Honey Lake Plantation Review

Wedding Recaps

We had a total of three vendors for our wedding: the cupcake shop, the photographer, and our venue. While I’ll wait until the end to review the other two, I wanted to get the venue review out of the way, clear the air so to speak, before we get into recapping the wedding itself. Both to avoid ending on a negative note and to state the issues we faced so that it doesn’t seem like I’m harping in the venue every. damn. post.

Those high-top tables were supposed to have chocolate-brown sashes on them. And when I mentioned the lack to the DoC she actually said 'This is what happens when you trust someone else to do it.' Preaching to the chior, sister ;-)

Those high-top tables were supposed to have chocolate-brown sashes on them. And when I mentioned the lack to the DoC she actually said ‘This is what happens when you trust someone else to do it.’ Preaching to the chior, sister 😉 | all photos by Pink Shutterbug Photography

Honey Lake Plantation is a beautiful venue, and that alone may be enough to ignore all the rest. But in my opinion, they have a ways to come before they round out the management and communication issues that were the root of the negatives we experienced.

Take, for instance, 6 months prior to the wedding: I emailed our DoC, an HLP employee, and had my email bounce-back. I tried the main weddings@ address from their website, and that bounced-back as well! Then it took a couple days of calling and leaving messages before I finally found out that the planner we’d signed with the previous year had opted not to return from medical leave. Which, hey, more power to her, but the venue could have made a point to contact her clients so we wouldn’t have this momentary panic when it was time to schedule our first planning meeting.

Our Unity Pour supplies sitting on a little end table, waiting for a high-top table to free-up because they over-committed their supplies.

Our Unity Pour supplies sitting on a little end table, waiting for a high-top table to free up because they over-committed their supplies.

Of course, what we didn’t know at the time was that no one had a way to access the previous planners emails. We found that out while in the meeting with the new planner, Stephanie, who had nothing to work from other than the 2 page contract–not even the proposal that contract was based on.

But the real chaos started 4 days before the wedding. We’d done our one-week-out planning session over the phone as Stephanie was still on maternity leave (only to have her head to the office, anyway, but leave my file at home) to go over the day’s schedule and all. The Tuesday before the wedding I’d emailed her to add one thing to the schedule and ask at what time the decision would be made to use the rain plan, as the forecast was still pretty iffy for the wedding day. Her reply didn’t actually answer my question, but it did offer these three tidbits of information:

  1. Our rain plan cocktail location had been changed from the White Ballroom to the Lakeside Pavilion, on the other side of the property! Now, that’s rather unfortunate, especially for the timeline, but there wasn’t much we could do about it since…
  2. The other wedding scheduled that day? It was at the same time as ours and they had the run of the inside of the Gathering Hall, while our event was 2/3 outside of it. Now, this really pissed me off because we were assured that while there might be another event that day, it would not be at the same time. And the fact that their ceremony was taking place inside the church (our guaranteed-by-paying-a-higher-rental-fee back-up in case of bad weather) meant that the other guests would have to walk clear around our event and enter through the side or rear of the Gathering Hall–not exactly great for them, either. But that was almost small potatoes compared to the little bomb she dropped on me next!
  3. Chef Bill had left. The chef we’d worked so carefully with to ensure the meal would accommodate my food intolerances without sacrificing the enjoyment of our guests was gone and it was iffy on whether he’d left any notes about our menu or not. While I was urged repeatedly not to panic (seriously?!), it was pretty much a clutch-your-pearls anxiety session for that first afternoon. Three calls from the DoC later and I’d found a ‘whatever happens, happens’ attitude from somewhere and continued on.

Our view from the front porch of our cottage. I had really wanted to be able to greet our guests as they arrived but since our transportation was late, we missed the first part of our cocktail hour.

The wedding itself was everything we needed it to be, but not without some trying moments courtesy of the venue’s staff. No one gave any thought to making sure the tables outside were level before setting glassware on them. Only to have them fall off and break (twice!) before they realized gravity and slope were not on their side and fixed the issue. There was a communication issue with the transportation that was supposed to bring us to the pre-cermony Cocktail Hour, the planning I did to ensure the music cues were correctly timed were all for naught, and we ended up being rushed to start the ceremony so early that I think my best friend (who couldn’t make it to cocktail hour) might have actually missed most of it.

Yes, that would be a DoC photobombing some of the ceremony pictures as she walked around the porch behind us.

