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Amarillis

Amarillis' (long awaited) Barcelo Marina Palace, Varadero Cuba Review (tons of pics)

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Chapter One: Getting There

 

 

Stage West Hotel Stage West Mississauga

As we were departing out of Toronto (most of us are from Northern Ontario) at 6:30am our group needed hotel accommodations. From work experience I knew of the Stage West All Suite Hotel – they have an amazing pool (for the children) and offer shuttle service to the airport. Thanks to our TAâ€s negotiations, we were offered a rate of $110 for the night including parking for the duration of our vacation. This is pretty standard for the airport strip in Toronto.

 

 

Our group approximately 60 guests stayed at the hotel. The children thoroughly enjoyed the use of the pool; the adults thoroughly enjoyed the hotel bar. We all had dinner in the hotel restaurant – the food was edible, but not incredible, and the restaurant was not prepared for a big group such as ours – the wait staffs were run ragged.

 

 

This is where the hotel really failed… Airport Transfers …

Stage West Hotel only has one ‘Dodge Durango†and one â€15 passenger†large van.

 

 

Some of our guests flew from Northern Ontario to Toronto on Air Canada Vacations connector flights (these were an amazing $100 round trip) – guests trying to get from the airport to the hotel waited anywhere from an hour to 2.5 hours to be picked up by the hotel. Immediately I headed to the front desk to express disappointment, and make proper arrangements for the incredibly large group leaving at 3am Saturday morning. Initially the front desk was unwilling to start a schedule for our 3am transfer to the airport. After a discussion with the manager they agreed to start a schedule.

 

 

The transfers the following morning were a NIGHMARE… as efficient as the two drivers from the Stage West were; they were unable to accommodate such a group. Many travellers needed to take taxis, at their own expense. This was disappointing, and I felt responsible for them as we had chosen the hotel.

 

 

Note: the large group, returning from Cuba after one week reported (we were there for two weeks) – airport to hotel transfers were even worse!

 

 

We heard that after an hour of waiting for a transfer the first vehicle showed up, forty minutes later the van returned and brought another group to the hotel (my brother in law was on this transfer) when he tipped the driver he said jokingly, “you have a couple more runs to do to the airport eh?â€, to which the driver responded… “I have two other pickups before I go back to themâ€. In the end we heard that the rest of the group took taxis, at their own expense.

 

 

Although the Stage West Hotel is great for business travel and for local stays in Mississauga, I do not recommend them for large groups as the hotel is not properly equipped.

 

 

However, as one of our guests was a prior employee of the hotel… she scored us an upgrade to the honeymoon Jacuzzi suite!

 

Click the image to open in full size.

(Non-professional picture, taken by Chad)

 

 

At Pearson International Airport

Everything went smoothly; check-in with Air Canada Vacations (ACV) was perfect. Since ACV offers such a large luggage allowance (100 lbs per passenger split between two checked bags), no one was overweight and everything went smoothly.

 

 

Our flight to Varadero left on time and was absolutely fantastic.

Click the image to open in full size.

(Non-professional picture, taken by guest K.H.)

 

 

Chapter Two: CUBA BABY!

 

 

Arrival in Cuba at Juan Gualberto Gómez Airport

Upon arrival many of our guests were surprised to walk off the plane, down the stairs and onto the tarmac. Customs was a breeze. When we made it through to the luggage corrals, we were thrilled to see that one of the porters in the airport picked up on our custom luggage tags; our groupâ€s entire luggage was perfectly lined up! That porter received a hefty tip!

 

 

Transfers to Barceló Marina Palace

Our group was so large that we couldnâ€t all fit on one bus to be transferred to the resort. Since we were focused on ensuring our group found the right bus – we, along with my parents and my in-laws were the only ones that didnâ€t fit on the main transfer bus… after more than an hour we arrived to the resort. This was actually really fun, because it gave both Chad and I some time with our parents.

 

 

Upon arrival our rooms were not ready, and the hotel provided a location for storage for our luggage. Waiting around for our rooms to be ready wasnâ€t an ideal situation, but as seasoned travellers – we expected it.

 

 

Click the image to open in full size.

(Non-professional picture taken by guest S.C.)

