Jodi & Victor’s Walt Disney World Wedding
Minimum Stress, Great Value
We (Jodi Bucknam and Victor Nazarian) got married at Walt Disney World on Sunday 18 April 2010 at the Gazebo in the Rose Garden at Disney's Yacht Club resort and had our reception at the Atlantic Dance Hall.
The bride & groom laughed and cried and danced.
The critics raved:
It couldn't have been any better - Bride's Mom.
I want to do it all over again - Groom.
The best wedding I've ever been to - Our minister.
If you've seen Molly Ringwald in "Sixteen Candles" or Steve Martin in "Father of the Bride" you may understand my state of mind in early 2009. I was worried and I wasn't sure we knew what we were doing. Marrying Jodi was a rock solid sure thing. I couldn't have been more positive of anything in my whole life. HOW do we get married?
HC SVNT DRACONES... (Here Be Dragons)
I asked Jodi to marry me on the Royal (pipe organ) stage at the Maryland Renaissance Festival on the last day of the Fall 2008 season. I was just back from an airborne Coast Guard Auxiliary patrol, still in my uniform flight suit. We'd been dating since the previous February and had known each other from swing dancing for about a year before that. She said yes, my friend Gary played Ode to Joy on the pipe organ and I was walking on clouds. Now we had to start walking those clouds in the direction of a wedding, somewhere.
We spent months, buying magazines, doing Internet research and talking to friends. We must have put in 200 hours on our MacBooks looking up details and reading reviews and comments on weddings and we probably put over 5,000 miles on Jodi's Honda Civic Hybrid traveling to interesting wedding spots. We wanted to stay out of debt and pay for it mostly on our own. It had to be fun, include dancing and have as many of our friends and family as possible. We knew we could save some money by doing our own invitations and ceremony programs and providing a few of our own special touches. We even got our friend Slash (Eric Dunn) to draw up some special graphics we could use in our invitations. We knew we’d probably spend quite a bit if we wanted a memorable event and we wanted to do it RIGHT, get a good value and have lots of fun for our money.
We had lots of ideas for themes including Victorian formal, steam punk, zoot suits, island/tropical and Jazz Fest in New Orleans, etc. I even suggested getting married by a ship's captain in period garb - a pirate wedding.
Jodi wasn't into the pirate wedding theme but getting married on a ship (in non-pirate clothes) stayed on the list. We considered several cities close to the water and also maybe staying close to home.
Even though Washington D.C. is beautiful in the Spring the sprawling nature and inflated costs of the D.C. metro area would have made staying close to home expensive and complicated.
Also, because Jodi's family is somewhat dispersed and would have to travel anyway it only seemed fair to have the wedding somewhere worth traveling to. This made a destination wedding much more appealing, at least to my logic.
We visited, Baltimore, Portland (Maine), Tampa, Orlando, New Orleans, Charleston and several other cities. One of the pilots in my Coast Guard Auxiliary aviation flotilla, even flew us out to Tangier Island in the Chesapeake Bay. Then we talked it all over, did the math and searched our hearts. All in all it came down to what would make the maximum happy with the minimum stress at a reasonable cost? Walt Disney World came up on top. It was more than just choosing a location, it was more like choosing a project management team with romantic show business experience.
I had just one tiny concern...
"I don't think I want a Mickey Mouse wedding."
Looking back that might seem silly. We had just about the best time anyone can have getting married. Before-hand however I had some real concerns. I didn't want to spend the price of a small, used airplane on something that might feel plastic and be regarded as cheesy. I love Disney and Pixar and I'm fond of the Sorcerer's Apprentice. We own every Pixar film and we both love The Muppets. Even so, I wanted to make sure our wedding would be a Jodi and Victor focused affair, special in its own right.
I was also worried I would talk Jodi into something she wouldn't love. I can be a real bulldozer when it comes to decisions. When the little voice in my heart expressed concerns about "Mickey Mouse wedding" I listened to it. I made sure to say something to both Jodi and the Disney folks. I also made a point of listening to everyone. I'm not always the best listener but for this, I tried to listen extra hard.
Here's where the Disney folks really impressed me, Telepathy. Yup, Kristi Davis one of Disney's wedding sales representatives over at Franck's can read minds! She showed us the wedding chapel and the beach near the Grand Floridian and then, perhaps reading my body language or looking inside my skull suggested we go over to the Yacht Club and look at the rose garden and gazebo.
Long before I met Jodi my best WDW trip ever was back in the early 2000's when I stayed for several days at the Yacht Club. It's cool, retro and wonderful and it's right by the water. Also, it's walking distance to both Epcot and MGM (now Disney's Hollywood Studios). Somehow Kristi must have known I love all of that. I love mind readers!
We were still not sign-on-the-dotted-line just yet. We made sure to finish up visiting the other sites we had planned and we double checked our hearts. We looked at numbers and talked with friends. We asked family members what they thought and then we did the smart thing. We talked with Jodi's mom.
