I think Anthony and I always figured our wedding would be great, but we didn’t realize how life-changing it was going to be for so many people. Our families welcomed new family members, our friends made new friends, and our love for each other felt more supported than ever. Our wedding wasn’t just a day-long event; it was a Hawaiian vacation with loved ones from around the world, some of whom we hadn’t seen in years. It’s been almost a month since the wedding, yet guests have still been telling us how much fun they had and how much they miss Hawaii.
We arrived in Honolulu on Wednesday afternoon, just four days before the wedding. We crammed in every last errand we needed to do in those first 24 hours (e.g., getting our marriage license and buying random food props for our ceremony) so that we were ready to start the festivities as soon as possible.
On Thursday, we organized a small hike up Diamond Head for those who had arrived early. We led our friends across the zigzagging paths, through tunnels, and up staircases until we finally reached the top and were rewarded with stunning views of Honolulu. After the hike, we rewarded some hungry hikers to Waiola Shave Ice, the best shave ice on the island. We taught them why “shave ice” different from shaved ice and snow cones, how to properly order one, and what the best toppings are.
That evening, Anthony and I had dinner at my parents’ house with two of my mom’s siblings and their families from Iowa and Idaho. It had been five years since I last saw both families, and I hadn’t realized how much I missed all of them. I used to babysit Brandon, the youngest of my cousins, and now he was going to be our ring bearer. Making this even more meaningful, I had been the flower girl at his parents’ wedding decades ago!
On Friday, Anthony and I roamed around Waikiki with Anthony’s groomsman James. It was my first time to really get to know him, and I could easily see why he has always been one of Anthony’s best friends. We ate udon for breakfast, got some tips for our honeymoon since James used to live in Japan, and sipped Kona coffee on the rocking chairs at Moana Surfrider (my favorite spot in Waikiki) before Anthony and I returned to my house to finally see all my bridesmaids.
Oh, my bridesmaids… I could write a whole blog post about how much I love these women. Three of them (Isobel, Mariah, and Carolyn) had flown in from New York, Boston, and Seattle for the wedding, and the other (Lauren) was an absolutely perfect Hawaiian host to them. For those of you who don’t have the privilege of knowing Lauren, she is the most charming person you’ll ever meet. It was no surprise that by the time I met up with my bridesmaids that day, they were already good friends despite having just met each other.
My bridesmaids and I made our way to Makapu’u Beach for the Welcome Gathering. The waves were rough that day, but when we weren’t struggling to swim, we were eating spam musubi and wasabi chips. Anthony and his groomsmen remained at Makapu’u while my bridesmaids and I left early to start my bachelorette party.
You can really tell how well your friends know you by how they plan your bachelorette party. The first thing we did? An epic photo shoot, of course. We changed into proper bachelorette party attire and took silly photos overlooking the windy coastline. I will cherish these photos forever.
Then we made our way to the Modern Honolulu, a chic hotel in Waikiki, perfect for a girls’ night out. After we got settled, Isobel and Mariah distracted me with some poolside tanning, while my other two bridesmaids fixed up our hotel room. When I returned to the room, Lauren and Carolyn had set up games, decorations, and booze throughout our room. Those next couple of hours, drinking champagne while playing adorably kinky word games and lingerie scavenger hunts in our room, were the perfect bonding experience, and knowing that my four best friends from different spheres of my life had Skyped and emailed for the past few months to organize everything warmed my heart.
For my bachelorette dinner, we went to Morimoto Waikiki, the Iron Chef-owned restaurant that I used to frequent when I still lived in Hawaii. We shared two 8-course omakase meals and a few entrées — more than enough food for five slender women. After dinner, we met up with some of my other friends at the bar downstairs, went dancing at Addiction, and sobered up (or fell asleep, in Isobel’s case) at a 24-hour diner.
The next morning, we did yoga by the pool and ate at a new organic restaurant called Goofy Cafe & Dine. It was a wonderful way to conclude my bachelorette party.
