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?

Under Pressure

Third Time Wife, Wedding Planning

After a month more-or-less away from wedding planning, I’ve jumped back in to try an pick up where I left off with the location hunt.

I have one word for that: Ugh!

It’s like getting out of the habit of diet or exercise, you start back up expecting to be where you were but, no, you’ve slipped.

So back I’ve trawled through my Wedding Mail folder, digging up the old quotes and trying to figure out what else I need in order to make a decision.

One thing that was painfully apparent: I need caterer quotes, too.

As some of the places we’re looking at are all-in-one, the ones that are location-only aren’t easy to compare apples to apples. It’s not even like apples to oranges, it’s more like apples to kumquats.

Harnessing the power of the Internet I send out a handful of hopeful ballpark estimate requests. I was upfront about our budget limitations, explained the vision I had for our reception based on our favorite dining experience to date, and explained how I saw that transitioning to our wedding reception.

The first reply I got said our budget was a bit low for that sort of meal (a bit? try it needed to double, and then some). Another came back with a figure that was just a bit over on the low end, but that was before rentals I’m pretty sure. And then there was someone I’d really love to work with, based on her vibe, but we’d need to be able to budget an extra grand for staffing OR go with a style of service that I’m just not a fan of.

Le sigh…

Yes, I know we have over a year until the wedding, so theorhetically we’ve got LOADS of time to make a decision.

And yet, the pressure (mostly from myself) to make a decision is nigh-on overwhelming. On the one hand, everything seems to hang on the location decision: how much budget is left for everything else, how many decorations will be needed, what reception scenario we’ll go with, etc. On the other hand, I’m afraid of choosing too soon in case something “better” were to come along after that non-refundable deposit is handed over, or–even worse–our chosen location closes or comes under new management.

Plus the, possibly irrational, fear that whatever choice I make might be seen as the wrong one on the day of. What if I choose the wrong menu? What if–you know what? I’ve got to stop this.

A final round of requests has gone out and we’re just going to have to make a decision and have done with it.

I want to wake up on the morning of our wedding thinking “yay, it’s here!” and not “thank god this is almost over,” and to do that we’ve got to start moving forward.

Pretty Book and Flower Icon


Have you ever lingered over a decision you put pressure on yourself to make?

On Locations: Opera, Gardens, and a Park, Too!

Third Time Wife, Wedding Planning
Front entrance to the Monticello Opera House

Front entrance to the Monticello Opera House (all photos personal)

Heading home from our trip to Honey Lake Plantation, we decided to add a second, unofficial, site-visit to the day and pulled into an empty parking lot just across from the back of Monticello Opera House, one of the other venues I’d scoped out online.

It’s hard to miss, if you’re looking for it, as it’s smack in the middle of town, catty-corner to the courthouse.  Imposing red brick, great wood and a convenient gazebo in the back would make for quite a doable location for us in that same, tucked-out-of-the-way feeling.

Since we didn’t have an appointment–it really was just a spur of the moment thing–we contented ourselves with the public-access areas: the backyard and what we could see from the sidewalks.

Having checked out their rates online, I knew that the rental fee for the ballroom was nominal compared to some, and on-par to the location fees of HLP, and came with adequate tables and chairs, as well. We could bring in our own catering, alcohol and pretty much everything else.

They’d recently had an event (or were just about to have one), so looking in the big windows out onto the street and sidewalk we could see the space set up with banquet rounds. There’s certainly enough space for our little group and then some, and that’s not a bad thing at all.

The gazebo in the back was what I was truly concerned with, as I’d only found 1 picture of it online and that’s just not enough to base a plan on, at least not if you’re me! The back is almost totally paved, there are old-fashioned street lamps circling the patio and the gazebo is nice and roomy with more than enough space for 50 chairs, give or take.

Back patio and gazebo of the Monticello Opera House

A view from the side street, pardon the rain-drops, it was a little drizzly.