Jodi's mother Anita is a saint. Really! She's a super smart, ultra cool professor over at Ohio State (Go Buckeyes) and not only was she happy to let us do the wedding any way we wanted but she also said she'd help us if we needed it. She agreed with us that WDW was a good idea and was very supportive. Likewise Jodi's father was very supportive as well and also offered to help if needed. Although we wanted to do this ourselves as much as possible we were relieved to know that help would be there if we needed it. We did "tap the rents" a little for money for photography, etcetera and my own mother even put up some money for the rehearsal dinner. They were all comfortable with Disney and helped keep our stress down a lot.
The due diligence and teamwork really brought Jodi and me closer together and made us more confident in our decisions. Some people have buyer's remorse about their wedding (the place, hopefully not the partner). I didn't want to ever have any feelings whatsoever that we could have done it better. By personally visiting lots of locations together and talking to lots of people face-to-face we bonded and we assured ourselves we were doing the right things. Then we chose Walt Disney World and Disney's Fairy Tale Weddings. Smart move, they were able to make it all happen with lots of happiness and without stress. They have, or can arrange for, almost everything you might need.
Walt Disney's company is much more than cute media icons and cultural fluff. He and his brother Roy established a creative business culture that revolves around family, friendship and taking good care of people. Disney has what it takes to make a wedding into a celebration:
1. Professionals who are capable and motivated to make things happen.
2. Customer service - feeling pampered should be part of any wedding.
3. Happiness, fun and smiles, for everyone - key to a good wedding.
4. Low stress!!!
5. Resources that are all close at hand.
Weddings mean people. People mean food, usually drinks too. About 4 months before the wedding we took a trip with Jodi's mom to WDW to taste food and cake. We were bowled over. They gave us a list of themes to choose from, each of which had associated food selections we could mix and match (and taste). We were able to add in ideas of our own and do a significant amount of
modification. We could have done everything from scratch but it would have been expensive. Disney can do almost anything but if you want hard-to-find food or extremely difficult to prepare meals it may cost a whole lot extra. Whatever the case, we enjoyed extra high quality, extra pleasing presentation and people going out-of-their-way to make us and our guests happy. If we'd had folks that were vegan, they could've worked with that. If we'd had folks who hate seafood, they would have had that covered.
We went with one of the suggested themes and generally stuck with interesting but not extravagant food items to stay within budget. While at the tasting Jodi and I did sometimes speak wistfully about interesting or favorite foods like crème brulèe and key lime pie we wished we could have. You know something, Shelley Dunkley and the chefs made special magic happen for us. At our reception the Disney folks brought us several little dishes, out of the blue, with some of the off-menu items we had mentioned in passing at the tasting, no charge. It all looked and tasted wonderful.
I love these people! If you happen to let slip that you love something, someone at Disney may just make your wish come true.
Everything served was superior and the presentation was artistic and beautiful. Many married friends had advised me to make sure I eat something at the reception because it's easy to be too busy to eat. I did and I was glad for it. Everything I ate was like a slice of happy.
I love cake. I love weddings. Strangely enough, I do not really like run-of-the-mill wedding cake. Go figure. Disney does cake. Not just wedding cake, cake like you used to want to get older faster for so you could have your next birthday right away. Cake that would make you want to be friends with that kid in 4th grade who no one liked just so you could get invited to his party. That kid turned out to be a good friend by the way.
Fluffy, melt-in-your-mouth with wonderful layers of filling and frosting in-between with candy corn and flowers and stuff on it! Cake that can make your forget about a rainy day or a broken arm...
Ok, I love cake. Anyway, my favorite is German chocolate. I knew years ago that if I got married it was highly unlikely that I would have German chocolate cake for the wedding. I was wrong. Not only did Disney let us taste about a dozen different cakes and toppings but they also made it clear that just about anything we wanted (within reason, for a price) was possible. We're not talking Komodo Dragon flavored cake but certainly any flavor that had ever been used for a birthday or wedding or tea party should be possible. Well, Jodi and I chose 3 different wonderful layers for each level of the wedding cake. We also had a separate German chocolate groom's cake just to make my little dream come true and it wasn't expensive.
The wedding cake itself was more than just good to eat. It was ultra fantastic to look at too. Each layer was a completely different (and wonderful) type of cake and the filling in-between was awesome. Jodi wanted the outside to have lots of natural theme-ology so it was decorated with fern leaves and chocolate acorns and even though it was white it didn't have that stacked glacier/frozen tundra look that so many wedding cakes have. It looked man made but also natural, like a beautiful ornamental garden decoration that the plants had adopted.
