Saturday, 28 September 2013

How did we choose?

In the last 3 posts you can see the 3 different venues we looks around, how did we decide which one was for us? 
The venue is such a massive part of the wedding day and it's also the first thing that a lot of people book, therefore setting the tone for your whole day. It's big decision! All 3 venues that we saw were very similar in price so cost was not really part of our decision making between them. They were all also within our requirements for size, amount of rooms, style and location. This is really what made the decision hard as on paper we could have chosen any of them and it was really down to which one we just liked best.
It seems pretty obvious now which is the best venue, but we were really torn between the private house and the small hotel. So how did we decide in the end?
We viewed all the venues then went off for a few days to Cornwall for a beach break as we had the rest of the week off, so we had time away from work etc to really relax and talk through all our options at length. I would definitely recommend doing this, taking a few days after viewing to really think about it, don't feel pressured to book there and then. 
What we found was that we had disregarded the large hotel, and on an emotional basis we loved both the private house and small hotel but when we weighed up the pros and cons there were some concerns with the hotel that we didn't have with the private house. Mostly that all the parts we loved were outside and if it rained we wouldn't get to use them, and as we’re looking at Spring so March/April/May there is a good chance it might rain. Well actually in Britain there’s always a good chance it might rain! Also if the small hotel had just been in a quieter area it might have won, but the crowds and very public nature really couldn't compete with having our own manor house for the day tucked away in a few acres of land. The house has also been converted with events, especially weddings, in mind, so is really well suited to a wedding and has plenty of space, rooms, toilets etc and the décor is all pretty and compliments the house but is very neutral to allow you any colour scheme for your day.
So we mainly chose the private house for the size and the fact we get the whole place to ourselves, other than that the bridal suite and gardens/location also were quite persuasive. The only downside was the shared bathrooms in some rooms, other than that we really couldn't think of any drawbacks! The rooms are a reasonable price for the venue (more than a cheap hotel or B&B but not expensive) and there is a cheaper Holiday Inn/Travelodge type hotel about a 2 minute drive or a few minutes’ walk if people did want to stay there instead or if we filled all the rooms at the house. The catering is all done externally and we have caterers to chose from (we will be arranging menu tasting as soon as we've paid a bit of the venue off) and most seem to be reasonable prices and have nice looking menus.
Also we could just see our wedding there. Tom said he could actually almost hear my sisters, mum and bridesmaids all chatting and running between the bridal suite’s dressing room and its interlinking rooms with rollers in their hair carrying hairbrushes and bouquets etc. I really liked the suite and like the idea of getting ready there, neither us, my mum or dad have huge houses so everyone getting ready there would probably be a lot easier and it would save us hiring a wedding car for me to arrive in (Tom is rather gutted about not having a cool car though so we might have to arrange something for him!). It might also make the morning a little more chilled as no worries about getting to the venue on time if we’re already there!
We could also just visualise the ceremony and meal there in a way we couldn't at the other 3 places, I think because it is such a personal venue and we can really do whatever we want with it that just made it so much easier to picture. It means we can have a completely bespoke day, and the house is pretty as it is so I'm not planning to go too OTT on the decorations but we can have anything we want and put decorations in every area of the venue if we wanted to not just a function room.
I just can’t wait to start on the rest of it! We are looking at spring 2015 so have a while to arrange and pay for stuff, they didn't have any availability for later next year (and I could organise it by then but spring 2014 is too close to get it all paid for!) so we had to go to the year after which I was a bit disappointed by but Tom has the outlook that it’s longer to organise and means we can afford to have some nicer things. We’re aiming to pay off the venue hire quite quickly (by the end of this year hopefully) as we have the catering to arrange, so rather than if we had gone for a hotel and had it all in one go it’s split in half to pay for the venue hire then the catering separately. This kind of works for us as we can pay off the venue part then save up for the catering, rather than paying one massive chunk of it at the start.
My advice if you're torn between 2 venues would be to weigh up the pro's and con's and look at all the details, also as I said in this post don't be afraid to go away and think about it, or take someone for a second opinion.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Venue Number 1

