Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Hot(el) or Not? The venue search continues

When we started talking wedding, AF and I agreed that a unique place that would be fun for everyone was key, so we focused on Chicago special event venues. We also knew that it was going to be a kid-friendly wedding, because our siblings have children of various ages whom we adore, as do many of our friends.

At this point, our guest list is about 25 percent children under 10 and 70 percent out-of-towners. To make a long story short, we're now considering hotels for our ceremony/reception because it makes sense on several fronts. Availability doesn't seem to be an issue, unlike the museums we've been targeting. And the whole venue-to-hotel transportation dilemma is obviously non-existent.

On the downside, I'm afraid we're giving up the uniqueness we were looking for and the freedom to really make it our own. Oh, and it will probably work out to be $5,000 or so more. So far we've seen the InterContinental Chicago, Sofitel Chicago Water Tower and Westin River North.

As I told AF last night, I've lived in Chicago for more than a decade now and not once have I ever imagined myself having a wedding at one of the hotels here. This is not a knock against hotel weddings or Chicago hotels, but it's just not something I've ever considered for myself.

If you have an opinion or experience with hotel weddings, would love love love to hear about it!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

I don't mean to brag, but...

My fiance rocks! After sensing how disappointed I was about not getting the Chicago History Museum the other night, he sprang into action. He called the other venues that we liked to find out what dates were available, as well as came up with some new possibilities.

We met for dinner last night, and AF came armed with his own spreadsheets with venue information cross-referenced with the 2009 Cubs schedule (because we want to give our out of town guests the chance to see a game). How much do I love this man? We ate and reviewed the lists, dates and city maps, and by dessert we had a pretty good pro and con list for each. I'm excited again now, but more so about being married to AF.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

You snooze, you lose

After looking at five potential wedding venues in the last two weeks, AF and I decided that the Chicago History Museum would be the right place for our ceremony/reception. Unfortunately, we found out today that it's completely booked through the end of the year (except for a few random winter weekends here and there). When I first inquired, there were a couple of June 2009 Saturdays available, and they were still open when we toured the space. What we didn't know about was the importance of the "hold"- vitally important when trying to schedule a summer wedding in Chicago. Totally a rookie mistake, I know!

Lesson Learned:
If you see a venue you like in Chicago and it's available for the date you want, put a hold on it. Some places (like Cafe Brauer) will let you hold for a week. Others, like the Chicago History Museum, will let you hold onto it, but if another couple wants your date, they can go to contract on it. You'll get first right of refusal, but then have to make your decision maybe more quickly than you would like.

I'm disappointed. I had already started imagining how we would set the rooms up, and I think too that because I know I can't have it, I artificially want it even more. Oh well. Tomorrow AF and I are going back to our other top choices to see if our dates are available (knock on wood!), and hopefully I will be able to post some better news.

Chicago History Museum: I will not be getting married here

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

On the docket

Today's site visits include the Art Institute, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and Cafe Brauer. Whee! More later...

We've seen five venues now and are ready to make a decision this week. I would be happy having our combined ceremony/reception at any of the places we looked at, so it's now just a matter of weighing the pros and cons of each and then hoping the place we decide on has availability. Starting with today's venues, here's the current thinking:
Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago
-Close to Millennium Park and hotels
-amazing downtown view from terrace
-price is reasonable and includes tables, chairs, etc.
-street parking would be easy if necessary
-new venue that doesn't even open until May=risky
-if dates coincide with major city event (eg Taste of Chicago) area could be extremely congested

Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
-good indoor/outdoor options
-photo booth on site
-lots to see and do for the kids
-limited nearby hotel options
-maybe too much space? people might be in every nook and cranny of the museum and we'd want everyone to more or less be in the same space

Cafe Brauer
-beautiful space, including great covered outdoor patios
-guests can go to zoo or Lincoln Park Conservatory beforehand
-limited nearby hotel options
-bathrooms on first floor only
-not sure if we'll be able configure the spaces for the ceremony/reception

