's tempting!

The planning staff were understanding that even though we were having a wedding AT Disney, we didn’t want to have a DISNEY Wedding. That is, we weren’t at all interested in any of the theming options that are the reason most couples choose Disney. That’s not to knock those couples in any way--- Disney does beautiful themed cakes and decorations. That just wasn’t the vision we had for our wedding. We chose Disney because of the convenience, quality of service, and value for our friends&family. Neither of us had ever had any desire to have Mickey at our wedding, and moving the location from Michigan to Orlando didn’t effect that vision. If anything, it had made my partner hyper sensitive and vigilant about keeping Disney separate and apart from our wedding day.

The one disappointing moment from our planning visit was when I realized that the ONLY Disney-themed item I WAS interested in having, the one thing I’d fantasized about having at my wedding for years, the awesome Projector Cake… was not something that we were going to be able to have. There were a couple of reasons. Firstly, we have a daytime reception in a well-lit venue which makes it less feasible. But also the cost was crazy-expensive. Like insanely crazy expensive. Like so expensive that no matter how much I wanted it in my heart there was absolutely no way to justify the cost. I work in technology and I had a number in mind that I thought was generous as to what that particular option would cost and then I doubled it to estimate what I thought Disney would charge. The actual cost was 3x that! I was jaw-on-the-floor shocked, to be honest. (And immediately started thinking about switching to a career in projector wedding cakes!) Also, that cost doesn't include an edible dessert to serve your guests. (Disney, if you're reading this, include a complimentary sheet cake or something with the projector cake in the future!)

Other than that one item though, we found the pricing for ‘enhancements’ to be very fair. Because they’re subject to change, I don’t want to get into particular numbers here, but I’d say they were right in line with what you’d pay for enhancements at any wedding venue. It helped that we weren’t interested in the ‘Disney-themed’ options, of course. Things like the Cinderella Castle Photo shoot and having the Carriage and characters at your wedding are the most deluxe and exclusive (and expensive) enhancements that Disney has to offer--- they’re THE reason many couples choose a Disney wedding. Keeping to our non-Disney theme had the unintended consequence of being a very frugal choice!

That’s not to say we didn’t have outlandish ideas. I’d always wanted to have Bubble tea and Mochi Ice cream at my wedding (which we discussed with the culinary team), and professional dancers… this one took a little explaining. What I had in mind was one or two classically trained dancers who would mingle with guests and dance with the singletons. As a super-shy socially-anxious person I always wished for something like this at the weddings I attended. I thought it would be super fun and set folks at ease / get people dancing if there was someone there to kind of teach them how. Look, we don't all know how to dance at weddings, OK? Disney offers an enhancement where you have actors arrive pretending to be lost tourists (yes, that’s a real thing!) and it has rave reviews, so I explained what I was envisioning basically as the same as that… but with dancing. A friend later summarized it as “Like the employees at the resort in ‘Dirty Dancing’ are supposed to be doing when they’re not having secret dance party in the employee lounge?” Yes, exactly! 

I’d also been wanting to have a silhouette artist here in Michigan for one of the girls’ birthday parties, which I never was able to coordinate due to the absolute lack of silhouette artists in Michigan. For the wedding, I thought that that would be a nice ‘bookish’ alternative to the more common cartoonist that you find at weddings, and of course Disney employs a team of silhouette artists in their parks! These specialty enhancements were all things that our wedding planner needed to put together custom estimates for.

Less glamorously, during the planning session we also sorted out our transportation plan. Disney offers vintage cars for the wedding couple, as well as ‘complimentary’ (the couple pays for it) bus transportation for guests from the select room blocked resorts to the wedding, and then from the wedding to the reception and so on. Our wedding planner seemed to think we needed a small fleet of vehicles, but I was skeptical.

Disney also provides photography and videography service. Our photography package choice was ultimately based on the number of hours of coverage we needed (because of our dessert party), not so much on the goodies. That said, the photography packages include a number of goodies, including complimentary theme park photo shoot and lots and lots of albums. We have a close friend who is a very successful wedding photographer in the metro Detroit area and Disney’s packages were actually less than what he charges. A really great value, and the peace of mind knowing you don’t have a manage yet another subcontractor yourself.


