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!)

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 2 - How I met your Venue

Site Visit and Venue Selection

(November 2015, 12 months out)

After making the tentative decision to do our wedding at Disney, the next step was to select a venue. Even though we are frequent Disney vacationers, when it came to wedding venues we realized that we hadn’t seen many of the spaces on the list of possible reception venues. We felt like it was too important of a decision to be made by looking at photos and reviews online, and so we decided to take a quick trip down to Disney to see the options for ourselves.

Really, who’s going to say no to a solid excuse for a spontaneous weekend in Disney, right? That said, if you’re a reader of this blog you’ve probably noticed that I'm not big on spontaneity… unless it’s scheduled in. But, I put on my big girl pants and made myself go to Disney World anyway… ;-)

 


Doing our own recon

We went down the second weekend in November, leaving Thursday morning and returning Sunday. We were out of DVC points and so we decided to stay cash at a moderate resort. We chose Port Orleans Riverside because we were considering it for our guests, and didn’t want to ask people to stay at a hotel we’d never stayed in ourselves and knew nothing about.

Our site planning visit was scheduled for Friday, so we used Thursday afternoon/evening to visit all the wedding venues we were able to get to on our own without a wedding planner present. For the “official” site visit with the planner, you are limited to three venues. On our own, we visited the boardwalk area, as well as EPCOT to view all the venues in the lands. Basically, there is space in almost every land that you can use for a Disney Wedding. We particularly liked Italy and the American Adventure Rotunda. We met some great cast members at the Rotunda who told us about the weddings they'd seen while doing their jobs and how the space was used and decorated. Everyone had really great things to say about weddings at the Rotunda and it was probably closest aesthetically to the venue we'd been considering at home in Michigan.

We also took time to watch Illuminations from the waterfront terrace in front of France (another popular wedding venue). I hadn’t seen Illuminations in years because it’s one of my least favorite offerings at Disney… though I couldn’t remember why exactly, I didn’t think it would be a good wedding venue for us. Though the terrace is lovely, about five minutes into the show I remembered why I didn’t like Illuminations: nothing says romance like FIRE CANONS, right? 

WEDDING CONFLAGRATION? No. No, thank you  .

WEDDING CONFLAGRATION? No. No, thank you.

I knew I did want to incorporate a fireworks dessert party into our wedding experience, though. Just a less-incendiary one. Which meant we would need to pick one of the venues for Wishes fireworks viewing (fireworks with no fire canons = decidedly more romantic). Those are mostly limited to the Contemporary and Grand Floridian. Though I think Wishes from the Polynesian beach are lovely, the Poly beach is not an option for private events.

 


Using time wisely:

The next morning, before our site visit we scouted out the locations at Grand Floridian where fireworks dessert parties are held: Sago Cay Pointe, the Marina Patio, and Narcoossee’s. There’s also a less frequently used dock at the Contemporary, as well as the rooftop seating at the California Grill (which we were already well acquainted with, but decided we should probably have dinner there later that night anyway, just to be safe and to see the restaurant with our “wedding eyes”, as the wedding planner was fond of saying). Of the dessert party options we preferred Sago Cay Pointe--- the Marina we felt was odd because you get the boats in your view and the lights from the resort behind you. Sago Cay Pointe, though only a few feet away, feels much more secluded. We didn’t actually get to see a fireworks show there, though, but we used our imaginations. 

We even took some time that morning to stage some impromptu “engagement” photos ourselves with our travel camera near the Marina. Keep in mind, we’ve been engaged for nearly a decade and at this point hadn’t signed a contact with Disney or picked a venue, but we thought that since we were already there we better get it done just to be on the safe side. We wanted to pick a backdrop that our Disney friends would recognize right away on a Save the Date card, but that others wouldn’t necessarily see as “Disney”  if/when we made the decision to do a Destination wedding. The outcome was… well, hit or miss. But it was a fun way to kill time while we waited for our appointment nonetheless!

After that, we met our Disney Wedding planner and set off to visit the venues that you can only access with Disney Weddings. We started with the Wedding Pavilion, which seemed like a no brainer. Disney's outdoor ceremony spaces are lovely, but having been to a beach wedding and a waterfront wedding in the past, I have bad memories of weddings interrupted by oblivious vacationers nearby. Also: the wedding pavilion is air conditioned. Done and done.

(This was the view pre-alligator-fence).

(This was the view pre-alligator-fence).

