The un-wedding your wedding could smell like?
November 4, 2010 4:46 PM   Subscribe

Cheap, awesome wedding ideas for a small group?

My partner and I want to have a commitment ceremony. We would get married, but it's illegal. What are you going to do.

We don't care about traditions, or having something extravagant. Here are the rules:

Optimal/acceptable for 25 - 40 people.
Cost about $3000 (or less obviously) including venue rental, food, alcohol, decorations, etc.
Be reasonably accessible from an airport - people will be flying in.
Fun, intimate, and relaxed, but not totally casual - legal stuff is out, the fancy party is all we've got!
Let us do the work - we don't like places where they use their own tacky decorations and boring china and ugly cake.

Our ideal wedding is to have basically a fancy dinner party in our backyard - but we're in an apartment for the foreseeable future. We may be able to rent a decent house with a big backyard or find someone who will let us borrow theirs, but for now assume that idea is out.

We've also thought about having a wedding at a state park, but it seems a little too casual for us. We like the idea of a beach ceremony with the reception nearby, but haven't found the right venue that is cheap, pretty, and flexible. We looked into a mountain resort, but thought they were pretty expensive without many options. Having a dinner at a nice-ish, cool restaurant would be fun, but I really want dancing and to be able to decorate the space, which seem less feasible at a restaurant. We'd also be interested in ideas that are more unique and different ... like going to a bowling alley or skating rink or something fun like that, but again a little bit more elegant and upscale.

We'll be in Atlanta, but our family is spread out so we could really go anywhere. I'll be biased towards places in GA, SC, NC, or FLA so that we could explore them in person easily.

What would you have done if your family didn't care and all the rules were thrown out anyway?

posted by ohsnapdragon to Grab Bag (19 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You're flexible on locations, are you flexible on dates? For example, Friday nights and Saturdays are often more costly than Sundays (Monday through Thursday being even cheaper), and if you time it right, you can get off-peak rental rates for a facility. My wife and I got married in a little place that is managed by a home and apartment rental agency, but it was a really charming old meeting hall with lovely grounds.

Because you're so flexible, you might want to focus on areas that are less expensive for your guests to get to and stay around, and places that have fun things to do, if you're thinking of spending a few days in the area.

Have you thought of ways to "formalize" a ceremony in a state park? By spending more on the floral arrangements, or renting some fancier tables and chairs, you could make it more formal and fancy, and less of a picnic in the park.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:01 PM on November 4, 2010

Response by poster: We are flexible on dates. I would actually prefer a Sunday wedding preceded by a weekend of fun-times with our family and friends.

I like the idea of formalizing a state park wedding. The main drawback would be finding a state park rental hall that wasn't ugly and concrete and wood panelled and stuff. It would also be cool if we could find one in/near a cool city, so the less outdoorsy among us would have other things to do. If anyone has a recommendation for a particular one, that would be awesome.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 5:07 PM on November 4, 2010

My wife and I got married in St. Augustine FL at The Fountain of Youth. For a Saturday wedding with around 30 people it was 300-400$. We then rented a trolly and took everyone down to a nearby restaurant for a lunch reception. That evening everyone got to hang out and do stuff around the town (which is small and very tourist friendly) the ripley's believe it or not museum is good fun. It was very relaxed and as low key as possible for a wedding.
posted by Captain_Science at 5:21 PM on November 4, 2010

I agree with filthy light thief that you can "formalize" just about any location, including a bowling alley. Have you considered a small independent theatre (movie or stage)? A museum?

My partner and I were considering a cheap wedding at a state or city park (our budget is also $3000) and were horrified to find the requirements for allowing alcohol in the park: a $250 liquor license, plus $300 insurance for the day. That's all before tents/tables/flowers and is required even if it's BYOB.

Another option we have been considering is a campground by a pretty body of water - the spaces are just $10 a night and we can throw up a tent and tables and equipment by the water, plus we can give the camp spots to our guests if they would like. Then the money we saved on location rental could go into fancier decorations.
posted by rhapsodie at 5:26 PM on November 4, 2010

I have a friend who was recently married at the Grand Canyon. I didn't go, but the pictures are lovely. They used some kind of a lodge for the reception, and while it did have the exposed timbers and a very rustic feel it looked very nice with the contrast of the fine linens, roses, and candles. So don't rule out the State Park idea until you see what they have to offer.