After breakfast we rushed to the wedding venue for rehearsal. The officiant, the DJ, the venue contact, and our families were all there on time — quite an accomplishment! We ran through the ceremony twice and worked out the kinks. However, I still felt nervous. The speeches we wanted our siblings to read at the ceremony didn’t sound right anymore. What if Anthony dropped my ring as he moved it from my right hand to my left hand? What if I messed up during our vows? After rehearsal, we met with our DJ to discuss the reception timeline, which still needed a lot of work. By that point, the stress that had started to build inside me almost became overbearing. We should have had a rehearsal for our reception, too! It was hard for me to enjoy the rehearsal lunch, even though the 8-course Chinese banquet that my parents hosted at Mandalay was incredible as always.
Best cure for a stressed-out mind? Staying at the Kahala Hotel. After rehearsal lunch, Anthony and I checked into our hotel, the hotel of my dreams. The Kahala Hotel has played such a significant role in my life — my family and I have celebrated numerous special events here, I used to sneak in with my friends to conduct amateur photo shoots; and I grew up just a few minutes away, so I always felt like it was mine. When we got to our room, all the stress I felt earlier melted away. Anthony and I didn’t even consider leaving our room until dinner that night.
That night, my parents hosted an epic Hawaiian feast at their house for our pre-wedding dinner. There was poke, kalua pig, lau lau, lomi lomi salmon, haupia, and too many other things, but to top it off, they also served a huge chocolate mousse pyramid from JJ French Bistro, my favorite pâtisserie in Hawaii. The dinner was such an ideal way to introduce some of our guests to more Hawaiian food. The night was also full of productivity. Our Best Man and Maid-of-Honor perfected their speeches together, and an assembly line of friends helped us organize the table decorations.
On the morning of the wedding, I woke up early and refreshed, still in bliss that we were staying at the Kahala Hotel. One of my bridesmaids, who was staying at the hotel as well, is also an early-riser, so Anthony and I picked up some free coffee in the lower lobby and met her on one of the peninsulas on the hotel’s beach. The sun was just rising, and a few fishermen were out in the water. The skies were overcast, which should have made me nervous, but I was too happy to care. An hour later, the rest of the bridesmaids met me in my hotel room, ready to get the big day started. We changed into our matching robes, opened a bottle of champagne, and inhaled our Zippy’s breakfasts before the hair & makeup artists arrived.
Our wedding photographers were Anthony’s Uncle Scott and Auntie Jen from Seattle, and it was such a pleasure working with a couple full of so much love. Auntie Jen photographed the five of us at the hotel, while Uncle Scott photographed Anthony and his groomsmen getting ready at my parents’ house. Later, Anthony returned to the hotel for our first-look photos, which began in a bright hallway, climaxed on the beach, and ended in the lobby before we headed to the venue.
When we got to our wedding venue, almost everything was already taken of, thanks to our friends and families. We were able to complete our wedding party and family photos well before the ceremony. Cafe Julia is a fantastic venue for photos, and we were able to use the historic Iolani Palace as another backdrop since it’s just across the street. The only issue we had was some miscommunication with my florist, who was completely MIA. But unlike the previous day, I couldn’t care less. It was too late to fix anything at that point, and flowers were never much of a priority to me. (But, don’t worry, turns out she had already dropped them off.)
The ceremony went perfectly. I loved that it was egalitarian — Anthony walked down the aisle with his parents, just as a bride would, and I walked down with both of my parents instead of with just my dad. I loved that it was secular — my dad’s friend, Judge Nakasone, was our wonderful officiant; and there was nothing even remotely religious about the ceremony. Most of all, I loved that it felt so personal. Our siblings performed readings that we had selected earlier — mine was by a feminist writer, and Anthony’s was from a movie. And instead of conventional unity candles and sand ceremonies, our union was symbolized by the sharing of food that represented us — I dramatically opened up a Ladurée box and fed Anthony a macaron, while Anthony, equally dramatically, opened up a sleeve of Ritz crackers and fed me one, causing our guests to chuckle.
While staff set up the outdoor courtyard for our dinner reception, guests were ushered to the open bar and served spring rolls and dim sum during the cocktail hour. My cousin provided a live band, led by the extremely talented Amanda Frazier, and it was a huge hit. The photo booth, which I had found last-minute after our original photo booth company cancelled on us, exceeded my expectations. Anthony and I were able to meet with each guest individually, which meant we didn’t have to roam around during our reception and could instead enjoy the program.