A better view of the Gazebo, foliage and lighting in the back of the Monticello Opera House

This is more the view the ceremony guests would have.

Looking down the street-side of the Monticello Opera House

Those windows go all the way down to the entrance at the corner.

View from the street-side windows into the hall at the Monticello Opera House

Peek-a-boo, I see you! Wood floors and plenty of room.

Of course, it wasn’t exactly love at first site. I’m curious as to how parking works for events there (with no designated lot that I could see), the fact that it is 30 minutes away and without on-site lodging, and the fact that just anyone driving or walking by could look in and see us.

I’m not a fan of the fishbowl.

However, the price is in range, it would work as an all-in-one location and Mr. RT really liked the gazebo out back (but was worried about traffic causing issues, so close to the street as the ceremony would be).

Oh, and did I mention that the Monticello Opera House is supposedly haunted?! (For us, that could actually be a plus.)

This was not the only unscheduled recon we did…


Front and corner of Tallahassee Garden Center

Front and corner of Tallahassee Garden Center

The next venue didn’t require quite as much stealth as the last, but it wasn’t an official site-visit, either. In fact, we got to see the space in full-swing as we visited during the flurry of bridal shows that year.

I actually drive by the Garden Center (home, unsurprisingly, of the Garden Club) quite regularly, but I’ve never been inside or prowled the grounds until that day. My mother, however, has attended a wedding there and she said it was very beautiful.

North of Downtown, I’m not sure TGC is far enough North to be considered midtown, but it’s not far away, either. There’s plenty of parking, a brick patio, and narrow gardens on both sides of the renovated, yet still historical, house. We discussed it and decided that the front-of-the-house would probably be the best bet, were we to use this space for the wedding.

The ballroom, inside, is supposedly large enough to fit something like 90, banquet-style, though it’s hard to picture when it’s set up with vendor displays. There are also several other, smaller, rooms that we’d have access to and a stage in the ballroom where, honestly, I see the dessert buffet rather than a band.

We did have a few concerns, though, with the space. One is traffic–there could very easily be cars whizzing past while we say our I Do’s and that’s not the best situation. (In fact, I was in a friend’s wedding once when a group of motorcycles–and their riders, of course–came past during the early part of the ceremony. Being perverse, they made the block and came roaring back around, revving their engines through the soloist performing The Lord’s Prayer.) Also, T thought the house felt a little too closed-in, which I can definitely understand.

Side garden, deck and patio beyond at the Tallahassee Garden Center

A side garden, looking towards the back with the deck and patio just beyond

From the side garden a look out the front yard and towards the street

Where the tent is, the guests could be seated, on either side of the walkway

The other side garden, leading around to the rear entrance and parking of the Tallahassee Garden Center

Continuing around the other side of the house, this garden leads back towards the parking lot and rear entrance

We’d have to get a bartender if we wanted to serve alcohol, but there are services where we could provide our own booze and just have them serve it. The usual liability rider is required but we could use any caterer we wanted and tables, chairs, etc. are all available on location.

And it certainly doesn’t hurt that, by attending the bridal show, we received a 20% off offer for the rental of the space, which would knock $200 off our Saturday rental (which we’d just put towards the liability rider and a portion of the bartender’s fee). The very nice lady even extended our coupon/certificate so that our date would be covered. You have to appreciate that!

Plus it’s in-town, plenty of hotels around and might be far enough out of the way to not be influenced by football traffic (maybe), should there be a home game that weekend.


A pretty green space and pond overlook from Dorothy B Oven Park

A pretty green space and pond overlook from Dorothy B Oven Park

Since we had time to kill on a pleasant Sunday afternoon between the Garden Center bridal show and meeting up with some friends for general hanging out and supper, we decided to wander around a local, city-run park that is another popular spot for Tallahassee weddings: Dorothy B Oven Park.

In addition to paths and green spaces, some fountains and a gazebo (none of which I’d really seen before), there’s a decent-size house on the property that can be rented for various functions.