 

CAKE TASTING

The cake tasting took place at Franck’s a few hours into our overall planning visit, which was good because I hadn’t grabbed breakfast that morning and by the time the tray with little slivers of cake appeared I was famished. (After we made our choices, I unashamedly polished off the rejects!)

Look at these delicious slices of sugary goodness? Honestly, how can you choose just one? It was hard to pick just two!

For cakes we tasted: Yellow, Chocolate, Almond, and Red Velvet.

For Fillings/Frosting we tasted: White Chocolate Mousse, Amaretto Mousse, Buttercream, and Strawberry Jam.

All of Disney’s desserts are top-notch, and the pricing again is in line with what you’d expect to pay in any metro area. At the planning session we chose the Almond cake AND Red Velvet cake in alternating tiers, and we worked with the bakery team to come up with a design later via email. 


 

 

FLORAL PLANNING

After the cake tasting, we met with our floral coordinator who went through the enhancement options venue-by-venue. We have in total 5 venues as part of our wedding weekend that potentially could have floral enhancements, so there was a lot to cover. We decided to go with standard tables at our rehearsal dinner and farewell brunch, as those two venues don’t “need” any enhancement, in my opinion.

  The decorations in the wedding pavilion when we saw it on our site visit.

The decorations in the wedding pavilion when we saw it on our site visit.

For the ceremony we talked about swagging and floral that could be reused at the dessert party, but didn’t want an aisle runner. I even asked whether the floral coordinator could put together something like drapery to cover the big picture window overlooking Cinderella’s castle, and the Disney emblems on the arches at the wedding pavilion. To her credit, she didn’t miss a beat at these requests!

It's a lovely Disney view, but not what I had in mind for our wedding. And the logo on the arches irritates the graphic designer inside me. It makes me think of Venn diagrams, and that makes me think of work, and I don't want to be thinking about work at the wedding!

For the reception we went through piles of fabric swatches. It was really a handicap that I hadn’t picked out my bridesmaids dresses yet, and so if I was giving out advice I’d say 100% have your bridesmaids dresses picked out BEFORE your planning visit so you can match. It would have made things so much easier! Ultimately, after I had picked out the dresses, I mailed a swatch off to our coordinator and she was able to find the closest match.

Once we got home, our choices for floral 100% changed, of course as we developed a clearer picture of what we wanted our wedding "to be". We decided we DID want an aisle runner, but did NOT want swagging. We decided to block the view of Cinderella's Castle with a large floral arrangement instead of drapery, which we will be re-using at the reception. Our coordinator has been extremely patient and after something like 6 revisions we finally came up with a decoration plan that I’m super excited about for both the ceremony and the reception.

What I've loved most about working with our Disney floral coordinator is her willingness to make our centerpieces feel like “home”… if that makes sense. There are elements that I always wanted to have at my wedding ever since I was a little girl, specifically I’d always wanted to use my grandmother’s cut glass basket collection at my wedding as centerpieces and vintage books, and our floral coordinator has worked to bring these elements in even though they are very non-traditional for a Disney wedding. I think she’s excited about doing something out of the norm, too! I love thrift-shopping and finding vintage things, so I wanted to participate in finding objects, not just write a check, and she’s been open to me sending down the elements that I find and mixing them up with the items she is renting. I’m really excited about this fusion and I can’t wait to see what she puts together on the day of!


 

 

MENU TASTING

The menu tasting took place over at the Boardwalk and we had a brief break between the planning session at Franck’s and the appointment for the menu tasting. Unfortunately, we arrived late to the menu tasting because we were lost on Disney transportation. We learned the hard way that there is absolutely no direct route from the Grand Floridian to the Boardwalk area. I don't even remember now how we got there but there was a monorail and a bus and a boat from Hollywood Studios involved. It was awful!

At the earlier planning session when we’d been discussing transportation, I had been skeptical that we needed all the buses and vans that our planner was recommending. The first thing I did when we FINALLY reached the boardwalk was to apologize for my skepticism and tell her to put in whatever she thought was necessary for shuttling our guests around.

The culinary team had a spread ready for us when we arrived, and since I’d only had slices of cake so far that day to eat I was super excited to dig in! You are allowed to bring two guests with you, but since a menu tasting isn’t really an activity for kids, it was just my partner and I. It felt really weird to be served so exclusively, but the food was so delicious that I SOMEHOW managed to get over it!

