With just under 300 days to go, I'm starting this thread VERY early. I'm a planner...I love planning almost as much as the event itself but this is also my slow season at work and I'm terrified that if I don't start now I will get swamped and fall very far behind schedule with wedding stuff. My peak season at work is summer-late fall (just before the holidays) hence why I'm thinking "It's pretty much spring - I should get started on this!".
How We Met
We met through work. I was working as an Agent's assistant at a talent agency and Sean was one of the actors. We met in 2010 and we were both in long term relationships, by the time the next holiday office party came around we were both single. That night Sean bee-lined towards me on the dance floor. We were both there with some friends who conveniently disappeared and left us alone to dance the night away (I should mention he had on hand in a cast and still managed to pick me up and spin me ). A week later I asked him out and he said yes! Unfortunately the timing was off, as I mentioned this was right around the holidays. Sean went back to visit him family in PEI, then he got a call from him biological father who lives in Shanghai that he would pay for his trip out to visit him. Both trips were extended from their original return dates and then he had to help out a sick family member out of town. At this point I wasn't sure if we would ever go out on our first date but I felt a really strong connection with him from that night at the holiday party. So I reached out to see how he was doing with all his family stuff going on and asked him if we wanted to go see a show. On April 1, 2011 (4 months after I originally asked him out - LOL) we finally found ourselves on our first date! I now refer to this as the "courtship period" haha!
As I mentioned Sean is an actor but he is also a designer, contractor, builder or sorts. A couple months into dating Sean got this huge renovation to redesign a restaurant. He designed and built it while I helped him manage the books. This time was really special for us as it really solidified our relationship. We did a 46 day straight renovation where we often slept at the construction site in the dust and grime. Sean always says that's when he 'knew'.
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This our very first picture together at the holiday party in 2010.
It was the week of my 30th birthday (this past October) so I really wasn't suspecting anything. He had been planning a party with some friends of mine so I thought that was what he was busy doing all those nights he said "I'm busy planning"...which is a huge thing as I'm the planner in the relationship. Let's put it this way, he would pack for a road trip in a laundry basket if I let him. It was Tuesday afternoon and he was going to pick me up at the office for a pre-birthday lunch since he was around the corner at an audition earlier in the day. I thought we were going down the street so I thought it was a bit odd when he said we were driving. He said that he was taking a short cut and it would be easier to drive so I just went with it. It wasn't until we were on the highway and practically in Ajax coming from downtown (for those Toronto ladies who know where that is) that I started to question where we were really going. We had traveled 30 mins outside of the city and I hadn't even noticed - I think I was just excited about a special birthday lunch! Finally I asked where we were going and he wouldn't say and then I asked if I was going back to work and he said no. He had arranged for our office assistant (note: since 2010 I was promoted and I'm now a full agent running my own roster) and my colleague to cover for me. That's when I really started to ask questions. All he would say was that it was a surprise romantic getaway for my birthday! When I heard the words "romantic getaway" I just sat back and went with it. We drove...for a WHILE. He had me close my eyes as we got closer so I wouldn't try and guess where we were. Almost 4 hours later we reached our destination. Sean had rented a tree house for the night just outside of Perth, Ont. It was gorgeous and we've been talking about going to this place near Seattle called Treehouse Point for a vacation for a while and after some research he found this place. It was pretty amazing!
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We went out for a lovely meal and then came back to the treehouse. He said he had a couple more surprises for me and told me to sit by the fire and close my eyes. When I opened my eyes he had lit candles, poured champagne, had a dozen long stemmed red roses and a present waiting for me.
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I opened the box and there was a pendant that Sean had remade for me. Back story: Sean gave me this necklace and had it engraved two years ago and then about a year later it got caught in my scarf and I lost it somewhere. I was sooooo sad! It was such a sentimental thing to me. So he contacted the jeweler this year and had it remade. I was so surprised! He grabbed his phone and I thought why is he grabbing his phone right now, it's kinda ruining this really romantic moment! But before I could even say anything he started playing 'our song' - Forever by Ben Harper. He grabbed my hand and wanted to dance. As we were dancing he started to get really emotional, and looked up at me kinda misty (he'll hate that I'm telling you all this ) and said there might be something else in the box. It was then that might heart started pounding...I looked in the box which I thought was empty now and underneath the tissue was a scarf and inside the scarf was a ring box hiding in it. I turned around to look at Sean and he was down on one knee.
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Side note: Sean planned the entire proposal on his own and picked out the ring by himself too...I was very shocked and impressed. My girlfriends knew what I had wanted but he wanted to surprise them too. Amazingly he picked out the exact style I had wanted!
Deciding on a DW
This one was an easy decision. Sean and I went to my cousin's DW a couple of years ago in Mexico (Barcelo Maya Colonial) and we fell in love with the whole DW concept. We loved that you have an entire week to celebrate your wedding with your loved ones, that we could have a smaller intimate wedding and our rooms would only be a stumble away. All those things combined with the fact that most of my family is in Toronto, with some scattered throughout Alberta and Montreal, Sean's family is mostly from PEI with some in the US and Western Canada...it was going to be a destination wedding regardless. The cost was also something for us to consider. While it can add up for a DW it is still a lot more affordable to have a DW than a local wedding especially with our guest list.
