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Hill Country, Napa & Beyond: Destination Weddings We Love

Texas Hill Country Destination Wedding King River Ranch
Venue: King River Ranch

Got a hankering to head out of Houston? These destination wedding properties top our list of favorites for fabulous food, superb service, gorgeous views and a true R&R wedding experience. Click here to read the rest of this post »

Bon Voyage: 4 Honeymoon Planning Tips

Honeymoon Planning Tips Italian Coast
Photo: Ama by Aisha

Before your “Bon Voyage,” follow these four essential honeymoon planning steps…then pack those bags and go!

1. MAKE YOUR HONEYMOON PLANNING A PRIORITY

During those heady, hectic months—sometimes years— of planning your wedding, honeymoon arrangements can sometimes take a back seat to big-day prep. But if you wait too long to plan your honeymoon, or you neglect budgeting for your big trip, you may find yourself having to compromise on location, dates and amenities. Click here to read the rest of this post »

Brand New For I Do: 15 Acres in Hockley, TX

Hockley Texas Wedding Venue 15 Acres  Photo: Dream Photo & Video

How’d you like to get married in a brand-spanking-new venue–one that has outdoor ceremony space overlooking a scenic pond, and indoor party space in a chic and contemporary ballroom with glittering chandeliers and massive windows, set on acres of verdant grounds? You can at 15 Acres–one of our fave new wedding venues, located a short hop northwest of Houston, in picturesque Hockley. What else we love about this versatile local-destination-wedding spot? We were just getting to that…

Rustic Elegant Houston Wedding Venue 15 Acres Photo: Courtesy of 15 Acres

1.) New space, experienced owners. Mother-and-daughter team Stephanie and Ari have a combined 25 years of event-planning experience, so while the venue may be brand new, the team running it have established vendor relationships and extensive venue management expertise.

2.) Full flexibility or full service: your choice. Another rare find is the ability to select a full-service package, including everything from flowers to food to photo booths, or total flexibility when it comes to bringing in outside vendors. 15 Acres offers both options, as well as “in-between” services, where they can take care of segments of your wedding, and let you handle the rest.

3.) Pre-wedding prep space for gals and guys alike. Since facility rental at 15 Acres includes a full 12 hours of access, it’s nice to know that both the bride and bridesmaids, and groom and groomsmen, will have use of private, well-appointed, beautifully decorated dressing rooms/lounge space for the duration of their special day, ensuring maximum relaxation…and maximum impact when they make their way down the aisle!

Grooms Room Pool Table 15 Acres Photo: Dream Photo & Video

Q&A with Celebrity Destination Wedding Planner Lisa Vorce

Writer: Natasha Garber

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Photo: Caroline Tran

While a good connection might open the door, you need major talent to step through and succeed…especially in Hollywood. Just ask Los Angeles-based event expert Lisa Vorce, who, in the midst of a less-than-satisfying career as an IT consultant and programmer, began throwing parties for her husband’s talent-agent uncle. “My first party was for George Clooney’s mother,” she says. Not bad, we say. Here, the planner behind such high-profile nuptials as Chrissy Teigen and John Legend’s gorgeous Italian villa “I do’s,” shares her experience and advice on her favorite of all events: the ultra-relaxing, totally indulgent, celebrity-style destination wedding.

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Photo: Aaron Delesie | © John Legend

Weddings in Houston: You’re known for creating some of the most beautiful destination weddings on the planet. What are some of the toughest destinations you’ve had to work in, and how did you manage to pull off flawless weddings in these spots?

Lisa Vorce: Well you’re asking someone who doesn’t like to work in the same location more than once, and someone who is happiest in the most exotic of locales, so I tend to thrive on all things challenging. In fact, the more challenging, the better for me! Vietnam and Bali are two of the most difficult locales I’ve worked in, simply because they are non-Western cultures. My favorite part of working in these amazing destinations is the “reconnaissance mission” I typically do at the beginning of our process. Through lots of exploration—I get to know local artisans, experts from the area, local foliage and flowers, menu specialties etc.—I have been met with so much kindness and talent around the world, it’s amazing!

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Photo: Jose Villa

WIH: How should a couple go about choosing their wedding locale?

LV: It’s a bit of a puzzle, and the stars need to align properly. There is a giant matrix that we use when vetting venues for my clients: distance, ease of travel, curfew, weather backups, venue capacities, accommodation capacities, food and beverage costs, etc. Some additional things couples should consider: How close is the wedding location to the airport? Do guests have to hop on a boat or rent a car? Do guests need visas or a Hep-C shot? Is there political unrest or another potentially tricky situation (e.g. Zika virus) that needs to be navigated?

