Fit for Royalty ~ Planning Across the Miles

No, I am not talking about the lovely Royal couple, Will and Kate, though it is nice to ride on their coattails.

Last year on May 1, my husband, Ali, and I got married in a little Russian Orthodox Church in my hometown, Sydney. It was one of the loveliest days we will ever remember; also a time when we got a little taste of the high life.

St. Peter Paul Russian Orthodox Diocesan Cathedral, Sydney ~ Photograph Antony Schuster

Rolls Royce Silver Wraith and Silver Cloud by http://www.varietyweddingcars.com.au

Planning a wedding from across the miles isn’t the easiest thing, but it sure feels like one of the most rewarding undertakings once the day rolls around. Experiencing the day as it unfolds and creating memories with families and friends makes all the upfront work – research, coordinating, last minute stressors – well worth the effort.

Add to that a generous dose of good luck (thank you, sunny days), a positive attitude, and the wedding day is destined to be unforgettable. Slight hitches are bound to happen but opt to take them in your stride; you have to laugh about something years later, right? True story:  my mum lost the shoes to her outfit in the house prior to us leaving for church. A little bit of tension put any wedding jitters aside for a while. Luckily, my glam mama is a fashionista and pulled something off in the last minute.

Whilst it would be easier to leave some of the wedding planning to fate, the evidence is in the details. Aside from the rudimentary travel arrangements and specific paperwork that goes hand in hand with local marriage legalities, I’ve listed 7 tips that will help any couple in their planning of a long distance wedding.

If you have any comments or feedback, please don’t hesitate to share.

Enjoy!

1. Choose a photographer based on a gut feeling.

Sharing images with relatives and friends located all over the world is a simple joy, especially in this digital age. It’s a lot of fun being able to relive the day through well-photographed visual reminders.

Under the Harbour Bridge ~ Photograph Antony Schuster

Working with a locally based wedding photographer is probably the best way to go, budget-wise at least. They have a good grasp of the area, know which locations photograph well, and should be able to advise on details such as the correct time for capturing best natural light based on season. A google search is a good start in determining well-established pros – a professionally set up website is a positive sign.

Read reviews, view client wedding albums, and shortlist only those who have a style that you’re instantly drawn to. As my husband was unable to accompany me to Sydney for a pre-wedding planning trip 9 months prior to the date, we settled on 3 photographers for me to meet with based on two things: their online portfolios and ease of communication – mainly, email.

For Ali, there was one standout photographer based on online portfolio alone; mum, dad, and I were drawn to this same photographer when we met him face to face: Antony Schuster has a larger-than-life personality and being able to flip through his wedding albums in his studio put us at ease.

At one point, he said, “I shoot from the hip.” I said, “You’re booked.” Schuster photographs candid moments, which Ali and I appreciate.

TIP: Payments (deposits) may need to be made upfront, so explore options such as PayPal to ensure safe transfer of monies. A videographer is a great add on for a long distance wedding. If you can ask a family friend to video the day, it will help stretch the budget. A dear family friend of ours documented the whole day, and we are indebted to him.

Meeting fellow Brooklynites under Sydney's Harbour Bridge ~ Photograph Antony Schuster

Sharing moments along Pier One, Sydney ~ Photograph Antony Schuster

2. Location, location, location.

The venue eats up a lion’s share of the wedding budget so it is fair to say that this is one of the more difficult choices to make, especially if you are unfamiliar with the location and have a budget to stick to.

Narrowing your prerequisites to three key elements will make the decision easier. If it’s the quintessential view you are after, such as of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, explore every possible venue in the vicinity. Think beyond the obvious; your options could include museums, cafes, galleries, or even vacant apartment spaces.

The internet is a wealth of information, and I stumbled upon Deckhouse Woolwich through a search, within a search, within a search. As my family and I are familiar with Sydney, we had a good sense of its geographical location already. Ultimately, we chose this venue as it met our big 3: waterfront views, excellent restaurant style food, and modern understated interior design.

Deckhouse interior - day ~ Photograph by The Styling Company

A buffet assortment of mains per guest table ~Photograph Antony Schuster

It was a pleasure to work with their dedicated management team too; Con Dedes, the MD of the Dedes Group that runs a number of other reputable restaurants including Flying Fish, helped create a package that met both our limits.