Chicago History Museum
-fits perfectly with "Chicago" theme
-elegant space that will accommodate exactly what we want
-limited nearby hotel options
-most expensive of the venues

Architectural Artifacts
-unique space
-gives guests a chance to see beyond downtown
-definitely need to arrange transportation for those staying downtown
-not air-conditioned

Please feel free to weigh in!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Step 1: Picking a place

I'm itching to send out my save-the-dates, because I know how scarce Chicago hotel rooms can be in the summertime and I don't want our out-of-towners to have to overpay for a room (or have trouble getting one!). Obviously we can't send anything out until we've picked a venue, so AF and I have been on the prowl. I've lived in Chicago longer than AF and know more about different special event spots, so I made a short list of places I thought we should consider.

Off the bat, I really, really wanted North Pond, because I love the place. The Arts & Crafts style architecture of the restaurant reminds me of the Gamble House in Pasadena that AF and I toured together a few years ago. I also thought the Lincoln Park location would be perfect, especially because right in front of the restaurant there's a beautiful view of the Hancock Building that makes a wonderful backdrop for photos. The restaurant size and layout are also exactly what we wanted for our ceremony/reception. North Pond was the first venue I contacted right away and, much to my excitement, they were available for our first choice date. Unfortunately, the cost to buy out the restaurant for the night is $20,000, which was beyond what we want to pay, so we scratched North Pond.

When contacting the venues, I just threw out summer 2009 to see what I'd come back with, but we're flexible. Here's an abbreviated version of my spreadsheet of potential wedding venues (in no particular order):

Art Institute of ChicagoAvailable; still waiting to tour
Architectural ArtifactsAvailable; strong possibility
Chicago History MuseumAvailable; strong possibility
Chicago Cultural CenterUnavailable
Ivy RoomUnavailable
Newberry LibraryUnavailable
Peggy Notebaert Nature MuseumUnavailable
River East Arts CenterAvailable; expensive ($10,000)
Wrigley FieldAvailable; not sure if right venue for us
Murphy AuditoriumNo response

Of all of these I think I would rank Art Institute at the top because (according to its brochure) it seems to be not that expensive, plus it's located near lots of hotel options. Communication with event managers is slow going, though. I've been contacted by three different people already, but when trying to set up a time to see the place, days go by before I hear back from them.

My goal is to have the save-the-dates out the door by the end of January, so I will keep on trucking.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

It's my turn!

After three years of dating (almost two of them long-distance), AF and I got engaged in December 2008.  Throughout our relationship, I don't recall ever having picked up a bridal magazine or looking at dresses or jewelry, so I'm in overdrive and wedding information overload and hoping this blog will help me (and maybe you) make heads or tails of all of this.

AF and I are both in our mid-30s, have siblings, went to large colleges, so have spent plenty of time on the wedding and baby shower circuits.  We went to a destination wedding together last year, which was a lovely affair, but all in all, quite an investment (think long plane ride, plus hours-long bus ride, plus in-season hotel rates).  We ruled out the possibility of the destination wedding for our own within 24 hours of our engagement.

We chose Chicago for our wedding, as it's sort of our adopted hometown.  Our immediate families don't live here, but it's a reasonable flight, and (as we reasoned) is practically a destination wedding for our friends who have never been to this fine city.

Aside from the Chicago location, AF and I have decided our goals for the wedding are to:
  • always remember why we are doing this
  • keep the planning process and the wedding day stress-free
  • have a unique, memorable and fun day (and life together)
  • honor our friends and families who will be there for us
  • not go broke!
Hopefully our wedding will take place sooner rather than later, but that may be a pipe dream at this point...our ideal (ie non-traditional) venues have probably been booked for ages.  So now that we've done most of the post-engagement things we've wanted to get done (call friends and family and tell them the good news, get the ring insured, read the many blogs of the smart and helpful brides who have gone before me), it's time to get down to business.