Sourcing the perfect venue is a little bit like purchasing a home. It takes a lot of effort and time. Couples need to make sure they are taking into account all of the above and not just the aesthetics. Aesthetics are incredibly important, but everything else needs to be in the right place, too. And like buying a new home, couples need to prioritize their “must-haves” over their “nice-to-haves.”

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Photo: Elizabeth Messina

WIH: What’s the most important factor a couple needs to consider when planning a destination wedding?

LV: Budget and personality are really important and non-negotiable. But guest experience is really my thing. This is so important to me for my clients. Ultimately, the best weddings are those where the guests can’t stop talking about how much fun they had. Guest experience has a great deal to do with hospitality—and Texan hospitality is legendary, so I am going to assume you are experts in this matter! Just as you would welcome a guest to your home with a beautiful meal, fresh linens and engaging activities, when guests travel to your wedding, you want to provide them with hospitality all along the way.

Once your guests arrive at the location, have someone available from the wedding party or planning team who can answer their questions, greet them and hold their hand along the way. Adding helpful info to your wedding website (if you opt to do one) is incredibly handy for guests as well. For me, some of the most amazing destinations are the hardest to get to, but it’s important to balance that with the guest experience. If they are going to travel a long way, what’s the “wow” factor when they get there? Provide them with some amazing activities and adventures: Think Mayan ruins in Tulum, or maybe a cooking class in Italy. It is important that you make your guests feel safe, happy and entertained, but also give them enough down time for relaxation and exploration.

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Photo: Aaron Delesie

WIH: We like the sound of that! So tell us: What are some of the coolest local activities you’ve helped plan for destination wedding groups.

LV: Planning guest activities really depends on the location as well as the inclination of the couple. As soon as the couple determines their destination, my team goes to work to find out what’s special and fun to do at that destination. Golf and spa treatments are usually must-haves. One of my couples recently treated guests to a mobile cryogenic spa. It was very popular! Some of my favorite activities, however, have had to do with what the specific destination has to offer, from yacht parties in St. Barts, to cheese-making in Tuscany, to lace-making in Puglia…. I’ve also created activities based on couples’ family traditions. For example, we had a baseball field and custom scoreboard created for one couple. Each team had their signature baseball jerseys. It was amazing. We’ve done custom backyard and board games for other couples. It is very joyful to see the wedding couple and their guests take part in these activities!

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Photo: Jose Villa

WIH: What are your favorite ways to incorporate a couple’s tastes and background, along with local customs and flavors, into the wedding menu—whether at a destination site, or at a wedding closer to home?

LV: I start by listening to and observing the couple. Sometimes it’s fun to imbue couples’ personalities into the tiniest unexpected details. For example, in one wedding, we incorporated tumbleweed. Now, that may not sound pretty, but tumbleweed actually makes incredible natural, multi-dimensional sculptures.

A Texas bride of mine had a connection to gemology, so we incorporated a malachite pattern into the invites, menus and tabletop. Oh—and one of my favorite things to do, if I’m doing a wedding indoors, is to replace the artwork of the venue with artwork that represents the clients’ aesthetic. So in the case of the malachite wedding, huge malachite prints were delicately overlayed onto venue artwork. It’s so much fun when guests notice those extra touches.

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Photo: Elizabeth Messina

WIH: We love destination weddings, but we know that planning a wedding outside of one’s comfort zone is not without potential conflicts. How do you help your clients navigate these?

LV: For destination weddings especially, guest invites can be a big challenge. Each “constituent”—MOB, MOG, bride and groom—usually has a valid reason for adding a guest…or 10. But these numbers quickly add up. Sometimes it creates a cost issue, but it can also create a space issue, for example, if the venue holds 120 persons maximum. I usually play “wedding diplomat” in these situations, and remind everyone that at the end of the day, they all want the same thing: a beautiful wedding and an unforgettable celebration with their nearest and dearest.

As for keeping a limited guest count for your intimate, remote-location wedding…remember, Texas is a great place to do a big barbecue and party with ALL your favorite people once you return from your destination!

LisaVorce_Copyright John Legend 2013_Lake Como_Aaron Delesie_0045-11x17-HI-RES Photo: Aaron Delesie |© John Legend

Plan Your Napa Valley Wedding with Cole Drake Events: Q&A

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Photo: Sylvie Gil

Northern California’s Napa and Sonoma valleys both top the destination wish lists of countless to-be-wed couples in Houston, and, indeed, all over the world. One of the region’s premier event planning firms, Cole Drake Events has a deep knowledge of the area and its wedding choices, and with her genetically determined passion for parties—her mother is an event-industry icon who plans major bashes for nonprofits and California cities—co-founder Stephanie Cole spends each working day guiding wedding couples through the hills and valleys of wine-country wedding planning. Here, she offers a bit of that renowned Cole Drake know-how to Houston to-be-weds—one of her most beloved destination demographics: “They’re always so much fun to work with!”