Wow but it was good. One thing though, we couldn't figure out a way to get the top layer home on the plane so instead of keeping it for our 1st anniversary we shared it with friends the next day at breakfast. Since some of them stayed at WDW for an extra couple of days, we were able to share our happiness with them a little longer.
Wine, beer and mixed drinks are a traditional part of many weddings. I know I would have been genuinely put-out if we had not been able to have a champagne toast and a glass of merlot. No problem, Disney has levels of drink service you can choose from with a per-drink cost spelled out. You can also let guests buy their own drinks but I think it's more fun if they don't have to. Disney will even work with you to provide unusual or exceptional drinks. If you have a particular beverage of choice they will work with you to obtain it and make it available but you will not be allowed to simply bring bottles of booze. They MAY make an allowance for a particular bottle of wine or champagne for the bride and groom but maybe not. Be nice and know when not to push things. They're not going to go out-of-their-way to hassle you over a hip flask but a quart of moonshine may get some stern words.
Disney provides virtually every drink-able item and they can get almost anything. Kids can have juices, teens can have soda and adults can have whatever they like from OJ to schnapps to water. Costs are on a par with other catering venues or good restaurants. It boils down to how top-shelf you want the drinks in general, how many extras you add and how many drinks get consumed. The guests see none of this, they just have fun. The one draw back I felt during our reception is the fact that at an "open bar" event no one handles any cash but that means that people usually forget to tip the bartenders and wait staff. I personally feel a sense of responsibility on that account so I made a point of getting some thank-you gift cards to the banquet staff after all was said and done.
You will get an itemized tab and it won't be too painful unless you have a boring reception where everyone does nothing but drink a lot. In reality that gives you a very good reason to have an extremely fun reception with lots to do. More activity usually means less time to drink. Also, you can rest easy about guests getting home. They can walk, take a boat or take the free shuttles back to their own rooms on the Disney property. We chose one of the middle tier services and we were well provided for. Folks had the drinks they wanted and didn't have to mess with cash or credit cards and everyone got 'home' safe. By the way, we had our champagne glasses custom etched by a friend at the Maryland Renaissance Festival and they are beautiful. Don’t forget to support your friends and local craftsmen when you can.
Pictures are an integral part of any modern wedding. Digital photography itself has become relatively inexpensive and yet wedding photography has actually increased in price in recent years. When we got the wedding package from Disney I was taken aback. The cost of wedding photos if we went with Disney would be nearly 20% of our budget, without video! I was so floored by this that I spoke with some photographer friends who were Smithsonian and Secret Service photographers and did weddings on the side. They told me that a good wedding shoot could cost between $2,000 and $12,000! That gave me a frame of reference. Even with all of my research I had missed that detail. I still needed some convincing.
About that time Jodi's father volunteered to cover the cost of the photography. He made it much easier for us (me) to think clearly, without financial stress clouding my judgment. We decided to let the Disney folks take care of our photography and we wouldn't regret it. We chose to have one of the higher end photography services but decided not to have Disney do the video. Our friend Annette who worked there for 30+ years offered to shoot digital video for us and that worked out fine. The Disney Fine Art Photography focused on shooting fantastic stills and they did so much more than just take pictures. What we paid was a bargain for the service, care and handling they gave us. The over-the-top-notch service and the 'no-worries' feeling is worth more than I can describe. Thanks Dad!
It's impossible to compare Amy Alexander, Daryn Backal and the Disney wedding photography staff with normal wedding photographers. It's just not a reasonable comparison. Out-of-house wedding photographers aren't as familiar with WDW as the Disney folks. Disney photographers know their own back yard better than anyone else ever will. That means fantastic settings, framed backdrops and near-perfect lighting & color schemes. If you then add in top-of-the-line cameras & equipment and truly awesome post-production resources... well, you get the picture. There's just no chance a regular photographer can compete, even at a discount. Add in attentive customer support from Carol Feeney and Dara Bond and the extra special Lillian Lopez (love that woman!) you get fantastic-ness that no other wedding photography can match.
Let me take a special moment to further praise Amy Alexander and Lillian Lopez. Amy was often a lot like an athletic coach while shooting us. She 'danced' us through our still photography like a Broadway director moves performers on stage. She somehow managed to read our minds (there's that special Disney magic again) and make the shots happen. Backgrounds, lighting, movement, reflections and even raindrops all seemed to be under her command while she orchestrated Jodi and me. To top it all off, Amy is also a post-production wiz. She took the thousands of shots and culled them down to over 800 fantastic photos that all show wonderful happiness.
The pictures, when we got them, were like a small avalanche of great memories. One word of advice, pay the extra money to get the high-resolution DVD's and really consider the other extra options. It's all money but it's all so worth it.
