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Open Thread: Wedding Weekend Activities


What do we do with all these people and all this time?

by Lucy Bennett, Deputy Editor

Open Thread: Wedding Weekend Activities | A Practical Wedding

Q: Can you share you experience with planning a whole wedding weekend? My fiancé and I are excited about our DIY wedding (a year from now), which will be at a historic resort in a state park for about fifty guests all staying on-site, our friends camping and older folks staying in little cottages. So, kind of like a family reunion, kind of a destination wedding, but there aren’t a TON of amenities in the middle of the mountains.

I’d appreciate any advice about how much of the weekend to plan out versus leave my guests to relax and do their own thing (Thursday arrival event? Friday optional morning hike? Sunday farewell brunch?), are we responsible for feeding them for every meal or can we politely ask people to bring potluck dishes/plan a few meals on their own? Also, how do we figure out how much food we need? We need help on all those kinds of logistical things that we didn’t consider when we were just so excited about an excuse to spend a long weekend with our BFFs and family. We’re still excited, just a little overwhelmed and not sure how to proceed, as we’ve never been to a wedding like what we’re envisioning.

A: Yay wedding weekends! As someone who planned her own, I’ll tell you—they are amazing amounts of fun. However, they’re also more complicated, and (sometimes) more expensive, since you’re adding a few more events to plan and execute over the course of a weekend instead of just over one day. However, I’m going to focus less on telling you what events to plan, and more about how to plan an entire weekend and a wedding without losing your mind or breaking the bank. Or at least without losing those two things entirely.

Logistically, think of the wedding weekend as a family reunion—something happening at the same time as your wedding, but separate from it. Every event doesn’t need to exist on the same higher plane as your wedding, and it shouldn’t have to. None of your guests are going to leave the weekend thinking, “Well the wedding was great, but I can’t believe we had to eat sandwiches for lunch one day.” And if they do, send them to me and I will punch them in the nose.

Open Up The Rehearsal Dinner

If you’re planning on having your rehearsal dinner at a time when the majority of your guests are already in town, don’t split the group. We expanded our rehearsal dinner into a welcome dinner, did low country boil instead of catering, and invited anyone that was going to be in town to join us. If you’re already having a welcome dinner, but aren’t feeling like you can sneak off to rehearse, then consider cutting the rehearsal dinner in favor of rehearsing during the majority of the guests’ “free time.”

Simplify Your Meals (Or Cater Them)

The rule that we followed for our wedding weekend went like this: only one “fancy” meal per day. The rest of them, we simplified down so if people decided to go off and do their own thing during the lighter meal times, we wouldn’t be left with tons of food just sitting out. For the fancy meals, catering is certainly an option. Or you can make a reservation at a local restaurant, but make sure to get a relatively solid headcount before hand.

For the rest of the meals: simplify! Instead of waffles, eggs, and bacon for breakfast every day, think cereal, bagels, muffins, or fruit—things that can scale up to accommodate a larger group, but aren’t going to be rubbery and gross if you use the leftovers as breakfast the next day. Nothing sucks more than cooking off three pounds of bacon for your morning breakfast, and only using half a pound. This holds for lunches and dinners as well—find things that scale up well. Some other ideas for scalable meals include pasta meals, barbecue/grill items, and my personal favorite, low country boil. Since you describe your event as part family reunion, I wouldn’t shy away from doing one meal as a potluck, so long as guests have the ability to pull it off, given their accommodations.

You Don’t Have to Feed Everyone All The Time

When we realized that most of our helpers would be busy during lunchtime, we cut our plans to offer food for lunch. We made a little map of restaurants in the area, and people found their own way. No one starved, no one complained, and we had a good time the next week looking through our guests’ midday mini-adventures on Facebook.

Don’t Fill The Entire Weekend

Your guests obviously want to be with you over the weekend, but they’ll also need their own downtime. Plan on having one or two activities in a day, and leave room for people to head back to their rooms and just chill out. If guests don’t come to your planned activities, don’t be offended. Some folks will make their own plans, go explore, or use their free time to catch up on sleep. It’s not them passing judgment on your plans, it’s just people, being people.

Host Only What You Really Want to Do

When we were planning our wedding weekend, every other post I found about weekend long weddings went on and on about sunrise yoga. Or sunrise running. Or sunrise blah blah blah, whatever. You know what I like doing at sunrise? Sleeping. Or drinking coffee and talking about how pretty the mountains look, if I’m feeling ambitious. So that was our morning activity: breakfast and coffee in the main pavilion, watching the cows in the field across the river from where we were staying, telling bad jokes, and remarking on how pretty it was up there in the mountains. Host activities that you like, that you want to share with people. Don’t twist yourself into awkward positions for the sake of, “morning yoga is so hot right now!”

It Will Take a (Small) Village

Whether you hire that village, or get family and friends to volunteer is up to you. But it will take people, and those people need to have ownership over the pieces they’re putting together. So tell them what you want, give them a captain’s hat (or badge, or feather, whatever you like) and let them handle it. Trust your people, and everything should turn out fine.

Did you host your own wedding weekend? What activities did you include, and how did you pull them off?

Lucy Bennett

Lucy is the Deputy Editor of APW and a freelance designer/writer hybrid. When not coming up with weird self-challenges, she can be found marathoning TV shows or playing board games. She lives in Atlanta with her husband, her moderately internet-famous pup, and two cats. She takes herself very seriously.

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  • http://baltimorebeginner.wordpress.com ohyeahofcourse

    Can I ask how guests feel about an entire weekend dedicated to a wedding? I’ve never been to one, so I can’t weigh in. This seems like a great idea, but people sometimes have pets or kids or other commitments. Is it reasonable to plan a whole weekend? Does everyone have to come to the entire weekend?

