How We Planned a Playful Children’s Museum Wedding on the Summer Solstice

Pizza, piñatas, and pineapple upside down cake a-plenty!

Madison Children's Museum Wedding

Katherine, Administrative assistant by day (superhero-in-training by night) & Matt, Copy editor by day (accordion player by night)

One sentence sum-up of the wedding vibe: Summer solstice garden wedding featuring play, pizza, and a piñata.

Soundtrack for reading: “XO” by Beyoncé

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Planned Budget: We did not have an overall budget from the start. We took about a year and a half to plan, paying for things and/or saving for things as they came along. We picked out the big-ticket items very early in the game, so we had the longest time to put aside money for them.
Actual Budget: Around $20,000, give or take. After a while, I stopped keeping track, because it wasn’t useful to me.
Number of Guests: Invited: 176 adults, 36 children. Attended: 102 adults, 16 children.

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Where we allocated the most funds

Venue ($3,500), food ($2,028), drink ($5,280), and photography ($3,165)

Where we allocated the least funds

Decorations, including flowers and favors.

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What was totally worth it

All four “big ticket” items were well worth the money and the advance planning. The venue was a big expenditure and the first big check we wrote, but it was really worth every penny. It was a great location logistically (about two blocks from the hotel and right downtown where our out of town guests could experience Madison easily) and allowed us to have an outdoor wedding with a super easy back-up plan for rain. (It did rain much of the morning, but cleared up in time for the ceremony.) It was already a visually fascinating and beautiful place, so any extra decoration was optional. The staff was easy to work with. The layout was flexible enough to accommodate many more guests than what we had, but also would have felt warm and full if only half of our guests had come. And it was super fun. Everyone had something to do.

The photography was also worth it. As an amateur photographer who also hates being in pictures, I knew a good photographer was essential for me. Every time I look at our photos, I can’t help but smile and think of the day. She really captured the feel of things.

And yes, the food and drink were worth it. Everything was tasty, everything was abundant, and we were able to suit the dietary needs of many guests without a lot of trouble. Having a buffet of gourmet vegetarian pizzas as the main course with more vegetarian snacks and finger foods (fruit skewers, caprese skewers, etc.) allowed our guests to eat at their leisure throughout the night and eliminated the need for table assignments, place settings, and even most utensils! We had some gluten-free and vegan options as well, and there was really something for everyone. Best of all, we really only needed a rough head count for finalizing our order, which saved quite a bit of RSVP angst.

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What was totally not worth it

My dress turned out to be the most expensive, least flattering thing I own. I had my dress custom made in Seattle, and while some aspects of that were great (mostly the travel), it was mostly an experience in frustration and disappointment. So many rounds of alterations and it never quite was what I asked for or what I pictured. I probably would have been better off shopping for something ready-made. I gave up worrying about it and knew that, even if I pulled something out of my closet, I would have something to wear and that the day would be great. And it was. (I did buy and return several last-minute J.Crew bridesmaid dresses, just in case the last alterations didn’t save it from disaster.)

Also: tablecloths. Nope. Didn’t want to deal with them at any point, and it turned out that I could have gotten away with not having them after all. Ha! That being said, I was glad that I bought them rather than renting them, because I was able to sell them all on Craigslist after the wedding and make most of the money back. I didn’t even have to wash them, post-wedding. I offered them for sale with a “cleaned” and an “as-is” price, and someone was willing to pay a little less to haul away a big bag of giant, unlaundered table linens.

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A few things that helped us along the way

APW, both book and website, were my main planning resources. They were invaluable. Advice in the open threads, the spreadsheets, the how-to posts: everything. My only wedding pinning tended to be APW articles I wanted to make sure I remembered.

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My mantra for planning was

Will it be fun and/or meaningful? Will it be a pain in someone’s ass? If it was going to be a pain, it needed to bring enough fun and/or meaning to outweigh the hassle. We would have a very tight turnover from when the museum closed (5:00pm) to when the wedding started (6:30pm) to get everything set up. Since we took a long time to plan, I rarely had to rush to do anything or decide anything.

I was also not afraid to ask for help from people who were skilled in what we were asking. My day-of coordinator is a good friend who stage-manages operas for a living, and who knew the questions to ask in order to make things happen. She was assisted by a crafty friend, who has done set-up for other weddings and events. Our officiant, a dear friend who is also an ADA, also played our entrance music. Our co-celebrant was also our DJ. Several friends who are kick-ass bakers made more of our desserts. Other friends sang, braided hair, helped us wrangle presents, etc. Doing things in bits and pieces over the whole span of the engagement helped with the stress and the cost.