Lillian Lopez helped us put our wedding album together when we came back to WDW about 8 months after the wedding. Actually she helped us put two of them together. One large one with a wonderful spread of all aspects of our wedding and a second, smaller one with just the best of the best of the best. She's patient and happy and it makes me smile just to think of the hours we spent with her. Yes, hours! Even though Jodi and I had spent many nights before bed going over the photos to narrow it down to just a couple of hundred for album consideration, it still took 3 to 4 hours with Lillian to get things laid out and perfect. This was time she gave willingly and happily and it's exactly the way it needed to be. I'm sorry to say I was grumpy that morning when I woke up. I had slept extremely poorly at the Swan & Dolphin the night before and I just felt played out. Lillian rescued me from that mood and made a chore into yet another happy memory. If you have the chance, work with her. She'll take good care of you and make you smile.
Wedding Planning Staff
Our excellent wedding planner Diane Bowen was graceful and professional. Whenever we had a question it was handled with assurance, respect and a smile. She was responsive and helpful before the wedding and was professional and unflappable during the ceremony and reception. When it looked like it might rain she trusted me to make the call to stay outside even though she didn't know I have been trained in weather analysis by the Coast Guard Auxiliary. When there was a hiccup with the music just before the ceremony started she handled it and kept things moving. When a guest had to leave the reception and fly home due to an emergency Diane found an internet connection, arranged for the flight and got her on her way. If I ever get the chance again, I'll hire her, she's aces. When one of my two best 'men' Johnny, who lost his leg a few years ago, had trouble with his prosthetic, Jamie Ledet and Chrissy Walsh found a wheelchair and took special good care of him. Awesome.
In addition to Diane keeping us very well informed about the wedding expenses and planning, assistant planners Jen Flores, Alix Griffin-Arnold and Jessica Moore went out of their way to make sure the paperwork and reservations process was as painless as possible. Anyone out there who's ever managed any kind of large project or event knows that the devil lives in the details and those details hide in the paperwork. Jen took care of us and Jess made sure we understood what we were doing each step of the way. Any time I eMailed any of them or called I knew they would do their best. I was also heartened that their 'best' is several notches above other people’s best.
Laura Kidd with Disney floral was the ultimate cool. Jodi is a naturalist and park ranger. She wanted nature to be part of our wedding and Laura and her staff were able to make that happen. The flowers and greenery were beautiful in a way that still makes me feel warm and fuzzy. The bouquets and corsages all looked like little bits of purity and sunshine with a little spice.
The flowers and natural touches to the ceremony were actually enhanced quite a bit because the Gazebo at the Yacht Club is in a beautiful but understated rose garden. Laura and her staff know how to use flowers and plants to add-to rather than compete-with the landscaping and darn, it looked great. In the 1990's the word was synergy.
I don't really know how the Disney floral and landscaping staff did it but somehow we had baby bunnies and newborn ducklings as part of our marriage. I don't know where they nest or live but they provided a little bit more magic for our wedding. Fortunately they didn't actually get in anyone's way during the ceremony but we saw them several times during our trip and it made us extra happy.
Disney's Yacht club is upscale and wonderful. Even in a non-wedding setting it's the kind of place that can make you feel that everything's alright. The facilities inside and the main lobby and lounge areas are fantastic for photos and preparation. The secluded rose garden and gazebo have a view of the water but are also somewhat obscure. It's a very successful fusion of public and private spaces and is pure Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Albert Einstein type genius.
Although mostly shielded from wind and weather the rose garden still gets lots of light. There is easy access to restrooms, food, guest rooms and good photo backdrops. There are indoor galleries and ballrooms near at hand in case it rains and the ceremony has to move indoors. It's also well shielded from most unwanted sounds.
The hotel check-in staff made sure that many of our guests had rooms with balconies or walk-out porches into the rose garden. Believe me, this was a significant comfort to yours truly when I was waiting for the ceremony to begin. More than once I walked over between the bushes to my friends’ rooms to shake hands, exchange hugs and to make sure they were ready to take their seats. Smooth, low stress and very romantic. I cried a bunch.
The Atlantic Dance Hall at Disney's Boardwalk is exceptional. My grandparents had told me how much they loved getting married and going to Cape May back "before the war". The Atlantic Dance Hall is a very high class reconstruction of that pre-WWII, mid-atlantic feeling. It's also got a layer of Art Deco flavor and could easily make you feel like Daddy Warbucks and Annie might walk in at any minute. The combination of great banquet service and the very fine facility are perfect for each other. The multiple levels allow for some seclusion if people need time apart while the general arrangement of the place mostly keeps all of the spaces part of the central focus. As with the rose garden it's a mix of conflicting aspects that are artfully and successfully combined. It's even got outside balcony areas overlooking the water where folks can go outside, watch the boats and smoke cigars if they want to.
Banquet manager Shelley Dunkley and her staff of decorators, waiters, chefs and bartenders turned a beautiful space into a celebration of happiness. The wait staff was attentive, energetic and kind while the bar keepers were quick and friendly. Because chocolate is a significant part of our lives Jodi and I put out Ghiradelli chocolates as favors to our guests. We purchased these the day before at Downtown Disney and this gave a bit of extra yummy in addition to cocktail hour hors d’oeuvres.