Just before Mr. Road Trip moved to Tallahassee, a friend of mine got married and had her reception here, so we both sorta remember what the inside of the house looked like. Of course, that day lived up to it’s April showers rhyme and it felt a little crowded and dark inside–T and I, along with another friend of ours, retreated to a back room to get away from the crush of people.

Patio and house at Dorothy B Oven Park

the view from the patio towards the house and it’s sometimes-screened porch

Since this was another bit of unscheduled recon, we contented ourselves with following the trails around the park, sitting in the various swings, and peeking in the windows for a refresher course on the house. The camellias (?) were also in bloom, so I took a lot of unnecessary flower pictures that I’ll spare you the viewing of.

The main downside to DBO is the largest room of the house is just slightly too small to accommodate our upper limit of guests all in one room, certainly not with any room to dance. Of course, there could be ways to work that out, but it’s a concern nonetheless. Also, the closed-in feeling would likely permeate this place as it did the Garden Center.

Still, the gazebo really is pretty and is a straight shot from the house–it’d make a very pretty walk to and from.

Path leading from the house to the gazeboThe path leading from the patio to the gazebo

The gazebo at Dorothy B Oven park

And a close-up of the gazebo, itself.

Historic homes, of course, come with a long list of dues and don’ts, can’ts and won’ts, and you have to be extra careful around the antiques. I want people to be able to relax (not that we’re a destructive lot), not worry about nudging something out of place.

So the hunt continued…

How many sites did you visit before deciding on your location?
Did you ever peek into a potential venue’s windows out of curiosity?

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?

On Locations: Our Wish List

Third Time Wife, Wedding Planning
image via stock.xchng | photography by yrish

image via stock.xchng | photography by yirsh

Wedding blogs are filled to the brim with gorgeous locations just brimming with all sorts of sprawling oak trees, majestic staircases, rustic barns and glorious vistas.

It’s no wonder that when we start to actually look for places to host our own events, we might be a little disappointed.

Last February I started sending out requests for information, filling out web forms, and constructing a spreadsheet to house the results. I was casting a fairly wide net, looking both locally and up to 4 hours away just so I wouldn’t miss that potentially-perfect-for-us spot.

Turns out, the problem wasn’t finding potential locations, it was getting responses.

But more about that later.

When looking for a location for anything–wedding party or otherwise–it helps to know what sorts of things you’re looking for. Here is what our preliminary venue list looked like:

  • Room for both ceremony and reception; we didn’t want to have to transport people (or ourselves) more than a few steps between the different parts of the day.
  • Pretty location; the better spot you start with, the less you have to dress it up.
  • Outdoor ceremony, indoor reception area.
  • Not too rustic, not too formal; a bit Goldilocks, but the just right spot would be nice but still a little laid back.
  • BYO on the booze; since we have specific things in mind for wines and cocktails, some place that only worked from a set list wasn’t going to be our favorite.
  • DIY friendly; self explanatory, really: I’ll be doing a lot of projects myself, some not-so-traditional, and a space or manager that turns up their nose at the idea is not going to go far with us.
  • Water somewhere around us; while in Florida this almost always translates to beach (and we’re not beach people), I’d really like a lakeside ceremony or view or something with water around.
  • And, obviously, something that won’t break the budget; which, for us, means location & catering total can’t be over $3K.

Of course, now that we’ve looked at a few locations, we’ve learned a few more things about what we do and don’t want.

For instance, I learned that I really didn’t like the idea of splitting up the reception areas so that dancing is in one room while everyone is seated in another for dinner. I like the ability to have one long, wide table with everyone sitting together, Mr. Road Trip not so much (we’ll have to wait and see how that one shakes out). And T, to my surprise, prefers the feeling of spaciousness and openness in a venue.

And here I am the claustrophobic one!

More will be revealed.

What’s on your location wish list?