Our wedding reception wasn’t perfect, but I think it was as perfect as it could have been, considering we planned it from the other side of the country. People loved the authentic Hawaiian food served for dinner, but it rained for a minutes so our guests had to run into the hall while staff set up some umbrellas. Fortunately it only rained when most people had already finished eating, and the rain stopped as quickly as it had started. Our travel theme was able to manifest itself in the seating chart map and table decorations, but we had to shut down our slideshow of travel photos due to the rain.
Our DJ did an incredible job with the dance party, lights, and shoe game, but he told some awkward jokes throughout the program and played sappy love songs during dinner that almost put Anthony to sleep. (Celine Dion and that song from the Lion King were played; those were definitely not our choices!)
The four — yes, four! — wedding cakes that my Auntie Becky baked for us were gorgeous and exactly what I had hoped for, but Anthony’s cake topper broke and his head comically rolled off every so often. Bad omen?
Nevertheless, there were so many good vibes from all our guests, and everything — from the untimely rain to our DJ’s odd jokes — made our wedding seem more genuine, more Hawaiian, and thus more charming. It was an emotional night — at least two of our guests cried over our Father-Daughter dance; both the Best Man’s and the Maid-of-Honor’s speeches brought me to tears; and even a groomsman cried of happiness (I won’t name any names). One of the best moments of the wedding was when my cousin Kawena and Anthony’s cousin Jordan finally met. For the past four years, we’ve been wanting them to meet. As soon as they did, they were like long-lost brothers and even competed in a dance-off on the dance floor. The Ramils and the Bautistas may seem like very different families, but the fact that they both have a Kawena/Jordan in the family means those differences are superfluous.
The DJ had us conclude the night with our guests holding hands in a huge circle, surrounding us as we slow-danced to IZ’s “Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World”. It was completely cheesy and something I would never choose to do, but somehow it worked. We were all slick with sweat from dancing, and yet it was a beautiful opportunity to face each of our guests and relish their love.
The following morning, some of our guests met us for breakfast at our hotel, and I can’t recommend doing this enough. A morning-after brunch is a great way to contemplate the events of last night, and to linger in the sentiment of such a momentous day. It was also an excuse to share with our guests another one of my childhood haunts, the Plumeria Beach House, a beachfront restaurant offering an amazing Hawaiian buffet. After brunch, we said good-bye to our family and friends and headed to the airport for our honeymoon.
So, to answer my first wedding post, is it possible to plan a semi-destination wedding without hiring a wedding planner and day-of coordinator? Yes, but only if you have family and friends to help you immensely. Much of the fluidity of our wedding is owed to my parents and Maid-of-Honor. My parents housed six relatives and two bridesmaids in their home, transported my friends around the island, and hosted a rehearsal lunch and pre-wedding dinner. I cannot imagine how overwhelmed they must have felt during this time, yet they seemed to do all of this effortlessly.
Meanwhile, Lauren went above and beyond the typical Maid-of-Honor duties. Chauffeur, welcome bag deliverer, therapist, printer, coordinator … the list of roles Lauren took on is endless. She prepared whatever I needed before we even arrived in Hawaii, and she meticulously kept track of everything while I was there so I could enjoy my wedding. I may never know what I’ve done to deserve such a friend.
Anthony was able to meet more of my family than ever before — not just at the wedding, but at the various gatherings that took place in those few days before Sunday. Anthony’s family, though they have been to Hawaii before, were able to experience it through my family’s eyes by trying our favorite restaurants and spending time on our side of the island (they usually don’t spend much time in Honolulu). Our parents finally met each other (yes, they hadn’t met until two days before the wedding!), and their strong marriages continue to be a role model for us.
Tips for future weddings:
Have you ever wondered why people go through the hassle of planning a destination wedding? Sure, some couples want an embarrassingly intimate ceremony, while others opt to combine it with their honeymoon. But I think the real seduction of the destination wedding is that it’s an excuse to travel, and have all your loved ones travel with you. Although almost all of Anthony’s family and friends live in California, and my folks are scattered around the world, a wedding in Hawaii made the most sense for us. The main reasons are because we met there and have relatives on Oahu — but also, who doesn’t want their wedding in Hawaii?