With that decision made, we just needed to pick a reception venue. Easy peasy, right?

Our priority was seeing the ballrooms and private rooms around the resorts that we hadn't been able to access on our own. Between the reconnaissance we’d done the day before and what we saw with our planner, I think we visited 90-95% of the wedding venue spaces at WDW. Which is impressive, when you consider HOW MANY potential venues there are. We didn't go over to Animal Kingdom or Hollywood Studios, and limited resort options to boardwalk area resorts and the Grand Floridian. The one space we DIDN’T visit and should have was the Atlantic Dance Hall. We had immediately and non-negotiably ruled this venue out because it was where our good friends had gotten married and we didn’t want to in any way step on the uniqueness or special-ness of their wedding by using the same venue. (Note this for later irony). I had used the restroom in the ADH once on a previous trip, but my partner had never even been inside.

 


Resort Ballrooms (or "HELP, I've made a terrible mistake!")

We went into our site visit fairly confident that we were going to go with a reception at either EPCOT or one of the Disney ballrooms based on the online photos, and we were mainly deciding between ballrooms at the Grand Floridian and at the Boardwalk/BeachClub/YachtClub. Because my partner and I are both visual people and fairly quick decision makers, we were able to visit more than the 3 on our site-visit wish list, because we’d immediately walk into a space and say “nope” whereas (we were told) most couples have trouble visualizing the space and want to see photos and deliberate and discuss. I’m not sure whether this is a good thing per se. Basically, through our site visit we found that we didn’t like any of the venues we’d thought we’d like. The patio space at the Grand Floridian with the monorail running overhead was described by other brides as magical, and I liked it a lot… until the monorail came by! To me, it sounded like being in the NY subway. Much like Illuminations, this was not the romantic atmosphere I was hoping for.

The convention center carpet in all of the ballroom options was also a major deal breaker for me.

The planner brought along an iPad loaded with images from other weddings to show how the spaces could be transformed, but I started to get really worried about the cost and amount of decoration that would be needed to achieve the look in the pictures. I didn't want to spend 1/2 my budget on draped fabric that I wouldn't even get to keep afterwards.

I remember halfway through the appointment as we drove from the Floridian to the Yacht club, I started googling photos on my phone of Greenfield Village’s Lovett Hall Ballroom (which was the main venue we’d been considering in Michigan). I got teary-eyed looking at the images of beautiful wood floors and was convinced I’d made a terrible, terrible mistake. Literally, I cried a little in the backseat but my partner covered it up so I’m pretty sure the planner didn’t notice.

Lovett Hall at Greenfield Village.

Lovett Hall at Greenfield Village.

This is what I'd had in mind when I heard "ballroom". Except, I thought a Disney ballroom would be even more WOW!

This is what I'd had in mind when I heard "ballroom". Except, I thought a Disney ballroom would be even more WOW!

The highlight of the ballroom tour was when we walked into one of the spaces at the Grand Floridian which was being set up for a reception later that night. There, in the corner, was the Disney projector cake!! I work in technology and I’d researched the Disney Projector cake technology as part of my job way back in 2012, long before we were planning a wedding. I’d said back then, though, that if I ever did have a wedding I wanted something LIKE THAT--- never thinking that we would have a Disney Wedding and we could, in fact, have THAT projector cake!

I was all like "OMG, IT'S THE PROJECTOR CAKE!"

I was all like "OMG, IT'S THE PROJECTOR CAKE!"

Also, sign me up for one of these twinkle trees! So pretty!

Also, sign me up for one of these twinkle trees! So pretty!

If you’re not familiar with the projector cake, here's a great demo video:

Let me just say, it's so much more beautiful and magical in person! Spectacular!!!

We also had the opportunity to visit The Attic, a former DVC lounge that’s now used only for private parties. We knew it wouldn’t work for us as a reception venue because of the guest size limits, but my partner pretty much fell in love with at first sight as it reminded him of his Great Aunt's house on the beach in Long Island. So we knew we wanted to work it into our itinerary somewhere, possibly as a rehearsal dinner location.

We really liked Ariels, too.... except for the giant fish mobiles, and thought that would potentially also make a great rehearsal dinner location.

We did ask whether we could take this awesome boat bar to another venue... answer: no. :-(

We did ask whether we could take this awesome boat bar to another venue... answer: no. :-(

A coworker of mine just returned from a Disney wedding (apparently it's a thing!) and that couple's reception was at Ariels, so I picked the coworker's brain about the mobiles. He claims that he didn't even notice the giant fish. I'm not sure HOW that's possible, but maybe with different lighting they're not so... fishy?

