I'm so sorry this has taken me so long to post, I have my at home reception next weekend and then will finally be through the entire wedding process. I'm going to try and get what I can into my review here, but if you have ANY questions please feel free to message or email me at amberdgraham at yahoo.com
Pictures are at the bottom, since we all know that's what you're really looking for. The review might be helpful too though!
First of all - My wedding at the Excellence was the day of my dreams. I couldn't have asked for a better experience, even with some of the minor issues we had. I also fell in love with the staff, our wedding coordinator, and everyone at the resort, for they made both ours and our guests stays incredible.
I'll try to be critical when I can, and offer tips, but the truth is that anyone getting married there really doesn't need to worry. SO STOP WORRYING
(I totally worried until I got down there, and didn't need to)
Preparations - I am that crazy bride who had a "look" planned for her wedding, and brought everything down. I had four candle centerpieces, two rolls of teal ribbon for chair bows, place cards, menu cards, table runners and fan programs. It all went in our suitcases and arrive safely.
We also did Welcome Beach bags for our guests, and I have pictures if anyone's interested. They included things like lotion, sunblock, aloe (praised most highly), games, beach towels, etc. I'm happy to provide the whole list if anyone is looking for ideas. All of this was also schlepped down in suitcases. We didn't end up having to pay any extra fees for baggage because of when we booked out tickets, but it was a great way to get things there.
PLANNING MEETING - We arrived on Sunday and Monday morning met with our coordinator. As some of you may know Ana was very ill in June and out of work. That said, I was freaking out a bit by having a stranger help with my wedding plans. Mercy did a 45 minute planning interview with us and then walked us around the resort to consider locations. She managed to get everything down in that 45 minutes and put together an amazing wedding. I do recommend if you have particular ideas about how you want things to look, cake, your flowers, etc, BRING COPIES WITH YOU to give to your coordinator, it makes their job a lot easier.
Tuesday and Wednesday were family arrival days, and we created our own rehearsal on Wednesday afternoon. Basically everyone just showed up and we did a quick run through, and then Mercy managed to get us a reservation for 18 people at Spice for a rehearsal dinner. Mercy was available throughout the two days leading up to the wedding for questions, and also to make sure that she was getting everything she needed from us.
SPA - Day of the ceremony I made appointments for several ladies in my wedding party and purchased hydrotherapy day-passes for the rest of the women with us. We pretty much had the hydrotherapy area to ourselves, and had a great time in the hot tub/cold plunge pools. I also had a french manicure and pedicure which came out amazing, and the woman who did my hair and makeup (I brought my own) was also fantastic. We got dressed at the spa and then did some pictures around the resort before hanging out in the wedding coordinator office until showtime.
FLOWERS - I had brought down pictures of what I wanted my flowers to look like (Orange lillies and roses), and Mercy and the florist came through in spades. My bouquet was amazing, and those for the bridesmaids were great (just orange roses). It is a good idea to confirm flowers with your WC in advance, just because some things they can't get there.
CARRIAGE - The carriage was so much fun, and picked me up at the resort lobby before driving through the resort to the beach. We had a not-so-small issue of the power going out to at least half of the resort just before the ceremony started, so there was no music! However, as we got to the beach, they either got the power back on or ran an extension cord from somewhere so we had power. (This actually happened several times throughout our stay, our theory is because it was really hot and the air conditioners overloaded the power supply).
CEREMONY - We did a symbolic ceremony with an attorney, but it was the same ceremony you would have for a legal proceeding. Most of our family was unaware that we took care of the legal paperwork in the States before traveling, and took our wedding in DR as our formal legal wedding (which is a personal choice myself and my husband made). The ceremony was read in Spanish by the attorney, and then translated by our wedding coordinator. I may be able to get it up online if anyone wants to see it, I have to learn to use youTube first. We included three readings, and our own vows, and everything came together just fine. Other than the issues with the power, the sound system for ceremony music was great, loud enough to be heard over the surf, and in general everything was perfect!
PHOTOGRAPHY - We actually brought our own photographer down with us (friend from college), but as part of the Silver Package we also received 24 5x7 photographs. Francois was incredible, we checked with him in advance (he actually knew me from this forum!) to make sure there wouldn't be tension between two photographers, and he worked really well with our friend. They managed to get two different angles on the ceremony and he is such an artist. If you don't have the option of bringing someone with you, he's worth every penny, and you will have amazing memories of your day.
