Five Thousand Miles Away (Wedding Advice Pt. 4)

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.

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View from the top floor
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Where the ceremony will take place, sans high school reunion banner
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Where our cocktail hour will take place while the reception is set up in the outdoor courtyard

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.

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A preview of the food at my bachelorette party
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Lobby of our hotel
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One of the beaches

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!

In an Age of Hashtags and Pinterest (Wedding Advice Pt. 3)

Just a few months of wedding planning has taught me something: Wedding advice from anyone who got married over five years ago is somewhat irrelevant, as the internet has drastically changed the way we do things.  In an age of hashtags and Pinterest (which I still mildly oppose), wedding planning for Millennials like me has become much easier — as well as more overwhelming — than it was for previous generations. While not all online tools are worthwhile, here’s a breakdown of some of the ones that I have found incredibly helpful for my wedding:

Thumbtack

Thumbtack isn’t just useful for weddings. Any time you want to hire someone for a specific service, from CPR training to singing lessons to performing magic tricks, Thumbtack is a great place to find vendors. It’ll ask you some questions to narrow down the search, and then within hours, you should get custom quotes from interested vendors.

I found my florist using Thumbtack. As I wrote in a previous post, I wasn’t looking forward to paying the going-rate for wedding florists. Within an hour of inputting the number of bouquets I’d need, my wedding colors, flower preferences, and event information, I received an email from a vendor. The first thing you should always do when a vendor approaches you is look them up. Check out their company website and read customer reviews on Yelp and Wedding Wire. Fortunately, this particular florist was well-established and had almost perfect reviews.

It took us some back-and-forth emailing to figure out how to work within my price range. When bargaining, be blunt but appreciative. Since my florist’s initial proposal was over our budget, my response went like this:

“Thanks for the proposal! It’s still more than we would like to pay (as you can probably tell, my fiancé and I aren’t really flower people, so it’s hard for us to pay hundreds of dollars for something we can’t appreciate.). What would the cost be for cheaper bridesmaids flowers, such as baby’s breath? I can also forgo English tea roses in my bouquet, if you know another alternative. The only thing I really care about is having pale pinks and/or white flowers for the bride and white for the bridesmaids.”

Since I was talking to someone who presumably loves flowers, I was careful not to offend her by blaming myself for my lack of floral appreciation. There’s no point in upsetting someone who is willing to work with you. I let her know what I could be flexible with, in order to help lower costs. After doing some outside research, she came back to me with the perfect solution.

Even if you already have a vendor in mind, Thumbtack can still be valuable. Anthony and I were very happy with our DJ selection, but just out of curiosity, I wanted to check out the prices of other DJs. I submitted a request on Thumbtack, and within a few hours, my own DJ emailed me! He asked if I was dissatisfied with his proposal, and, if so, how he could fix it or lower the cost. His level of responsiveness and cooperation only confirmed that he was the DJ for us.

Jetaport

I would only recommend Jetaport to those who are also having their weddings in destination cities. Blocking hotel rooms is a lot easier in cities that no one wants to visit because they have, like, five hotels to choose from. However, Honolulu has hundreds of hotels to choose from, and even someone who loves to research as much as I do can feel overwhelmed. Jetaport makes it easier by finding you available hotels, spelling out each hotel’s blocking policy, letting you compare up to four hotels at a time, and contacting the hotel for you.

When deciding on hotels, find out which ones offer a “courtesy block”. A courtesy block means you are not responsible for a deposit or any unused rooms. Once you find a hotel you like, make sure you ask the hotel these important questions:

  1. How many rooms are available to block?
  2. When is the cutoff date for guests to book their rooms?
  3. How do guests book rooms with your discount?
  4. Can you add more rooms if you fill up the block?
  5. Can guests extend their stay?
  6. Is there a fee to deliver welcome bags to each room?
  7. Are there any complimentary offers, such as breakfast and parking?

To give our guests some options (and because I couldn’t really decide which one I liked most), we blocked rooms at three mid-range hotels in Waikiki.