I designed all of the stationery, from save-the-dates to thank you cards, myself. I downloaded a nice, free font called “Solstice” and used that as the unifying design element, in order to avoid “wedding colors.” I did keep a file with a palette of all the colors I had used, just to make sure nothing clashed wildly. I bought Groupons for VistaPrint every few months, and had various bits printed as I could. Save-the-dates were business card magnets, invitations were large, double-sided postcards, and RSVPs and thank you cards were regular postcards. All of that, plus address labels and cute stickers to “seal” the envelopes, cost less than $100. We used regular envelopes from the office supply store, and ended up spending more on postage than on any other part of the deal. We built our playlist by asking our guests to give us their favorite dance song on the RSVP, then we added some of our own and our DJ friend pulled it all together, which lead to a mix everyone loved.

As I mentioned, decorations from us were minimal. My one DIY craft project was sewing pennant banners from decorator cloth samples I had gotten for free. It was easy and something I could do during long winter nights. We also collected cheap, old science-fiction/fantasy paperbacks with cool covers to set around all of the tables. Since there wouldn’t be place settings, the books served as centerpieces and then went home with our guests as favors. They were great conversation pieces as folks looked for their favorites. Our guest book was a collaged white canvas that the guests then signed with colorful Sharpies.

My bouquet was put together the morning of the wedding with flowers I picked up at the farmer’s market and a few co-op grocery store roses. I followed the APW guides and put together several practice bouquets in the year before the wedding. Since we were using seasonal, local plants, my bouquet ended up involving peonies, clover, and wheat!

Since the wedding was in a children’s museum and many of our family and friends have children, we knew it was important to make the wedding inclusive of children *and* their parents. I wanted to be sure that parents who brought kids could actually enjoy the night, and not have to spend all their time chasing a child and then leave early for bedtime. (Particularly since it was an evening wedding.) We dedicated the five-and-under area of the building to the smallest guests, and hired three college students as child-minders. I also pulled together a small group of pack-and-plays, so that the actual babies could go to sleep in the quiet room if that time came. Feedback from the parents was that this was great.

Instead of a bouquet toss, we decided to smash a piñata (made by friends), which got all of the kids very excited, and brought part of the main action to them. Pardon the pun, but it was a big hit.

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My best practical advice for my planning self

I was actually pretty chill throughout the course of the planning process. Having a lot of time in which to plan and being an APW reader had me in an easy mindset.

My biggest advice would seriously be not to worry about the clothes. That was the biggest stressor for me, and as noted above, not worth the angst. We also had a long-running disagreement about the groomsmen. Matt wanted all of his guys to match and I vehemently disagreed. I thought everyone should just wear their own clothing. Moreover, I really hated the outfits he had chosen. Ultimately, I let both issues go. For his side, I knew that I wouldn’t care what he or they were wearing on the day, and it was more important to him that they match than it was to me that they didn’t. And it was true. I really didn’t care about what any of us where wearing. I just cared about what we were doing.

My next piece of advice would be to provide bit more communication and guidance to guests for certain things. The printed program invited the guests to sing a song as the bridal party entered, but no one did. Ultimately that was fine, but having someone make a verbal announcement about it and someone to take the lead on singing would have helped get the ball rolling. Similarly, the posted schedule noted that the cake and desserts would be served at 8:30, but by the time we finished with the receiving line and having our quiet time together and made it to the buffet area, every single dessert had already been cut into, so no charming cake cutting photo. Better communication might have prevented that, but honestly it was more amusing than problematic. People enjoyed the desserts and I made sure to grab a cupcake before they were all gone.

Favorite thing about the wedding

Matt: Dancing at the reception; also tooling around town with folks the day after the wedding.
Katherine: Everything was amazing. It was so great to be surrounded with so much love, playfulness, and joy. My heart could barely hold it all.

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Anything else

My seven-year-old nephew, when asked what he wanted to wear, told me that he wanted to dress like The Doctor (the Matt Smith version). Since I knew it would be very warm, we skipped the coat, but assembled an outfit for him based on that look. It worked really well: he was happy and comfortable, and it didn’t look like a costume.

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