 

 

Location and Appearance

After visiting Cuba several times, we knew this was the perfect location for our dream destination wedding. The people of this country are amazing and incredible accommodating. As mentioned in the review of my site visit in February 2008, the geographic location of this property is quite far from town. Although Chad and I see this as a downfall, few of our guests noticed. Ninety percent of the time we heard only incredibly positive feedback, regarding the condition of the resort, the landscaping, and the incredible beaches.

 

Click the image to open in full size.

(Non-professional picture taken by guest J.C.)

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Chapter Three: Resort Life

 

 

Rooms

Having done a site visit in February of 2008, there really were no surprises. We had booked the large ocean view suite. Everything was perfectly in order. My parents also booked a large ocean view suite which provided my space to get ready in.

 

 

The standard rooms were great; we heard no complaints about the rooms. Guests were disappointed at the refilling of the mini bars and coffee supplies in the rooms. Many of us tipped (by placing money inside the bar fridges) however, no one was successful at having additional supplies placed in the fridges.

 

 

My only complaint about the rooms was the locations in which the resort had us all staying. Our group was spread out all over the map from the 1000 block of rooms, right over to the 2200â€s. This resort is really quite big, the distance from one end to the other is at least 2kms.

 

 

 

Beach and Pools

Obviously the beaches were amazing – this IS CUBA AFTERALL! As you can see from our wedding photos and candid photos, the beach was great.

 

 

The Barceló Marina Palace has 3 big swimming pools; the main one has a giant waterslide adjacent childrenâ€s pool. Sadly during the time of our stay the giant waterslide was out of service. The middle pool near the lighthouse was relatively quiet, as there was no swim up bar there, the scenery around this pool is stunning – as it features a rock wall waterfall. The third pool which also has a swim up bar, was one that our group frequented. The bartenders there were a blast, and many many rum punches were consumed.

 

Click the image to open in full size.

(Non-professional picture taken Chad)

 

Click the image to open in full size.

(Non-professional picture taken Chad)

 

 

Food and Restaurants

Firstly, we do not visit Cuba for the food… period. That being said, this resort offered a fantastic line up. The buffet restaurant was consistently good, the 12 children on our trip always had full bellies (they might have been full with pizza and ice cream – but no one was complaining).

 

 

The a la carte restaurants were good, but difficult to get reservations at. The Spanish restaurant was fantastic, the service was incredible! We went there three times during our stay at the Marina Palace. The Seafood - Bacunayagua restaurant was also fantastic, and served fantastic lobster dishes.

 

 

The big complaints regarding food were mainly regarding one of the restaurants, the ‘lighthouse†grill beach bar. The food there was terrible, and so was the service. Many people learned that lesson quickly and avoided that one location. The lighthouse was frequented by disco-goers, as they provided French fries and hotdogs for late night fare – at that time of night, if you are willing to eat – you probably arenâ€t that fussy.

 

Click the image to open in full size.

(Non-professional picture taken Chad)

 

 

 

Bars

The bars were definitely a favourite of our group. The service was average, unless you tipped the bartenders. We always had fantastic service at the pool bar at the main pool. Roberto kept us entertained, and many of the bartenders commented on our awesome custom cups.

 

 

Our favourite place to sit in the evenings was the 24 hour lobby bar. There was always a pianist for entertainment, and the service was generally great.

 

 

In our second week there, we wandered down to the ‘premium†section of the resort and found the cigar bar. This is for the ‘Cayo Libertad†guests of the Barceló property. Seeing that we were not guests of this resort, our all-inclusive status did not include premium liquors in this bar, however the bartenders were happy to charge the bill to your room. In our second week when the weather was less favourable, we spent two afternoons in the cigar bar, getting tangled up in many long island iced teas, a couple cigars, and a few very competitive games of pool.

 

Click the image to open in full size.

(Non-professional picture taken Me)

 

 

Click the image to open in full size.

(Non-professional picture, taken by guest H.F.)

 

 

Entertainment

The entertainment at the Barceló Marina Palace was average – and quite on par with our experiences in other resorts. The must see show when visiting is definitely the magic show - it was amazing.

