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, some of whom we hadn’t seen in years. It’s been almost a month since the wedding, yet some guests have still been telling us how much fun they had and how much they miss Hawaii.
We arrived in Honolulu on Wednesday afternoon, 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. Anthony’s family helped us take first-timers 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 led 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 Tyler, the youngest of my cousins, and now he was going to be our ring bearer. This is even more meaningful because 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 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, so 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 guys 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, since they clearly know how photo-obsessed I am (“It didn’t happen unless there are photos!”). 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. 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 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. If you’re in Waikiki for breakfast and are sick of chains and hotel restaurants, I highly recommend Goofy Cafe & Dine for delicious local food. 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 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 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 various 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 arrogantly claimed it as 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.
My parents hosted a 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 full of productivity. Our Best Man and Maid-of-Honor perfected their speeches together, an assembly line of friends helped us organize the table decorations, and I got to bond with my affectionate future sister-in-law Melanie.
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 professional 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 bridesmaids and groomsmen. 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 felt completely at ease. It was too late to fix anything at that point, and flowers were never much of a priority to me. Eventually we found out that my florist had already dropped off our flowers, which were in the fridge, and the fact that we would have our bouquets after all just seemed like icing on the cake.
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:
In the end, however, 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 authentic, more Hawaiian, and thus more charming. It was an emotional night — at least two of our guests cried over the 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 circle, surrounding us as we slow-danced to IZ’s “Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World”. Completely cheesy and not something I would ever decide 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 highly recommend doing this. A morning-after brunch is a great way to contemplate the events of last night, 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. Our parents finally met each other (yes, they hadn’t met until two days before the wedding!), and their strong, happy 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!
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 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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?
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.
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…
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…
Is it terrible that I’m feeling ambivalent about my wedding?
Calm down, everyone. I’m still madly in love with Anthony, and we’re still planning to make things “official” with a paper document. However, sacrificing such extensive time, energy, and money for a one-day event almost gets in the way of something I value much more: traveling. And traveling with your partner is possibly the most important thing to do in life.
Less than a month ago, Anthony and I came up with the idea to go to Europe. It really started because I was somewhat jealous that my family was traveling abroad once again, this time to South Korea and the Philippines. (My parents’ trips are always epic, and one of the downsides of not living with them anymore is no longer being part of their travels.) Since we couldn’t tag along with them due to timing issues, we decided that it would make more sense to aim for Europe, now that our home base is the East Coast.
So, within three weeks, I booked our flights to Milan, made hotel and Airbnb reservations in nine different cities, asked my aunt in England if we could stay with her during our few days in London, purchased a couple of Rick Steves guide books, and started to order tickets to popular sights. Anthony and I even downloaded Duolingo to learn Italian and French — he’s learning Italian because he’s better at Spanish than I am, and I’m learning French because, somehow, my Russian background helps with the illogical French pronunciations. I thrive on this stuff, and every time I organize itineraries, I wonder if my backup job should be a travel agent… or, even better: an Asian, female Rick Steves. Most of our time will be spent in Italy, which holds a bit of significance to my family since my grandparents lived in Rome for a while. Now that I’m actually old enough to appreciate Italy, I’m eager to finally return.
Of course, preparing for this trip has just gotten me excited for other trips. Because our time in New York is limited, Anthony and I should take advantage of being on this side of the country. In other words, focus on Europe, Africa, and South America; leave Asia and Australia for when we move back to Hawaii in a few years. I’ve been prematurely planning out trips over the next few years: Morocco in April 2017; Brazil, Chile, and Peru in August 2017; Berlin, Amsterdam, Prague, and Iceland sometime in 2018.
Why, you may be wondering, have I not planned anything for 2016? Our wedding is in July 2016. For seven months, I’ll be completely stressed out, coordinating with vendors and handling out-of-town guests in Hawaii. After the chaos, we’ll be able to enjoy our honeymoon, which will be in the Philippines and Thailand. While I’ve been to the Philippines with my family many times, it’ll be pretty monumental for Anthony, who has never been to Asia before.
Every so often, I have phases during which I want to scrap all my plans and just have a tiny wedding with our immediate family and a few friends. Instead of spending tens of thousands of dollars and making arrangements months in advance, we could have a beachfront dinner party for, say, twenty people, and then jet off to Southeast Asia. Anthony and I have toyed with this idea dozens of times, but we always return to the conclusion that our extended family and friends are too important to us, and are too excited about witnessing our union.