Appetizers (from left to right): Mini Cuban Sandwiches, Smoked duck with mandarin orange and chili oil, Poached Granny Smith apples and brie in a quesadilla caramelized onion chutney, and Compressed truffle macaroni and cheese balls

Entrees: Tandoori and herb braised beef, Oven-roasted baked chicken stuffed with prosciutto, spinach, and fontina cheese, Oven-roasted chicken with chardonnay and toasted pine nut butter sauce, mashed boniato sweet potatoes with coconut milk. (Don't ask me which was which because I honestly don't remember!)

While we ate (I mean, sampled) we discussed with the culinary team our likes and dislikes: I dislike seafood, mushrooms, and onions with a vengeance. My husband is a bit of a foodie so he had a more refined list of preferences and questions for the chef.

The team described a new Nitrogen chocolate dessert that was being offered for the dessert party that sounded really amazing: basically, guests choose a frozen chocolate ball filled with unseen goodies like marshmallows and cake bites and other things, and then the on-stage chef pours hot caramel or fudge over it and the frozen chocolate melts away to reveal the goodies inside! It sounded delicious and super-fun!

To the credit of the culinary team, I pitched them my idea for having a Bubble Tea bar in lieu of alcohol and they didn’t laugh in my face, so that was better than I expected! In fact, they took down the information about my favorite bubble tea café in Ann Arbor, MI and contacted them to find out specifics about their suppliers and menu options, which I thought was especially thoughtful! At the end of the menu tasting, they had a little set of heart shaped cookie cutters to give to us a mementos, too! What a great day!!

When we got home we referred back to the many pictures of the delicious items we’d had at the menu tasting as well as at other meals on the trip. It really helped to put a “face to the name” on the endless lists of dishes.

One of the great things about doing a Disney wedding is that you don’t have to find your own caterer, it's all taken care of for you. The Disney Wedding team has access to, basically, whatever food you want from around Walt Disney World. Based on our own recon had some “wishes”: we loved the Strawberry Soup at 1900 Park Fare and the Frangipane from EPCOT France’s bakery, and the delicious breakfast juice from O’hana, and the culinary team was able to add these favorite treats to our farewell brunch along with iconic Mickey Waffles! For the Dessert party we were likewise able to customize the menu to include Macarons from EPCOT France, which is our daughter's favorite.  And, for the reception the catering team pulled together a Bubble Tea mini-bar based off my favorite café at home in Michigan which I think helps make our wedding very unique to us!


ATLANTIC DANCE HALL SITE VISIT

I mentioned in my review of our Site Visit that the one location we didn't see was the one we ultimately chose for our reception. Because our Menu Tasting was over at the boardwalk, afterward we took a little extra time to swing by the Atlantic Dance Hall to see it in person. It was sort of a superfluous effort because we'd already signed the contract, but it did help put the floral and decoration conversations into context.

One of the things we realized right away was just how large and over-powering the big blue curtain is! We asked our planner to look into options for breaking it up or using lighting to make it appear more teal than blue (by shining green lights on it). Turns out you can actually replace the curtain with another color curtain (though this solution was cost prohibitive for us, and we went with the uplighting solution instead). 

Another thing that we hadn’t done on our Site Visit was see the fireworks from Sago Cay Pointe. We'd watched videos online and felt confident that Disney fireworks are great from any angle, but we still wanted to see them ourselves. We rushed over one night just in time to catch the tail end and were reaffirmed that we'd made a good decision. The view from Sago Cay Pointe is absolutely fantastic and it made me even more excited for the dessert party at our wedding!

They look something like this (note, this isn't my video, but same view):


 

CONCLUSION

There were many things we discussed at the planning session that we ultimately decided weren’t really “us”. A big and controversial decision was that we've decided to forgo the traditional, tiered wedding cake.  The Disney bakery team was fantastic and worked with us to come up with a design that we were super excited about. But then as we started laying out the itinerary for the day, we began to realize that we had A LOT OF FOOD. I mean, A LOT. And we realized that the whole cake cutting ceremony and picture op wasn’t very important to us as much as we were concerned about stuffing our guests to the point where they felt sick. I am one of those people who absolutely hates food wastage and so the idea of the cake going to waste (because it would be served at 4:00 after a full buffet and cocktail hour!) really bothered me... especially since we were having a full dessert bar three hours later! I really love what we are doing as an alternative… you’ll have to wait and see because it’s a surprise!