    • Kayjayoh

      I’ve been to one: it was a destination wedding in Nova Scotia over Labor Day weekend, and it was at a rustic resort on a river. I had to travel quite a bit to get there, but it wasn’t a wedding that I felt obligated to attend, so instead of “Oh man, now I have to travel to Canada and spend my three day weekend at a wedding,” it was “Oh neat! I can totally do this on my three day weekend, and maybe I’ll add some other travel to it.” (spoilers: my now husband, then new friend volunteered to roadtrip with me, so I have extra fond memories of it)

      I think it can be different if you feel obligated to go (your wedding is not an imposition) or want to go and can’t swing it, but I enjoyed myself. I don’t recall doing many pre-planned group activities, and I can’t remember if they didn’t happen or if we just decided to do our own thing. (I mostly just knew the bride and one other guest besides my roadtrip buddy.)

    • Annie

      I think it’s helpful when events are planned but not required. My husband and I just attended a wedding that included a rehearsal dinner/backyard barbecue and a day-after brunch. We had to drive back early, so we couldn’t make the brunch, but it was great to have the extra time with friends and the bridal couple at the relaxed rehearsal dinner. Asking guests to RSVP for these other events can be really helpful for planning, but don’t worry about making sure that absolutely everyone can go to everything.

    • SarahG

      I think it’s just about being reasonable and clear with your expectations. We will have a lot of out-of-town folks at our Oakland, CA wedding, so it has kinda turned into a semi-wedding weekend (unintentionally), but everything is opt-in; we are having a joint bachelor/bachelorette bowling night Friday (since most of our nearest and dearest won’t be here until then), big rehearsal dinner (including out of towners) Saturday, wedding Sunday. But we are trying to make it clear that people should just do what feels right and make sure they have enough time for themselves (I’ll let you know if we succeed). Some people have already said they can’t do Friday; I’m sure a few folks will back out at the last minute; I’ve just decided that whoever can come is whoever needs to be there :)

      The one time a wedding weekend ever felt like a bit of an imposition to me as a guest was when the folks getting married sent out an email saying they had reserved and paid for rooms at the rustic resort location and they were “really hoping” that we, their friends, would come for 5 days (and pay for one of the rooms). I just didn’t have the vacation days or money to cough up (had been planning to do 1 night, since it’s driving distance from my home) and I felt like I was letting them down, especially since they paid for the rooms. It was fine in the end, just awkward. So…. keep those expectations reasonable and I think you’re good.

      • Lawyerette510

        I think Oakland is a great example of somewhere that most people will probably be excited to visit on their own but at the same time will appreciate having the opportunity for group stuff. We were married in Mendocino County on a Monday and had a Sunday evening welcome dinner for everyone and provided folks with info if they chose to go up earlier for ideas of things to do in the Anderson valley. We had the entire Boonville Hotel for Sunday and Monday nights so the mornings were like mini activities with over half the wedding staying there and having breakfast included and the other half stopping by to chat and hang out. Also because we weren’t married until 4:00 pm and because of the quick timetable resulting in friends feeling cut out of the opportunity to throw a shower I had a ladies lunch thrown for me the day off that was great but would have been even better the day before (had their been the opportunity) they ordered sandwich platters and had champagne an it was a great te for the women of the group to connect plus it made my “aunties” who hosted it happy to get the change to hostess.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      As a guest, most weddings you travel for are “wedding weekends.” The issue is how many group events the couple has set up. I think if you’re asking people to travel far to a remote area, you have to at least guide them on possibilities for recreation. Also, as a quiet person, I really like when there’s a schedule where I can expect most of my friends/family to be. Otherwise, I end up spending the entire weekend looking for my cousins, and they’ve already gone to the beach without thinking to invite me.

      But if you’re getting married in a metropolitan area, you don’t need scheduled events beyond the ceremony and reception. A lot of people will plan vacations around their specific interests in those circumstances.

      The one rule where there are multiple events is be clear on who’s invited to what. Again, as the quiet person, I’ve had my feelings hurt when people ask, “Will you be at the post-wedding brunch at the bride’s parents’ house?” and I wasn’t invited to the brunch. It was also an issue with my own wedding, with my mother assuming people were invited to the rehearsal dinner when they weren’t. You can’t control all of this, but to the extent you can, you should.

      • Jess

        Seconding the BE CLEAR about invitations (and events in general). I was in a wedding and after the reception, the MOH mentioned a brunch at 11 the next morning. I had a flight home scheduled at 1pm… because I didn’t even know that event was happening.

    • Katie

      I was in a bridal party for one, so obviously expectations were a little different for me, but for most guests I think they had a great time and just came to what they wanted to/were in town for. As I recall, it was a Friday morning golf day for the guys and mani/pedis for the women (they had space reserved but everyone paid their own way), Friday night rehearsal/rehearsal dinner for anyone in town, Saturday free time until the wedding, and then Sunday brunch – no one was obligated to go to everything but it was nice to have the option I think. They did a separate RSVP for each event so they had a rough headcount for everything.

    • http://www.blackgirlunlost.com Jubi The Great

      As a guest, I appreciated that there were events that I could choose to attend or not, but that I also had free time. I think having a welcome/rehearsal dinner and a post-wedding brunch are more that enough events in an urban setting.

    • ediblesprysky

      I’ve got to say, every wedding I’ve ever traveled to has included *some* other ancillary events. There was the one with a night-before cocktail party (food truck grilled cheeses and drinks on a Miami rooftop–very casual); there was another with a post-wedding brunch (mimosas and French toast on Vachon Island–also very casual). Then, of course, were the ones with bachelorette parties and rehearsal dinners in the days before. I don’t think anyone would have been offended if I had peaced out on the extra events, as long as I wasn’t part of the wedding party. Hosts seem to realize that signing up for coming to the wedding as a guest only implies you’re down for the One Big Party–anything else may add to your stay and your expense. But I usually choose to go because seeing these people is the whole reason I’m traveling in the first place! It’s really nice to have the option, but it’s just that–an option.