The one we booked!
This was the private house, and was my favourite although neither of us had been there before but on the website it looked good. We saw this venue first, on the morning before going to the large hotel. The house is a private hire venue, so you hire the whole place exclusively for the day and night, an idea I really liked.
I was actually really surprised when we started looking that we could afford this type of venue, I looked at the website for one private house on a whim expecting it to be way out of our price range but nice to dream about hiring a stately home for the day, and was shocked to find that it was within our (modest) budget.
The house has a long tree lined drive, you can’t see it from the road, it faces away from the road and looks out over the gardens to the river at the end (too big and deep for duck races unfortunately but lovely for photos). The gardens are pretty simple but look good, with a walled courtyard between the house and coach house, then a patio area onto a rolling lawn sloping away from the house down to woods and a river. There is a pagoda in the garden for an outdoor ceremony, which we are considering, they can set up for an outdoor ceremony but if the weather isn’t great bring everything inside on the day so it’s nice to have the option.
You enter into a hallway with a spiral staircase at the end which goes up through all the floors of the house and has a glass dome at the top, it was really pretty and let in loads of light and really a feature of the house. The manager who was showing us around showed us examples of photos people have had on the stairs and they make a great backdrop. There is the bar adjoining this room with a big fireplace and a few tables with chairs.
Also on the ground floor are the room for the ceremony and next to it a larger room for the meal and evening entertainment. All the rooms on the ground floor have large windows (floor to ceiling in some rooms) and the whole ground floor had hardwood floors and was decorated neutrally in white, cream and beige tones so you could go with any colour scheme. I really liked the ceremony room as it was light and airy and felt very spacious, we would stand in front of large windows looking out into the gardens to say our vows. It also had nice features like a fireplace and chandelier and was large enough to easily accommodate our guests.
The ballroom where we would eat and have the music in the evening is also really spacious and has huge windows that let in loads of light. On the ground floor there are also 2 other smaller rooms, the ‘garden room’ had windows covering one wall facing out onto the patio and a bar along one side, it’s apparently usually where people serve the evening buffet. There’s a TV mounted on the far wall and we’re debating on some way to display photos people have taken at the wedding, like on a twitter feed or instagram. The smallest room was the library or ‘white room’, a corner room with nice views over the gardens, it would be where we would meet the registrar prior to the ceremony and nice for people wanting to get away from the music and partying later on.
Up the spiral stairs were the bedrooms, the bridal suite was huge, you entered into a hallway and off that was a large corner bedroom with views over the gardens, then a bathroom and a large dressing room with a sofa, hanging rail and bar and stools along one side with mirrors for applying makeup. We would be able to go up early to get ready, or even stay the night before if we booked a minimum of 15 rooms. The dressing room also had 2 doors coming off of it interlinking into 2 other bedrooms, which in turn linked to another so you could have 4 rooms all opened up for getting ready in the morning.
The rest of the suites and rooms were nice, although with it being an old house some had odd layouts and not all rooms have en suite bathrooms. Most do have an en suite, some have a private bathroom which is over the corridor or next door, but a few rooms have shared bathrooms and some of the suites have 2 bedrooms but only one bathroom. This was the only downside of this venue really, but it isn’t too much of an issue. Already we have some people earmarked for the suites with shared bathrooms as they’re perfect for a family of 3-4 to share (most are a double room, single or twin room and bathroom). The rooms with shared bathrooms we will just make sure are occupied by people who know each other very well, we get to say who goes in which room so we can hopefully sort it out that everyone is happy. There are also ground floor rooms which is good as there isn’t a lift.
There were nice touches around upstairs as well like large seating areas with coffee tables and magazines etc between the rooms, and all the rooms were decorated well and most had a nice view over either the gardens or farmland to the nearby village.
So, what was right?

  • It would be completely ours all day we wouldn’t just be confined to certain function rooms or areas, so if the weather was bad there’d be plenty of room for everyone inside as the ballroom and bar would be large enough but we also have the other 2 rooms and the entrance hall etc in between.
  • Flexibility. The manager we met was very helpful and made suggestions of what other people tended to do and what has worked well before but really it would be completely up to us what we want to do where, and if for example a painting didn’t fit with our colour scheme or we didn’t like it they would take it down for our day.
  • I liked the idea of having a separate area/room for the ceremony (rather than having it all in one room and having to change it around between sections) as it means we can set up the tables etc before and not have to kick everyone out to change the room over straight after the ceremony.
  • The gardens and area were scenic but not too far from main roads for ease of access
  • The bridal suite was the best one out of the 3 venues and was complimentary on the wedding night.
What was wrong?
  • The only slight complaint I would have is that the rooms with shared bathrooms are the same price as those with en suites when I think they really should be cheaper, I don’t think people would be so worried about sharing if they were getting the room cheaper! We will probably leave the shared bathroom rooms until last to allocate and do en suite first come first served. So if you’re invited book a room asap!

So that's the one we booked, we've been up again recently for a wedding fair and showed some of our family around. Next on the list is the catering, then the dress :)

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Venue 2 - The Small Hotel

This was a boutique hotel in a beautiful village. It’s a typical Cotswolds village (similar to Bourton on the Water or Broadway) and very picturesque. Think Cotswold stone, winding lanes, doorways with roses growing around them and a small river running through the centre with stone bridges crisscrossing it. It was a sunny day in July so there was quite a lot of tourist traffic, a coach full of Japanese tourists was arriving as we got there.

