I just returned from a week at EPC that included our symbolic ceremony so here's my lengthy follow-up review/recommendations (Sorry, it'll be lengthy!):
We arrived on a Saturday and had our ceremony on Wednesday at 11am. When we checked in, we received a letter from the wedding department scheduling an appointment for Monday to go over last-minute details/make payment. Since I'd scheduled some spa services separately, the appointment conflicted with my spa appointment and they had me reschedule my spa service for a different time (I was a little annoyed that I was told "the spa would understand" that I needed to meet with the wedding coordinators...but the spa was able to reschedule me earlier with no problem). The ceremony fees were billed to our room, which made it easy for payment.
Lasts about 30 minutes, and they review all your selections/allow you to make changes/etc. Then they take you on a tour of the different places--the wedding gazebos (there's 2 on the beach and 1 garden gazebo). The beach gazebo across from the garden gazebo is the nicer of the two beach locations since there aren't any structures nearby (there's a lifeguard stand at the other beach location). That one is located closer to the Excellence Club Private Beach versus the location near the garden gazebo, which has the regular beach section people watching your ceremony.
Wedding dress & clothes pressing: Following the appointment, you can drop off your items to be pressed and they returned them the day of the ceremony--I don't know what time they actually delivered them, but they were ready in time. I got ready at the spa following my hair & makeup and it was a convenient place to do so since it was closer to the wedding gazebo/where the horse drawn carriage picks up at.
Wedding ceremony music: We brought our own music on an iPhone and were surprised that they wanted it a few days before the ceremony. We ended up giving it to them the day before the ceremony because we had to delete our email accounts/personal information we didn't want exposed. I'd definitely recommend bringing a separate iPod or Shuffle that only had the music so that you could be without it for a few days.
FYI, the amount of the song they played only equated to about 30-45 seconds of each, since the "aisle" isn't long at all. We had a tiny wedding (immediate family only), so there really wasn't an "aisle" and due to the ceremony photography, you really don't "exit" before they call you back to sign the wedding certificate, toast with champagne, then start family pictures.
Photo appointment/review of Beach Wedding Studios:
We went to the Beach Wedding Studio booth but the guy we were supposed to meet wasn't there. So they wanted us to come back in the afternoon (which interfered with our beach plans so we showed up a few hours later and got attitude by Nadine(?) at the desk because we didn't show up when they told us to come back). We ended up meeting the guy the day before the meeting and they split our 2 hours we'd planned on into 2 times--because the lighting was poor during mid-day.
However, on the day of the wedding, our photographer, Starling, didn't seem to get the memo that he was supposed to split our session up. He did the wedding ceremony and family pictures and then we mentioned the afternoon session and had to fill him in of what had been decided the day before with the original guy.
Starling was a fantastic photographer and we were very pleased with his creative poses he placed us in. He was very patient when we were poor at following his instruction (and he had to move me like a mannequin sometimes to show me what he wanted)! We were very pleased with his services and I'd recommend his services to anyone getting married there.
Overall, I'd give BWS 4 stars...only because of Starling. Otherwise, I would give it 2 1/2. The fact that we had to come back 3 times to set up everything for our appointment was annoying, and then had to inform Starling of the split appointment. He was very gracious and accommodating, but we shouldn't have had to tell them to come back. Another thing that was annoying was that when we finally did meet with them, they had no clue what package we had selected (or how many files were included in the package). Since the Excellence of Love package includes 24 additional photos, we had coordinated with Pere Estela Pujals via email that we could also opt for digital files instead of photos.
There was obviously a lack of communication within the company, and Nadine was such a sourpuss that it turned us off to the company (even her coworkers in the booth had to intervene to answer questions and calm situations). Starling was the only thing that really kept us satisfied.
My communication with PhotoSouvenir went much smoother than BWS and they seemed more willing to work with customization of packages. If I'd known what we'd end up paying for our photos, it might have been a better deal to go with PhotoSouvenir (even with paying the fee) because they include more in their packages and have a more editorial/photojournalistic style that I like more.