  • mcbark

    So our wedding is on a Sunday, at a mountain resort. Should I suggest an activity for Saturday? They offer whitewater rafting, ziplining, etc but is it prudent for the wedding party to do this the day before the wedding? I say it sounds like a fun bonding experience, bridesmaids vs groomsmen rafting trip! My mom is 100% sure that I will end up with a black eye or sprained ankle. I don’t feel like many people will stick around all day on Monday to do activities so I feel like Saturday is our best chance for hanging out with all our people.

    • Another Meg

      It sounds like a great time for a team event, but your mom has a slight point. On our float the day before our wedding, I sliced the bottom of my foot open on a rock. Not my finest hour. It didn’t hurt too badly during the wedding, but I kind of ignored it beyond that and it got infected. Happy ending- it was just another funny story in a long line of wedding stories from the weekend. Didn’t ruin anything.

      So….will a black eye ruin your wedding or be a great story to add to the weekend? That depends on you.

      Last thing to consider is cost. We loved our float, but it cost over $500, which surprised us.

      • mcbark

        also I just realized: sunburn… a float might be a slightly better idea, maybe I can get a ‘bridal wetsuit’ to reduce the risk of being crispy, haha :P

        • Lauren from NH

          Super strong sunblock is white as a baby’s @$$…how’s that for bridal? Lol

  • Sarah

    I would love advice on our situation – we live in Chicago in a condo too small to host many people (and all our local friends have similar housing). My family is all coming from out of state and his is mostly based about 90 miles away, so we don’t have a home base to feed people. We’d love to do a day-after brunch, but are afraid it will get very pricey, especially on top of what will probably be a pricey rehearsal dinner since we’d like to include all out of town guests. Any suggestions for being good hosts but keeping costs down would be appreciated. Much of my family has never been or spent limited time in Chicago, so I’d like to help them enjoy the city!

    • Deify Plums

      we rented out a picnic area at a park and had a food truck “cater” lunch … all we had to worry about was ice and drinks (which we just used the leftover drinks from the wedding anyway). Maybe that’s an option for you? We found the food truck very affordable (had 100-125 come to the day after picnic).

    • Sarah

      I’m in Chicago too! I would definitely check out using park district spaces (outside if you’ll be in the warmer months, indoor spaces if not). They have a surprising variety of things available.

      • lizperk23

        What’s up Chicago! Second the idea of park district, or suburban park districts. We are doing a run/BBQ in the burbs the month before, and park district options are great. If you go with CPD, just prepare to persevere. They can be hard to pin down.

        We are having a pseudo wedding weekend….plenty from out of town, hanging in downtown Chicago all weekend before going out to the burbs (st. Charles) for our Sunday wedding. We don’t have it all worked out yet. But it’s looking like – joint families dinner Friday, rehearsal Saturday am, free time for all until pizza/beer in the evening (inviting any out of towners), then all head to ‘burbs Sunday. Will see how it goes..

    • Katherine

      I live in a Chicago suburb, and we were able to reserve a park pavilion for our rehearsal dinner. I can’t remember if there are pavilions in the city (or if non-residents can reserve one of ours in Evanston), but it worked out well. It was nice to have some cover in case it rained, although it was very good that we were’ tall stuck under there. :)

  • Jenna

    All but 5 of our guests of our 80 person wedding were from out of town. They stayed in two hotels next to each other so that was party central!

    We also opened up our rehearsal dinner and did a BBQ. By cooking ourselves, it was $200 for everything. Super cheap. We gave them suggestions for activites around town and everyone self organized.

    Since you are in a remote location, I’d suggest the hikes and other activites. But you should have to schedule everything, even a hike. People will figure it out if you tell them their options.

    I hope you are going to do something awesome like a bonfire!

    • Jenna

      *shouldn’t

    • Kate

      What kinds of BBQ did you do? We’re looking into this idea as well.

      • Jenna

        Hamburgers and hot dogs, fruit salad, veggie plate, chips, pasta salad. No one complained! It was about the people! One person had to watch the grill but the bridesmaids’ significant others took turns.

    • ART

      this almost describes our wedding weekend perfectly! except our welcome dinner was frozen lasagnas baked in all the ovens in the little cabins people were renting, because our wedding dinner itself was BBQ. they were also super cheap and tasty with a really basic salad.

      in addition to that, we had a super informal family jam night, because half our guests were musicians.

  • Another Meg

    We did a wedding weekend in the middle of nowhere in northern Michigan, so we did these things:

    *Made sure our wedding website had ample info on what to do and where to get necessities like toilet paper (for campers) and sunscreen.
    *Had a welcome dinner instead of a rehearsal dinner since everyone was traveling anyway. At the welcome dinner we gave out welcome bags that included info packets about the weekend and what we were doing, as well as what people could do in their free time.
    *Hosted a float trip, which we farmed out to the professionals. We ended up having about 25 people on the float, and it was amazing.
    *Through either our website or email, we had people RSVP for every event. It helped us prepare for how much food to buy and tubes to rent.

    So essentially, we felt it went really well because we did a welcome dinner, hosted one group event in addition to the wedding and reception, tracked when people would attend, and armed our guests with info for the rest of the weekend. We only fed them at the welcome dinner and the reception, unless they were helping us set up the events.

