Planning a Wedding- Civil Ceremony, Destination, or Traditional which to choose?
Updated: May 26, 2020
Speaking from experience, we decided to do all three: civil ceremony, destination wedding, and traditional wedding. We just couldn't decide which one we liked the best so we did all three! There's a joke in there, but I can't really find it.
Yes, we did get married in that Chateau photo!
For those that are interested in getting married in a chateau in France, on a beach in Phuket, or something exotic to fit your lifestyle and fantasy it really is possible. When Lewife and I were engaged we began the grueling search for venues in our area (bay area California). For some this IS the destination wedding destination- Napa valley, Carmel, San Francisco (I guess... we've never really have seen the appeal of the city). So some might ask, "why go somewhere for a destination wedding?" For us, price was a major factor.
Wedding costs how much?!?
When looking at it as a whole, weddings can costs about the price of a new dress, to a new car, to the cost of a new house! So it can vary drastically based on the couple. However, whenever you tell people (cake makers, florists, venues) that the event is for a wedding the price increases 10-20%(Lewife says it's closer to 50%). This is where you can "try" to lie and say its for a high end party with 100 guests where someone wears a white dress and two people say "I do", but it's not a wedding.
But, it didn't work for us.
So we started our search for wedding venues first since they can get booked way in advance. We went to wineries, restaurants, parks, beaches, school playgrounds, barber shops, cat groomers, the list can go on and on. All of the locations we went to the venue fee's were astronomical- ranges from $8k-$15k JUST FOR THE VENUE! And undoubtedly the prices have gone up since then.This is just the fee to host the wedding at the location, it doesn't come with food, entertainment, or even party guests. So spending $8-$15 thousand to host a wedding wasn't really sitting well with us. If we were going to be spending some of that major cash just for a location, why not go to a spectacular location that can really earn it's money. Here's when the idea of a wedding in a French chateau came along.
Oui! Non...non. OUI!
-"Let's just check it out, let's see how much it costs to get married in a chateau."
"It's going to be way more expensive to get married in France, they use Euros and everything!"
-"This website says the venue fee is $2k Euros."
"Well...it must be hideous."
"Just what I thought...hideous".
After a quick search on the Google we found a website Olivertravels.com. We used this site to start our search of what was out there. The website had a lot of options on the market that were not typical findings on a standard hotel database. We narrowed our search from all of France to the northern, central part of France. We did this because of the grander looking chateaus. After spending a few nights looking at the inventory on Olivertravels.com we knew we could find reasonable and wonderful looking chateaus, but then trying to organize the catering, the makeup artist, the photographers! We soon realized that a wedding planner might be needed. We began to talk with an actual wedding planner over the internet. We spoke with a company that had a list of venues that they typically worked with and their packages . They had chateaus in Bordeaux and southwest coast, Dordogne, Gascony, and Provence and the Riviera. The basic costs for the packages with a party of our size* would be starting around €2,600 .
*How did we find out how many people were coming to the wedding? We knew from the beginning that having a destination wedding would mean that less and less people would be able to make it. It was something we thought about for awhile. Is it better to have a wedding in one of the most unique/awesome locations in the world? Or should we make sure that cousin billy and their four kids that only eat macaroni and cheese make it? Kind of joking, but really is it that hard to choose? It was and so we did both...kind of regret that in the long run, but oh well. We first started by seeing how many people would be able to make it. We sent emails, texts, phone calls, telegraphs, post cards, smoke signals to all of our family and friends that we cared about and asked if they were interested in heading over to France for a destination wedding. Six replied yes. PHEW! One additional made it due to a business trip in England the same week, for a total of 7 guests. We sent the interest list to probably 50 people(some that even lived in Europe(and not even those guests came)). So it was a very intimate and exclusive event. But was it worth it for 7 people? Since I am the writer of this blog I will say 3000%. Others, might not feel the same *cough* Lewife *cough*. When we were looking into the destination venue route we knew that only a few people were going to be able to make it. But the wedding was for us. Would it have been extra special if 15/20/40 people made it, sure. But as someone who has had three weddings (all with the same person) I'd say that this one was my favorite. And yes, having three weddings does make it hard to identify when the anniversary is so stop asking, because I don't remember which one it is.
Picking the Chateau
After weeks and weeks of searching, sending emails back and forth with the wedding coordinator, we found the chateau.
The thing is, WE found this chateau. The wedding coordinator didn't have this one on the list of the preferred chateaus and it wasn't suggested. Lewife found this from more of her meticulous searching on the internet. Chateau de Challain is in the the western/central side of France near Nantes, and Angers. The chateau was only about an hour train ride from Paris, making it an easy location to get to. It also turned out that the owner of the chateau also did wedding plannings. So we got rid of the old planner and in came the chateau and the new planner. We worked with Cynthia( owner/planner) for weeks, got timetables scheduled, did virtual meetings, and got everything organized before the big day. One set back we found out while doing this...you can't get married in France unless you have lived there for at least 30 days, after that then you can apply for the marriage certificate. Great! Now what are we going to do.
Have a civil ceremony beforehand. Here comes wedding number 1.
Wedding #1- Civil Ceremony
We did a civil ceremony on a beach in Carmel, California.
I mean I guess we could've gone to the courthouse to sign the paperwork, but why do that when it costs the same to do it on the beach? And to fill in your curiosity, OF COURSE the beach was well paid for their venue fee.
We found the officiant on google: probably OfficiantRUS.edu or something and we got officially hitched. If you thought the France destination wedding was small for 7 people, this one had 4- Lewife, Me, Officiant, Photographer. We sent in the paperwork and it was all completed.