We also pared back on the cocktail hour for this same reason, and replaced the hors d'oeuvres with a much simpler fruit spread considering that it'll be just 11:00 in the morning. I would have nixed it altogether, but my partner says we don't want to have folks drinking on an empty stomach! Along the same line of thinking, we regretfully decided that the frozen Nitrogen chocolate balls on top of a full dessert bar were probably sweets-overkill, and so we cut that out as well. 

We also cut out the Disney floral bouquets for myself and my bridesmaids and flower girls. I love the Disney bouquets I’ve seen online - they're great quality!- but I really wanted to be more involved than just being handed a bouquet on the morning of. One of my bridesmaids knew an amazing silk floral artist here in Michigan and I’ve been working with her to put together something that’s truly one-of-a-kind. It’s not less expensive, but it's very different than what I would have ended up with with Disney floral. What’s awesome is that the floral coordinator has been totally supportive of me pursuing this alternate, even though it cut out a chunk of work for her. She’s even letting us incorporate the bouquets into the decor for the rehearsal dinner and dessert party because I like the bouquets so much I don’t want to use them for just the ceremony only!

As I’ve mentioned a few times earlier in this post, re-use is something that’s really important to me and probably one of the biggest challenges that I’ve had personally about doing a Disney wedding. (“I have to pay how much for table clothes and I don’t get to keep them afterward?!” is a common complaint of mine). Our Disney floral coordinator has done a great job of coming up with ways to move and re-use floral from the ceremony to the reception, and then the reception to the dessert party. Because we are paying for our floral vases, we are even getting to “keep” the floral for the remainder of our trip and give bouquets away to our guests to brighten up their resort rooms. This was something I felt really strongly about and I love Disney floral for understanding how important it is to me--- even though it probably seems like a crazy request, they’ve never made me feel crazy or silly about wanting to do this.

I will admit that, months later, I’m still bummed about not having that projector cake I always dreamed of. But, to put it into perspective, it would have cost more than the ENTIRE dessert party… plus some… and you can’t eat it! I just couldn’t justify the cost to myself. Though, I do always ask the planner whenever we chat whether there’s a discount or projector cake coupon. And I’m not gonna lie, if the projector cake just somehow showed up I’d be spending the entire evening like this…

Some other items we eventually removed after our Planning Session were the staged exit (I hated the idea of having a bunch of people throwing confetti or rose petals or bubbles at me), having a photo booth, and the vintage car… which I thought was important to my partner, but turned out he would rather rent a luxury modern car for the entire week instead of the old timey vintage car for an hour! We’re also forgoing things like the garter and bouquet toss (because we have very few single friends coming), though as of the writing of this post we’re still holding on to the swing dancers, silhouette artist, and bubble tea bar! 

After returning from the April planning trip, we immediately got down to business assembling our full wedding invitations, which were at the printers' while we were away. I wrote about that project in detail here.

Check back for my next post which is all about how we managed to get 30 ADR's for Cinderella's castle! 

Disney Wedding Part 3 - Contract and Activity Plans and Invitations and Room Blocks, OH MY!

(January 2016, 11 months out)

I wrote yesterday about the Site Visit we did and about selecting our venues. Because we had several activities we wanted to book through Disney weddings (5 in total!) this limited our options for wedding dates. The original contract we signed was for mid-November and included the Marina (our second choice) for the Dessert party because Sago Cay Pointe was being held by another group. We booked as our fall-back while we waiting and hoped for the first weekend in November (and Sago Cay Pointe) to open up. Once that happened, our dates moved from mid-November to the first week of November. We signed our contract at the end of December, right after Christmas.

 


SAVE THE DATE

With that out of the way, we were able to really get started! We wanted to send out Save the Date cards right away to give folks as much time as possible to look at their calendars and start researching Disney vacations. On our Save the Date cards, we also asked our guests to “Pre-RSVP”. This served two purpose. First, it helped us get a feel for the number of rooms we needed to block with Disney. Secondly, it removed a number of folks from our full invitation list, which saved us money (because our full invitations were pricey to make and mail!)