 

 

The daytime animation team really tries to entertain the guests. However, with such a large group we really entertained ourselves. At times the animation team was rather annoying, and pushy with their salsa lessons etc. I realize this is their job, but if everyone is having a good time, why push it – I think their job should be to encourage others to join in.

 

 

At one point we had our own IPOD playing and we were teaching line dancing to many other resort goers, and to some of the animation team. Then a man in a suit showed up and changed the whole afternoon – next thing we saw, was yet another annoying salsa lesson.

 

 

The disco was frequented by our group and was definitely a source of entertainment. The staff in the disco was awesome, and again we were permitted to play our own music. We even left our CDâ€s with the discothèque workers. In our second week (honeymoon) we did stop at the disco once, and were surprised to hear our music playing. I think this may be a function of Cubans not having access to a lot of new material.

 

Click the image to open in full size.

(Non-professional picture, taken by H.F.)

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Chapter Two: Excursions

 

 

If you are looking for a summary of available excursions in the Varadero region, check out our wedsite at Chad & Amy - wedding website by mywedding.com - what I will tell you about is the two excursions we had while on our wedding trip

 

 

Catamaran and Dolphin Swim

Absolutely hands down, this is a must do!

 

 

Originally during the planning stages, we were supposed to take our entire group on a mini-catamaran excursion as our gift to them for joining us. However, due to a mix-up with Air Canada Vacations (ACV) and some super fantastic leg work by Megan, ACV covered the cost of this excursion for all of my guests. (Thus, we were able to purchase new leather furniture for both our upstairs living room and downstairs rec-room… SCORE) Click the image to open in full size.

 

 

The catamaran trip left from the marina directly across the street from the Barceló Marina Palace. Upon boarding the boat we ventured out to the dolphin swim tanks. This was absolutely incredible; I had never swam with dolphins in my life and have always wanted to do this.

 

Click the image to open in full size.

(Non-professional picture, taken by Chad)

 

 

Following the dolphin swim we were brought to another location to snorkel. This was really fun. My niece was scared to get in the water, but when I offered to go with her, she jumped at the opportunity. This is one of those memories that stands out.

 

Click the image to open in full size.

(Non-professional picture, taken by guest C.F.)

 

Click the image to open in full size.

(Non-professional picture, taken by guest C.F.)

 

Click the image to open in full size.

(Non-professional picture, taken by guest C.F.)

 

 

Next we headed to Cayo Blanco for lunch – hands down, the most beautiful beaches in the world. The sand is perfectly white and pristine! There we had lunch and wandered the beach. All drinks and lunch were included in the package.

 

Click the image to open in full size.

(Non-professional picture, courtesy of Megan – Weddings by Oceans)

 

 

On our return to the marina, the crew on board the “Crusero Del Sol†really ramped up the entertainment. We danced and partied all the way back to the marina.

 

 

This was truly an amazing adventure, next to our big wedding day – this was the highlight of our vacation.

 

 

 

Golf

As a part of our wedding package, we were entitled to a complimentary catamaran excursion. Being that we had already taken the catamaran with our group, we substituted for two rounds of golf at the Varadero Golf Course. Although I am an avid golfer, I decided to pass my ‘free†pass for golf to my dad (who was also there for two weeks). Chad scheduled the golf excursion for Sunday February 1, 2009 – all the while I sunbathed! According to both Chad and my dad, the golf was amazing. The course was in really great shape and although they had a tee time for 8:30 am, they were able to get on the course for 8am.

 

 

Warning, golf is really expensive. If we hadnâ€t have had the vouchers golf would have cost $180CUC per person, and in considering that the CUC was $0.64 on the Canadian Dollar, this would be an expensive excursion. If you are an avid golfer and plan on golfing more than once, I suggest looking for a resort with all-inclusive golf, as the green fees could really add up!

 

Click the image to open in full size.

(Non-professional picture, taken by Chad)

 

 

Havana

Our dear Cuban friend Roly (who is also a photographer) provided us with a tour of Havana (yes, we also went in ‘0cool.gif. Together with our parents the six of us boarded a minivan to Havana with Roly and his “five star driver†(Roly jokingly told us that he receives a star for each person he has struck with the minivan).

 

 

We had an absolute blast, our parents thoroughly enjoyed the tour and we definitely made a lot of memories.