Wedding # 2- Destination France
Few months go by, and now the trek to France has begun. We started in San Francisco and then made our way to Paris. One thing nobody tells you when doing a destination wedding- bringing all of the clothes. Especially if the clothes in question are wedding dresses. OMG trying to go through airports, cities, apartments, the list goes on an on with a large dress that can't be folded or put into a suitcase and has to be carried is one of the best workouts you can do. Your arm is above your head the entire time you carry this thing, so that it doesn't get dirty or wrinkled. All the while you have people yell at you saying "Watch out! Don't drop the dress!" :-/
Once we got to Paris we saw the sites, met up with the photographer & videographer, and got some food. The typical stuff one does while in Paris.
After a few days, we made our train journey to Nantes. One of the benefits of having a small wedding is that you can organize it with ease. All of the wedding party arrived on the same train (except for one who booked the train on the wrong day...he got another ticket for the following train.) One thing to mention while planning destination , or any weddings, is that you need organization. Set up a website, create an itinerary, find things to do in the area. All of this is needed when you are hosting a wedding. We told the party which train to book, what time they needed to be at the station, what the end destination was, how to get to the chateau from the train station etc. In order for you to get people to do the things you want during a stressful wedding, you need to guide them.
After we picked up the cars- easier said than done since we didn't have internet and couldn't figure out how to get back to the train station from the offsite rental car facility. We drove to the chateau.
We were only there for three days. The rest of our guests stayed only two (the night before the wedding, and the wedding night). But those three days were amazing.
Cynthia-the owner/wedding coordinator surprised us with a horse drawn carriage. The wedding was on a beautiful day(even though the night prior it had stormed). The food and the ambiance was first class.
The thing was this wedding was at our budget that we had set. We were able to do all these amazing things at the price that we were willing to pay. Some of you might ask how can that be? Wouldn't flights, transportation, hotels cost way more than what you would've spent in a traditional wedding? Yes, it would've. But prior to the trip we learned how to travel with points. See our other post on how to plan vacation with airline and travel points. The total amount of the flight for the two of us was only $146.
Because this wedding was small, and because it was in a destination that we've always wanted to go to, we got to enjoy this wedding. By enjoy, I mean we got to experience it. When you get married there's a lot that's going on. Everyone is trying to talk with you, you need to run to take photo's, you need to prepare for the first dance, the list goes on and on. With this intimate wedding we got to enjoy the company we were with, enjoy the venue, and do all of the photos and videos that were needed. It was a wedding for us.
Wedding #3 - Traditional
After all that, traveling around the world, having a civil ceremony, "we" decided "we" wanted to have our friends and family around for a wedding(more like a reception).
So we were back at it. Now we were two times more prepared to find what we wanted for a reception area and how much we wanted to spend.
Step one: Find the reception area. Back at it to more wineries, golf courses, sand boxes, jungle gyms... And all of a sudden Lewife finds a golf course in Carmel that looks pretty decent and has a reasonable wedding package.
The advertisement for this place wasn't that great. It only had 5 photographs that looked like someone took it with their cell phone. But hey, it's in the location we like and the price is decent. We decided to go in person to see what it's really like.
We were so surprised. It looked nothing like what was shown online. We immediately told the coordinator for the location that we wanted to secure a date.
We secured a date for the reception, tasted the food, sent out the invitation (this time 90 people made it) and hired all the typical people needed for a wedding: photographer, entertainment, florist, baker etc.
Side note for this venue. When you make a deposit for a wedding venue the venue typically comes with a contract. This is good for both you and the venue so that everything is on the up and up. You promise not to throw up in the 300 year old vase if they promise not to give everyone food poisoning. Any-who, after we sign the contract and secure the date the first site coordinator quits and goes to a different location. Who cares, doesn't affect us. A new person comes in, stays for a hot minute and then leaves again. Again, oh well. Now a third site coordinator joins and notices that the first two coordinators have't been charging weddings at an appropriate rate for the venue. Why wasn't it appropriate, because weddings means you can charge muuuuuuuuuch more. The coordinator sent an email saying that the price was too low for the venue and that they were requesting additional funds for the venue. Well, this is about the time when the contract came back and slapped the coordinator in the face with the "I don't think so". Needless to say the reception at this venue went up significantly after we had our wedding.
The day of the reception was low key as any traditional wedding reception. People were arriving wanting to take photographs, everyone wants to say congratulations, and then the photographer takes us and does their photo-shoot. With even a crowd of 90 people I don't think we really saw about a third of the group. With all the events going on: at 5pm take photos with family, at 6:30pm jazz piano, at 7pm begin dinner, at 7:15pm start the toasts, 7:30pm more photographs in the lawn, 8:00pm first dance. I'm sure there was some time for cake cutting and bathroom breaks but I sure don't remember any of it.
With this traditional type of wedding the reception is really for the guests. We were saying that we barely had enough time to eat a few bites of the food let alone enjoy the company- and especially the jazz piano! In the rush of things, with this type of wedding the bride and groom are moved so quickly we found that it was an event for the guests. This is fine, now that we know that, but since we experienced getting married three different ways. I have a clear winner of what I preferred (destination). Lewife liked the traditional one the most so therefore... she's right...
We've been to many traditional weddings with receptions in big dinning rooms, weddings on the beach- Hawaii, and Phuket, as well as other civil ceremonies -in the courthouse. Do what makes you happy, not what others want you to do because it's better for them.
What do you dream about?