Oh, and we ran into Cinderella's Coach back at Franck's studio, which was pretty cool, too! Now when we ride the monorail I always look down at the wedding pavilion for a chance to catch a glimpse of them hanging out down there waiting for a lucky bride!

I'd always thought they used little horses for scale in the parade to make the coach look bigger. Then it hit me... it's cuz they're MICE! Get it?

I'd always thought they used little horses for scale in the parade to make the coach look bigger. Then it hit me... it's cuz they're MICE! Get it?


California Grill Saves the Day.

We had dinner reservations at the California Grill after our site visit and our planner suggested that we arrive a little early and ask the waitstaff to let us into the private rooms (Napa and Sonoma). The rooms were nice, secluded, mini versions of the restaurant. The Napa room overlooks the fireworks much like the main restaurant. We were told that if you book the Sonoma room you view the fireworks from the private balcony instead of from inside. My partner prefers to view the fireworks from the outside balcony, whereas I prefer to watch them from our table behind the windows while eating dessert, so booking the Napa room I knew was something that would be important to me (if we booked a Disney wedding, which at that point I was certain we would not because: carpet!).

I was pretty discouraged (and tired!) after our busy day, but then the food arrived!! 

I was pretty discouraged (and tired!) after our busy day, but then the food arrived!! 

I have loved the California Grill since our trip in 2013 (where we only booked it because we had gotten the Deluxe dining plan and had a ton of extra TSs to use up!) On this occation, we ended up seated around the backside of the restaurant which has a less direct view of the themepark and fireworks (normally we’ve been seated right on the themepark side at the tables which touch the windows). It was a nice change, but it reaffirmed for me that if we booked the venue I definitely wanted that Napa view, not the Sonoma.

I don’t remember what we ordered, but it was delicious as always.  The California Grill has the best food, and the most amazing desserts! We asked our waiter about Disney Weddings and he gave us some details about the weddings he’d seen, and even brought the chef over to tell us a little about the menus they use for weddings. As we ate we watched the sun set, and after dessert went out on the balcony for fireworks.

Oh my goodness. Wishes fireworks from the rooftop of the Contemporary. Have I mentioned? (Yes, I know I have.) They are amazing. They are beautiful. They are romantic. They give me all the feels. 

If you've never had the chance, I definitely encourage you to work the California Grill into your next trip if you can! Absolutely breathtaking! 

Watching the fireworks kind of reset my thinking on the whole venue issueA Disney Wedding would be a magical experience. How could it not be….even if the ballroom carpets are heavily patterned, right? I can deal with patterns. And even if Lovett hall has beautiful wood floors, they definitely don't have anything that compares to Disney fireworks.

 


Sneaking in some vacation in our vacation.

The next day was ‘free’ and we had tickets for the first Christmas part of the season. We’d managed to hit all the venues and knew that, though we were disappointed by the ballrooms, we did definitely want to find a way to do a Disney wedding. We spent Saturday in the parks and decided to take advantage of the Disney Photopass service to sneak in some “free” invitation photos. I had brought with me some “Bride” and “Groom” books which I thought we could use to make some clever, sarcastic announcements to our friends and family who, after a decade, had pretty much given up on the idea of us ever actually having a wedding of any kind!

I just want to take a second here and note that after many trips with small kids (and even once with an infant in arms!) visiting Disney World as an adult on your own is AMAZING! No diaper bags and no stroller! We cut through the crowds like crowd ninjas! Hi-ya! I felt light and nimble. We covered tons of ground quickly and without kids avoided the time-consuming activities (like princess meals and princess meet&greets and princess gift shops!) I especially enjoyed eating at our favorite "grown up" restaurants without any little people complaining about the too-fancy food! We didn't have fastpasses or an itinerary: mostly we just had a ton of fun, reaffirming that Disney IS for grownups, too.

I was finally able to find Mr. Gold's shop from OUaT before it was too late!

I was finally able to find Mr. Gold's shop from OUaT before it was too late!

I even found an 'ugly christmas sweater' which I needed for to my company party!

I even found an 'ugly christmas sweater' which I needed for to my company party!


Conclusions

I wrote in my first post about the financial and customer service considerations that led us to decide to have a Disney wedding in the first place. I’m very glad that we decided to do a site visit, even though it was an added expense. It was a nice weekend getaway for my partner and I (which we don’t have very often) and it led us to make very different choices than we would have if we’d picked venues off of online pictures and reviews only.

