When we planned our wedding, we aimed to change things we didn’t really care for about the traditional wedding day. Quite frankly, we think a lot of weddings are pretty boring. People spend all this money to put their own spin on the details, but don’t often put in the effort to change the format of the day itself. So let me start with the disclaimer that we don’t think your wedding was or will be bad if you use the traditional wedding timeline. That timeline just wasn’t right for us, and we wanted to share how we did it differently.
The Day Before
Our venue often has a wedding on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in a given week. To accomplish the logistics of this, they have the rehearsal happen from 9-11 AM the day before your wedding. So we had our wedding rehearsal at 9 AM on a Friday. We used this time to unload our cars into the venue’s storage area and ran through our ceremony, our rain plan for the ceremony, and the logistics of the first part of the reception—primarily where the bridal party gets introduced.
We really don’t like how the bride and groom usually don’t get to visit with family and friends the day before the wedding because they’re at their rehearsal dinner. Almost all of our guests were from out of town—most from over 600 miles away. We really wanted to see them the night before, knowing full well that we wouldn’t be able to visit much at our actual wedding. We also wanted to keep our rehearsal dinner small to avoid having essentially two wedding receptions on one weekend.
With our rehearsal in the morning, we bumped up our rehearsal dinner to lunch time. This freed up our evening so we could be with our guests. Sam’s mother came up with the fantastic idea of a welcome reception in the hotel lobby. The idea was to greet people as they were checking into the hotel, but most of our guests had arrived hours beforehand.
The wonderful staff at the Cambria Suites set up some appetizers and water and iced tea. We took over their lobby, which has a nice large seating area, and the hotel bar was just three steps away if someone wanted an alcoholic beverage. I can’t tell you how amazing this welcome reception was. Probably about 90% of our guests came, it allowed everyone to shake off the cobwebs and get past the small talk of not seeing your family in a while. It also allowed our two extended families to meet beforehand so everyone could just enjoy themselves the next day.
I much preferred it to the alternative idea of having a huge rehearsal dinner with out-of-town guests at a big sit-down meal. At a sit-down meal you’re only visiting with the people in your vicinity. With our welcome reception, people were able to move and mingle and see everyone.
Our Wedding Day!
Let me lay out the venue for you. Silver Hearth Lodge is a mountain top venue, mostly outdoors with a few weather sheltered pavilions. This place is gorgeous, has a killer view, and is quite large and spread out. Vistaview Hall is the largest space, and is at the top of this shallow hill on top of the mountain. If you’re looking from Vistaview Hall: down and to your left is Overlook Pavilion which stands right on the edge of the mountain. Slightly to your right is the ceremony site under the rod iron gazebo, and directly to your right is the large firepit. If you go down and to your right, you’ll end up at Virginia’s Smallest Church, which is Silver Hearth’s second ceremony location (it’s actually a chartered church, which is great for religious brides who still want an outdoor wedding!). On the way to the Church, you’ll pass the Sky Shelter which is a small pavilion with a large table and benches.
We really wanted people to explore the whole venue, and not stay put in the main pavilion where our tables and buffet were set up. To accomplish this, we set up events all around the venue. We moved our dance floor for the last third of the night, and nothing happened at the tables except for eating.
So here’s our wedding day timeline:
- 9am-11:30am: Hair and Makeup at Hotel
- Noon: Arrive at Venue, start setup
- 12:20pm: Bride and Groom get dressed and do first look and portraits. Everyone else (Bridal party, etc) continues setup
- 1:20pm: Bridal party is dressed and does group pictures (ushers keep setting up)
- 2:45pm: Immediate family pictures
- 3:15pm: Setup finished.
- 3:30pm: Guests arrived, Bride hides [Our busses were a little late, but we had buffer time for our ceremony to run late, so it didn’t knock the day off track]
- 4pm: Ceremony begins
- 4:30pm: Ceremony ends, receiving line immediately afterwards, immediately followed by large family pictures. Cocktail hour from 4:30-5:30 pm.
- 5:30pm-ish: Intro of bridal party into reception, followed by special dances and shoving cake into each other’s face.
- 6pm-8:15pm: Buffet Open
- 9pm: Smores and Toasts at the fire pit
- 9:40: Faux exit with sparklers
- 10pm, 10:30pm, 11pm: Buses Leave.
And here’s what we told our guests, in the program (which was more of a guide to the whole day than just the ceremony):
So how did it go?
Smashingly! I had everything packed in a way to streamline the setup process, doing as much work beforehand as I could (for instance, I had all the board games pre-packed in 2-3 boxes instead of 20 boxes!) By doing pictures beforehand, we got all the tedious stuff out of the way first and then could just enjoy ourselves the rest of the evening. We actually had a lot of extra time left before the ceremony was supposed to start, and then the busses were late so we had even more time! (Time I used to have a snack!)