 

 

I highly recommend contacting Roly for such an excursion. If you require further info, please donâ€t hesitate to contact me.

 

Click the image to open in full size.

(Non-professional picture, taken by Chad)

 

Click the image to open in full size.

(Non-professional picture, taken by Chad)

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Click the image to open in full size.

(Non-professional picture, taken by Chad)

 

Chapter Three: !!!!!Wedding Details!!!!!

 

 

Here is the executive summary of our wedding details… AMAZING… Everything was AMAZING. From our wedding coordinators to the last dish picked up at the reception. Amazing – if you are interested in reading about how amazing it really was, read on!

 

 

Canadian Based Wedding Coordinator

We choose ‘Weddings by Oceans’ to coordinate our wedding. They were absolutely marvellous. The team covered every detail and assisted throughout the year long process. Over the course of the year Megan, who is Wedding Planners Institute of Canada, Certified (WPICC) as well as the managing director – became my friend and virtual maid of honour.

 

Just when I thought she would be turning over our file and responsibility to Sandra (the wedding coordinator at the Barceló Marina Palace), we were informed that Megan would be able to join us in Varadero.

 

Megan was AMAZING - and Amazing doesn't really cut it.

 

 

She coordinated and facilitated our meetings with Sandra and her team. She was available all week. On our first evening there I was literally attacked by sand flies. Sunday my legs were a MESS. Monday was the day that our entire group took a catamaran trip. By Monday evening my legs were oozing and completely swollen and hot with infection. Megan took me to the clinic in Varadero. There she translated everything for me, as she speaks perfect Spanish. She stayed with Chad and I the whole time, and drove us back to the resort.

 

 

I know this is gross… but check the picture below. This is NOT normal for people travelling to Cuba. Please understand that I am terribly allergic to bugs in general. However this was the worst reaction I have ever had. I was the only one on our trip that had a reaction of this magnitude.

Click the image to open in full size.

 

 

 

Cuban Based Wedding Coordinator

According to the Guest Relations Team at the Barceló Marina Palace, our wedding was the biggest the resort had ever hosted.

 

 

The Guest Relations Team at the Barceló Marina Palace was absolutely amazing. Sandra and her team went above and beyond the call of duty in orchestrating our dream wedding. In the months leading up to our wedding I had communicated a lot with Sandra and her team through emails – they were quite prompt with responses, never any longer than a day or two.

 

 

At our meeting before the wedding, we felt that Sandra really shared our overall vision for our wedding. As we went through a checklist of our wants, her favourite line was “no problem, no extra cost”. When discussing the cake, I realized I had forgotten to bring seashells to decorate the cake. At this time, Sandra offered to borrow a selection of seashells from her daughter for the cake. This is just one example of how giving and accommodating the resort and their staff really are.

 

Click the image to open in full size.

 

 

 

The Hair Salon

Maria was my hairstylist, and as many may remember from my planning thread… I was PREPARED. My hair was one aspect I thought I needed to be completely ready for. Maria really appreciated the booklet of ‘how to do Amy’s hair’ and the fact that I had brought a ‘hair manager’.

 

 

She was a complete professional… from start to finish she replicated my hair the way I wanted it. It was better than the trial run that I’d had at home! I had brought with me all my own supplies and professional products – including bobby pins, hairspray, and mousse.

 

 

She was the loveliest person too. When I arrived for my appointment, I had a fake white hair flower in my hair. She asked me to buy it from me for her daughter. I did not hesitate to give her the flower. She was so grateful, that she was refusing me to tip her when we left.

 

 

Hair Manager!

Click the image to open in full size.

 

In process:

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Complete with my tiara!

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Maria wishing me a happy new life!

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Gifts and Reactions

I know that this isn’t a normal subtitle in a review; however, I know many of you are dying to find out what the reaction to Chad’s reaction was to his special book… here are the photos.

 

 

The beautiful box is delivered… yes, my dad was there… I know... I thought that was weird too!

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Chad takes out his special birthday key!

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Click the image to open in full size.

 

 

Jamie our photographer of the above photos, shares Chad’s reaction with me:

Click the image to open in full size.

