(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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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):
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!