Are there any attractions in your area that you're particularly fond of? Call them and ask if they have event spaces. You'd be surprised at how many places have the space for groups of your size. There's am old West town up here that has a really pretty Opera House that is perfect for weddings.

With the real estate market being how it is maybe you could rent a loft for the night. Are there any empty warehouse spaces in your area? Just like my friend and the lodge, industrial spaces can look really good with some candlelight and nice table decorations.
posted by TooFewShoes at 5:37 PM on November 4, 2010

We got married in a city park, in a picturesque pavilion overlooking a lake. (In St. Louis, but it looks like that's available in Atlanta, too.) It was formal-ish, tuxedos, lace wedding gown, string duet for music. We didn't have to decorate other than setting some potted ferns on pedestals for an 'altar'. We had the reception at a restaurant, but probably could have had something catered or pot-luck there.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 6:26 PM on November 4, 2010

Have you looked into local galleries or event spaces? Something that isn't usually reserved for or associated with weddings can be very cool - lofts, wine bars and the like. In my area there are some restaurants that have large private rooms for celebrations or corporate events - just think of places that can hold a lot of people.

From your questions I would think a nicely decorated restaurant on a pier in FLA would be awesome.

Also, I always recommend checking out to see/ask what others have done or if they have recommendations. Congrats!
posted by cestmoi15 at 6:29 PM on November 4, 2010

I went to an event at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center a couple of weeks ago and my first impression of their outdoor area was that it would be absolutely great for this kind of event.

If you do decide to go with a skating rink, I think Cascade is the one you want. Midtown Bowl could be a decent option for a bowling alley too. Don't forget about the Starlight Six Drive-In and the Plaza Theatre as well

Some other options could be:

The Lighthouse at Tybee Island -- their website says no food or drink allowed.. but I don't think that could be right. I think they maybe mean inside the lighthouse itself. Maybe worth a thought.

I also was thinking of the Blue Ridge Scenic Railroad though I'm not sure if there is an event space associated with it.. might be something to plan around though?

If you do decide to go the state park route, I'm a big fan of FDR State Park in Pine Mountain, GA. I've stayed at the group camp sites there before and they are quite fun. Open air cabins, some hiking trails and a small lake. You would also be very close to Callaway Gardens if you wanted a bit of resort/spa/golf time.

Wishing you both the best!
posted by goHermGO at 6:42 PM on November 4, 2010

I was told Calloway Gardens is amazing, but they're booked up way, way in advance. There's the Atlanta Botanical Gardens that looked nice, and I think we checked out Dunaway Gardens too (we stopped looking at parks and gardens when a relative offered her lakeside backyard, which I agree is a wonderful way to do it). There seem to be a number of botanical gardens in easy driving distance of Atlanta, many of which have a good setup for ceremonies.

A lot of B&B's have wedding ceremony setups, too. Sort of like a backyard.

I know someone who got married in a museum. Not my cup of tea, but seemed to be exactly what they wanted.
posted by galadriel at 7:16 PM on November 4, 2010

Best answer: This will be a general answer rather than a specific one, but we had about 20 people for our wedding and ended up renting a big mountain cabin for the weekend. I know you said the backyard idea might be out, but we found a place through Homeaway that worked out great.

It was awesome. Since people from each family hadn't met, they had plenty of time to get to know one another and share stories and whatever. People who wanted to go do tourist things went and did them during one of the days. People who wanted to chill at the cabin did that. And a few who decided they preferred their own space got hotel rooms. We did spaghetti one night, grilled chicken and potatoes the next, and had an in-home chef do the wedding dinner right there. We did the ceremony right in the living room by a beautiful fireplace. Definitely fun and intimate. Not too fancy, not too casual. Just right. Even if you can't do the backyard thing, really think about trying to find a place your guests will be able to be together and mingle at will. that's the thing that people are remembering from our wedding. Even people who were skeptical about a tiny wedding said by the end of the weekend that it was the best one they'd ever attended. (Hey, how many times do you get to sit on a couch during a wedding?)