This had been our third choice venue, neither of us had been there before but we liked the look of it on the website and people had told us it was nice, however we really didn’t have any preconceptions and were completely blown away by the beauty of the village and the hotel from the outside. It was an old hotel on the side of the river, built in Cotswold stone and covered in ivy. As we drove into the village and it came in to view we both went quiet and I think I might have whispered something like ‘oooh it’s pretty’.

The hotel was decorated nicely inside, quite dark blues and greens and with fireplaces, eclectic furniture and overstuffed armchairs etc (Think stereotypical English countryside hotel). The function room was being redecorated, but would eventually be dark blue walls with white panelling on the bottom half, and a blue and green tartan style carpet. The carpet wasn’t laid yet but it was throughout the hotel in other rooms, and one wall was painted, so we could get a vague idea of what it would look like. The blue was a pretty overpowering colour to be honest it wouldn’t leave much choice of colour scheme. They would have been happy to hold a date for us until the work was completed a few weeks later and we could look around again before making any financial commitment.

We would have had use of the main function room and also the adjoining library exclusively and then could also use the bar and communal areas of the hotel. The restaurant and bar had a nice terrace area and were decorated in a modern but comfortable theme. The bedrooms were nice, although expensive, and all had gorgeous big bathrooms and huge beds.  However, the ‘Bridal Suite’ was really just a standard room with a few added extras, and while most rooms had nice views over the village it looked out into the back of the hotel. It had a 4 poster bed and a nice bathroom but in reality it was the same as the other (expensive) rooms and would have cost even more. 

The real reason we liked this place so much was the village it was in and the garden of the hotel, it was on the other side of the road from the hotel and not massive (about the size of 2 tennis courts maybe). There were 2 streams/rivers running the length of the garden on either side and the landscaping was well done, with paths, trellis (trellis’? trelli?), nice garden furniture and deck chairs, level grassy areas and flowers and shrubs in beds at either end. You could have the ceremony outside, and although the village does get busy the hotel gardens are for guests only, and we had them to ourselves that morning. The hotel and gardens were on the main road through the village though, literally right on it there wasn’t even a pavement, so they weren’t actually that quiet or secluded and I would maybe feel a little on show having the ceremony outside.

The events planner also said that the village hosts a yearly duck race, and a popular thing to do is to have a mini duck race in the river running through the garden. We thought this was such a lovely idea, you could give the rubber ducks as favours and let people decorate them  then have the race after the meal while the room is being changed around for the evening. The river ran through a paved channel in the garden and ended at a grate on the wall which would catch the ducks at the end of the race, it was quite shallow and even so would be easy to drop ducks into and everyone could take part.

So, what was right?

  • The location. The surrounding area, the village and countryside were gorgeous. The backdrop for photos would have been great.
  • The gardens and the duck race, I was so in love with this idea that it really was the main plus point of the venue for me, and we’re trying to think of something similar at the place we actually booked (any ideas please let me know!).
  •  The hotel looked very well run and the events co-ordinator was very organised, it felt like the event would be well handled.
  • The hotel itself was also pretty as well as the area around it, the inside was nicely decorated and everything felt quite luxurious and well done.
  • The menu in the restaurant looked good, and it was the kind of place where we could adapt the menu to fit.
  • The bedrooms were nice, spacious and beautifully decorated.
What was wrong?

  • In this post I explained that we didn’t want to book somewhere just on the strength of the outside as the British weather may let us down on the day. We were there on a glorious day in the middle of the July heat wave, but we tried to imagine it on a wet day. If we were confined to inside, the hotel actually was not very large so we would be in 2 rooms which although they were nice were just function rooms at the end of the day and would maybe feel a bit cramped.
  • The tourists. While we were in the gardens people were all milling around outside and taking photos of the hotel and gardens (and us in the gardens). It kind of spoiled the vibe of a nice country hotel tucked away in a little village having it surrounded by crowds of people. The road was right outside the hotel and it was pretty busy with cars going over the bridge to get in and out of the village. This was midweek, on a sunny Saturday it would be even busier.
  • The bedrooms were very expensive although they were the nicest ones out of the 3 venues, but the bridal suite was disappointing.
  •  The popularity of the area with tourists also meant that hotel rooms are booked up far in advance, so we would need to reserve a lot of rooms. We would have had the cost of the rooms taken off our final payment, and our guests would just pay for their rooms at reception on check out as normal but it was an initial outlay we wouldn’t have elsewhere.

All in all we loved it, and agreed we would stay there sometime for a nice romantic break. It only just lost out to the other venue that we had seen. Although we really went back and forth for a few days and had to do a list of pros and cons for both before we really were sure. More on the one we booked soon!