  • sara g

    Our wedding is going to be 70-80 guests and almost all of them will be flying in from out of state. Including our parents. We are inviting all the out of town family to the rehearsal dinner on Friday night at the wedding venue. The wedding is Saturday. Sunday, however, I’m stumped. I love the idea of a post-wedding brunch, but we don’t get the venue, and we’re at a loss on where to host such a brunch. We have no family who could host at their house, and people are staying at various hotels around the area, so there’s not even a central hotel. I looked into parks but all of them are booked since it’s Labor Day weekend. My only other idea is a restaurant, but a) we’ll have a large group for a restaurant, probably around 50 people, and b) we can’t afford to pay for another group meal. I worry that if we invite people to brunch at a restaurant they’ll assume it’s paid for.

    We thought about keeping the brunch super small (parents/siblings and wedding party only) but we don’t want to hurt the feelings of the relatives who spent a lot of money to fly in for the weekend by not inviting them.

    Any thoughts?

    • Lauren from NH

      Maybe frame it as, “The newly weds and wedding party will be having brunch the following morning at 10:30 at (X restaurant) and you are more than welcome to join us. (X restaurant) has a range of breakfast foods and sandwiches for $8-$12. It is located near (blah blah). See you then!”
      You know courteous but straight forward…

      • A.

        Yep, this is what we did for the after party (“Cocktails run around ~$8, and beer & wine is ~$3-5″). There might always be some people who will still think that you should pay for everything and may even think it’s tacky to bring up pricing anywhere on your website (or however your relaying information). But short of straight up saying, “Yo, you’re on your own for this one even though we’re there,” this is probably the best and most tactful option.

      • sara g

        Yeah, this is what I’m leaning towards honestly. You know what’s funny, is that if I were invited to a post-wedding brunch at a restaurant, I would totally not be expecting the meal to be paid for! And yet here I am worrying that everybody will be all offended if we don’t cover the cost. Sigh.

      • ART

        This is where the term “no-host” comes in handy (it means everyone pays their own way). An invitation could be for “a no-host brunch at XYZ at 10:30am” then follow up with range of prices etc. Then it should be plenty clear to everyone who’s actually reading the invitation (and that’s a whole other topic).

      • KP

        Yes, we are doing just this for our Sunday brunch next weekend. “K and J will be brunching at X restaurant at Y time. Feel free to stop by if you need some nibbles before you hit the road, but no obligation! Buffet is $18.”

        It would have been lovely to cover it, but we are just tapped out at this point. I think it will be fine.

    • Emily

      Check with your hotel or the hotel that has the most guests and see if you might be able to host breakfast/brunch in one of their meeting rooms on Sunday. Especially if they already have breakfast, it doesn’t have to be fancy, and everyone can just eat before they leave or stop by for a few minutes.

      • JDrives

        Ooh brilliant. Honestly as a guest, I’d be stoked if I showed up to a day-after brunch to an array of bagels & spreads and maybe some fruit. Definitely no fancy needed.

      • Another Meg

        We attended one of these and it was great! Bagels, fruit, coffee…and a chance to hug the happy couple one last time.

    • JDrives

      It’s not obvious from your post whether you live close by the venue (my apologies if I missed that!), but if you do, perhaps an open-house, potluck-style brunch at your place? We’re planning on that for Sunday after our wedding where about half our folks will be coming in from out of town. We plan to send an email to guests letting them know to drop by our (not large! but we will make do) place on their way out of town between Xam and Ypm and bring a snack or side dish. We’ll provide a meat and cheese platter and a fruit salad, which I can buy ahead of time and just keep in the fridge. Minimal fuss and prep.

      If not, 50 sounds like a bit too large a party for a restaurant – unless they have a banquet room that is free or cheap to use? And maybe have an order-at-the-counter setup so folks can pay for their own food? As for managing expectations around payment, +1 to Lauren’s tip below of just being upfront about cost. Good luck!!

      • sara g

        We don’t live nearby. :( And we have a tiny apartment anyways. I would be all over that idea if it were possible for us!

        • JDrives

          Shucks!! Hopefully you will find a venue that works!

          • sara g

            Thanks! I am determined!

          • Lawyerette510

            What about a picnic in a park that has open picnic areas/ sports fields. For instance the east bay regional parks won’t have any open area but there are still plenty of places you could get 40 people together. That said you’d need helpers or task rabbits to get there early and stake out a space in the morning. You could order se quiches, fruit salad, bagels etc from a cater or grocery store and just keep it simple.

          • sara g

            We are looking into this as well. I wanted to reserve a picnic shelter or something but all the ones near the hotels are booked. I might see if I could convince some family to arrive early and claim some of the un-reservable tables… we’ll see.

  • http://colormegreenanew.blogspot.com/ Julia (Color Me Green)

    we hosted a semi-wedding weekend at the farmhouse where our wedding was. our closest family was around thursday-sunday for setup and cleanup, and our wedding party was around friday evening through sunday. we also invited only people who were sleeping or camping overnight on the property for brunch on sunday. that way, we could spend more time with our closest people, without having to spend money to feed all of our wedding guests all weekend. our weekend activities primarily consisted of things that needed to be set up because it was a DIY wedding. i snuck in an easy hike on the property for the bridesmaids after lunch on the wedding day, but the boys opted to spend more time relaxing at the lunch table.

    i’m going to do a full blog post about this on my blog at some point but here’s the summary of how we fed the 10-30 people who were around at any given point: for friday and saturday lunches, we put out sandwich fixings and a premade salad. the rehearsal dinner on friday was catered. for saturday breakfast, i made oatmeal overnight in the slow cooker and put out toppings, yogurt and fruit. for sunday brunch, we heated up three egg bakes that i had pre-cooked on friday plus bagels. i designated a couple people (not me) as responsible for putting out and cleaning up the food buffets.

    • Marika

      We basically did the same thing. Most of the weekend was set up and clean up, so we didn’t have activities planned, although I did do some research on local sightseeing and posted it on our website.

      But here’s what we did for meals, which I think worked really well. Friday night rehearsal dinner we provided grilled sausages and beverages and asked people to contribute a side dish. I had a friend who makes macarons do dessert, and the leftover macarons were the gluten free option for the wedding. Saturday for the wedding was catered.