Without the internet, we probably would have given up the entire idea and instead forced everyone to fly out to New York, which is notoriously the most expensive city to have a wedding. However, planning our wedding 5,000 miles away hasn’t been too difficult — no more difficult than any other wedding, I imagine, so anyone interested in tying the knot at some random exotic place should go for it.
Most of the planning can be easily done online (read my previous post for all of that), but a few things do require being at the destination, and one week in Hawaii was all I had. That week was probably the most productive I’ve ever been in Hawaii, aside from that winter break of 2010 during which I had to conduct all my fieldwork for my sociology thesis.
The most important thing I did was visit the wedding venue. Though I had been to Cafe Julia a handful of times as a child, it was my first time seeing it through “wedding eyes”. The estate really is stunning, with Mediterranean architecture and open-air courtyards. I was relieved to confirm to Anthony that we had definitely made the right decision about the venue. My friend and I had fun planning potential photo ops around the estate and in the surrounding area of downtown Honolulu.
My parents, brother, and Maid of Honor attended the menu tasting with me. I hadn’t realize how crucial a menu tasting was until the five of us ended up preferring some dishes that I hadn’t expected us to choose. (So, folks, definitely have a menu tasting.) We tried kalua pig, furikake-crusted salmon, macadamia nut-crusted chicken, fried noodles, roasted vegetables, garlic mashed potatoes, and three kinds of salads. After stuffing ourselves with delicious local food, we voted and finalized the buffet menu. If only politics was that easy.
The other appointment I had was a meeting at a coffee shop with my DJ. The meeting was somewhat unnecessary, since we’ve been able to communicate online, but it was still nice to put a face to his words and reaffirm that our personalities mesh well, which is crucial for a DJ.
Unfortunately, my hair and makeup artist was out of town that week, so I couldn’t schedule a trial session. (Dear guests, if my face looks horrendous at the wedding, you’ll know why.)
Besides appointments, I had a few purchases to make in Hawaii. Before my trip, we made sure to size Anthony’s finger so I could find the perfect ring for him. Since we had already discussed what he wanted, it was a simple purchase. I also helped my Maid of Honor find her bridesmaid dress. I didn’t have an exact idea of what I wanted any of my girls to wear, so it was nice to finally start somewhere.
As for the rest of my wedding-related tasks, they were really excuses for me to have fun: I ate lunch at the restaurant at which my bachelorette party dinner will take place (Morimoto). I had afternoon tea at the hotel at which Anthony and I will be staying (Kahala Hotel). And I went to a couple of beaches to decide which one will be the location of our welcome party. Hard work, I know.
As a future bride, I’ve felt an inexplicable pressure to feel stressed out. I must not be trying hard enough if I’m not freaking out — otherwise, why else do people spend thousands of dollars on wedding planners? Yet I’ve enjoyed so much of this planning process, and having a destination wedding has allowed me to partake in something I love doing even more: traveling to beautiful places.
Regardless of where your wedding is, enjoy the mundane aspects of the entire process. See it all as just an excuse to travel to Hawaii or Mauritius or Positano, to meet new people, to see old faces, to spend more money on yourself than society has ever given you an excuse to… It’s just a party, and your favorite people will be flying from all over the world to attend it. That in itself is worth celebrating.
Five months to go!
I’m taking a quick break from blogging about our Euro Trip because I’m in the midst of something just as exciting: WEDDING PLANNING. (Don’t you hate it when life gets in the way of nostalgia?) With less than ten months until July 2016, the countdown to the big day has begun, and it finally feels real.
Despite how daunting this wedding is — a destination wedding in Hawaii for over a hundred people, on a very limited budget — I’m enjoying every minute of planning. It helps that I’m probably the most organized person you know. A once-in-a-lifetime party is just another excuse for me to hyper-plan.
I’m not hiring a wedding planner because I’m one of those strange people who actually enjoys doing extensive research. I also know my tastes and Anthony’s preferences well. For those who are like me and stubbornly refuse to spend money on someone who pretty much does what any competent person can do, here’s some wedding advice I can give so far:
As soon as you decide on your wedding date, look for possible venues. I quickly learned that my childhood dream of getting married at The Kahala Hotel would be unfeasible — mostly because the cost of a ballroom at the Kahala is more than our entire wedding budget, but also because we’d have to select all our vendors from their list. As a compromise, we decided to just stay at the Kahala for a couple of nights and have our wedding elsewhere. Inconveniently, I couldn’t bear the thought of getting married at any other hotel, so we had to get creative.