So our wedding guests could get to know each other more easily, Disney set up more tables and place settings than we paid for at no extra cost. Before I found out about this free 'extra' I had honestly thought about paying for extra settings just for this reason but the per-plate cost would have been hard on our budget. When they said they do it as a matter of course it made me smile. They think like I think. The extra tables and place settings did indeed come in handy as people mingled and sat and ate and got to know each other.
I did specifically request one other extra table, set with just one place setting. This setting and table was provided free by Disney to honor absent companions. It was to remember those who are no longer with us and could not come to the wedding. It's a military tradition that is both solemn and very beautiful. In a way, Disney helped make it so my two younger brothers and my father and several others who all left us much too early were there in spirit. It was uplifting even though it represents loss and separation. I was so glad the Disney folks could make it happen for me.
If you like dancing, Atlantic Dance Hall is excellent. It has one of the best dance floors I've ever been on. Taking in the seating areas, bars, stage, the beautiful architecture and lighting you get an experience worth raving about. When we arrived we made a "secret" entrance and took the elevator upstairs. Then, with fantastic flourish from DJ Patrick Cullen we descended the grand staircase to the Muppet Show theme and went right into our 'first' dance, L-O-V-E by Nat King Cole. It was even more fun than I had thought it could be.
Also, it's kid safe (within reason) and handicap friendly. If you ever have an opportunity to go to an event there or simply poke your head in, do it. Dance if you get the chance!
DJ Patrick Cullen (http://www.atomicweddingdj.com) was superlative. He really aced the gig with Master of Ceremony duties as well as great dance music DJ work. He showed up in great zoot suit style dance clothes which went well with several of our friends who also dressed up in '30's/'40's/'50's style. Everyone had a fantastic time and with Patrick's management of the up-beat mood, we all had tons of fun while burning lots of calories.
I got high praise from a pair of my friends who dance often, "He's trying to kill us!" they claimed. That was because Patrick was playing such good music no one wanted to leave the dance floor! Everyone was dancing themselves into smaller clothes sizes by the minute and smiling the whole time. He also played slow stuff for folks to settle down and eat and relax but always made sure the mood and pace of the music matched the needs and happiness of the guests.
We even had a conga line near the end that got almost every single guest up and dancing, again!
I never met the man before that day. He was specifically recommended to me by the Disney staff so I was willing to trust he was good. I had high expectations and he more than exceeded them. It also helped a lot that Disney has top notch sound systems. Quality equipment lets professionals do good work. Planning the reception music, Patrick was very good at communicating from a distance. I was easily able to stay in touch with him and plan the reception music & style completely from home. He made it all seem so easy. When we have our 5 year anniversary I'm going to hire him again. Patrick's genuinely a wonderful, fun guy. One other thing, Patrick and his wife can also take care of other wedding preparations and production if you need a non-Disney local person in the Orlando area. Oh, and he can dance too!
At many weddings dancing is often largely the responsibility of the guests and the DJ but Jodi and I are regular, committed swing dancers. We weren't going to just dance a couple of dances with each other and our parents and hope for the best. We wanted to make sure dancing was a central part of our reception. I wanted to see my mother dance with her husband and my new sister-in-law dance with my friends. We both wanted to see everyone smile and laugh and get to know each other. Some of our guests dance but we didn't want anyone to feel left out so we brought down our friends, super fantastic dance instructors, Dabe and Janelle Murphy (http://www.Dabe-and-Janelle.com).
You know that 30 to 90 minutes between the ceremony and the couple's grand entrance at the reception? That quiet time when photographer gets special photos of the new couple? Well, we didn't want any dull times in our wedding so we asked Dabe and Janelle teach a dance lesson during that 'quiet' time. A dance lesson is a great ice breaker! Each gentleman ends up dancing with each of the ladies as the instructors 'rotate' the partners from one to the next during the course of the lesson. Our family and friends will be part of our lives forever and the lesson gave them a good opportunity to get to know each other, much better than just standing around drinking cocktails.
The end result, everyone got a dance lesson, everyone laughed and joked and met new people and no one even noticed the time go by. When Jodi and I got to the reception everything was smiles and music and energy. As the afternoon progressed everyone danced a whole lot and had a great time!
The dance lessons may have even saved us money. If our guests had been drinking the whole time instead of dancing the bar tab might have been $500 higher. Flying Dabe & Janelle down to Disney was significantly less than that and we LOVED having them. It also happened to be their 3rd anniversary and Janelle used to work at WDW. It was a true win-win!