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Photo: Briana Marie Photography

Weddings in Houston: How important are Texas-based couples to the region’s wedding scene—and why do you think Napa-Sonoma is such a strong draw for Texas to-be-weds?

Stephanie Cole: Every year it seems to be that about half our wedding business comes from Texas. Napa-Sonoma has it all in my opinion: picturesque scenery, world-renowned cuisine, marvelous mixology programs, amazing wines and perfect weather (meaning no humidity, y’all). It’s easy to see why it’s such a strong draw as a destination wedding location!

WIH: What’s the best way for a Houston couple to get a feel for the region before planning their wine-country destination wedding?

SC: The best way to get a feel for the region is to come out here…come on, I’ll twist your arm to come taste wine, eat amazing food and enjoy the beautiful weather! Once a couple has made the decision to get married in wine country, the most important thing to do is find and book a local wedding planner. They can listen to what you want in the area and offer suggestions for wedding venues. They can eliminate a lot of research for you, and, if they’re good, they’ll know all of the right people to contact to check availability.

Some couples only want Napa County—I mean, I am a Napa local, so I get it. But Sonoma County has a ton of hidden gems too. Healdsburg and Sonoma are postcard-worthy towns that are underrated due to Napa’s huge name recognition.

In Napa County, Yountville, Rutherford, St. Helena and Calistoga are my favorite towns, and can all be considered wine country chic.

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Photo: Aaron Delesie

WIH: What local activities or attractions should be part of a fabulous wine-country destination-wedding weekend?

SC: Wine tasting (duh) cannot be missed. One of my favorite activities for a wedding group is to have them blend their own wine! There are several wineries that offer this unique option, where guests are teamed up—we randomly pick teams by numbering off—and given specific assignments. The team creates their own wine blend together (imagine beaker, goggles and lab coat), while individually each member is responsible for other tasks (label creation, marketing strategy, financials, etc.).

After corking the wine and presenting to the judges, an overall winner is decided. It’s a great way to break the ice with people that may not have a chance to meet and mingle otherwise.

Croquet brunch at Meadowood Resort is another fantastic option. Guests dressed in all white—with fabulous sunglasses to hide the effects of the killer wedding the night before—can learn from Meadowood’s resident croquet master the skills and rules of the game before letting loose! Coupled with a brunch buffet, including a Bloody Mary bar and/or a mimosa bar, it’s one of the best ways to end your weekend celebration.

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Photo: Sylvie Gil

WIH: On the culinary side, what can couples expect from local dining options?

SC: Napa County certainly boasts world-renowned cuisine. We have the Restaurant at Meadowood (with three Michelin stars), the French Laundry in Yountville (with three Michelin stars), and countless one-Michelin-star-rated restaurants. Fun fact: Yountville itself claims the most Michelin stars per capita of anywhere in North America.

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Photo: Jose Villa

WIH: How can a Houston couple bring wine, and wine culture, into their Napa-Sonoma destination wedding?

SC: If a couple is in love with wine, food and wine pairings or tasting menus are the best ways to showcase it. We work with some of the best sommeliers and chefs in the area and can have them pair wines with cuisine for wedding couples and their guests.

For the wedding, small touches of wine country are definitely noticed. Utilization of barrels (don’t worry, we have a lot of them), personalized signs printed on cork, and finished wood farm tables with fashionable wine country chairs scream wine country chic.

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Photo: Sylvie Gil

WIH: What advice do you have for couples who are considering a Northern California wine-country destination wedding…but may be hesitant about bucking the tradition of a big Texas nuptial bash?

SC: For my Texas clients, it generally takes them one trip to wine country as a couple (often during their courtship, or as the site of the proposal) to fall in love with the place. After they get engaged and think about their future wedding, they immediately think again of this beautiful place.

The most common concern is distance—but that’s where a planner makes it so easy. A wedding planner who is based in Napa or Sonoma knows the area, knows the key partners and knows what to expect. Your planner can offer suggestions to you (think about her as your matchmaker for your wedding dreams) and can even help you save money (and avert disasters). Simply put, planners are trained to eliminate the stress and to make your wedding vision come to fruition.

Finally, more often than not, we hear our clients lamenting that if they were to have a wedding in Texas, it would be a 300-to-400-person affair, which can be overwhelming. Here in wine country, our Texas-based wedding groups usually range in the 120-to-150-guest mark.

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Photo: Sylvie Gil

WIH: We know that Texas couples are awesome…so tell us, why do you love Lone-Star-state lovebirds so much?

Year after year, Texas couples are seriously some of my favorite couples, and often become personal friends after the wedding. They always have a vision of what they want for their destination wedding, but they also have an open mind for new ideas and cost-saving suggestions. Plus, they are the sweetest and most thoughtful couples I have ever met!

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Photo: Sylvie Gil