Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Long Distance Wedding: On-Site Visits

This post is a good example why readers think wedding advice authors should be occasionally-rounded up like a pack of lame mules and flogged in public view. See, folks like us spend all this time researching the best way to do something (like plan a long-distance or destination wedding) and come up with a perfectly rational strategy: go visit the site before the wedding to line up all the details.

Then some of you will respond, 'Are you nuts?" "Why is that so difficult?" we ask. "Have you checked the price of air fares lately? A wedding is expensive enough without adding several hundred more dollars in travel costs. And what about vacation time—I was planning to use that for the honeymoon, not for wedding planning, as romantic as that can be."

If your long-distance wedding is back in your hometown, however, you can combine this trip with a holiday vacation. And many destination wedding sites may have already been scoped out on a previous vacation.

So, realizing the obvious roadblocks to our scientifically researched wedding planning strategy, we'd like to present several possibilities. First, you can make just one, brief visit to the wedding location. Second, the lucky few may be able to make multiple visits; we will show you how to make the most of this option. Finally, we know some of you may not be able to make any visits at all; we hope this post also provides some advice for those of you in that pickle.

When you are only able to visit the wedding location once, it goes without saying that you must use your time wisely. First, try to come in for at least two to three days. The optimum time would be Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. If you time the visit so that you leave on Sunday (staying over a Saturday night), you will save money on airfare, hotels, and rental cars.

The Commando-style Visit

The week prior to your visit, set up appointments with the following businesses: reception sites, caterers, photographers, videographers, florists, bakers, and entertainers (ask if you can see them play at another reception or party). Fly in Wednesday evening and try to get plenty of sleep..

These should include visiting your preferred choices for reception sites and/or caterers, photographers, and videographers. These merchants book up farther in advance than others, so if you want to hire the best, visit them early. You'll also want, to visit these businesses first in case your top choices don't work out. This gives you Friday (or day two) to visit with other sources lower on your preference list.

FRIDAY. MEET WITH YOUR TOP CHOICES for florists and bakers as well as any remaining merchants from the day before.

SATURDAY YOU MAY BE ABLE TO SET UP SOME APPOINTMENTS with bakeries that aren't too busy on Saturday. Florists, however, are probably out—they're often busy delivering and setting up other weddings. Try to set up visits to the reception site and/or caterer to see actual receptions. This will help you decide which reception sites and caterers you will want to hire.

FINALLY, CHECK OUT BANDS AND DJS on Saturday night. Remember to visit receptions later in the evening after the meal has been served. This allows you to see the band or DJ in action, instead of playing background dinner music.

You will probably find yourself having to make other, minor arrangements over the phone since you only have one short visit to the wedding location. Businesses like limo companies are often hired by phone. However, use that fax machine and the mail to make sure you get all agreements in writing. Also use your surrogate planner to help with these details if you have any doubts about relying solely on the telephone.

If you have the luxury of making several trips to the wedding location, you can modify the above plan. Assuming you will make two trips:

THE FIRST TRIP WOULD CONSIST OF VISITS TO THE "HIGH PRIORITY" MERCHANTS: reception site, caterer, photographer, videographer, and musicians, band, or DJ. Instead of the top one or two choices in each category, you may be able to visit three or four.

ON THE SECOND OR SUBSEQUENT VISITS, YOU CAN MEET WITH THE BUSINESSES THAT REQUIRE LESS ADVANCED NOTICE to book, namely florists and bakers. For example, while photographers may book up six to nine months in advance (some as much as a year for prime June dates), florists work with less notice—perhaps three months or less in smaller towns to six months or more in large cities. In your screening process, ask them how soon you should book. This will give you a guide as to when to time your visit and decision.

IF TIME PERMITS, CONSIDER HANDLING SOME OF THOSE "MINOR" DETAILS for your wedding as well. A prime example is transportation—if you want to book a limo, you may now have time to visit a few companies to look at cars.

What if you can't visit the wedding location at all? You will obviously have to rely on your surrogate planner or a bridal consultant. Hiring a professional wedding planner may be well worth the cost, especially for anything but the smallest, most informal weddings.

While videos and photos of different options will help, it is imperative to get everything in wiring. You should have the final say, but the lack of personal visits will require you to surrender some control over the event. You must trust your surrogate planner at the wedding location to be your eyes, ears, and better judgment.

Take a hard look at your schedule. If you can fit in one of the short, "commando" style visits that we describe above, do it. Even just one or two days at the wedding location will be worth the effort.


CONFIRM ALL APPOINTMENTS. A day or so before the appointment, call the merchant to confirm the time, address/location, directions, and the name of the person you are meeting with. Ask about parking (location and cost, if applicable). Confirming appointments is crucial to heading off merchant "no-shows" and other delays that will waste your time.

CLUSTER APPOINTMENTS IN THE SAME LOCATION. When scheduling, try to visit businesses in the same part of town in sequence to minimize travel time. Eliminating long trips back and forth between downtown and the suburbs will maximize the use of your time.

SCHEDULE ABOUT THIRTY TO FORTY-FIVE MINUTES TO MEET WITH EACH PROSPECT. That's really all you need. (Caterers and reception sites might take more time, while bakers need the least.)

LEAVE PLENTY OF TRAVEL TIME. Most oi your appointments will be between morning and evening rush hours, but beware of the surprise traffic jam. Leaving a good fifteen minutes to find parking, the right suite number, and so on is prudent. For evening appointments, watch out for evening rush-hour traffic.

START EARLY AND GO LATE! Some merchants will do early morning appointments (8 am) and others offer special evening appointments (6, 7, or 8 pm)! Ask if they will make a special effort to meet when you have an opening. We are always impressed by merchants who go the extra mile to make evening appointments.

KEEP TO THE SCHEDULE. Wear a watch and warn long-winded merchants that you have another appointment to go to. Be polite, but avoid long speeches on your background, and so on. Get down to business!

MIX IT UP TO AVOID BURN-OUT. Don't schedule three photographer appointments all in a row—you'll go nuts with "photo overload." Follow up a photographer visit with a caterer, then a reception site, and so on.

BUY OR BORROW A GOOD MAP. Even if you think you know the city, you don't have any time to get lost. Use colored sticker dots or markers to pinpoint locations of appointments.

TRY TO AVOID HOLIDAY TIMES OF THE YEAR. There's a double whammy that may stymie your best efforts to research your wedding during a Christmas vacation. First, some merchants are doing the same thing you are: taking a vacation. Others, such as caterers and entertainers, are darn busy with, all those holiday parties. Another troublesome time of the year is August (beware the summer vacations). Valentines' Day (and the week before) is a crazy time for florists. If you must do your trip during a holiday period, call ahead to see who will be there and who's off on vacation. Be patient and well organized.

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