Yes, that would be a DoC photobombing some of the ceremony pictures as she walked around the porch behind us.

As for the reception, having two weddings going on at the same time stretched their staff too thin and there were considerable gaps between courses, not to mention some strange inability to divide the quiches into 24 equal portions–one half of the room received generous slices while the other half received only half as much (this was something pointed out by Mama Leadfoot, so yes: the guests noticed). And it was just was well one of the things I decided not to do that final week was print menus: they wouldn’t have matched what was served, anyway! And the room set-up, while what we’d agreed upon, left barely enough room for our guests to side on either side of the ‘U’, much less move around comfortably; had they set-up the tables when I originally asked if there’d be enough space or even done a to-scale diagram, I think the issue would have been caught and we could have made for a longer, more narrow U-shape and given everyone more room both behind as well as to either side of each place.

Another one of those small, twitchy details: the napkins are folded wrong. Not a big deal if it'd been the only oops, but it was discussed multiple times and included in the written set-up instructions I provided with the decorations.

Another one of those small, twitchy details: the napkins are folded wrong. Not a big deal if it’d been the only oops, but it was discussed multiple times and included in the written set-up instructions I provided with the decorations.

In the end, the planner offered to comp the beer service (i.e. the only thing we hadn’t pre-paid) to try to make up for the multitude of event sins that had been committed. Then we came back from the honeymoon to find they’d billed me for an extra night’s lodging, claiming that someone else’s room had been attached to my reservation. It took 3 calls over almost a week to get them to finally reverse the erroneous charge.

Was our wedding a blast? Yes–because of the people we shared it with, not necessarily the actions of the venue. Is it a great location with a ton of potential? Absolutely. Would I recommend them to other North Florida brides? Only with caution. (Or, as the lovely Mrs. Turkey would put it: Recommend with Reservations) I can only hope they learned that they are not ready to take on two weddings in such close proximity at the same time and that they’ll be more cautious with their bookings in the future. A lot of the frustration we felt could have been alleviated with better systems in place on the managerial side to ensure consistency regardless of any staffing changes and a more thorough vetting of their own theories as to how their event spaces work.

And with that  now out of the way, the Road Trip recaps can finally begin!


Our Tasty Brunch Tasting!

Third Time Wife, Wedding Planning

Going into this wedding planning adventure, we knew that food was pretty high up there on the priorities list. Perhaps even the most important. So it might surprise you to know that we had never tried our venues food before our tasting last night.

And yes, I was a smidgen apprehensive over that point.

But Honey Lake Plantation fit everything else we needed so we took a leap of faith and signed the contract, hoping that our faith would be rewarded.

As of last night, I say we’re golden.

When we arrived we were shown to our table in the Gathering Hall’s main room with two places set and a printed menu in a clear stand so we could follow along. Of course, since we were so familiar with the menu already (having created it ourselves), we didn’t really need it but it’s nice to know they do that for their tastings.

Our menu for the evening (all photos personal)

Our menu for the evening (all photos personal)

During the tasting we would also be having our second planning meeting, so our DoC was present to chat with between courses (which gave us the opportunity to update her on things like the napkin change and verify some details we’d previously left vague). As soon as Chef Bill came out, though, it was his show.

the wonderfully accommodating Chef Bill

the wonderfully accommodating Chef Bill

Our first course was the soup and I was so glad to see it was a small portion. I was a little nervous we’d be serving ridonculous portion sizes and definitely didn’t want that, and a soup bowl or plate would have just been too much of a good thing.

Just the perfect amount of rich, creamy soup to start off brunch!

Just the perfect amount of rich, creamy soup to start off brunch!

The first try of the soup—a blend of butternut squash and sweet potatoes with coconut milk, cinnamon, sea salt, and pepper—was nice and velvety smooth, but missing something. We talked it over, I suggested adding cumin, and Chef Bill went and doctored up another two bowls for us with cumin, coriander, and Chinese 5-spice powder. It was perfect, and it turns out it was his preferred method of preparing that soup, he just didn’t know how comfortable we were with spices. To which I say: flavors, we wants them!

This quiche was possibly the best I've tasted. The smoked Gouda really makes a difference!

This quiche was possibly the best I’ve tasted. The smoked Gouda really makes a difference!

