I was able to pick the reception spot when I booked. That was actually the prob. Every date I wanted at first only had reception availabilitu for beach receptions, which we did not want. So when you ask about dates, specify where you want both the ceremony and reception.
As far as the photographer, from what I can see, if they are a "guest" at the hotel, you can get around the fee. Im not 100% sure, but that's how it seems. I don't plan on asking - just doing it!
We did decide to go with a TA to book people. Basically, it seems a few hundred more. BUT, and this was what made up our minds, people can put down a deposit, rather than paying in full like when you book online. We don't want people to wait to book til they have the full amount, and then its fully booked! April is high season. We still have friends that have the cash who will book themselves online, and that's fine.
We went between feb and april. we found april to be cheaper actually. Just be careful because easter is the 24th next year - that will be expensive and crowded. May gets even cheaper, but WAY more humid. We really wanted to save people money, but I also did not want to be dripping with sweat on my wedding day cause of outrageous humidity. I tend to sweat a lot as it is (i even get my armpits botoxed for sweat! I know, TMI!) so that was important.
oh and my WC is Rebecca, who I have had good luck with so far