Honeyfund

Most couples now are using Honeyfund instead of a traditional registry. This fact gives me slight faith in humanity, as Honeyfund’s popularity indicates two trends:

  1. We are in an age in which couples are living together before marriage and learning if they can actually stand each other on an everyday basis before taking the big plunge. This explains why more and more couples already have their home essentials by the time they get married.
  2. Couples are valuing experiences over things. Studies have shown that experiences (e.g., traveling, concerts) make us happier than material objects. Millennials are infamous for opting out of owning homes and cars because they would prefer to spend their money backpacking across Europe or trying new cuisines. This is one of the few instances in which I am proud to be a stereotype.

Honeyfund allows you to create and customize a detailed honeymoon registry. Instead of giving another set of bath towels, guests can contribute to the couple’s honeymoon. Our Honeyfund will allow guests to help us pay for experiences like train rides across Japan, a couple’s massage in the Philippines, and cooking classes in South Korea.

Stationary Sites

There are dozens of stationary sites out there. So far, I’ve used Paper Source and Wedding Paper Divas, and have been pleased with both. There are roughly four times you’ll need stationary for your wedding: save-the-dates, invitations, programs, and thank-you notes. Keep an eye out for deals, as stationary companies tend to have deals every few months. The easiest way would be to add your name to their mailing list, but if you want to avoid inbox overflow, follow them on Facebook or Instagram, or just check their website every week or so. We were able to get significant discounts on both our save-the-date magnets and our address stamp because I was aware of some deals happening.

Wedding Websites

Another thing that almost all couples have today is a wedding website. As a blogger, I’m grateful for any excuse to design another website. We chose a template from The Knot and purchased our own URL so it’s easy for our guests to remember. Wedding websites are especially practical for destination weddings. Our site has advice on restaurants to try and activities to do in Hawaii, as well as details about our welcome reception and morning-after brunch. Wedding websites allow guests to RSVP online, which is a great way to avoid wasting money on response cards and extra postage.

Miscellaneous

As I wrote in my previous post, Wedding Wire is a trustworthy site for reading vendor reviews, and Google Docs is the most efficient place to store and share all your wedding plans.

If I had gotten married a decade ago, this whole planning process would be much different. It’ll be interesting to see what tools will be available for brides ten years in the future. I’m ready to be jealous.

257 days to go!

Despite having a wedding binder, most of my wedding planning takes place on a computer
Despite owning a wedding binder, most of my wedding planning really takes place on a computer

The Perfect Wedding Dress (Wedding Advice Pt. 2)

Buying my wedding dress was one of the best shopping experiences of my life — and this is coming from someone who typically hates shopping, unless it’s for a specific event. My experience was nothing like those stressful scenes in dreadful romantic comedies. I hope that these following tips can help future brides also find their perfect dress completely drama-free:

Know your body. This is pretty important life advice, actually. It often surprises people when they find out that I hate shopping, perhaps because I tend to look fairly put-together. Don’t be fooled. I own very few clothes (you’ve probably seen all of them), but I love the few that I do have, and I happen to look good in them — precisely because I know my body.

It always pains me when I see bride after bride in the same tired wedding dress: that poufy, strapless gown with too much tulle, like a princess costume from The Disney Store. It makes everyone — unless you are over 5’9″ and are a size 2 — look squat. As an extremely short person, I knew that I wanted my dress to lengthen me, complement my curvy hips and tiny waist, and not overpower my small frame. Figure out what you want to show off and what you want to hide.

Do your research. Most women mindlessly walk into some big-name bridal department store and go through too many racks of dresses by random designers, of varying quality. The thought of that repulsed me. I wanted something more personal. I also wanted to support a local designer — I happen to live in the fashion capital of the world, after all! So, I went online and did some research. Fortunately, New York is full of women like me, who prefer shopping at intimate boutiques instead of bland chains. I found dozens of helpful sites that showcase New York’s best bridal designers.

As I advised in my previous wedding post, be committed to your budget. Just like for the rest of my wedding, I refuse to go into debt to pay for a dress. Determine what amount of money is manageable for you and filter out the designers that are too expensive. This, of course, narrowed my options immensely, but that’s alright with me. An Elie Saab gown is only worth it if one doesn’t have to worry about how to pay for it.

