Everyone knows a pair of jet-setters who got married in a destination like the Florida Keys or Vail. This type of wedding offers guests an activity-packed vacation on top of typical dinner-and-dancing wedding fare. Apply the same concept to your celebration. With so many out-of-towners on the scene, it's no longer just a wedding -- it's a weekend-long extravaganza. Even if your location seems less than exotic, creative hospitality will make the wedding weekend an endlessly fascinating trip. Here's a Friday to Sunday guide to keeping guests out of trouble.
Warming Up the Crowd
Remember freshmen orientation at college? You were so busy traipsing to barbecues, bonfires, and beer bashes that you barely had time to get homesick. Similarly, your guests will appreciate having places to be and things to do. Send out save-the-date cards to give them a heads-up on the date of your wedding and urge them to arrive on Friday. A save-the-date mailing not only lets guests plan ahead, it also gets them excited for the fun. Later, send out a newsletter and highlight addresses, lodging options, driving directions, weather tendencies, public transportation information, where you're registered, and anything else you see fit to include. Or create a 24-hour wedding Web page that lists similar information. When guests get into town, have a wedding packet waiting at their hotel that iterates transportation information and directions, and points to good restaurants and local attractions. You may also include an itinerary of the weekend outings and events. Some couples also welcome their guests with goodie bags filled with local souvenirs, maps, sight-seeing guides, and snacks. As a final courtesy, very special guests like grandparents should probably be retrieved at the airport in person. However, you definitely won't have time to do this -- enlist a dad or a pal to play chauffeur, or arrange pickups through a car service.
The Prewedding Party
On Friday night, take the concept of the rehearsal dinner to the next level. A review of the party protocol: The guest list includes immediate family, wedding-party members and their spouses/significant others, and the parents of any child attendants (inviting the children themselves is optional). With this in mind, many of your out-of-town guests may also be invited to the rehearsal dinner, but if you want the evening to be an intimate affair and don't want to leave other guests hanging, think about doing the rehearsal two nights before the wedding day (Thursday) and then have a party for out-of-towners on Friday night. Invitations are standard; you can include them with your wedding invites or do a separate mailing. Traditionally, the groom's family throws these fetes, but these days it's up for grabs. You can even make the parties potluck/BYOB. Your location may be as casual or as fancy as you like. We know brides and grooms who have partied in pizza parlors, on cruise ships, and beneath tents in backyards.
Primping & Playtime
In some wedding circles, it's a tradition to schedule some relaxing, diverting get-togethers for the morning of the wedding. This works best if the wedding is taking place after 4 p.m. What happens: The groom, his attendants, and male family members get together for a quick game of touch football, a round of golf (the groom or groom's family pays), or burgers and beers at the local pub. Meanwhile, the bride, her attendants, and female family members gather for the bridal luncheon, an all-girls gathering hosted by an aunt or family friend. At the bridal luncheon, bridesmaid gifts are doled out and it's generally a time to chill out and swap stories. A super-indulgent trip to a spa can take the place of a formal luncheon, and that sometimes happens the day before the wedding. Usually the bride will treat, but sometimes the maids are expected to pay for the services themselves. (Knot Note: Be sure your bridesmaids know who is financing the escapades before you sign them up.) Alternatives: Plan a coed breakfast or a sailing expedition, participate in a road race, or tour the town as a group. The point is to bond and de-stress with your loved ones.
It's not all about you. How many times have you heard that? Avoid narcissistic cliches by being extra-gracious on your wedding day. And remember you can keep guests entertained and feeling loved by making the extra effort. Begin by providing transportation to and from guests' hotel(s) through a local bus service. Have a slide show or video presentation chronicling the ins and outs of your relationship, so that guests can really relate to what they're celebrating. Give friends and family who aren't in the wedding party a sense of belonging by assigning them important wedding-day tasks such as manning the gift table, making sure everyone has signed the guest book, and seeing that Grandma never wants for wine. Outfit the bathrooms with thoughtful amenities, and make a point to stop by every table and say thank you. A formal toast to the crowd is another way to flaunt good taste and gratefulness. Favors, finally, are always appreciated -- choose a local treasure to complete your guests' out-of-town experiences.
Like all good things -- fireworks displays, operas, The Nutcracker Suite -- a grand finale is a must. During the wedding weekend, the festivities culminate with a postwedding brunch on Sunday morning hosted by the couple, their parents, a friend, or a family member. Plan to meet up at the hotel, a restaurant, or at someone's home. Paper plates are allowed; a simple bagels-and-coffee spread may be the perfect follow-up to a full-blown night of formal revelry. A postwedding brunch is an informal, carefree time to say good-bye to guests as they leave town, recall moments from the night before, and maybe visit with guests you didn't get to chat with at the wedding. Formal brunches, much like the rehearsal dinner, are usually invite-only (though since your guests have traveled so far to be with you it might be nice to open the invitation to all). Depending on where you chose to hold your getaway wedding, you may or may not be vacationing there post-nuptials. Many couples depart for the honeymoon directly after brunch, so be prepared to say a graceful good-bye, and if you're driving yourselves to the airport, go easy on the mimosas.