 

 

He was honestly so surprised, he had no clue I’d ever do such a book – at first he didn’t realize that it was me!

 

 

I too was spoiled with a special bride gift… Chad had given a pair of gorgeous one carat Canadian Diamond studs to my bridesmaid for safe keeping and presentation in the hours before our wedding. I was stunned and thrilled. They are absolutely gorgeous and I haven’t taken them off since.

Click the image to open in full size.

Click the image to open in full size.

 

 

I also surprised my gorgeous bridesmaids with the Frank Gehry Orchid from Tiffany’s – to both of them, this was their first fantastic blue bag… they were so surprised… you can read the reaction on their faces!

 

Click the image to open in full size.

Click the image to open in full size.

 

Click the image to open in full size.

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Wedding On the Beach!

At the time of our site visit we knew we would be married on the beach. Again, the Guest Relations Team went above and beyond. I had brought with me a selection of photos for inspiration. They captured the essence of all the inspiration photos perfectly. The beach was the backdrop, the chairs were covered with white linen and accented with sky blue bows, and inset in each of the blue bows was a perfectly placed rose coloured fresh hibiscus. The ends of the aisles were flanked with fresh palm leaves. The end result was better than I’d imagined.

 

Click the image to open in full size.

 

Click the image to open in full size.

 

 

The ceremony was absolutely perfect; Sandra translated the entire ceremony (for the legal portion) as well as read the balance of the ceremony that I’d pre-written (available in my planning thread). I honestly felt so happy and relaxed during the whole ceremony, it truly was the happiest moment of my life.

 

 

Click the image to open in full size.]

 

Click the image to open in full size.

 

Click the image to open in full size.

 

 

 

Cake and Champagne

The Barceló Marina Place hosted our cake and champagne immediately following the ceremony in the ‘theatre bar’ which was also the ‘beach bar’. This was an amazing element of the day. The cake as pictured above was fantastic! Although, the temperatures were quite high and the icing began to melt, it tasted absolutely fantastic. The champagne was flowing like water and we provided cigars for all the guests to have while we had our champagne. We felt the cigars added a definite Cuban aspect. The resort also set out hors d'oeuvres. They were fantastic, and all of this was at no extra cost or on our request.

 

During this time we had the musical trio continue playing as quiet background entertainment.

 

The best part about having the cake, champagne and cigars immediately after the ceremony was that the cake actually was eaten. We have been to so many weddings where the cake was not eaten because it wasn’t cut until after the dinner. When we left this mini-reception, we saw only four or five pieces of cake left!

 

Click the image to open in full size.

 

Click the image to open in full size.

 

Click the image to open in full size.

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Reception

The Barceló Marina Place hosted our reception in their ballroom, which is adjacent to the lobby bar. While in the process of having our meeting with Sandra and Megan, we discussed that we wanted the décor in the room to be simple and elegant. This was definitely captured. The tables were set perfectly – and I am a stickler for etiquette and place settings – the linens were stunning, all in white perfectly pressed and steamed. Each table was complete with perfectly presented champagne buckets, and fresh roses as centrepieces. Even the children’s table had a champagne bucket, containing orange pop instead of champagne. Too cute… they felt like adults with their orange pop in their “real wine glasses”. Little elements like this really added to the ambiance of the whole event.

 

 

Grand Entrance:

Click the image to open in full size.

 

 

For the table numbers we had purchased Cuban picture frames and used the table numbers as posted in my planning thread. These were delivered to Sandra in the days before the wedding, along with any other décor that we brought along. Each of the frames was then given to one of the people sitting at the tables (he/she that had the birthday closest to mine).

 

 

The food was absolutely amazing and exactly as planned. For starters we had a traditional Cuban soup, followed by a vegetable salad; the main course was a choice of lobster and chicken/or/ parmesan chicken. The children were served chicken fingers and French fries as their main course.

 

 

A toast to ME:

Click the image to open in full size.

 

 

The servers were fantastic! Absolutely no complaints… the food and beverage team far exceeded my expectations (they were tipped handsomely in advance). Each table had a server unto themselves and dinner service was perfect. Many guests commented at how courteous the wait staffs were, and that their glasses never faltered past half empty!