Mille Spa/Wedding Hair & Makeup:
I did a trial hair and makeup application on Monday and was glad I did it. Both appointments were with Isabel (I had requested that both trial and wedding day appointments be done by the same person via email when I scheduled my appointments). Isabel was fantastic and I loved my hair and makeup. They have a book of about 10 hair styles if you need inspiration and I selected one that had more romantic, natural curls. However, Isabel had to hair spray each curl due to the humidity making my hair frizz, so it looked less natural and more structured. I still loved the result (the first day it was teased higher than I liked, but she made it lower on my wedding day). I'd definitely recommend doing the trial appointment so that you know what you're getting and can work out any kinks.
I liked my makeup application, but did prep my own face with MAC Prep & Prime before she added the foundation. It seemed to last longer (since I sweat so much). They use Babor cosmetics, and the colors Isabel selected were complimentary and I was very happy with the results. However, the application is very basic...there was no contouring with foundation or anything "extra". I had gone to MAC and had my makeup done and the artist had taught me how to contour my face using foundation (since I have a round face, they drew in cheekbones/defined my chin/etc). Since my ceremony was at 11am, Isabel recommended keeping my makeup pretty natural and I opted not to use my fake lashes since she thought it would be too dramatic for a morning ceremony. I definitely didn't miss it. If you want more specialized makeup application, then it might be worth bringing in your own person.
I would recommend bringing your own waterproof eyeliner since the one she used smeared (as all eyeliners do for me...which is why I use gel liner). Between the hygiene issues with eye makeup and smudging, that's the one thing I wished I'd brought with me.
I had been given the email attachment of all the different gazebo decoration options and was surprised at the meeting to learn what was actually included. They had said they provide white curtains for the gazebo and chairs with white covers.
However, when I actually rode up to the wedding ceremony in the horse carriage (bumpy but fun entrance), they had provided a white covered table that was tied with orange ribbon and had a small vase of roses that matched my bouquet (for the gazebo). They had also wrapped the chairs with orange accent ribbon. It looked fantastic and I had thought that all the "extras" cost more.
I thought I'd read that symbolic ceremonies were in English and that legal ones were in Spanish (and translated into English). However, we were told at the meeting our symbolic ceremony would be in Spanish and translated into English. One of the wedding coordinators, Livia, translated our ceremony for us and it all went smoothly, but just be forewarned.
Cocktail Hour & meal:
The Excellence of Love package includes a cocktail hour and meal. Since our ceremony was at 11am, we opted to schedule it for a "lunch" that followed the ceremony and photos.
The cocktail hour was held outside in a covered deck area near the gazebo...it was perfect since you had the beach view and breeze, and could relax without getting cooked by the sun. We then had our meal at Oregano (which is closed in the afternoon, so it was very private) which was an easy walk from the cocktail area.
For the food and cake, I will say that it was the best food we had at the resort...so if you aren't so impressed by some of the meals at the resort, don't worry! Because it wasn't produced for the masses, there was much better quality control and the presentation of everything was fantastic. We were definitely impressed with the meal and the cake was light and delicious.
I think that covers most of it. Feel free to post any questions you have!
As for whether the Excellence Club is worth the extra cost, I swear by it just for the beach access. We never had to fight for covered area, the sand is smoother, and food comes to you! Also, it's much quieter/less rowdy, which is perfect if you're looking for relaxation.
My favorite restaurant was Flavor Market (tapas). Just be warned that they'll bring servings big enough for the entire table (even if only a few people want one plate). Just tell them how many servings you want or they'll bring enough for everyone!
Toscana was great for breakfast in the morning and had an awesome lunch buffet that we only tried on our last day. If you're a salad fan, they had a nice looking salad bar which was the only vegetarian friendly option we noticed. That would have been our go-to lunch spot if we'd known earlier. For dinner, they were pretty good for their pasta (I liked their chicken and mushroom ravioli).
Spice was good but was noticeably better toward the end of the night when the big rush of people was over. The meat wasn't overcooked and was noticeably better.
Agave restaurant was the worst place we ate...which was surprising, since it seems like it would be closest to Dominican food.
Las Olas is great when you just want a bite when you're at the beach or pool...I got addicted to the pizza and they had themed lunches that were pretty tasty and cooked fresh on the grill.