Nature holds a sort of magic over our lives – a magic so moving it drove us from warm skies and sandy beaches to tall, massive trees and snow-capped mountains. There’s something majestic and humbling about these Pacific Northwest forests that makes us feel alive. Pair these trees with ocean waves and I’m home.
With our engagement reflecting these feelings, we both knew our wedding would need to have a similar setting.
There are many paths you can follow when selecting a venue. We found ourselves caught between our needs and those of our guests, and had to remind ourselves multiple times that we’re throwing a party for us so, we need to like it. I wanted to share our process, and maybe help others along the way, by highlighting the main factors in our decision making that led us to our venue.
Find a location that makes sense to both of you.
Growing up, I’ve heard so much commotion over the bride. “It’s HER Day” gets thrown around as though it should be obvious. I’ve never understood this seeing as marriage has come to mean a union between 2 people who are equal to one another. I also never spent time dreaming up the perfect wedding. I hardly gave much thought to it until Matthew and I started talking about getting married.
Combine that with us getting engaged about 6 months after moving to a new state, and that left us pretty clueless about where to begin. Narrowing down a general where helped get the process going, though. That was the first item on our list we wanted to cross off.
We asked ourselves: When should it be? What kind of wedding do we want: intimate, large, should we elope? How should it feel? What should it look like? Indoor or outdoor? What state are we getting married in – our new home state of Washington or Florida, where nearly all of our friends and family are?
It’s our party right? We want to have it in Washington, where we feel magic, where we feel like us. As for the date, I couldn’t think of any better than our current anniversary (putting it on a weekday, in winter). It made sense to me, and the more we spoke about other dates the more I realized how much getting married on our anniversary would mean to me. After a few elopement ideas, I also realized how much having numerous friends and family with us meant to me. Matthew (who would have been more than happy with a mountain elopement) was kind enough to agree to these matters.
It took a few months to visit several locations, spending at least a night at each place to get the vibe of each space. It also gave us an excuse to have mini-vacations and start imaging the details of our wedding with the inspiration each possible venue offered.
Balance your needs with those of your guests.
Our checklist for must-haves had two categories: our wants and our guests’ needs. Since most of our attendees will be flying across country, we knew we had to make it as easy as possible. Besides, Floridians coming out to Washington in the winter won’t be the easiest transition.
We asked ourselves: Do we like the location? How far is the venue from our home? How far is the venue from an airport? What will the road conditions be? (Anything that could possibly need tire chains to reach was immediately crossed off the list – most of guests have never driven in snow). Are there amenities near the site (other hotel options, food options, last minute supplies for us and guests, etc)? Are we comfortable here? Will our guests be comfortable here?
These needs led to several limitations. Several mountain resorts only offered its venue services during the late spring through early autumn. To avoid closed mountain passes and excess snow, we needed to find something on the west side of the Cascades. Destination locations such as ski resorts started appearing on our list, but their pricing and tourist appeal put us off. The last thing we wanted were strangers wandering up to our ceremony and hanging on the sidelines to watch.
We made a list of the venues we adored, the ones that suited our guests, and pulled our top choices from the venues that had the most overlap.
Learn to let go of the little things without compromising what you want.
Several times I became frustrated. Driving hours to a location, booking a night or two, and then speaking with someone at the desk only to learn that they’re normally snowed out in during January – a detail that could have saved us the time and money. We decided to have a vegan menu (I should be able to eat anything I want at my own wedding), so every venue’s menu became a test. Can I alter their meals? Is it a hassle? How accommodating are staff? I became put off by a few places for less than helpful service.
At the same time, the frustration led me in a direction I didn’t expect.
We asked ourselves: How much does this matter? Will it take away from our experience? Will it take away from our guests’ experiences? Will we remember this detail in 10 years?
I started realizing some things I could take a breath on. Nothing will ever be perfect, but it can be enough. If it’ll make us smile, it’s enough.
Coordinating a way for every single guest to get out to Washington will not be possible: whoever makes it will be enough.
Addressing every single concern over every non-conventional choice we make will only exhaust us. We learned how to gently put our foot down in some matters, how to stand up for ourselves a little more and the things we want, and how to stand side by side while doing it.
Needing to control every single detail will make us only see the forest for the trees. We’re taking breaths and choosing the details that will have the biggest impact, learning to let some things go.
When you’ve grown attached to a location, end your search and focus on your venue.
At the end of the day, Matthew and I want to celebrate our union with those closest to us. This is why the first resort we stepped foot in stuck with me. Why we eventually chose it.
Yes. The first place we visited.
Alderbrook Resort and Spa has a courtyard with a view of their dock, clashing with our hopes of trees towering over us without much distraction. This was the original reason we shelved the location and kept looking. Over time, my mind kept wandering back to Alderbrook. I thought of bringing our families out there at some point, regardless if we chose it as a venue. I even imagined Matthew and I bringing our future family there for summer vacations. Along with my daydreams, we realized we spent our time comparing other locations to the first venue. When you dwell on something so much, there’s always a reason. We knew we had to revisit Alderbrook and figure out a way to be happy with a ceremony space. (Besides. The resort is located in Union, Washington. How is that not perfect?)
The drive out to the location is comfortable and full of trees, the last stretch of road snaking along the canal to the resort. Walking in, you’re greeted by a rustic look that’s more woodsy than hunter-cabin. When we explored during our first visit, I began to see all of our guests gathered in open spaces, catching up or getting to know each other at the bar, or walking out on the dock to enjoy the view. That should have been my first clue that this was the spot, but I always hesitate when the first option seems too good to be true. I should know better than to doubt my own intuition, but it happens from time to time.
It’s sort of like finding a house or apartment: when you walk in, it feels right. You see it. You see yourself and your guests. It comes to life.
We ended up finding a park a few minutes down the road and declaring that our ceremony space, with the resort used for reception and lodging.
What really brought it home to me was that my father came to visit, and we were able to walk around the two locations with him. To physically see someone who will be at the wedding in the space, especially family, made everything more real than it has seemed during all of our planning. We never once worried if his opinion of the location we chose would make us doubt our decision – we were only excited to show off the type of location that had drawn us so far from our hometowns.