Choosing the State– Florida or Utah?
After our engagement, I wanted to start planning the wedding as soon as possible! Since my family lives in Florida and his family lives in Utah, our first hurdle was which state we would have it in. At first, I loved the idea of a Utah mountain wedding, and I started researching places immediately. I started picturing a gorgeous mountain cabin wedding with all my friends and family there. When I started telling people back home about my plans, many people seemed hesitant due to the flights out to Utah.
We also had to think about seasons in both places. We got engaged February 1, and we wanted the engagement to be about a year which is pretty standard in most places (except Utah). That put us around February of 2016. If we did the wedding in Utah, the best weather and prettiest times would be between May and September. If we did it in Florida, the best times would be October through April. So basically, the opposite months.
Utah Engagement Shoot
Then we had to consider the size of the wedding and our goals for the ceremony. Weddings are expensive! The average cost of weddings in recent years have been around $30,000, and I can definitely see how someone could spend that much on a wedding between all of the expenses. We wanted our immediate family and closest friends to be able to attend, along with my aunts, uncles, and cousins that I’ve grown up with. We were trying to consider what would be best for our guests and the size of our wedding.
Finally, we decided on Florida as the state. It’d mean that my best friends who I now rarely get to see, plus my close family and friends were more likely to come. We also felt that we should do a smaller, more casual get-together in Salt Lake after the wedding for any of Brighton’s family that couldn’t make the trip to Florida.
Choosing the Venue in St. Pete
View of the waterfront in Downtown St. Pete, Florida
For a brief time, I entertained the ideas of having the wedding in North Carolina at our house, or in Gainesville. We decided that the best plan would be to have it in my hometown, St. Petersburg, Florida. By choosing St. Pete, we narrowed down the span of time to either October 2015 to April 2016. That’s prime wedding season in Florida.
I attempted to get some ideas from friends back home where to have it in St. Pete. To narrow down more of the type of the venue we’d have it in, I asked myself some questions…
Did I want it inside or outside? Outside, with an inside area in case of rain/humidity.
Was having it in a church our ideal vision? Not really our style. We love the outdoors, so something outdoors would be more appropriate.
What about a beach wedding? Definitely not. I hate sand everywhere. Also, what if it rains?
Waterfront or a greener setting? Beach is out, but waterfront or a gardens would be great!
What type of space will I need for my wedding plans– a grand social hall or something smaller? I need an area to dance, tables to eat, and of course a gorgeous wedding ceremony location.
What will my budget allow? This is one of the most important questions! Our goal for this wedding is to keep it manageable and nothing too elaborate, but definitely spend money on the parts that are important to us. For me that was great photography, a gorgeous venue, and the honeymoon.
I considered a few places, namely Sunken Gardens, St. Pete Women’s Club, Pinellas County Florida Botanical Gardens, Clearwater Rec Center, and the St. Pete Beach Rec Center.
St. Pete Beach Rec Center
St. Pete Women’s Club
I liked these places because they had pretty outdoor locations, with an area indoors that we could have the reception in. I weighed my options based on price, size and space, location in the city, distance from my parents’ new house, date availability and the photography opportunities.
Some places had no availability for Saturdays in Spring 2016, that ruled them out immediately. I really liked the space Sunken Gardens had to offer. What I did was look up couples’ wedding photos from photographers in the area to get ideas of what the venue looked like for a wedding and also just venues in general.
Tip: A great use of social media is to look up the location your wedding will be, for example Tampa. Then search #tampaweddingphotographer to get a bunch of results in the area, and then go through and see if they list the wedding location on the photo or on their website/blog.
Since I am planning my wedding from across the country, this was very helpful. Once I narrowed it down to a couple spots, I checked their availability for the spring, and weighed the pros and cons. Another issue I was having was that I go by my “gut feeling” a lot when it comes to decisions like this. I wanted to be in the space and feel it out.
That’s where my parents came in to help. They went to scope out the venues via Facetime. Don’t you just love technology?
The Winner: Sunken Gardens in St. Pete
I fell in love with Sunken Gardens. It’s a beautiful botanical gardens with such lush Florida greenery. They have three ceremony locations. The location pictured below is the one I chose– The Oak Pavilion– due to the fact it has shade and brick. I have a weird love for brick and gardens together.
The Oak Pavilion — My Ceremony Location
Isn’t it beautiful!? They also have a banquet room, The Garden Room, that looks over the garden. I am glad that we will be able to see out the windows since the wedding will be held during the day. There aren’t super awesome pictures online but here is one:
The Garden Room
The venue has a list of approved caterers, which is a downside of my choice because I wanted to do my own catering. You also must purchase their bartending/alcohol package if you want any alcohol at your wedding. I think at this point I’m going with Carrabbas since it’s next door and this will be a light lunch anyways.
Tip: If you can choose a venue that allows your own catering/alcohol, that will save you a lot of money!
Choosing the Date: April 2, 2016
We wanted to go with a weekend in hopes the most people would be able to come to the wedding. We also wanted to go not too close to the holidays or Valentine’s Day, and when the days are longer (after Day Light Savings). Another holiday we had to watch out for was Easter (March 27). We started dating “officially” on April 2, 2014. That date was available, and happened to fall on a Saturday in 2016, so it seemed like fate that we should choose that date. It’s a special date to us already, and it fit within all of our other parameters.
We reserved the space for the morning slot (9am-3pm) with the original intention of having the reception at my parents’ house later that evening. But everything is flux, and we will now have the entire wedding, ceremony and reception, at Sunken Gardens between 9:00am-3:00pm.
Once the date and location were chosen, everything else could start to fall into place. This wedding is still not feeling real to me yet, but having a date nailed down makes me very excited for next April! 🙂
What steps did you do to evaluate your wedding venue and date? Have you ever planned a wedding from across the country/world? What tips do you have for brides like me?