 

 

During the toasts and dinner service we were treated to two different performances. This was an unexpected extra – our evening began with a musical band,

Click the image to open in full size.

They played for the first half of the dinner, followed by a saxophone player, who I must say was fantastic!

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We requested the presence of an audio technician (at no extra cost) to ensure that the microphones and CD system ran perfectly. We had brought with us our IPOD, but had also burned CD’s (the audio guy felt more comfortable with CDs). The CD’s were numbered so that the audio person knew what to play, and when. He had the microphone and podium perfectly set up for our MC (he was also tipped handsomely).

 

We danced our first dance to “Come Fly with Me” by Michael Bublé – we had practised for some time in our living room before leaving for Cuba… I think we rocked the reception!

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Click the image to open in full size.

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Videographer

For this, I will say:

a)You get what you pay for

b)If you are using local vendors, expect Cuban quality

 

 

The video of our wedding was $200CUC - Which in Canadian Dollars is @$320. It was a last minute decision to add in the videographer, and at the end of the day I was glad we have it.

For that price she videotaped the ceremony and the cake, champagne & cigar party. At our meeting with Sandra we were under the impression that the videographer was going to stay and videotape the toasts at the beginning of the reception. This was not the case. My other complaint about the videographer is directly from our professional photographer, the videographer was in EVERY shot and in the way throughout our entire ceremony. My pro-photographer had to be creative in every shot taken during the ceremony, as the videographer was in the way the whole time.

 

 

The edited video was delivered to us later the following week.

 

 

Upon arrival at home, we immediately watched it with my dearest friend who was unable to come to our wedding. Although parts of it were really really cheesy, meaning dubbed over with music of their choice (including Bon Jovi, ‘Thank you for loving meâ€) it was a great memento of the event.

 

 

Our dear Cuban friend Roly who is a professional Cuban photographer, insisted that he recommend another videographer. When we asked Sandra for Rolyâ€s recommendation – she courteously explained that the resort has a contract with a specific company and to have another Cuban company work on the resort; it simply would not be possible. We were fine with this and rolled the dice.

 

 

I highly recommend videotaping your ceremony; it was fantastic to watch it with Chadâ€s grandmothers and with our friends who were unable to come to Cuba.

 

 

Photographer

I had to finish with a review of our photographer as many of the photos above are the fine work of our dear friends. The decision to take Canadian professional photographers was a ‘no-brainer†this was by far the best decision of the wedding. I am a firm believer that at the end of the day, all you have left is the photos (and a cheesy video). Although our Cuban friend is a good photographer, limitations with respect to the availability of high quality equipment in Cuba waivers, thus taking a Canadian professional photographer is the way to go.

 

 

Our dear friends Kellie and Jamie joined us for our fantastic wedding week; they shot the day of the wedding as well as the trash the dress session the following day. The memories captured in our professional pictures will last a lifetime and be enjoyed for generations to come.

 

 

As a very fun surprise, our dear Cuban friend Roly (who I have discussed here on the forums as being a great professional Cuban wedding photographer) took pictures of “the making of our weddingâ€. Many of the pictures are so fun, and Kellie and Jamie loved seeing themselves in action.

 

 

My professional pictures will be posted shortly, in a thread unto themselves – along with some photos taken by Roly “the making of Chad and Amyâ€s weddingâ€.

 

 

The end of the evening…

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(photo courtesy of guest J.C)

 

 

Trash the Dress

Our trash the dress session was the following morning, our photographers were fantastic and had many many ideas for poses. The experience was fantastic, Chad and I had a blast!

Here is a small selection.

 

 

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Click the image to open in full size.

 

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Click the image to open in full size.

 

 

… The end, of this review, but only the beginning of our new life…

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awwwwwwwwwww great job amy! everything looks gorgeous!

 

hmmmm where is the link to all the PRO pics??

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WOW, great review Amarillis!! I'm so happy that everything turned out just how you wanted. I love your chair decorations too, the pop of color is brilliant! You look just so gorgeous and happy. Congrats again!! wink.gif

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    • I know it is really tough job to get everything at best cost. I would like to suggest to contact local wedding planner or decorators to get the quotes. It will take some time but by comparing different quotes you will get the best package.
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