      The rest of the meals my mom came up with a menu plan and then sent out a google doc asking people to contribute ingredients. So we said “Friday lunch we need 2 lbs of lunch meat and four loaves of bread” and people signed up for what they would bring. We had a central location for meals and prep and I think it worked out really well.

      For Sunday breakfast, which was a lot more people my mom pre-made some baked egg dishes that we re-heated and made coffee cake mix that got baked. We asked people to bring ground coffee and fruit and had helpers who where assigned to making coffee ect. One thing I regretted that we didn’t think about was bringing orange juice, because there was a ton of bubbly leftover and we couldn’t have mimosas :(

      Lunch Sunday was leftovers from wedding dinner (actually lunch the next three days was leftovers)

    • scw

      I started planning my morning of the wedding timeline today, and it has a hike on it too (an easy one). it might just be me and my fiancé, but we have a pretty adventurous bridal party and it’d be fun to have them and the family along!

  • Amanda

    We got married on a Sunday and had ~50% of our 175 wedding guests coming in from out of state. Because so many people were coming from so far away, we knew people were going to be around for the weekend so, even though we hadn’t originally intended to, we ended up planning a semi-wedding weekend. And, it made.our.wedding.

    Our guests had a BLAST meeting and mingling (many of them didn’t know each other before); everything was relaxed enough that my husband and I could have fun and not stress (which was great considering the final weeks leading up to the wedding were a whirlwind); and, the best part, it made our actual wedding day SO much more fun and less stressful because we already had a chance to mingle with a lot of people, introduce people to each other and because everyone had a few days to get so EXCITED for the actual day, the energy on the wedding day of was just incredible. None of the events were required and we didn’t pay for all of it but everything was open to everyone and we tried to set appropriate expectations.

    Our wedding was in downtown Milwaukee, which gave us a lot of options in terms of things to do but I think you can take the premise and apply it most anywhere. Friday night we reserved a few tables at the historic pub we visited as part of our first date (which also happened to be 3 blocks from the hotel everyone was staying at), we ordered some appetizers for everyone but people purchased their own drinks and any additional food. Saturday during the day we rented several kayaks on the Milwaukee river and reserved a few tables at restaurant with a dock on the river and hung out there. Some people took the kayaks out for short trips, some people had a cocktail and mingled and some people had lunch. This was great because it was kid and adult friendly and there was an activity for people to partake in if they wanted to. Saturday night we had the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner but opened up our rehearsal dinner space at 9:00 for other people. The morning of our wedding, I ordered coffee, bagels, fruit, etc. and invited the women guests to stop by, have breakfast and hangout while I got ready. I had a big hotel room to get ready in and several hours dedicated to “getting ready” so it wasn’t too crowded or stressful. Several people stopped by, as it was convenient for them, hungout for a bit and then left to get ready themselves. This was an especially nice way to get some quality time with mine and my husband’s women family members.

    When I told people about these plans before the wedding, I felt like people thought that we were taking on way too much, but we just refused to see it that way. First of all, most of these things were relatively easy to plan — maybe 3 hours worth of work (if you discount the rehearsal dinner which was a little more involved but we were already planning ). Plus, we really wanted our wedding to reflect the things that were most important to us and, for us, we are happiest when we are able to be surrounded by our closest family and friends. Because of this, I just refused to think of the extra events as stressors. To us, these small extras were really ways to enhance the beautiful, memorable days leading up to our wedding and create memories with our loved ones. We made sure to build out a realistic timeline, drew a line in the sand for when wedding “work” stopped (4pm on Friday), stuck to that deadline and from that point on just enjoyed. When you think about how much time and money you can spend planning for things that generally have a pretty small impact on your actual day (programs, name cards, linens), dedicating a few hours to make sure that you get to make the most out of the weekend can be so worth it.

    All that is to say, don’t over-plan, don’t attempt anything that is going to give you a LOT of extra planning or expense and just remind yourself (and others) that these are supposed to fun additions to your wedding, so if it’s adding a lot of extra stress for you or your guests, you might want to re-evaluate and simplify.

    • sara g

      This sounds great. We are trying to plan some pre and post wedding get-togethers, and I love the idea of reserving some tables and ordering appetizers. Definitely stealing this idea!

    • mcbark

      thank you for this!

  • ElisabethJoanne

    For not-rural couples, keep in mind that guests also often arrange their own extra parties. I’ve been to many unofficial after-parties and post-wedding brunches that the couples didn’t know about. A sub-set of guests just send a few texts/emails, or met in the parking lot after the reception, and put them together ourselves.

    Pluses: More spontaneous. Couple doesn’t have to plan. Less pressure on guests to attend. More customized to specific groups of guests.

    Cons: Some guests may be overlooked. Doesn’t involve the couple. Harder for guests to plan with regards to flights, etc.

    • ART

      I was totally jealous of the after-parties and whatnot that happened without us on our wedding weekend – I mean, happy that they occurred, but thinking aw MAN, late night beer run and poker game would have been so fun! Even though I was probably passed out cold from exhaustion. I think it was the night before the wedding :)

      • Sarah

        Me too! Everyone had a huge party without us afterward my wedding because they thought we’d want to be alone! I was on the first day of my period and it was early in the evening, heck no we want to have fun too! :(

    • Mezza

      I would’ve been so sad if my friends had had parties without me on my wedding weekend! Not sure I’ve ever encountered a friend-planned party that didn’t include the couple. Unless you know that the couple is, like, getting on a plane to the honeymoon directly from the reception, I’d say at least invite them!

      • ElisabethJoanne

        Yeah, I run in circles where the couple never attends the post-wedding brunch.