Facilities & Accommodations
How can you beat having hotels, food, reception space, cosmetology, hairstyling, clothing, airport transportation, entertainment and professional management all in one place? The reduction in stress of knowing that no matter what, everyone can get to the wedding and back again safely is a serious boost to any wedding. The fact that we chose the rose garden for the ceremony and the Atlantic Dance Hall for the reception made things an order of magnitude easier. Jodi and I stayed our first 2 nights at the Pop Century because Jodi loves the giant swing dancers on the side of one of the buildings. Both Pop Century and the All Stars resorts offer reasonable cost and excellent, comfortable accommodations. Jodi then moved in with her mom over at the Yacht club and I stayed with my brother Chris.
Really, having some of the guests’ hotel rooms with walk-out access to the ceremony grounds and everyone able to walk from the ceremony to the reception simplified the planning, timing and even the photography while also reducing costs. It also made it extra easy for everyone to stay in touch. When the bride's mother wanted to know if I was ready, she didn't have to go far. If the wedding planner had a last minute question about the flower arrangements she only needed to knock on the bride's mom's hotel door. That kind of stress reduction is valuable beyond price.
Sure the rooms at Disney's Yacht Club are a little more. That little bit of cost makes a world of difference. If you take into the account that everyone saves on gas, taxis, limousines and stress, it all makes good sense. Even for those who need to stay at the more inexpensive Disney hotels the free shuttle busses handle that issue easily.
Destination weddings or indeed any wedding where folks are coming from out-of-town can involve a lot of extra transportation issues. Disney has that so completely covered that it's even easier than having a wedding near home. Specialized transportation can of course be had. Disney can arrange for limousines, horse drawn carriages, classic cars, motor coaches (bus), boats, etc., etc. Disney allows you to make external transportation arrangements also. If you have a particular limo service or your grandfather has a 1940's Packard you want to use, that's OK (within certain boundaries). If you want to have a spectacular getaway, they have resources ready for you. About the only thing they don't have available is aircraft. That's not really a problem though.
Jodi and I wanted a water 'getaway' from the reception but unfortunately Disney's ultra cool motor launch, "Breathless" was broken and a Disney cruise ship at Port Canaveral was out of our budget. So, Jodi and I decided to rely on the free Friendship Boats that run on the canals between the Boardwalk/Yacht Club and Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios. These boats are a treasure and it couldn't have been more perfect! Jodi and I had the open back (fantail) of the boat all to ourselves. The coxswain (captain) of the boat even helped out by spinning Friendship VI around and backing it to the docks. He then pulled slowly away into Crescent Lake so everyone could get great photos while we waved goodbye and Jodi blew kisses. It was like something out of a 1930's motion picture and it was fantastically beautiful. Royal weddings don't have it any better.
Jodi and I flew Southwest Airlines (http://www.southwest.com). Along with convenient BWI to Orlando direct service and free bags (a HUGE plus) they were very kind and sweet to us. Southwest even let us put little 'clingy' valentine decorations in our row on the airplane on the wall and window and seat backs and we rode in super-fun silly, romantic happiness both ways. They even gave us a bottle of champagne. Southwest took extremely good care of us!
If your guests are staying at a Disney-owned resort Disney's Magical Express will transport them and their bags to and from the airport for free. Disney mailed us baggage tags and once we checked our bags with Southwest at BWI we didn't have to think about them again until we got to our room at WDW. Trains, buses and most of the major air carriers go to Orlando so getting there from almost anywhere is easy. Interstate highways make for easy driving to WDW. Guests can park free at Downtown Disney or at their hotel or at the wedding venue and take free shuttles everywhere. Remember, not all of the hotels on the WDW property are owned by Disney and thus the free airport transportation might not be available. The Swan and Dolphin is a particular example. If you stay there you may have to deal with your own bags and airport transportation.
Hair, Makeup, Dress, and Odds & Ends
Jodi chose to get an extremely beautiful and dance-able dress from David's Bridal (www.davidsbridal.com) up here in Washington D.C. and we shipped the dress down a week before the wedding. Jodi chose a beautiful, traditional girly-girl dress with a halter-top and a train she could 'bustle' up so we could dance without worries. It worked great and looked fantastic. I have theater costume experience and lots of travel experience so I know how to properly box and ship a large, expensive dress. Jodi was worried but I was confident it would all be OK. It was. When we arrived our friend Annette Mead took us to the dress shop and we double checked everything and it was all good. Disney had recommended the dress prep service / shop and they were perfect. They even came to Jodi’s mom’s room to help with last minute issues.
To propose to Jodi, I purchased a pretty, gold ring with Celtic knots and a deep red garnet stone from a long time friend at the Maryland Renaissance Festival, master goldsmith Rob Piland (http://www.repiland.com). I wanted this ring to be special but I also wanted Jodi to be able to design her own wedding rings and help me design mine. This way I figured she had a special ‘proposal’ ring to wear while we designed our custom nuptial rings and Rob made them for us.