Moving on to the second course, the crust-less quiche featured both ham and apple wood-smoked bacon and a hearty amount of smoked Gouda. It, too, was very smooth and rich, so the accompanying salad of mixed greens with fruit and berry vinaigrette was the perfect foil to all the richness. The salad was also topped with some toasted sunflower seeds, something I’d suggested instead of nuts just to avoid other people’s potential allergies while still adding another layer of texture to the meal.

Oh, and did I mention that Honey Lake has their own chickens? These are super-fresh eggs Chef Bill gets to work with!

Country-fried steak, Tomato and Squash Terrine, and Biscuits with Gravy (it's the eggs in the gf biscuits that make them so golden yellow)

Country-fried steak, Tomato and Squash Terrine, and Biscuits with Gravy (it’s the eggs in the gf biscuits that make them so golden yellow)

Finally it was time for the third course—Chef Bill’s challenge: wheat free, lactose-free, onion & garlic free country-fried steak, biscuits and gravy. I think he met the challenge well! The steak was dredged in a mixture of arrowroot and rice flour, then pan-fried in bacon fat. No, it doesn’t have the characteristic coating we’re used to, but that actually worked in it’s favor since I think (I didn’t ask at the time) he used something other than the traditional cube steak, so the quality of the meat was highlighted instead of masked by breading.

For our tasting we both had the gluten-free biscuits (made from GF Bisquick per the package recipe—might sound chintzy, but it’s the best option I’ve found so far, especially when you only need to make a couple at a time) but at the wedding the guests will have traditional buttermilk biscuits and only I’ll have the gf ones. The gravy was Andouille-sausage gravy made with a safe-for-RT-tummies stock instead of cream (velouté vs. béchamel, for the foodies of the Hive), though again, guests will have the regular. According to both Mr. Road Trip and Chef Bill, they actually taste about the same; it’s just that one looks a little different.

Since those dishes alone would have made for a very beige plate, Chef Bill suggested and I accepted a terrine of tomatoes and squash topped with a bit of cheese. You also see bacon on top—I mentioned that our goal was to have bacon as many places as possible and he definitely took that to heart!

In fact, the only item we didn’t get a chance to try—the most popular if the comments on the last post are anything to go by—was the bacon-wrapped breadstick. We’re still working on that one but I did bring him a pizza dough recipe I thought might work so we’ll see if he’s able to experiment. Most guests will receive a conventional breadstick wrapped in bacon (I’m envisioning barber pole-style, but we’ll have to wait and see) and I’ve opted to skip that if he cannot find something that meets his standards and is safe for me, too.

Because while he wants to do the best he can to please me and my palate, he also wants to make sure our guests walk away with a good impression of Honey Lake, and it does take some time to adjust to certain food substitutions, especially the non-wheat variety. And as a fellow chef I can totally get behind that.

We Road Trips trundled on home with full bellies and quite a lot to look forward to for our reception.

What was your menu tasting experience like?

Our First Planning Day

Third Time Wife, Wedding Planning

One of the downsides to booking our venue and the DoC that came with it, is there was a looong gap between reserving it (April 2012) and any planning meetings for the event which start at 6 months out.

More than ready to get this show on the road, I emailed our contact (who was also our DoC) this April to set up that first planning session. Imagine my alarm when the email bounced back as a non-existent address. Realizing that staff changes could have happened in the past year, I didn’t panic too much until I resent the email to the main weddings@ address and it came back as restricted!

Now, rationally I knew that we had a signed contract and they’d take our deposit, so there was no way we weren’t having our wedding at HLP. But rational thought is not always driving this bus–sometimes I think my brain has this worst case scenario blanket over the top of it as I always seem to jump to it and play through the what-ifs for hours. I’ve done this throughout my life so I’m used to it, and at times I think it helps me be prepared for when things actually do go awry, but it was a few tense days, waiting for someone to return my calls, worrying that in the transition our contract had been overlooked and the venue might have been double-booked in the last year.

Bride Brain illustration by Miss Road Trip

illustration by Miss Road Trip

Turns out our original contact had opted not to return after her maternity leave (which, hey, more power to her) and that the current event planner just hadn’t gotten down to us on her list of folks to contact. Now, I’m still pretty irked that we weren’t notified of the personnel change since it does affect us, but after talking with our new planner, Stephanie, I felt much more at ease. Whew!