  • Habibur Rahman Dipu

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  • Helen

    We had six days on a tropical island. I had a van available and assigned someone else the task of ‘taking bookings’ for its use. I also opened a Facebook group. Guests chatted and worked out day trips they wanted to do together and talked about what they could do for lunches and breakfasts. They knew that we weren’t going to feed them other than the wedding dinner, and it wasn’t an issue. Aside from a welcome drinks, we just hung out in smaller, morphing groups. People mostly entertained themselves. It was great.

  • http://www.superfantastic.blogs.com/ Superfantastic

    We had a beach house Wednesday afternoon-Monday morning for our Saturday wedding. Of just under 50 guests, about 25 stayed in the house. The official events were the rehearsal dinner Friday night, which we invited everyone to and served Indian food catered in from a restaurant, a 5k Saturday morning going from the hotel where the remainder of the guests stayed to the house and back, the wedding and reception on the beach across the street and at the house, and Sunday morning brunch in the house. (We ordered quiches ahead from our caterer which were meant to be left in the fridge for us, Except they forgot to bring them in from the truck. Fortunately, we had tons of leftovers from the reception, which was low country boil, so the groomsmen cooked up a bunch of eggs along with the leftover potatoes and sausage, plus leftover crab, shrimp, and cake. Add coffee – DONE.) We bought groceries for breakfast (eggs, cereal, milk, fruit) and lunch (sandwich stuff and chips). Dinner was either eaten out, ordered in, or whatever anyone wanted to cook in the kitchen on Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday. The unscheduled time on Sunday evening actually turned out to be a lot of fun. We ordered in Mexican food and played a game of Scattergories with 15-20 people around the huge kitchen table. I’m glad we didn’t try to plan an official activity or huge dinner reservation to allow for that to happen, as well as giving people downtime to spend as couples or families. Almost everyone had to travel, so we wanted it to be a vacation for them, as well as a chance for us to spend time with everyone.

  • Amelia

    As someone completely introverted, our “Wedding weekend” made things much easier on me. We held a dinner at an inner city restaurant the night before (our entire wedding was in the city with 80% of guests traveling) and we held a farewell brunch. Both were a huge stress to organsie (it’s really hard to find dinner options that are reasonably priced where I live) but we did it.

    The reason I say it was so awesome as someone completely introverted was that i got to get the “hello i haven’t seen you in six years” and the slightly shy and awkward catchups over with the night before the wedding, Rather than as soon as I had been at my most vulnerable (during the ceremony) hugging the few who I hadn’t seen for six years and feeling very exposed. It jsut gave that time to have the familiarity reestablished which helped when I came to saying the vows in front of everyone.

    • scw

      introverts unite! (I mean, not really. let’s stay where we are.) we are ending up with a semi-wedding weekend because of the number of out of town guests, and I already know the large rehearsal dinner is well worth it’s weight in planning for exactly the reasons you give. likewise, we’re throwing a day after brunch for the wedding party and some family, and I think that’s going to be a perfect no stress chance to reflect on the wedding! glad to hear the wedding weekend works for introverts in practice and not just planning.

      • Amelia

        I completely ignored my introverted side in my plans and didn’t even think of it, so yes it’s completely worth it, seeing guests before you’ve been at your most vulnerable IS SO WORTH IT!

  • Eh

    I would have loved a wedding weekend. My family lives all over the country so we had our wedding in my husband’s hometown where most of his family still lives (which is about an hour from where we live so it wasn’t too inconvenient for us to plan). But that wasn’t in the cards for us. The idea stressed me out a lot because my mom’s side of the family does not get along. It was stressful enough that they were going to be at the ceremony and reception together (my aunts have not been in the same room in five years and my cousins are rude to each other when they see each other in public). They requested not to be seated near each other at the reception (a request that was not required since I had no intention of seating them near each other). I would have loved to spend more time with my extended family but I didn’t want the added stress (I know that they would be on their best behaviour but the tension is still there and they also try to monopolize my time). My in-laws hosted the rehearsal dinner the night before our wedding and Sunday brunch after our wedding and they would have had no issue with more people coming (my husband’s extended family came to Sunday brunch). I did really appreciate the extra time I got to spend with my immediate family.

  • Amanda Hollander

    We did a wedding weekend and loved it! Our guests ended up totalling about 175, so we knew we wanted extra time with them, as it would be difficult to get any time on the actual wedding day. We rented a summer camp for kids that allowed us access to the great hall for meals and gatherings and then the cabins for guests who wanted to stay with us (they just had bunk beds). Other guests stayed at hotels within 10 miles of the camp, and spent the day with us. A few things I can’t agree with more:

    It WILL take a small village! We only catered our actual wedding dinner. The “rehearsal dinner” (which was open to everyone) was bbq, and we did have the salads catered (pick-up). Even though we were REALLY organized and assigned a group of four people to every event/meal and had materials sorted for each event it was STILL a lot of work. I continue to be blown away by how much work and effort my friends and family put in to everything running smoothly. Because you’re the one getting married, you won’t be able to be actually functional to any task–everyone will want to chat with you (and some will want to help! Say YES!)

    Don’t over-plan the weekend: We encouraged people to bring lawn games, we had canoes and kayaks available, and we wrote a detailed “area things to do” (which was mostly outdoor walks/hikes and food). It POURED the entire weekend and still everyone seemed to have fun without anything scheduled. The kids found a handful of nerf guns–this was an INCREDIBLE gift. We didn’t see the kids more than just a blur as they ran past. It was a great ice breaker for kids who didn’t know each other.