Before the Save the Date cards were even in the mail, I had started designing the full invitations which I envisioned would be both an invitation and a planning packet. We decided to go “overboard” with our invitations because we knew that there was a large percentage of folks on our list who definitely wouldn’t be able to come to the wedding, and we wanted to share with them what we had been up to for the past ten years or so. (We’ve never been very good about sending out those yearly Christmas “this is our life” type letters that other families excel at!)

To read more about our Save the Date and Invitation designs, see my separate posts.


OPTIONAL ACTIVITIES

My partner and I brainstormed activities we thought would be fun with a big group, things like Beers Around Epcot and Hoop De Doo Revue. I also knew that I wanted to take the flower girls to the Bibbidy Bobbidy Boutique and the Perfectly Princess Tea Party in lieu of a more traditional gift like a necklace, and to schedule a kids' pirate adventure cruise for all the kids to do together after the wedding. My partner has 4 nieces/nephews who are the same age as our daughters, so we thought this was a great bonding opportunity for the cousins who unfortunately don't get to see each other all that often. We also reached out to friends and family that we were confident would join us, to see what types of activities they were interested in doing as a large group.

It had the potential to get very, very complicated very, very fast. We’d been on a trip with family in the past as a group of 9, and found it hard to juggle everyone’s interests and wish lists and keep everyone happy. For the wedding we would have groups over 30! We decided early that we would need to make an itinerary for ourselves and let our guests know where we would be and when--- then, leave it was up to them whether they wanted to join in, or go their own way. We were hoping that we would get different “slices” of the wedding guests at different activities so that we could spend some quality time with everyone at some point in the trip. We made it a priority to pick a variety of activities both in and out of the parks, so that guests who weren't buying theme park tickets wouldn't feel excluded.

We worked very “fast”, because we wanted to get invitations out in time for guests to RSVP well in advance of the 180-day mark, thinking that we could better sync up on getting ADRs (Advance Dining Reservations) this way. That didn’t work out exactly as we had hoped (spoiler alert: people don’t follow directions!) but I will discuss that in further detail later on.

 


ROOM BLOCK

During this same time, Disney needed us to put together our choices for our Room block. These are the rooms that are held at a discounted rate for your guests. They recommend that you choose one Deluxe, Moderate, and Value resort to fit every guest's budget. At the recommendation of our friends, we also selected a non-Disney resort which we included in our invitations for guests who were adamantly against staying on Disney property (yes, believe it or not, we have some friends/family who are skeptical about this whole Disney thing!)

DELUXE: GRAND FLORIDIAN - For our Deluxe option we chose the Grand Floridian, basically because this was where we were planning to spend a few nights and we wanted to be able to use the discount for our own stay. We didn't expect any guests to stay here. 

DELUXE: YACHT CLUB - For our "Mini-Deluxe" we selected the Yacht Club / Beach Club because we love Stormalong Bay and because we felt that the boardwalk area isn't "too Disney" for our guests who weren't interested in a Disney vacation, but centrally located for our guests who were. The Yacht Club's price point is right between moderate and deluxe, so we consider it "miniDeluxe" or "moderatePlus". We hoped this would be the "main" resort where most of our guests would stay, and where we chose to book our room for our full trip (though we were staying DVC).

The Beach/Yacht club is our second favorite resort (after the Polynesian) and I believe it's one of the most overlooked resorts! Tucked behind Epcot hardly anyone seems to know about it or consider it for their vacation. It's too bad, because it's a great one! And it works well for our "Disney, but not TOO Disney" wedding goals.

MODERATE: PORT ORLEANS FQ - For our Moderate option we selected Port Orleans French Quarter. As I wrote in my last post, we'd originally been planning on PO-Riverside, but after staying there on our site visit we felt that it was too spread out of a resort for many of our guests with mobility issues. French Quarter had more rooms in proximity to the main building and the bus stop. We liked the romantic atmosphere of Port Orleans for our wedding.

VALUE: ALL STAR MOVIES - For Value options Disney Weddings only offers the All Star resorts (Art of Animation would have been our choice, but it isn't included in the wedding discount program presently.) We've never stayed at a Value resort and the online reviews are really all over the scale-- some people love them, and some absolutely hate them. The theming of the All Star Resorts (Movies, Music, and Sports) are really all the same in their level of kitsch IMO. Ultimately, we chose Movies because we read that it was the most conveniently located on the bus route.