I’ve always felt that couples who have lavish weddings are compensating for something – a lackluster relationship, usually. Similarly, I’ve also felt that those who are obsessed with their wedding must not have much else to look forward to in their lives. (Yes, I am being judgmental, as usual. Clearly, my organizing skills have led me to travel planning and not wedding planning.)
Anthony and I have been living together for years now, and the only things marriage will do are sort out some legal technicalities and change our last names (we’re both combining our last names because, come on, this is the 21st century). Yet, our daily lives will be mostly unaffected. We will still wake up together, eat every breakfast and dinner together, plan quirky events all over New York City each weekend, ride the subway home together after work, and travel the world side by side. Most of our friends say we already act like an old, albeit very adventurous, married couple.
Despite where you may think I’m going with this, I don’t believe that marriage is outdated. Marriage is crucial in our society, and everyone deserves the right to marry their loved one. However, the ways in which marriage has been coerced and commercialized around the world should not be tolerated. I have better things to do than fawn over sequined gowns, subpar buffet menus, and useless floral centerpieces.
With less than a year and a half until the big day, Anthony and I will soon bring out our wedding binder again and resume our planning. This time around, however, we’ll take a more toned-down approach — at least, as toned-down as possible while still catering to the expenses of having a destination wedding with over 100 guests.
Our relationship has always felt stronger than most of the relationships I come across, and becoming a wife should not have to get in the way of my passions (e.g., photography, learning about other cultures, trying new cuisines) — some of the reasons for which I assume Anthony wants to marry me in the first place.
Our engagement party was a success! Anthony and I started our Saturday in Flatiron for my Drybar appointment. Since blow outs seem like a pretty New York thing to do, and our engagement party would be one of the more important events we’d celebrate in New York, I figured a blowout at the indulgent salon was worth it. When we entered the bright yellow salon, we were given cookies and champagne. Not a bad way to start the weekend! Anthony did some reading on one of the plush chairs in the lounge area, while I was taken to the back to get my hair rinsed. Even Drybar’s sinks are fancy! Their sinks tilt so that you don’t have to strain your neck. After, I was seated facing a huge TV that was screening “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.” It’s a pretty awful movie, but I guess there’s not really enough time for Ang Lee. My very sweet stylist gave me a “Mai Tai” blowout, which consists of loose, beachy waves. I loved it. The whole appointment took about an hour – longer than I expected, so Anthony and I had to rush to Dominique Ansel to pick up our cannelés. Each cannelé was individually-wrapped and sealed with a bright orange sticker. Next, we did our last errand: picking up some balloons. We power-walked through Soho up to Greenwich Village and bought two teal and two cream balloons at Village Party Store. And then that was it – time to party!When we finally arrived at Milk + Honey, the owner had been anxiously waiting for us. I gasped when I saw the place – it was perfect. Originally, I had assumed we would have a few tables in the back, while the front half of the space would be open to the public. Instead, the owner had cleared out the entire coffee shop and even purchased flowers, table cloth, and balloons for us. Milk + Honey is naturally stunning, so we didn’t need much decoration. Since it was a mild, breezy day, we were able to open the entire wall of doors instead of using air conditioning. I tied four balloons outside by the door. About twenty minutes later, I heard our two teal balloons pop, so it’s a good thing we still had the owner’s balloons, which were safely tied to our vase of white roses.Two tall tables with white table cloths were placed in the back corner. They held the gifts, our photo caption game, flowers, and cannelés. We moved some smaller tables to the center, creating four clusters.All of our guests arrived late, but I guess we should have expected that since our invitation said “5:00-8:00 pm” instead of just “5:00 pm.” I’ll have to remember for any future parties. As each guest arrived, we told them about our photo caption game. We had printed out four goofy photos of us and put them in black and white frames. Guests could come up with their own captions and write them on a piece of paper below each frame. Guests were also greeted with a quiz. They had to match Anthony and me to twenty different items, such as favorite food, dad’s name, past pet, and college major.
Two types of drinks were presented in punch bowls: watermelon juice and ginger mint iced tea. We were also able to order coffee beverages from the barista. Once our final guest arrived, we handed out our last game: a 4×4 grid containing a unique fact about each guest. Unsurprisingly, my incredibly sociable friend was the first to complete the grid, so she had first dibs on the prizes. The previous week, I had purchased $10 gift cards at three of my favorite places in the city: The Strand, Fishs Eddy, and Eataly.By then, the food was ready. Staff sliced and placed our flatbreads and sandwiches on adorable pizza boards. I had printed out a menu of the food, so I placed that in an extra photo frame and put it at the beginning of our buffet. We had ordered two grilled flank steak panini, two grilled veggie sandwiches, two zesty chicken sandwiches, two baked salmon flatbreads, two asparagus and artichoke flatbreads, two roast vegetable and pesto flatbreads, arugula salad, and kale salad. Our guests told us that they loved the food. As the meal winded down, we continued with our games. We went over the correct answers for the matching quiz. My friend got an impressive 19 out of 20 correct, so she chose the Eataly gift card. Anthony and I voted for our favorite caption to our goofy photos. One of Anthony’s friend won that one.Our party ended a little late, but everyone seemed to have a great time. Each guest was given a cannelé before they left. Despite coinciding with the second-to-last World Cup game, I’m glad our friends could join us to celebrate our engagement. It was a lovely, low-key night with good food and some of our favorite New Yorkers.