    In terms of pulling it off: We created a Wedding Binder. It had a schedule of events (usually one each day and then explaining what the meals would be), who was responsible for what, where materials could be located (we organized them in plastic totes with contents and days on the side of each tote), important phone numbers, etc. My best friend was responsible for making sure the person responsible for an event knew what she/he was doing and had what they needed. The best thing we ever did was just hand over the binder when we got to camp. All of the extra planning up front made it easy for us to do. I will say– I overestimated how helpful I’d be able to be. I just hopped from one person to the next–there was no unpacking, there was no organizing, there was no helping to do dishes, etc. :)

  • april

    Ours wound up being a sort of impromptu wedding weekend, just because we had so many out-of-town guests and they were all staying at the same hotel as us. Here’s how it all played out:

    Thursday – Combined bachelor/bachelorette party (ok, this was pretty much us just going out for dinner and drinks with our close college friends, some cousins, and my husband’s brothers); my grandmother hosted early family arrivals (some aunts and uncles, my husband’s mother) for a low-key dinner at her place.

    Friday – After our rehearsal, we did an earlyish, traditional rehearsal dinner with immediate family and the wedding party (sit-down dinner at our favorite restaurant); Later (around 8:30) we went to a brew pub near our hotel and had a welcome reception for the rest of the out-of-town guest – we had approached the place about our plans before and because they were new-ish an knew they weren’t likely to be crowded, they didn’t make us rent space or anything like that. We just bought a bunch of appetizer platters and some pitchers of beer.

    Saturday – Everyone was on their own until the ceremony at noon (I had breakfast/a logistical meeting at a nearby coffee shop with the rest of the wedding party). We had a several hour gap between the ceremony and the reception. We had told people they were on their own at this point, but my husband’s father wound up buying a couple of pizzas and setting them out in the hotel lobby for anyone who was around. We provided a shuttle bus to and from the reception (the only transportation we bothered with for the whole weekend). After the reception we went back to the brew pub from the night before for an impromptu afterparty (clearly, that brew pub was a hit with our guests!) – but people paid their own way for that.

    Sunday – Most people were leaving early-ish on Sunday, so we didn’t feel obligated to host any events or meals. We did wind up going out to brunch with some of our college friends who came in for the wedding though.

    Moral of the story? Don’t worry too much about pre-planning. As long as there are enough amenities in the area, it’s pretty easy to make impromptu plans (ordering pizza, going out for drinks, etc.) if people are feeling hungry or bored. I think one thing that really helps, though, is to be very clear with your guests about things that are planned. We printed out a really basic timeline for our guests and distributed them at the welcome party on Friday night. It let them know when things were planned (ceremony time, shuttle departure for the reception, etc.) and when they were expected to entertain/feed themselves for a while.

  • Melinda M.

    We are doing a coastal Maine destination wedding with 30 guests in Sept. I struggled as well trying to decide on how many events to plan or when to feed everyone. We decided to put together an itinerary with a couple of activities each day. Additionally, we put together a “things to do” list to provide to our guest in case they did not want to participate in what was planned. We did decide to provide most meals over the weekend, as our guests are traveling to attend.

    I think that whatever you decide to do for activities, to just be sure to stress it is optional. If you make your expectations for participation known early (I am assuming these are all very close friends and family), then everyone will feel comfortable opting out if they choose to. Good Luck!

  • http://blog.stephaniecourt.com/ stephanie court

    We had an unintentional wedding weekend and I totally agree with these tips. We originally planned to have our ceremony and dinner reception with just our close family (which was about 50 people between the two of us) and a large fiesta the next day for extended family and friends (another 150). My MIL then planned a welcome/rehearsal dinner for Thursday night and a goodbye Sunday brunch, so we ended up with a full wedding weekend! We opened the rehearsal dinner to everyone who was in town at that point and my MIL hosted at her home with some in-town family members contributing potluck style. We also gave everyone welcome baskets that were probably a little “fuller” than the typical welcome bags and included snacks, cheeses, maps of the area, small bottles of wine/bottle openers, etc. and a list of fun things to do in the area (we were in wine country) when they had some down time – hiking, wine tasting, shopping, scenic tours, etc. and then just let people “choose their own adventure” so to speak. Now, almost a year later, we’re still getting comments from people about how it felt like a real vacation for them and how they loved the opportunity to get out and explore the area instead of just being committed to wedding-related activities the whole weekend. I think the two best/most helpful tips for me were to definitely let friends and family help if they offer (no need to add to your stress and try to pull it all off on your own!) and plan only the activities you want to plan/participate in. Your guests will most likely appreciate the down time to do what they want or just relax in between activities. Whatever you decide to do, it sounds like your priority is showing your friends/fam how grateful you are to have them there celebrating with you, and there’s no doubt in my mind it’ll be a great wedding weekend!

  • Claire

    Oo oo ooo! I can help! :) I agree with much of what’s been said e.g. don’t fill the whole time, don’t feel like you have to feed them the whole time

    We had a wedding weekend (Fri-Sun) at an awesome hundred-year old youth hostel in England with around 90 of our friends and families.

    Friday night – My father-in-law organised an awesome pub quiz – we had folks from many generations and countries so he did some research and included questions that helped everyone to feel included.
    Before that we said folks could arrive from a set time, and that dinner was available (optional) or there were local pubs not far away).

    Saturday – we left the morning pretty open with an optional buffet available for 2 hours, no scheduled lunch, and had the ceremony scheduled for between 2-3pm. After the ceremony we had nibbles, with dinner at 5:30-6pm. It was the day of the Grand National (a HUGE horse race in the UK) so we all placed bets amongst ourselves and yelled for our favourite team. We had around 10-15 kids who all ran around the hostel exploring and playing games, the older folks had couches and chairs so they sat around chatting, and somehow one of our friends pulled out a frisbee he had and a bunch of guys joined him for an epic frisbee game in the hostel gardens.

