The holiday engagement season is upon us, and if you are one of the lucky couples taking the plunge, congratulations! But once the ring is on the finger, it can be difficult for giddy first-time wedding planners to know what to do next.
Fight the temptation to immediately try on veils and sample frosting. Instead, focus your energy — at least initially — on completing to-do list items that will make your wedding planning less stressful, according to four experienced wedding planners at Marriott hotels near Washington, D.C.
“It helps to be proactive about the bigger decisions, before you get too excited about the fun things,” says Michelle Hubina, Catering Sales Executive at Key Bridge Marriott, a popular wedding venue in Arlington, Virginia.
Set the budget
Don’t make a move without figuring out the budget. “Determine how much you want to spend for the wedding and how much your family is going to contribute. Get that talk out of the way first,” says Krista Dippold, Senior Catering Sales Executive, Crystal Gateway Marriott, an Arlington hotel spectacularly renovated with weddings in mind.
The budget is a big deal, because it encompasses so much. You’ll need to consider the number of guests and how much you want to spend on the ceremony and reception, including transportation, food, flowers, décor, photographer, videographer and wedding attire. Do you prefer to spend more on a special dining experience, or set aside a larger portion to personalize the décor?
“Everything’s really based on the budget. If that changes, so does everything else. You definitely want to have that nailed down first,” agrees Rob Craw, Destination Sales Executive at Washington Marriott Georgetown.
Something else to nail down: wedding dates. “The popular time of the year used to be May and June, but now dates are also booking quickly in September and October,” Hubina says. Unless you are planning more than a year into the future, you’ll need to be flexible to book the venue of your dreams. Rather than focus on a specific date, begin with a month or a season in mind, she advises.
You should consider other events that are scheduled in your preferred area, such as college graduations, sports events and concerts. You may want to avoid these dates because they could hamper transportation and the ability for your guests to secure hotel reservations, Hubina says.
Book the venue
With budget and a rough idea of a date in mind, it’s time to start the search for a venue. “Keep your search to about three sites. You don’t want to create more work and stress for yourself,” Craw says. Will the ceremony and reception be at the same location? Do you envision a garden party or an elegant gala in a grand ballroom?
For Craw, who’s been best man in three weddings in the last two years, the key to wedding day bliss is convenience. “I tell people to make things as easy as possible. Give yourselves ample time to plan, get the big decisions out of the way first, and hold the entire wedding celebration under one roof.” Washington Georgetown Marriott boasts a recent $28 million renovation that will dazzle wedding guests and a convenient location just a 7-minute walk from the Foggy Bottom Metro stop and a half mile to the Dupont Metro stop.
The type of venue you select will determine the amount of planning you’ll need to do, such as arranging transportation between ceremony and reception, and booking a caterer, bartender, and banquet tables. “When you book things individually, it can add up to a lot of confusion. A hotel is a one-stop shop that’s a recipe for success for your special day,” says Hubina, whose Key Bridge Marriott features breathtaking views from the Capital View Ballroom and enough space to host a memorable ceremony, cocktail hour and reception. Guests can take the elevator “home” to relaxing guest rooms and wake to a delicious post-wedding breakfast the next morning.
Once you find your dream spot, act quickly. “If you have your heart set on something, you have to jump on it. You can’t wait because you’ll lose it to the next bride,” says Dippold, who coordinates weddings in the largest ballroom in Arlington County.
Create a wedding website
For Cindy Fuller, director of Catering Sales at Fairview Park Marriott, the emphasis is on educating bridal couples. “At a Marriott Hotel, you can tap into the expertise of our certified wedding planners to guide you through the planning process,” she says. The distinctive hotel in Falls Church, Virginia, features a Grand Ballroom with a glass foyer overlooking a park-like setting for receptions and an al fresco patio for ceremonies and engagement celebrations.
Her best advice: Stay organized. Create your own wedding website with the help of wedding portals and apps. Many offer planning tools and help with gift registry. “It’s an easy way to communicate details with friends and family and it’s helpful to have one go-to place where you can organize all of the information you gather,” Fuller says.
Supplement it by linking your guests to the personalized web page Marriott provides to each bridal couple so their guests can easily make hotel reservations online.
Once you have the date locked in with the venue, it’s safe to book other vendors — the people who help beautify the space with flowers, pick you up in a limo, and capture gorgeous images of your special day. Marriott hotels can provide couples with a vetted list of local vendors who they have successfully worked with in the past.
“We host weddings all the time, so we know what’s good and what’s not. We know the businesses on our preferred vendor list are going to give you the final product you desire,” Dippold says. “It’s one less stress that a bride has to worry about.”
Enjoy the process
With these five tips from Marriott wedding planners completed, you’ll be free to shop for china patterns and test cake batter until your heart is content. Find your happy place at a Marriott near Washington, D.C., and you’re well on way to creating memories to last a lifetime. “Don’t stress too much and enjoy it,” Fuller says. “Make decisions based on what you want, and it will all work out beautifully!”
Crystal Gateway Marriott — 1700 Jefferson Davis Highway, Arlington, VA 22202; 703-920-3230; crystalgatewaymarriott.com
Falls Church Marriott Fairview Park — 3111 Fairview Park Drive, Falls Church, VA 22042; 703-849-9400; fallschurchmarriott.com
Key Bridge Marriott — 1401 Lee Highway, Arlington, VA 22209; 703-524-6400; keybridgemarriott.com
Washington Marriott Georgetown — 1221 22nd Street N.W., Washington, D.C. 20037; 202-872-1500; washingtonmarriott.com