When people think of Hawaiian weddings, most envision beaches. No one actually does this except tourists and those who invite, like, ten people to the ceremony. Since we’re expecting a large crowd, a beach wedding was not an option. I’ve seen weddings in lush gardens (my parents got married at the Moanalua Botanical Garden) and quaint ranches, but, honestly, I’m not a nature person. I grew up in Honolulu, a fairly cosmopolitan city, and have lived in New York for the past few years. It wouldn’t really be me (or Anthony) to have our wedding surrounded by secluded mountains, or with horses and chickens roaming around. Plus, mosquitoes love Anthony; who wants to get bug bites at a wedding?
After deciding against an art museum and an aquarium, we chose Laniākea, a historical building in the middle of downtown Honolulu, designed by renowned architect Julia Morgan (she designed the Hearst Castle in California!). Though I was a bit turned off that Laniākea houses a chapter of the YWCA, I couldn’t help but fall in love with it more and more. The venue is lovely, with a large Mediterranean-style courtyard and open-air hallways. Plus, it’s quite fitting for us to support an organization known for social change and women’s rights.
Ask the venue every question you can think of before deciding. There are so many questions you should be asking. How many people can it accommodate? How does catering work? Does it provide audio visual equipment? When does the event have to end? Does it allow live performances, sparklers, etc.? Where can the wedding party get ready before the photos? Who cleans up at the end? I flooded our venue’s inbox with questions. Don’t feel bad about it. This is their job. Plus, it’s a good sign when they get back to you quickly. You don’t want to work with someone who is flaky.
Read every single review you can find about the venue and see if other events had good experiences there. The venue is one of the most important aspects of your wedding, so you want to make sure it’s right for you. When you’re completely sure about your decision, the venue will probably have you sign a contract and turn in a deposit. It’s beneficial to reserve early because the venue may raise their fees.
Our venue requires us to cater through them. I don’t mind because I won’t have to worry about finding a caterer, and we’re pretty excited about the menu. It’ll be a small buffet consisting of local Hawaiian food, as well as some hors d’oeuvres during cocktail hour. While sit-down dinners feel more lavish, they’re tricky because you have to cater to dietary restrictions. Plus, I like the idea of our guests getting up and mingling with others at the buffet.
For a while, we assumed we weren’t going to hire a DJ. We could just make a playlist and have my brother be our DJ by pressing “play” on my iPod. Eventually, we changed our minds after remembering the recent weddings we’ve attended. Good DJs and emcees can make the wedding. They feel out the crowd, play the perfect song at the right moment, and can entertain a variety of guests. After perusing Wedding Wire, I found a DJ who had amazing reviews and fit our budget. Wedding Wire is a great resource for weddings. It works like Yelp but has way more information involving any wedding-related vendors. I only consider vendors that have gotten mostly 5-star reviews on Wedding Wire. Using this tactic, I’ve been able to hire our DJ, hair and makeup artist, photo booth company, and florist.
Figure out which aspects of your wedding you really care about. Unless you have an unlimited budget (lucky you!), you’re going to have to pick and choose what is worth spending more money on. We think a DJ is really important, so we are willing to spend a bit on that. Since we don’t care about flowers at all (when was the last time you actually remembered which floral arrangement was at the center of your table?), we are unwilling to spend the going rate of wedding florists. Many florists told me they could not work with my budget, and that was fine. Fortunately, I finally found one florist who was willing to create some gorgeous bouquets that won’t cost too much. Don’t cave in and pay for anything you don’t want to. In the end, businesses care more about maintaining good ratings, so it’s in their best interest to work with you.
As for keeping everything organized, I use Google Documents obsessively. I have a Wedding Timeline, Wedding Budget, Wedding Day Timeline, Guest List, Centerpiece Ideas, and various documents comparing different vendors. It’s handy to have all this information on hand and ready to edit. Plus, it’s easy to share Google Documents with other people, such as parents and bridesmaids.
It’s only September, so we’ll see how this goes. Who knows? Maybe I’ll completely regret not hiring a wedding planner in a few months. 289 days to go…