    Sunday – a later optional buffet, and folks had to leave by 12pm, a very chilled morning

    We had SO many comments of folks saying it was like a mini-getaway for them, they all loved it, and we loved how much time we got to spend with our guests. One things that’s key is to have faith in your guests and their ability to get to know new people, and entertain themselves. Don’t feel like you have to have every moment planned. Sure have some plans up your sleeve just in case but having the freedom to go with it is a good thing.

    I remember so much of the weekend, and I’m so glad we did it! Let me know if you have any specific questions. I’m happy to help :)

  • Philippa

    We are getting married in the Peak District in the UK (where we’re from – but no UK wedding blog that I’ve found over here is anywhere near as good as APW!), and are definitely planning a bit of a wedding weekend. We have our venue (lovely house with space for 45 of our guests to stay and big grounds to explore!) from the Friday till the Monday so thought, “why not?!” – we really want our guests to enjoy the beautiful venue and beautiful countryside, and also have a chance to get to know each other if they don’t already.

    We want it to be chilled and relaxed – We’re going for drinks in the village pub on Thursday night, with an open invitation for anyone that’s already arrived to join! On the Friday, wedding party and others will be helping with set up, and there will be flower arranging going on for anyone who wants a go! We may also arrange a hike (led by my dad! to an excellent pub. In the evening, my parents are hosting a BBQ in their garden (we don’t really do rehearsal dinners in the UK, but I think it’s lovely to get people together the night before!). On Saturday, there are no planned activities other than the wedding, but we’re including village maps with good walks marked on, and the village fete is on too if people fancied going down. Then on Sunday, my MIL is hosting a relaxed brunch/lunch at the venue, before everyone leaves.

    We want to make sure our guests know that we’re planning to make it a really special weekend and celebration for them, but that also they are welcome to come and join in with just whatever they want! We’re toying with the idea of including a button or badge in our welcome packs, so guests will know someone that they might see at the pub, or on a walk, or at the village fete, is part of the wedding.

    Reading the comments here has been really helpful – I will definitely be making sure every guest knows whats going on when, so they can plan their travel. Also a wedding work cut off time! Perfect idea – thank you APW and your fab community!

    • Hannah

      The Peak District! How lovely. One of my very happiest travel memories involves a solo hike along the Monsal Trail when I was an exchange student in the U.K. It sounds like you have a very pleasant and relaxed gathering planned! I love the idea of little badges to identify fellow wedding guests.

      • Philippa

        Wow, Hannah – your Monsal Trail adventure sounds wonderful :-) did you get to go to Chatsworth? I hope one day you’re able to come back. I’m glad you like the badges – perhaps we will escalate the idea from ‘possible’ to ‘planned’!

  • Autumn

    We had a very similar wedding to the question asker — state park about an hour from our home, although our guest list was over 200. Since it was in the middle of nowhere, everyone stayed at the park, mostly in cabins or an onsite hotel. We cooked an easy Thursday night Mexican dinner for our immediate families (who were the only ones there) in our suite’s kitchen. This was a nice way to see everyone and start the weekend off.

    Friday morning, I got up and did a birdwatching walk with my dad and stepmom. I invited all our guests but no one came! It was actually a really nice time with my parents, so it worked out. The only other Friday activity was decorating for the wedding — my friends / family stopped in as they were able, but mostly people were just arriving, getting settled, and checking out the park on their own. I think any organized activity this day would have been poorly attended. Friday night my in-laws hosted a welcome dinner in lieu of a rehearsal dinner. My only request of them was that it be open to everyone, and that I didn’t have to plan it. They did a low-key barbecue (catered) and it was awesome.

    My mother-in-law wanted her friends to host a lunch on Saturday just for her friends, because she was worried about how people would eat (despite the fact that there was a very good restaurant on-site, and everyone in cabins had kitchens). This was one of the few friction points during planning because I really didn’t see how they could invite some, but not all, of our guests, without being rude. Saturday morning, my sisters-in-law hosted a bridal brunch for me and my closest friends. This was the only event that we kind of limited the guest list on, but it felt right (and it was still like 50 people). My husband played golf on Saturday morning; everyone was invited but it rained so only a few actually played. My mother-in-law and her friends arranged our flowers.

    Wedding was Saturday evening; the park restaurant catered. No activities on Sunday; everyone was pretty much up and out.

    Honestly, the hardest part about a wedding like this is logistics — how are you going to get all the STUFF (food, beer, wine, decorations, linens, flowers, cake, etc.) to the venue? Where / when are you going to prepare the food if you are doing it yourself? Think about that when planning events: what is offered on-site that you don’t really have to plan or bring anything to make happen? Even though our wedding was catered and we had a lot of help, I still almost had a breakdown on Friday just looking at all the setup / decorating we had to do. I’m really glad I wasn’t trying to coordinate 50 other activities at the same time.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      As a guest, I’m ok with sub-group events, as long as the rationale is clear and the events that don’t include everyone aren’t too central. For example, I’ve attended a pre-reception/welcome party for the couple’s law school friends that was at the groom’s apartment complex. Had I been aware of, but not invited to, that event (because I was a cousin or co-worker and not a school friend), I would have just shrugged. As a person, I understand that a person or couple or family can need extra time with certain people and not others. I assume your SIL’s brunch was in one of the cabins or at a particular picnic area, not in the central meadow of the park where everyone else would be forced to observe from afar.

      Also, unless it’s one of those situations where the couple has rented out an entire resort, campground, etc., I never expect a “wedding weekend” to include more than the ceremony and reception. I can find my own way/fun.

  • ktan

    Just wanted to chime in and say that we are planning a 5k as a part of our “welcome dinner” (love this term instead of rehearsal dinner!)

  • EMO

    So glad to hear that people don’t regret planing a wedding (or semi-wedding) weekend. We are starting to plan our Sunday brunch & lawn games, and I’m not sure where to start. I like the idea of making egg bakes ahead of time; anyone have tips on recipes that worked well?