For a couple of years we have been talking about the idea of doing a DW when we decided to get married, so after Sean proposed we pretty much knew that that was the plan. When we called all of our family and friends to share our news we let everyone know what our plans were. Based on my work season, we decided to have a January wedding. It is very slow at the start of the year and that way some of my co-workers would be able to go too (if they wanted to). The actual date itself we weren't too picky about but we knew January was ideal and Jan-Mar was our range of dates we were looking at.
Choosing our TA & Location
My mom a couple of months before we got engaged won a travel voucher for $3000 but it had to be redeemed through a specific travel agency. It seemed like a no brainer at first, since we were paying for it ourselves, the $3000 would really help us out with our budget. I contacted the company and spoke with a TA who was very nice and knowledgeable and we were going to set up a meeting. We wanted to meet in person and go over all the fine print with the travel voucher. In the meantime my mom got sick and was in the hospital so we postponed our meeting twice. I then randomly saw a friend of mine 'like' a post on facebook for a destination wedding event happening that week. I looked into it and it was an event specifically with a travel agency who specializes in DWs and Barcelo & Transat Holidays. I thought that was pretty perfect since the Barcelo properties were high on our list. So I went to the event and took on of my maids of honour with me. The event itself was just ok, there was some good information but nothing I couldn't get from their websites. I ended up chatting with Karen from MyWeddingAway and it was the best thing that could have happened. I didn't intend to talk to any of the TAs (I was more there for Barcelo & Transat) as I had that $3000 with the other agency. I sat down with Karen and she asked me all sorts of questions about us as a couple, what our vision was, budget etc. I really felt like she took an interest in us and not just the potential business we would bring. She started throwing out ideas of how to work with our budget and how to think outside the box to make it all happen. I felt like she was on my side and wasn't there to 'up sell' me. It was a tough decision as my heart was really telling me to use Karen, I felt instantly comfortable with her, she really knew what she was talking about and was quick to follow up after the event - but then there was the $3000 hanging over me and the guilt of not using free money. Ultimately we felt confident with Karen that she would work hard for us and get us the best deal possible and maybe in the long run we would save $3000 depending on what quotes the other TA would be able to get us. My mom also has 3 years to use the voucher so it's not like it would go to waste.
Once we decided to work with Karen, things started happening very quickly. We got quotes for Barcelo for Jan 2016 and we were happy with them but once we started looking at the wedding packages we started to get discouraged. We invited 150 people and were estimating about 60 would come. Our budget for the wedding itself (ceremony & reception not including travel-we're also paying for our parents trips) was $6000. We wanted a private reception, preferably on the beach but definitely not inside in a ballroom. We found that all the packages included around 20-25 people and the price per person was quite high (around $70, it was cheaper for the ballroom but that wasn't an option for us). Our TA started to rejig some things asked for substitutions for some of the packages like changing venues. Barcelo didn't go for it. We also looked into doing a semi-private reception at a restaurant but with our size of group it would have taken over the entire space and we would have to rent out the whole thing. I think they quoted us $10 000 for a private reception in a restaurant - we quickly nixed that idea. I was really trying to make it work with Barcelo because we've both been there before and had a great time. We weren't planning on doing any site visits so knowing what we were going to be getting was a huge plus. In the end we realized that the packages were just not suited our wedding needs and decided to start looking elsewhere. I really left this in the hands of our TA to suggest some properties she liked. She did so much work going back and forth with Barcelo and giving us other ideas to try that we completely trusted her.
She suggested some of the Karisma hotels and the Grand Sirenis. She warned me that the Karisma website will try to woo you...she was totally right. The minute I looked up their properties, I was hooked! I specifically fell in love with Azul Fives. I loved the wedding options, the food, and the property itself. I loved that it was smaller property and that it really focused on their food quality (they are considered a gourmet inclusive experience). While we have a lot of drinkers we also have a bunch who don't really drink but are big foodies! My future brother in law is the head of the culinary institute in PEI and all inclusives aren't usually known for their food so this was important! I loved that I could build my wedding a la carte and I wasn't forced to pick a package that included things I wasn't going to use anyway. You have to be careful here because things can really add up quickly (especially with Lomas' prices) but if you're careful you can still have a wedding within your budget!
Initially I thought we would qualify for the unlimited events promotions and the free 'Always and Forever' basic wedding package but then we soon found out that those were only offered to the US brides. I was upset about that at first but now after having done more research and talking to the Toronto Karisma rep, I understand why it is that way. I was all set to book when I found out from my TA that Transat doesn't offer flights from the east coast at that time of year and more specifically Transat doesn't fly to Charlottetown at all!! Eek! We found this out late in the game because they had just switched to using Transat as their sole operator right when we were getting quotes. It was so frustrating because everything was starting to fall into place. We had the quote we wanted (from Toronto), the resort, the dates and it was looking like it would all work within our budget. We tried to move the dates around because we thought we could get the PEI folk to fly out of either Nova Scotia or New Brunswick but that meant moving the wedding into Feb and the quotes we got back were really high for Toronto. We considered a bunch of different options but in the end we decided to keep Azul Fives because this was the place we really wanted to get married, keep the dates as it was more affordable in general and then to just book land only rooms for our east coast guests. Since we were booking 14 months before our wedding it would everyone lots of time to search for cheap flights. Ironically most of our east coast guest are opting to fly out of Toronto anyway.
Our quotes are as follows:
From Toronto $1630
From Calgary $1934
From Edmonton $1969
From Vancouver $1948
Land only $1252
With the months we were looking at the west coast and east coast were always more expensive and the first week in Jan was the cheapest for all. From the time of our engagement to the time we booked our wedding was almost exactly 1 month!