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Venue 3 - The Large Hotel

I’ll do these in order of choice from last to first, as I want to end on the one we chose! Also I’ve decided not to tell all about our wedding on here, as I want to keep some things private or a surprise before the day. So I’m not actually going to tell you the names and locations of these places, although if you want more info for your own wedding or event on any of the venues or suppliers I talk about here please contact me.
We viewed this venue second, after viewing another nearby venue in the morning we went there after lunch. On arrival I think my words were something like ‘Wow, it’s big’, it was a pretty impressive looking old gothic style hotel, it almost looked like a castle from the car park! Tom had been here before on a course with work and this was his favourite, the one he had suggested we go and see. The reception was huge and the massive stairwell wound up through about 4-5 floors, all in all it was pretty big and pretty impressive. We looked at the orangery first, the bit I was most excited to see as on the website it looked lovely. It looked like a massive conservatory out in the grounds, which was self contained with its own toilets, bar etc so you could have your whole day there and not intermingle with other guests or weddings. It would also be the best of both worlds between inside and outside, on the website it looked like the orangery was in a garden so you could all be outside if it was nice or inside if not and at night it would look great all lit up.
We got there and the orangery bordered the car park. As soon as I saw it all my notions of a romantic, small, secluded and pretty orangery went out the window. It did have some bushes and trees around it which in the pictures gave the illusion of a garden but it was paved all around.  The inside wasn’t as nice as I’d thought it would be either, the website actually didn’t have any photos but I’d hoped for tiled or wooden floors and nice lighting etc. It was red patterned ‘hotel’ carpet, red velvet conference chairs and painted inside in a yellowy cream colour. We moved on pretty quickly as the events co-ordinator must have seen our disappointment. This really shows the benefit of looking around places in person!
We continued the tour through some beautiful gardens with stunning views, and on round to the marquee and large function room. While both were very nice they really didn’t have anything a function room in a Holiday Inn wouldn’t have (nothing wrong with a Holiday Inn of course, but it would be a hell of a lot cheaper!). The one plus point of the function room was it had a soundproof wall at one end that folded back, so the DJ or band could be setting up behind it while you ate to minimise changeover time from eating to dancing.
The rest of the inside of the hotel was nice, with wood beams and cosy seating areas mixed in with glass walls and modern touches. It also had a pool and a spa which would be lovely the day after or the day before the wedding.
We carried on the tour round to the atrium, an area recently licensed for ceremonies, currently being used as a café/bar it was a room about 3 stories high with a glass ceiling and stone walls. It was stunning. They really should start the tour there instead of end it as the orangery being such a disappointment really let it down right at the start. It would be a lovely room for the ceremony, it was oblong shaped so a long aisle with 5-6 chairs either side could be made, the bar would be screened off and then once the ceremony was over opened for guests to have a drink before the meal. We kind of looked at each other like ‘there might be hope for this place yet’ but after going through all of the packages and options with the events co-ordinator and looking around the grounds a bit more we just weren’t feeling it.
So, what was right?
·         Stunning gardens and a beautiful view over countryside
·         Impressive hotel and architecture
·         Plenty of room for people to stay over, the place has hundreds of rooms
·         The Atrium was lovely and we could visualise the ceremony being held there
·         Experienced wedding and events team, this hotel has hundreds of events and weddings per year
·         Multiple options of rooms for the ceremony/reception.
·         Flexible catering, the kitchens can cater for any diet and have loads to choose from
·         Size – The hotel itself is huge so no way we would feel cramped, it also meant plenty of space for parking, extra guests and plus ones, space for the wedding party to spread out into the bar etc if needed.
What wasn’t right?
·        It was almost too big, it felt quite impersonal and like our smallish wedding would get a bit lost in this massive hotel, and there may have been 2 or 3 weddings there that day if they were at full capacity. I really didn’t like the idea of this.
·        The décor was not as good as the other 2 places, not bad but pretty generic. The gothic style reception, atrium and entrance were grand and impressive but also some areas were quite dark, due to the style of the building and the period it was built in but dark carpets and furnishings didn’t help. The outside and gardens were beautiful, but other places we had seen also had good gardens and as I said in the last post because we can’t rely on the weather we didn’t want to book somewhere just because of the outside.
·        Really we just didn’t like it as much as the place we had viewed that morning, and after seeing the 3rd one the next day it was completely out of the running. It just didn’t feel right, neither of us were very excited about it and while the atrium was lovely and we kind of considered that for a few minutes the rest of the hotel really didn’t match up to it for the evening and the meal.
·         We never saw the bedrooms but looking on the website and in the brochure the rooms look pretty standard (It is a chain hotel) and we noted that they do not have a bridal suite, the other places did and one even had the bridal suite complimentary on the wedding night.
All in all we felt we should like it but it just wasn’t us, we wanted somewhere nice but personal and more fitting to our style. The next few posts will be on the venues we were really torn between, and how we managed to choose in the end.