Meeting set, and scheduled for the only Saturday in May that there wasn’t a wedding going on there, I wondered why it’d take 2 hours for this meeting considering how much we’d already discussed with the former planner via emails, etc. before we signed the contract.

Well, folks, count 2 strikes for the former event planner because she left the incoming staff no. information. whatsoever. As in, when we sat down with Stephanie all she had was a copy of our contract, not even the proposal (with all the details) that the contract was based upon. And there was no way to get into the former planner’s email records either.


Good thing I’m also the type to over prepare, just in case of situations like this!

Unfortunately, more than just the staff had changed since we booked Honey Lake for our wedding.

  • We weren’t the first couple to have been promised colored table linens at no extra charge, but since it was’t specifically in our contract and just a verbal agreement, it wasn’t one we could make stick. So now we’re looking into rentals vs buying outright.
  • Thankfully we did have the BYO wine and signature cocktail written into the contract, because they no longer allow that! Still, we’ve opted to go with them providing the beer on-consumption for the guests that prefer that over the wine we’re providing. And while they do require bartenders these days, they also provide them at no extra charge, so that works out all the way around.
  • They’d also asked if we would be willing to change our lodging option from the Obo Suite (little 1-bedroom quarters attached to the main lodge) to one of the Pines cottages. While I wasn’t super-thrilled to give up the suite, the cottage does give us more getting ready room (2, 2-bed rooms, each with full baths) plus a sitting room but it’s slightly less charming and sort of overkill on the beds (it sleeps 8!). Still, they were concerned that the hunting party that rented the lodge for that weekend might make our stay less that serene, and I can appreciate that.
  • And on the very good front, they’ve now added sound system support for the grounds–originally it was only available in the main event spaces and the chapel. The fee for using their system is probably double of what renting the Passport system and speakers we were planning on, but the lack of hassle having to pick up/set up/break down/return the equipment ourselves is worth the convenience fee.

Oh, and it turns out we’re actually allowed to hang stuff on the walls! Bonus!

The main thing I wanted–no, NEEDED!–to get out of this meeting was table information. See, for months I felt like I was spinning my wheels on some big projects because I couldn’t really see how everything was going to go together. So once we walked the spaces with numbers in mind and started talking about specifics, I was galvanized into action by the time we got home and started revising my lists that night. Finally I knew how many centerpieces I needed and how many tables we would have for the cocktail hour and just where everything would be.

And a good thing, too, because suddenly our long (28 month) engagement is down to just under 4 months and I’m not sure I could have survived any more waiting around!

Did you have to deal with any panic-inducing moments from your venue or other vendors?

Achievement Unlocked: Location

Third Time Wife, Wedding Planning

View of the Gathering Hall from the road, through one of the arches down to the ChapelA location can make or break your wedding. It’s true.

A great location means all you have to do is show up and it’s gorgeous. Things like manicured gardens and stately old homes fall into this category, and can sometimes be hard to find or outside of your budget.

Instead, most of us are looking for a Good location. One that has enough natural beauty–good bones, you could say–that a few small touches will be enough to make it right for you and yours, but not a completely blank slate.

Todd and I have found our Good location, and no surprise it’s Honey Lake Plantation.

Even though I chuckled a bit because I have a bad habit of falling in love with the first house/car/idea I come across, we really did look at other options, officially and unofficially, but none of them measured up. There are still details to work out, logistics to factor-in, and all the usual event planning schtuff, but by choosing HLP we’ve made things a lot easier on ourselves while securing our wedding in a very pretty place.

This decision came at a price, however. 70% of our budget, to be precise. But that includes location, catering, and lodging for 2 nights, so all-told I think it’s going to be worth it in the long run. We both do, or we wouldn’t have signed on the dotted line, right?

While this does mean I’ll be heavily economizing on some of the other “must-haves” on down the line, it also means I can finally start making my to-diy lists and start planning with a vengence! I mean, it just wasn’t feasible to pick a dress until I knew how much room I’d have to move around in it, what sort of surfaces I’d be traversing and all that jazz. What sort of decorations will be needed heavily depended on the location, too. How many tables will need centerpieces, long, round, or something in between. A lot hanging in the balance.

So YAY! the dreaming has focus, and we, at a shade over 550 days to go, have our location.

Now to figure out… oh, everything else!

Pretty Book and Flower Icon


Did you feel a tremendous sense of relief when you made the location decision, too?