My grandmother gave Jodi and me my grandparents’ 30th anniversary rings to use in making our own wedding rings. The diamond from my Grandmother’s ring became the stone for Jodi’s engagement ring and Rob used gold from both of my grandparents’ rings in our new ones. Jodi now wears the proposal ring on her right hand and the engagement ring and its wedding ‘jacket’ look stunning on her left. Mine is an intricate woven Celtic design that I think looks fantastic.
Jodi’s sister Cory, has extensive theater experience and did Jodi’s makeup and our friend Lindsey braided Jodi's hair into a beautiful do. Jodi's naturally an extremely pretty girl. Really! I'm biased but look at the pictures. She looked great (and continues to look great). Even so, it was good to know that Disney was able to recommend hair and cosmetology people had we needed them. If something had gone wrong with the dress, hair or makeup (or most anything else really) Disney would have been able to help. That really did our sanity a world of good.
For the dinner with the parents the night before the rehearsal we went over to the Boardwalk. Anyone who thinks that Walt Disney World only has tourist food needs to make reservations at the Flying Fish. It's fine dining and you should not show up wearing a t-shirt and flip flops. Kristi Warrick is one of the managers there and she has a fine crew of fantastic chefs and wait staff. It's not cheap but it's worth every penny to have really great food in a relaxed atmosphere while smiling and sipping wine with your about-to-be father-in-law. If you have the opportunity, go. They even printed up special congratulatory copies of the menus for us to keep as souvenirs. Darn cool.
Our luncheon after the rehearsal was a low key but extremely happy affair at the ESPN Club at Disney's Boardwalk, walking distance from the ceremony location at the Yacht Club. Back in 2009 there was an ESPN Zone here in Washington D.C. so I was able to visit it a few times to check out the food and ask some questions. I found out that the menu could accommodate special needs and I could indeed arrange for a large party without any serious hassles. I was able to verify this with a couple of phone calls down to the WDW location and it all came together easily. It was inexpensive and very good. Everyone had a great time. If you don't like ESPN there's a myriad of other options but I highly recommend ESPN at WDW for a good low-key gathering.
The Disney web page for our wedding helped a lot. Using this, guests stayed informed and arranged for park tickets and room information among other things. This might seem like a small thing but it's one of those free 'little things' like the Disney save-the-date cards that made life easier for Jodi and me and gave an extra warm-fuzzy. These small things not only gave us a useful way of getting folks the information they needed but also lent a sense of gravity and special-ness to the planning and invitation process. When folks got the save-the-date cards or visited the web site they got a special 'wow' feeling that many of them specifically mentioned to me later. To me it still feels a little like we were part of the Disney family and that we made them a part of us.
Make friends with a local person! My special friend down in the Orlando area is Annette Mead who retired from Disney after something over 30 years. I met her back in the 1990's at WDW for Star Wars Weekends and we've stayed in touch ever since. She was able to help us with a million little details like getting bubble stuff (instead of rice) for the ceremony and driving us to city hall for our marriage license. Her insider knowledge of all things Disneyworld helped a 'bunchaton'. She and her daughter Brandy also shot some video for us that ended up being a special addition to our wedding DVD. I will always owe her for being so good to us.
Things to watch out for:
- Communications. For whatever reason cell phone and text communications are not necessarily universal for the wedding staff. There were a few times when it was somewhat difficult to get a hold of the right person. New technology or a change in policy may have fixed this.
- Locations and transportation during wedding planning. For whatever reason, the wedding planners were located about a 20 minute drive away from almost everything. Wedding sales folks at Franck's had cars to show customers around but the wedding planners themselves didn't. If possible make sure you set aside extra time in-between food tasting, flowers and other agenda items when visiting sites and facilities on planning trips. Banquet, bridal and other services may not be co-located. Confirm times and places more than once and check a map. If it takes 25 min. by Monorail and bus to get from one place to another and you only set aside 10 min. you'll stress. The wedding planner might not have a car to give you a ride. Consider reserving a taxi if necessary. If you're in your own car a good GPS is your friend.
- eMail attachments. We experienced a few kinks in the exchange of eMail messages apparently revolving around a problem with Microsoft Word and the Microsoft servers & eMail services used at Disney. They've almost certainly been fixed by now but I remember the staff having to make 3 attempts to eMail a graphic of the layout of our reception. Microsoft's software kept trying to encapsulate the graphics in some corrupted or difficult-to-open format. PDF and JPEG are your friends and avoid .docx documents.
- Guest accommodations coordination. The arranging of rooms for the wedding is handled much like for a convention. Disney's wedding folks arrange for blocks of rooms to be 'held' for the wedding at a discount price and give 'credit' to the bride & groom for a free honeymoon room. Unfortunately, the actual reservations and payment services are only partly coordinated & automatic. You should contact each family or individual to advise them and again later to get their hotel confirmation numbers and send those to the wedding planners. This may get especially problematic if you have a guest who 'thinks' they know what they're doing and doesn't follow instructions.