Do state parks in that region have lodges? If so, they probably have areas that can be rented for events like this that would feel less picnic-y and more formal. And I know you're mostly focused on location right now, but one thing we did during our ceremony that people are still talking about is that we tied our rings to a little platter and passed the platter around during a song. We asked everyone to say silent blessing, wish, or prayer for us when the rings came to them. It was a way for everyone to feel a part of the ceremony and for each person to participate according to their own beliefs, religious or not.

posted by BlooPen at 8:10 PM on November 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

We got married at a lighthouse and rented a house in Cape Cod. We cooked the dinner, and got cupcakes instead of a cake. This worked out really well for us. The lesson would be great public location for the ceremony, rent a house for the party, do the food yourself (much better than catered) and / or hire a friend. Have an ipod handy for music. Ask the people you invite what songs they want to hear. It's fun to hear "your" song. :-)
posted by xammerboy at 10:23 PM on November 4, 2010

Whoops. Renting a house is out? I seem to recall a post a while back from someone who was having their wedding in a barn. It sounded pretty awesome.
posted by xammerboy at 10:29 PM on November 4, 2010

Gatlinburg! The town itself is hilariously cheesy, but the Smoky Mountains are beautiful and there are tons of places where you can rent a cabin and they'll marry you right there. You would have the natural beauty for the party and could decorate the cabin as you please. It's about an hour's drive from Knoxville airport. There are also a ton of adorable little white chapels in the area, if that takes your fancy. After the wedding you could all go play crazy golf at the Old Farm golf course, then go-kart!
posted by ukdanae at 2:29 AM on November 5, 2010

I went to a wedding reception at a science/kids museum/planetarium. I think some independent movie houses also are rentable as event spaces.

I've seen weddings/receptions in a number of "event spaces" that have open spaces like ballrooms, but aren't hotels or homes otherwise. In Western New York, there were "party houses" (may be called "banquet halls" elsewhere) like this one which are highly customizable. Some are fancier than others.
posted by knile at 2:56 AM on November 5, 2010

One more vote for renting a house.

My woman and I had an anniversary party last year at a vacation house in upstate New York. (Unfortunately, it was far from airports, train stations, and cities.) People brought tents or stayed at the B&B within walking distance. The house was used for food preparation.

We gave speeches on a dock by the pond, had dinner under a rented party tent, and partied around a bonfire late into the night.

It's really great having a space that was just ours.
posted by Jonathan Harford at 7:19 AM on November 5, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you so much, Bloopen, for telling me about Homeaway! Everyone's suggestions were good, but we were reading them feeling like, "yeah, but, we just want a house..." So now that I know there is a better resource than Craigslist, we will probably go that direction.


For those of you that have used a vacation house for parties/weddings/anniversaries/whathaveyou, were they generally cool about you throwing your shindig there, or did you just kinda not mention it?
posted by ohsnapdragon at 7:38 AM on November 5, 2010

We cleared it with the owners -- they had actually gotten married there the previous year and loved the idea of other people using it similarly.

They just asked that we get portapotties, since the plumbing at the house wouldn't be able to handle so many people.

They were entirely happy with the condition of the property afterwards, and we've rented the house with friends a number of times since (it's just a magical place to us, you know?).

Incidentally, we found the place on Craigslist.
posted by Jonathan Harford at 8:08 AM on November 5, 2010

We just kinda didn't mention it. And kinda ignored the sign that said not to rearrange the furniture (though we took pics of the arrangement first so we could put it all back). If you want to leave before your guests, you'll want to designate someone to do "sweep" on the house when the last person leaves to make sure the clean-up rules are all taken care of so you don't have to pay any extra cleaning fee (we had to take out the garbage, for instance, and strip the beds ourselves).

Oh, and while we did the reservation online without looking at the place in person, we did eventually get permission to go there beforehand to make sure everything was going to work for us. I think we told them we wanted to check what kinds of kitchen things we needed to bring for meals, but they were cool with it. That visit helped us decide on what to do decoration-wise (almost nothing, actually, since it was a cool place anyway).

If you don't find something on homeaway, there are other vacation home rental sites like vrbo, but many places are listed on multiple sites.
posted by BlooPen at 1:30 PM on November 5, 2010

Response by poster: As a follow-up, for those who might be interested in the future, we decided to have our wedding at a park near our new house. The ceremony will be on a dock overlooking a lake and the reception will be in a small historic building right behind that. It's not what we originally pictured, but once we saw it we knew it was the place.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 1:50 PM on May 30, 2011

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