In addition to our wedding planner, we talked to many CMs and fellow guests about the venues, other weddings they’d seen, and the weather. We met a particularly helpful woman at the pool at Port Orleans who told us about a wedding she had attended a few years prior, and all the activities that the bride/groom had planned for guests to do while they were there--- this got us thinking about the types of activities we’d want to do with our friends and family, given the opportunity.

In addition to the venue, the site visit also made big changes to our opinion with regard to date. We’d originally been considering an August wedding (so we wouldn’t conflict with school schedules) but everyone we talked to down there said that August weather was just absolutely miserably hot. The weather for our site visit trip couldn’t have been more beautiful, and so we ultimately booked a wedding for early November hoping we’ll get the same or similar temperatures.

Also, we had stayed at Port Orleans Riverside because it was the hotel we’d been thinking we’d use for our guests. We found it to be a really confusing resort and required so much more walking than we are used to (I guess we’ve gotten super spoiled staying at DVC resorts!). We spent our departure afternoon at Port Orleans French Quarter enjoying the pool, though, and decided that that was a much more compact resort and a better fit for our guests. Again, things we wouldn’t have realized if we’d gone off of online reviews only.

Loved seeing these super functional and comfy murphy beds in resorts beyond the Polynesian!

Loved seeing these super functional and comfy murphy beds in resorts beyond the Polynesian!


Moral of the story

Even if you’ve visited Disney many times and are familiar with the venues, definitely go back and look at them again with your “wedding eyes” on if you can. You’ll be surprised at how that affects your thinking! You definitely need to see the spaces for yourself and imagine the wedding experience you want to create. No one can do that for you, and no one else out there has exactly the same vision as you do; so while online resources are great… they just aren’t enough compared to actually being there.

Oh yeah…. And remember how I said it was ironic that the one venue we didn’t see was the Atlantic Dance Hall, even though we were right there and the planner suggested we pop in? Well, after weeks and weeks of going around and around about reception venue, ADH is the one we finally chose (based on the fact that we’d ruled out everything else, and because of the photos our friends shared of their reception.) So even though we did do a wedding site visit, we still technically picked our reception venue sight unseen!

 


Our Disney Wedding Selections

We decided to go with an early November Friday wedding. Our dates were defined primarily by availability-- we needed a lot of venues available in a particular sequence and that limited our date options. We also wanted to have Wishes fireworks, so we needed to get in between the Halloween parties (with Hallowishes fireworks) and the Holiday parties (with Very Merry Christmas fireworks). We’d originally hoped for a Saturday wedding but it just didn’t work out.

We also realized that as (or more) important to us than the wedding and ceremony, was finding opportunities to spend quality time with different groups of our friends/faimly. To do that, we decided to cut back on the reception itself so that we could do more with the rehearsal dinner and have a farewell brunch at the end of the trip. We decided to go with an early morning (10am) Ceremony because moving the reception up by an hour saved us thousands of dollars that we could put toward these other experiences.

Here’s what we chose:

Thursday     Rehearsal dinner @ California Grill Napa Room

Friday          10:00 Ceremony @ Grand Floridian Wedding Pavilion

                     11:00-4:00 Reception @ Atlantic Dance Hall

                     8:00 Fireworks Dessert Party @ Sago Cay Pointe

Sunday         Farewell brunch @ the Attic

 

In my next post, I’ll talk about all the OTHER activities we’ve planned and organized. Spoiler alert: it’s a lot and I’ve got some killer spreadsheets!

NEXT: Disney Wedding Post #3 - Contracts and Room Blocks and more! 

Teddy Bear Tuesday: Wedding Bells

A few years back, the girls had the honor of being flower girls at their godfather's wedding, which was a beautiful outdoors affair held at a nearby Botanical Gardens on a perfect sunny summer afternoon. I'm not sure when the idea came up, but somehow the girls' Duffy and Shelly bears ended up having a part in the ceremony, too--- as ring pillows!  You see that little box tied between Duffy's hands. Yeah, that's where the rings were! The girls carried ShellieMay all dressed in white and the ring bearer carried Duffy in a tiny tuxedo and the rings. Check out the cuteness! :-)

Of course, now that we have the costumes from Build-A-Bear Workshop, Duffy and ShellieMay get married quite often!