On Locations: Honey Lake Plantation

Third Time Wife, Wedding Planning

Let the games begin!

Or something like that.

Wedding planning is sort of like reindeer games, in that there are a lot of hoops to jump through, options to try out, and it’s like you’re at the beginning of the obstacle course with the venue as your first challenge.

Challenge accepted!

The first venue that really piqued our curiosity was Honey Lake Plantation in Greenville, Florida.

Honey Lake Plantation

taken from the tour bus from the vantage point of the chapel (all photos personal)

What made it stand out on paper?

First, the event coordinator, Cara, was so helpful via email. It didn’t look like our budget would make it possible, then she came back with the idea of using one of the smaller reception venues (since we’re only 50 people, this makes sense!), then we talked about ways to keep the catering budget in line. She even checked out my blog.

HLP also got major points for being cool with us bringing in our own wines and our own dessert option (be it the ubiquitous cupcake tower or a variety of desserts for display) without corking or cutting fees.

In my “potential venues” spreadsheet, they are on the tab for surrounding areas: places that are close enough for locals to have the option to drive their and back without mishap or stress but not in the city (or even county) limits, so not just down the street. It took us a solid hour to get there for our 12:30 tour, but the trip home seemed a lot quicker.

Map of the distance between Tallahassee and Honey Lake Plantation

gotta love google maps!

The surrounding area, leading to the turn onto Honey Lake Drive, doesn’t look like much, giving HLP that diamond-in-the-rough quality. I think, for us, this was another perk though I’m not sure I could really put my finger on why this was.

Cara picked us up in their new people-mover bus that seats something like 16-18  (they also have golf carts on the premises), which can be used to transport folks from one part of the property to another, if needed. (Off-property transport can be arranged–they’re still finalizing the rates on that feature, but it’s good to know if you wanted to go off-property for your rehearsal dinner or arrange a group trip to Wild Adventures or something like that.)

One of the gorgeous lakes of Honey Lake Plantation

One of the three gorgeous lakes of Honey Lake Plantation

Simply stated, HLP is beautiful (and we were there on a dreary, drizzly day). Though I went in thinking that we’d do a lakeside ceremony or maybe something under one of their many amazing trees, we also talked about using the front of the Gathering Hall for ceremony and cocktails which has the benefit of being right next to the Owl’s Nest (the smaller reception venue). What is really a small, circular drive with a fountain in the middle would provide a nice, sturdy (no heels sinking into the ground!) platform for the first part of our party, with the ceremony held in front of or on the steps of the front porch.

View of the Gathering Hall from the road, through one of the arches down to the Chapel

no cars on the wedding day–the cocktails would be on this side of the fountain and the ceremony seating between the fountain and the stairs up to the porch

I liked this idea more than I thought I would–which is why I’m so glad that a) Cara suggested it and b) Mr. Road Trip liked it and spoke up. See, this is why you don’t plan in a vacuum!

Exterior shot of the Owl's Nest reception venue at Honey Lake Plantation

the outside of the Owl’s Nest, where our reception would be

Inside of the Owl's Nest at Honey Lake Plantation

from inside the Owl’s Nest you look out on a good chunk of the property and all 3 lakes

Of course, it was the first location we looked at so we weren’t ready to pull the trigger, yet. There’s more places to see, and lots of spreadsheet comparisons in my future (plus we’ve got to nail down some last questions about this spot and get a better idea of the catering costs).

Here’s the short list of pros and cons. Some of these might not make as much sense without comparing them to other locations, but trust me, they make sense in my head.

Pros Cons
  • Out of town–no football interference!
  • DoC included!
  • All-in-one location
  • Lodging on site
  • Pretty views; scenic
  • Colored linen options at no additional charge
  • BYOB & desserts, no additional fee
  • Very helpful and enthusiastic
  • Maybe a little too isolated?
  • On-site catering only (but that’s to be expected)
  • Need outside liability coverage (so does everyone)
  • Reception site requires climbing stairs (though no one we know has true mobility issues)
  • Restrooms in the next building–down the stairs!

As you can see, some of my cons have disclaimers on them–mostly because they’re technically a con but not always as objectionable as they might have first been. Like the outside catering? While I’d ruled out venues that limit you to using only the outside caterer they happened to be contracted with, I expect a hotel or resort to require me to use their own house kitchen.


Would you agree with my pros & cons?
What would you classify differently?