COCKTAIL HOUR - Our ceremony was at 5pm, which gave us time immediately following for family pictures. We had the cocktail hour at 6pm right on the beach nearby, so our family and friends could snack while we took our couples photographs. While I didn't have the chance to sample the food, our guests were so impressed that they ate a ton at the cocktail hour and were full by dinner time. As part of the silver package we had the Chips and Salsa, Fried Cheese with chipotle and parsley oil, and the Beef Salad in Tomato cups, as well as Beef Flautas, Chicken Tamales, and Chalupitas Poblanas. The cocktail hour was set up right by the beach bar and our guests had full access to that (pretty much exclusively).
RECEPTION - Then we all headed to the reception at the Cascade Pool (straight shot through two buildings to get there) at 7pm. We had asked for our wedding cake to be set up there (versus on the beach), and had provided ribbon for decorating it. The end result was a pretty plain looking wedding cake, so my sister actually went around the resort picking flowers from the trees like white hibiscius little orange flowers, and quickly dressed it up a little. It was at a table right near our head table and a beautiful centerpiece on it's own. I had given Mercy a basic floorplan for seating (written on the back of a confirmation page from my binder), and all of the items for the tables and everything was set up perfectly. They also moved the chair bows from the beach over to the reception area. Perfect! The cake also tasted GREAT, very fluffy with airy frosting.
Final notes - Feel free to ask your coordinator questions in advance, and know what you want to control (like me and my centerpieces). Everything else, let it go until you get there, the entire staff bends over backwards to make your day special. Also check on the legal requirements, we actually didn't have to prove our US marriage in order to have our ceremony. The only thing we need our marriage license for was to get the honeymoon package through the resort (which had nothing to do with the wedding). Check on it for sure, but I was told by Ana back in May that we could be married there in the symbolic ceremony and then get married after returning to the States if we wanted to.
OH YEAH - the part you've been waiting for. Here's the link to my photo slideshow!! http://amberandseths...shutterfly.com/
(if anyone has problems with it let me know and I'll email you a link).
We had selected the Third Silver Menu of: Mixed greens with oakleaf, carrot ribbons, hearts of palm, tomato, mandarin and grapefruit segments, served with a orange passion fruit dressing; (swapped in the) Cilantro avocado soup with panela cheese, (swapped in) Pineapple ginger sorbet, Grilled fillet of beef tenderloin glazed with roasted pumpkin seed sauce and Serrano cilantro butter on papaya mango relish served with horseradish infused mashed potato and fresh seasonal vegetables; Chocolate agavero cake on peach and cassis sauces.
Let me tell you. This was one of the best meals I have ever eaten. I've eaten a lot of places, from high end to fast food, on multiple continents. The food in general at the Excellence was great, but our wedding meal was purely outstanding. We have several picky guests, who loved the meal so much they continued to ask which restaurant it came from so they could have it again. My only complaints were that the avocado soup was a cold soup (didn't know that), and that the sorbet was melty by the time it came out.
The dessert was so amazing we barely had any wedding cake, so unless you want that tradition you do not NEED a wedding cake. I'm a big fan of chocolate anyway. Presentation of the entire meal was very high end, there are several pictures in the online slideshow, but I can also send if you're interested.
Be aware that if you are having an evening wedding, your WC may get off her day schedule and leave you with a different staff member. We had a head waiter oversee our reception and Santo was so incredible we gave him a huge tip to spread among the other waiters. We had exclusive access to the bar by the Cascade Pool, and since the pools all close at 6pm there wasn't anyone else there. We did actually break all of the rules, as throughout the reception guests would sneak away to get their swim suits and we all ended up in the pool.
The sound system at the pool was also great, and they had a light we could turn on for speeches and dances and such. All of the waiters/attendants were incredibly helpful, I think we probably had four people on staff for the 18 of us, plus the bartender. Reception ended up closing down around 10pm, which was a perfect amount of time. ONE NOTE: If you want fast dinner service, let your coordinator or head waiter know. We kept wondering why food wasn't being served and it was because we were up moving around instead of staying at our tables. Just let them know to bring it out as guests seems to be finishing up their courses, and not to wait for you to sit down
IT WAS THE MOST AMAZING DAY OF MY LIFE. I"m sure I missed things here, so ask questions if you have them, and enjoy the pictures!