We took care to place things so the flow of traffic made sense. We had our receiving line between the ceremony site and the bar, and we had ushers stationed at the end of our receiving line to prep family members on the family pictures. We did a receiving line, so we could greet each guest and thank them for coming without having to go to each table. With our open eating time, we weren’t sure if everyone would even be eating at the same time! We also arranged our receiving line with the bride and groom first. I don’t always want to talk to the parents of the newlyweds, because I’ve often never met them! This way people could duck out after giving us a hug.
For our guests, this segment of the day flowed like this: Receiving Line–Ushers for Info–Bar–Appetizers at Overlook Pavilion (where we had a secondary bar set up)–Family Pictures. For us, the bride and groom, it went Receiving Line–Grab Lemonade since we were dehydrated–Family Pictures. We had the family pictures right next to the Overlook Pavilion, so family was already corralled into one place. It was so efficient! Sam’s dad’s family is huge. 33 of them made it to our wedding, and that was only 2/3 of them! I have seen it take 20 minutes to get them together to take a family picture. This was definitely the way to get the family pictures taken and out of the way.
After the family pictures we did the bridal party introductions right into the first dance. Most everyone was standing, but we did have some seats available and had our grandparents seated where they could see. We did our first dance and then the cupcake smash (we didn’t get a cake to cut) and then the parent dances. We did it in this order in case people wanted a good excuse to duck out and play yard games before the parent dances started, but I don’t think anyone did.
After the parent dances, the buffet was opened and stayed open for just over 2 hours. We didn’t want to dictate when people could eat, so you could either eat right away, dance some first, or play yard games. I didn’t see a line, but talking to guests a few said they did wait in a line. Typically with a buffet, everyone’s seated at their tables and they are dismissed by table to go get their food. We didn’t want any hierarchy of tables, which is one reason we didn’t do table numbers, so we didn’t want to dismiss people by table. The way I see it, you’re going to wait for a buffet no matter what: either you’re waiting at your table to be dismissed or you’re waiting in line. With our plan, you could elect to hang out anywhere until the line looked short enough for your preferences. It also meant that people didn’t HAVE to eat right then. Sam and I got our plates probably an hour into dinner, most people ate before us, and it was totally fine!
Between dinner and the bonfire it was a total free-for-all. People bounced, danced, played, and just visited with each other. It was wonderful. Our guests participated so fully, even beyond what I thought they would. One of Sam’s aunts grabbed our giant scrabble tiles to make signs for more specific family pictures. It was so cool and they are some of my favorite pictures from the wedding.
We had a s’mores station at our venue’s large fire pit and did our toasts there. Again, we didn’t want to hold guests hostage at their tables while they listened to people talk about how much they loved us. Also I liked the pun of toasting your marshmallow–get it? Most people didn’t have drinks with them, but it didn’t matter. It definitely reminded me of bonfires at my old summer camp. During toasts, the DJ got settled up at Vistaview Hall where we had the last segment of dancing.
After the toasts, we did a sparkler faux exit. We did a faux exit because we had 3 different bus departure times but wanted most people there for sparklers. One word of advice, if you have a lot of sparklers (like more than 25–I had over 100!) and you’re lighting a walkway with them, light them in the direction the bride and groom are walking. We did not, and even though we had long burning ones we had to rush to the end of the sparkler line. We did the sparkler line where we had our receiving line, so it led people straight from the bonfire to the dance floor. The first bus left right after sparklers.
We actually ended up cutting the dancing short when Sam’s old improv group, 9PE, volunteered to do some improv to end our wedding day. The impromptu improv was the perfect end to our day. We ended the dancing with “Closing Time” and then pulled chairs onto the dance floor for a few improv games!
After the last bus left, we stuck around and cleaned up the decor. Packed it away into cars and went back to the hotel! The person working front desk that night was ALSO named Sam, so it was a good time.
Would I do anything differently?
There are a few things I would change about my wedding (namely, I would have Giant Jenga in a different place), but I don’t think I would change anything about the timeline. Things went really smoothly.
If I did change something, I would move the cupcake smash and the cupcakes to a more central location. Apparently a lot of guests didn’t even know we had any. Oops!
The most important thing in making your day go smoothly is to take things in stride, and build in time for things running late. We had over a half hour extra built in between ceremony and the first dance, and most of that got eaten up by the busses running late. Our ceremony started late, but dancing started on time. This buffer time is especially important if you do not take your wedding party and couple pictures beforehand with a first look, many couples report feeling rushed through their formal portraits between ceremony and reception. By bucking tradition and doing the first look, we definitely felt more relaxed the whole day. (And, if you were wondering, Sam said it did not diminish the feeling of me coming down the aisle, and he still cried…a lot!)
All our wedding photography shown here was done by the talented Kathryn Michelle Photography!