CALCULATING ROOM BLOCK

In order to do the Disney room block, you have to tell them how many days PER NIGHT, PER RESORT you want to reserve... which is a wee bit confusing. There's also the risk of a penalty if you reserve way too many rooms, so you can't just pick a crazy number out of thin air.

Thanks to our “Pre-RSVP” request on our Save the Date cards, we had a vague idea of who was likely to come to the wedding well in advance. The way I tackled setting up the room block was to first create my own spreadsheet listing all the families we were pretty sure would be coming and guessed at which resort I thought they were likely to stay at. We also estimated a trip “tshirt size” for the guests, around some standard trip lengths we devised. The “tshirt sizes” were:

A full family vacation (7 nights)

The wedding-party (4 nights)

Wedding-only trip (2 nights)

I laid out the dates of the trip with the full family vacation being from Oct 31-Nov 8, and a wedding-only trip being Nov.3 to Nov.5 and tallied up the numbers from there. We also took into account the guests that we knew who were either Florida natives or were probably going to stay offsite so that they didn't inflate our numbers.

So, my spreadsheet looked like this:

Once I had number that I was really confident about, I padded it with the % of nights that you can be over by and not get a penalty (I believe it's something like 25 nights), and that’s how I came up with our room block reservation count. Not as good as having confirmed RSVPs in hand, but better than licking your thumb and picking a number out of thin air.

Of course, we were totally wrong. Comparing this spreadsheet with our actual resort block is laughable. Folks I thought would stay value, stayed deluxe and visa versa. Folks I thought would stay for long trips are only coming in for the wedding, and folks I thought wouldn’t come at all are staying for week-long vacations. But thanks to the law of averages, it mostly worked out.

I will say that I erred too far on the side of caution and about halfway through the booking period I needed to add more rooms. Due to the particular week of our wedding rooms are really at a premium and a lot of resorts were at capacity by the time our guests made their reservations, which means that our room block rooms were the ONLY options available to them! Fortunately, I was able to add more rooms and get everyone covered but it was close! I should have held more rooms up front and adjusted down instead of doing it the other way, but I was so preoccupied with the idea of paying for empty rooms that I didn’t fully grasp the part where you can lower the number of rooms you have around the 90-day mark through your wedding planner.

 


ARRANGING FOR OTHER ARRANGEMENTS

In addition to this, I reached out to a few Disney Vacation Planners and found someone who was willing to help our friends book trips who wanted to do full vacation packages. When booking through Disney weddings, guests receive a great discount on their room but are ineligible to purchase a dining plan. I thought that having a full vacation package would be important to most of our guests and, if free dining was offered, a better value than the wedding discount. I worked with a few different agents, but finally settled with Amy Thacker of Ears of Experience.

It’s important to remember that a Disney trip includes a lot beyond just the hotel room. For someone who's not very familiar with Disney it can be really overwhelming. In our guest list we had a mix of first timers and seasoned DVC members. Amy took on a lot of the burden of communicating with our guests and helping them to plan their itineraries, etc. I informed her of what our itinerary was, of what resorts were available in the room block, so that she had that information available to help our guests make the best financial and experience decision for themselves. Basically, she helped to educate the novices so that I didn’t have to. Which was great because I had about a million other things to do!

I will say that, unfortunately, free dining wasn’t ultimately offered for our wedding week, and as a result it made more sense for most of our guests to book through Disney Weddings without dining, instead of through Amy. But even though that happened, she was still super supportive and helpful through the entire experience! And, she’s local, so she was able to help with other logistical questions that came up. Disney weddings only books rooms for your guests and doesn't help he build itineraries. If you are doing a Disney wedding, I’d definitely recommend that you find a Disney travel agent to work with like Amy. (Or, just use Amy, she’s awesome! You can reach her here.)


CONCLUSION

I’d say that this was probably one of the busiest “times” of the wedding planning process for us. Once our guests found out about our Disney wedding, there were lots and lots of questions to answer and lots of decisions to make. This is the one part where having a Disney wedding became MORE complicated (and expensive!) than having a local wedding would have been because of all the optional “extracurricular activity” plans we made. But it was a good complication, and I love planning Disney trips, so I didn’t mind!

I was especially lucky that one of my good friends (and by this point MVP Bridesmaid!) had done a Disney wedding herself and so she was a treasure trove of helpful tips and information, too! 

NEXT: Planning Session & Dessert Party Recon!