Fortunately, among the few designers that were feasible for my budget, there was one that I immediately fell in love with. Saja was founded by a New Yorker named Yoo Lee, who previously worked for DKNY and BCBG Max Azria. Her 2015 collection is stunning and embodies my style impeccably. Her gowns are simple, elegant, and made of gorgeous off-white silk chiffon.

Apparently, it’s best to purchase your dress between nine and twelve months before the wedding. When I found out that one of my bridesmaids would be in town ten months before the big day, I booked an appointment with Saja.

Make the day a celebration. I crossed my fingers that this day would be a once-in-a-lifetime event and treated it as such. Two of my best friends were coming with me, so we met up an hour before and got our hair done at Drybar. What better way to start the day than drinking champagne and watching chick flicks while getting a blowout?

Champagne, blowouts, and chick flicks at Drybar
Champagne, blowouts, and chick flicks at Drybar

When our heads were full of beachy waves, we walked over to Saja, located on the fifth floor of a Tribeca loft. Yoo Lee welcomed us in and was undoubtedly the ideal person to design my wedding dress — she was straightforward, tasteful, and extremely helpful. She had us pick out all the dresses that interested us and told us which ones fit within my budget. That narrowed it down to about eight dresses in the collection. Her assistant helped me try on each dress, while my friends relaxed on waiting chairs and got to know each other. It always makes my heart so happy when friends from different spheres of my life meet!

The first dress I tried on was breathtaking. Before I even left the dressing room, I whispered to the assistant, “I’m sold.” When I stepped out, my friends gasped. Everyone agreed that this dress was perfect. It almost seemed pointless to try on others, but I continued since we had come all this way.

The second dress was also beautiful. It was similar to the first one, but simpler and had a slightly different cut. Most of the dresses I ended up trying on were gorgeous – though, three definitely looked pretty silly on me.

The second dress, which I did not buy
My second choice
Another dress that I did not choose
My third choice

I was torn. The first two dresses seemed to be everyone’s favorites, so I put them on again. The second dress was $200 cheaper, but certain features made the first one more ethereal, dramatic, and romantic — precisely what you want at your wedding. However, I’d be saving $200 if I went with the second dress!

Here’s why bringing friends you trust is so important when buying your dress: In my moment of hesitation, one of my friends told me, with calm reassurance: “$200 is nothing.” It was true. The subtle differences that make one dress significantly better than another are worth way more than a couple hundred bucks. Without her advice, I probably would have gone for the cheaper one because I’ve been raised to save money whenever I can. However, my friend knew as well as I did that I would have regretted not having the very best. To this day, I am wholly grateful that I went with the first dress, and I cannot wait to wear it.

Always try on your wedding dress. Multiple times, if necessary. Before we went to Saja, I had my heart set on other dresses that I found on Saja’s website. However, when I tried them on, they ended up being my least favorite. The dress that I did choose somehow seemed to look better on me in real-life than it did online — a rare occurrence indeed!

Yoo explained that she normally recommends brides to sleep on their decision before purchasing, but for me, she could tell how certain I was with my decision. With my budget, I knew that I would never be able to find another dress so perfect for me. I made my purchase.

Yoo told me which bra and underwear I need to buy, and what color and style of shoes to get. This type of advice is priceless and is precisely why I wanted to buy a dress straight from the designer; they take such pride in their work and know exactly what looks best with their designs. She gave me advice on which hairstyles would complement my dress, which worked out since her suggestion was exactly what I had planned on doing. There’s nothing more encouraging than when you and your designer’s tastes continuously align.

After scheduling my first fitting in April, my friends and I got coffee at Everyman Espresso and sat on a bench outside, watching the world go by as we blissfully soaked in the fact that I had just made one of the most formidable purchases of my life. Not many brides can say they fell in love with the very first wedding dress they tried on! As a very lazy bride, I was eager to check this task off my list.

279 days to go…

Good job, ladies
Good job, ladies