How to choose your wedding venue - hot tips.
These days, especially when choosing a wedding venue in Colorado, places book up FAST! As wedding photographers, we're usually hired for weddings about 8-12 months in advance, but before you can hire anyone, you have to have a wedding date set, and before you can choose your date, you usually have to have a venue.
Sometimes our couples choose their date first, getting married on a day which means something to them- an anniversary of when they first met, or PI (3/14/15, etc.) but for the most part, I would say that a lot of couples' dates are dictated by venue availability- so if you want first pick, you need to book it early! And by "early" I mean, usually a year+ in advance. I know most Colorado wedding venues are fully booked for the summer and fall by early January of that year, and it's farther and farther out each year! But I'm getting ahead of myself- first things first- make your budget. I have a whole post on a full wedding budget breakdown, but for now I'm just going to say that you don't want to get carried away with the first item on your list and blow your entire budget, - it's cool to get married by the ocean with fancy cocktails, 14 wild mustangs, a full circus performance, and rose gold everything, but not if you have to literally cut everything else out and wind up wearing a burlap sack because you couldn't afford a wedding dress. Unless you're into the burlap look, in which case, GO FOR IT! (and call us, because that dress sounds legit and we love offbeat and alternative weddings! hello, cute coffee-bag couture!)
Second thing is, you'll probably want to have an idea of how many people you want with you on your wedding day. Are you planning for a 350 person pool-party in the desert? (if so, call us!) Are you planning for a 10-person elopement on the California coastline? (call us for that, too!!) Who will you be inviting? Only family? Friends and family? Grandparents? Cousins? Are little kids invited? Will anyone be in a wheelchair or have a cane? Think about your dream guest list, and have a ballpark idea of the size of your wedding, including family/friends/spouses/kids/wedding party, etc. before you contact a venue.
Once you have a list of your dream venues, and you've narrowed it down to a few that you want to tour, things to look for and think about are:
- Lighting in the getting ready areas - do they have rooms to get ready on site?
- Would your wedding party have to travel several times during the day?
- Do they have outlets in the rooms you'll be getting ready in?
- Is there a place to keep your mimosas cold, or will you have to bring in your own coolers? (this really should have been the number one question, but I didn't want to sound TOO booze-enthused)
- Do they have more than one wedding per day?
- Will you be rushed at all? Is there a time limit to when you can be there? Will you have to pay for extra hours in order to have your first look, family photos, and your reception all in the same location?
- Do they have on-site catering? Are you allowed to bring in your own food - snacks/booze for getting ready, etc. Do they have restrictions on who you can hire for bartending/catering/planning?
- Do they have restrictions on who you can hire for anything?
- Do they have an on-site planner/day-of coordinator?
- Are you allowed to hire your own planner?
- Do they offer an all-inclusive option? Is that something that you want?
Things to think about if you're getting married in a non-venue-y venue (that's the official term, you know):
- What is the parking sitch? If you're having 150 people somewhere, that's roughly 80+ cars, so either you'll need to provide transportation (which can be verrrry pricey- also, I have some horror stories about some AWFUL limo companies, so check the transportation company's references first- like, triple check that shiz) or you'll need to have a large enough space for everyone to park.
- Also, if you're getting married in the middle of nowhere, those people are going to need to know how to get there- so if it's out in BFE bum-didly nowhere, then make sure you have a hand-drawn map or something that people can use if their trusty-dusty phones can't get them there. Sometimes my phone refuses to have service inside the city I live in, so... I don't trust technology as far as I can throw it (which is pretty far sometimes, but still)
- Where will you be getting ready?
- Where will you be doing your first look?
- Will you need amplification?
- Is there a place to plug things in, or will you need to rent/buy/do you already own because you're worried about the apocalypse/ a generator?
- What will you do if there's a storm? THIS IS A BIG ONE in Colorado, and almost anywhere you have more than 2 people gathering. If it starts to pour, will your guests have a place to go?
- Are you renting a tent? Can you stake it down?
- Will you need to rent a dance floor? Will you be dancing in the mud? There are a lot of logistics for doing the DIY venue, and my only advice for that is to hire a planner. At the very least, hire a day-of coordinator who can help manage your day so you don't have to worry about a thing on your actual wedding day.
Don't be afraid to think outside the box! A lot of the weddings we photograph are in "non-traditional" locations- Natural Areas, Open Spaces, State or National Parks. Just be aware that most of these places do require permits, and often have restrictions on alcohol/noise/number of people gathering, etc. so call first. Make sure you're respecting the rules set up for these places. It can be tricky sometimes, to know all of this, which is why a photographer can actually be a lot of help (surprise surprise, we're good for lots of things!). We photograh all the time in all of these locations, and usually have an idea of the protocol for getting permits, etc. so lean on your photographer. Yet another reason to go the professional route when it comes to hiring vendors- we can help you with almost every aspect of your wedding day- from choosing your venue to the best tent rental company, we've seen it all, and probably know the inside scoop on most things wedding-related. Since we're hired so early in the process, we love to help out with anything you need whilst planning your amazing wedding day!
Now I'm feeling like this can all be turned into a checklist, which I may actually write up and offer as a download soon- if you'd be interested in that, please sign up for our newsletter! We'd be sending it out PDF-style in the near future!
Being wedding photographers, we couldn't have this post without some photos, so here are a few of our favorite wedding venues from the past.
The Manor House outside of Denver, Colorado is a fantastic place for a wedding.
The parks along Horsetooth Reservoir west of Fort Collins are great if you are having a very small wedding or elopement.
Bingham Hill Park outside of Fort Collins and Laporte is awesome in a DIY sort of way.
Soldier Canyon in Lory State Park outside of Fort Collins is a fantastic place for a wedding with 100-200 guests (might I be biased because we got married there? Perhaps!)
The Hamill House in Georgetown, Colorado is a very nice historic mansion in the mountains.
Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch outside of Loveland, Colorado is amazing and can handle every detail of your wedding.
The Historic Crags Lodge in Estes Park, Colorado is one of our favorites overall.
Vedauwoo in southern Wyoming between Cheyenne and Laramie is amazing, but you have to bring everything to the event.
There are no wrong ways to do your wedding day- and I know it feels overwhelming when you're choosing the venue or location - but I promise that once you've settled on the date, time and place, everything else falls into place rather easily.