I’m pretty sure engagement parties are more of an East Coast thing. I had never heard of them growing up in Hawaii, and neither has my Californian fiancé. When some of our New York friends found out that we got engaged, they asked if we were having an engagement party. (New Yorkers sure love their parties!) After flirting with the concept for a few days, I decided that – hey, we’re semi-New Yorkers; let’s have an engagement party. Anthony, always a good sport about my whims, agreed that it would be nice to announce and celebrate our engagement to our few New York friends, especially since our wedding is so far from now and on the other side of the country.
Anthony and I racked our brains for all possible venues around the city. We sent out emails to our favorite restaurants, bars, and coffee shops. Our budget, though, seemed too small for the types of places we desired. I know this shouldn’t have been a surprise, but we quickly learned that renting space in New York is obscenely expensive.
Finally, one surprising bakery fit our budget: Dominique Ansel. Anthony and I were both shocked, as Dominique Ansel is easily the trendiest pastry chef around, and his bakery is located in the pricey West Village. However, a gracious contact at the bakery said their Greenhouse would be perfect for a party of our size, and would fit our budget. We were ecstatic. The Greenhouse is an enclosed, air-conditioned room in the back of the main bakery, with seating for up to 20 people. The next weekend, we met with our contact at the bakery, which gave us the perfect excuse to eat some Dominique Ansel goodies. The Greenhouse is very sleek, with metal furniture, a glass ceiling that fills the room with light, and hints of bright orange. After eagerly pre-ordering enough pastries for our menu, we were given an updated invoice. I finally understood what “sticker shock” is. While the initial price of renting out the Greenhouse fit our budget, the pastries and beverages added up quickly. Plus, I had forgotten about gratuity and tax. In the end, the final total was twice as much as what we had planned to pay. We woefully had to decline Dominique Ansel and look elsewhere.
Fortunately, I received an email from the owner of one of our neighborhood coffee shops. Max apologized for taking long to respond and said we could host our party at Milk + Honey. The following weekend, we walked down to Newkirk Avenue to discuss the details. Milk + Honey is a beautiful coffee shop that I’ve been to a few times before. It feels very Brooklyn, with exposed brick walls, a vertical plant growing on one side, a wall of French doors open up to the bustling neighborhood, and fantastic Counter Culture drinks. When I had first emailed Milk + Honey about hosting our party there, I immediately wrote the place off because it was so spacious that I assumed it would easily be out of our price range. However, when we visited, Max said he could work with our budget – which would include the cost of food and drinks, even though he usually charges three times as much for the space. I’m still not sure if it was because he pitied us, or because he found us charming, but we were eager to work with him. With the venue finally set, I could go forward with the rest of the planning. I ordered our invitations from Paper Source, which has stationary shops all over the country. We chose a simple design called “Ampersand” in the color “Peacock.” I appreciated that our names were the focus of the invitation – not flowers or diamonds or birds. And while we weren’t really thinking of what our wedding colors might be, Peacock sure is pretty…The rest of the party planning was easy, thanks to years of practice hosting Christmas parties for my dad’s office at my house in Honolulu. Back then, I was always in charge of entertainment. I would create Christmas-themed games and play Christmas carols on our grand piano to which our guests could sing along. For our engagement party, Anthony and I came up with three games: one to play in the beginning so our friends could finally get to know each other; a matching game called “Jenn or Anthony?”; and one that involves creating captions for goofy photos of us. While we couldn’t host our actual party at Dominique Ansel, we did return to the famous chef for individually-wrapped cannelés as party favors. Although I’m not a fan of roses, I passed a bouquet of white roses on my way home and thought it fit the occasion perfectly.The days leading up to our party have been a whirlwind of last-minute decorations, such as photos and balloons. In the end, I’ve learned that everything will usually work out, even for a somewhat naïve, hopelessly-in-love couple trying to plan a party in an overpriced city. We’re excited, and we hope this Saturday is a success!