- Billing policies. It took me 5 really careful readings of the paperwork and 3 phone calls over the course of 2 weeks to really understand what money was going to be spent on which things. Most of my confusion came down to 'required' expenditures in relation to day-of-the-week and location. As an example, a Saturday wedding mandates you spend a particular amount of money while a Sunday wedding has a lower mandatory amount (at the same location). The costs of individual banquet, ceremony or entertainment items themselves may not change, just the requirement that you must buy more stuff on Saturday vs. Sunday. You'll probably be spending more than the minimums anyway so it probably won't matter unless your budget is very tight.
- Music restrictions. If you have an outdoor ceremony or reception anywhere on the Disney property they will not let your mom or dad sing at your own wedding. If your father is a semi-professional choir member or your sister is a professional vocalist and dancer, no-dice. They consider that all "entertainment" and stipulate that all live entertainment MUST be arranged by Disney. It still makes me scratch my head since a ceremony is NOT entertainment. They will however let you pre-record whatever you like and play that recording over the sound system they provide. This is what we did. I made 2 burned CD's and a pre-loaded iPod as backup and it all worked well. Thus we did manage to have my music teacher Paul Ruskin play 'What a Wonderful World' for us, virtually speaking. I suppose we could have had Dad lip sync... Indoor gigs are different.
- Make double sure you have all of the legal issues with your wedding sorted out before you go for your special day. Disney can help a bit with that but it's one of the few things they can't do for you. Disney insists that you have your marriage license all in order before you have the ceremony and you have to go to the court house in the correct county to take care of that in-person, ahead of time. That might be more complicated than you would think because WDW is actually bisected by the county line, most of it is in Orange county and part is in Osceola county. Also, in-state residents have extra rules and potential time-impediments that out-of-state residents don't have to obey. Along with our wedding planner Diane Bowen, Debbie Grant at Disney Online Communications helped set me straight about that and they made sure we had the correct answers. We made lots of calls and had lots of backup documentation and arrived a few days early just to make sure we got this perfect.
The above issues are really not dire (except for the marriage license), just important to think about and try to get right. After speaking with literally dozens of people involved with weddings (their own and other peoples') I understand that Disney gave us service that was above-and-beyond and that our little project was about the most trouble-free wedding possible. It was also about the most fun we could have possibly had! Put in the fact that with only a little help from the moms and dads we got it all done and didn't even use up all of our savings or go into debt.
Special thank-you's from (and to) Disney
I know that part of the Disney norm was (and is) to give us more than we paid for. Sometimes it was simply providing better-than-excellent service and more happiness. In some cases they actually gave us specific, tangible extras or gifts that were both extremely valuable and memorably kind.
While we were at our sweetheart table during the reception our wedding planner Diane Bowen gave us two unexpected special gifts. She gave us each a beautiful formal Disney Fairy Tale Wedding watch (in a little box shaped like a fairy tale book) and two Walt Disney World annual passes. We both treasure our watches and wear them often. They are beautiful and shiny and unique and I feel special wearing mine. The annual passes are good for park-hopping in any WDW parks all day, every day for a whole year starting whenever we want to start. These are very valuable and were a complete surprise. They even allow us to get discounts on our Disney hotel rooms when we stay at WDW in the future. Of course, we'll be back, hopefully a lot.
Don't forget to write thank-you notes to the Disney folks and other vendors. In addition to sending gift cards to the banquet staff we also made sure to write thank-you notes and send gift cards and copies of our wedding DVD to each department at Walt Disney World and most of the outside vendors who helped. I know it might not seem like much but many of the Disney folks and the other vendors get very little positive feedback and it's a great kindness to show them some extra appreciation if you can. After all, these people do make Disneyworld extra special and they will thank you right back. We even wrote a thank-you to the vendor that provided the little chocolate squares we found on our pillows at the Grand Floridian. When we wrote to Astor Chocolate and thanked them for making our wedding night a little bit sweeter they actually wrote back and sent us over 2 pounds of fine chocolates. Wow, that was cool.
It was all so wonderful and near-perfect that I still feel overwhelmed 18 months later. I got to marry a fantastic lady that I'm thankful for every day. I got to hang out with some of my best friends and most beloved family. I got to vacation in Disneyworld. I got to do it all together! It's all more happiness than can be had with mere money. It's magic and I'd love to marry Jodi all over again. Oh, and this time I'd love to take her on a cruise. ;-)
Jodi and I wanted to make sure that our friends and family who couldn’t come to Walt Disney World would get the chance to share our happiness, so we had a local reception at the Old Town Alexandria water front near D.C. a few months after we got back from Orlando. It was a gas!
And they lived happily ever after…