TIP: if you’re unfamiliar with a destination, it may be wise to hire a wedding consultant for a few hours to discuss your plans, or over the entire wedding planning process. They can assist with paperwork and make you aware of the finer details. Wedding planners will also work around any awkward language barriers and cultural etiquette.

The off-season may offer significant discounts though be sure to check for weather fluctuations and any deterrents.

Deckhouse, exterior, night ~ Photograph Antony Schuster

Entering by candlelight ~ Photograph Antony Schuster

Celebrations continue indoors ~ Photograph Antony Schuster

3. Be a little bit of a tourist.

Inviting out of towners means factoring certain details into the wedding plans.

Save the Dates

Send out save the date invites as soon as possible to alert our guests of your wedding date (between 9-12 months prior). This is also an opportunity to be creative and inject your personality into the correspondence: you might want to DIY your own postcards to save on postage and paper costs.

Ali created our Save the Dates when we were West Coast based

Or, opt for something custom-made for you: Jet Set :: Save the Dates CECI New York.

Photo Locations

Think ahead and alert the photographer if you’d like to incorporate iconic city details in your photo backdrops on the day. There’s a reason why NY’s Empire State Building, LA’s Hollywood sign, and Sydney’s Harbour Bridge are known for what they are.

Bonbonniere

Details that border on the kitschy-souvenir are even worth a thought. To me, Hersheys is all American chocolate that has a novelty appeal in Australia. Our giant Hersheys kisses bonbonniere doubled up as place cards and added a bit of fun.

Giant Hersheys Kisses ~ Photograph Antony Schuster

Accommodation

Open up your home for guests to stay during the wedding week if you’re returning to your hometown. There will likely be people flying in and out a few days prior and after the wedding, so spare every couch and bed. If the location is remote from any family or friends, request a bulk discount on hotel rooms. Coordinate some side trips for city excursions and arrange a wedding lunch the day before.

Location as a theme

If you fall in love with a venue that just so happens to look over a renowned skyline, and it meets your budget – book it. Your friends and family will love you in turn, as it adds to their ‘getaway’ experience.

My friends Stephanie and Andrew got married in New York at the end of May, 2011. Though they are based in Andrew’s hometown of Toronto, they decided on a New York based ceremony – Stephanie’s hometown.

Stephanie told me:

Make your wedding be a true testament to the both of you but also include your destination. We got married across the water from New York City and our guests had a view of the infamous skyline the entire wedding. We also had touches of the skyline in our invitations, wedding menus, and song choices.

Andrew and Stephanie, May 22, 2011 in Long Island City ~ Photograph Alex Fedorov

4. Don’t skimp on quantity.

For some brides, getting married in a distant location is code for minimalism. But if elaborate is your style, don’t compromise. Knowing you’ll be spending hours upon hours in the wedding dress, allow yourself to buy what you feel great in, even if that happens to be a gown with layers of tulle, intricate Swarovski detailing, and volumes of silk taffeta.

Don’t let distance, luggage restrictions, and travel time put you off. Call the airline ahead of time and explain the situation. People are happy for you when they learn you are getting married, and willing to help (or they assume this to be the case, for the giant garment bag you are carrying).

As a consequence of arriving earlier at the airport, my marshmallow of a dress was given a spare seat on the NY-LA leg (QANTAS insisted on a seat belt), and then hung in first class all the way from LA-SYD. Not bad for traveling in style.

TIP: Be sure to alert the wedding store of your travels so they can factor that in to their sewing time and provide you with extra padding and boxes for the journey. Also, it may not be worthwhile to press your dress at the final destination, even if it is just steamed; too much pressing isn’t good for the material.

Ali lending a helping hand ~Photograph Antony Schuster

5. Inspiration is in the details.

Bringing in cultural details symbolic to your backgrounds and home bases is what will make your wedding day, yours.

These details can be woven into the invitations, your choice of arrival car, a dessert table.  Ali’s Persian culture was represented on our sweets table, where baklava was featured alongside traditional Russian tortes such as Mikado*, from my background.

*Think butter, cream, and layers of pastry sheets. You get the picture.

Stephanie and her father arrived in an iconic yellow NY cab ~ Photograph Alex Federov

A big shout out to http://www.etsy.com; this site wins hands down for all-round inspiration. An online storefront that allows artisans to display their wares in categories spanning accessories through wedding, it is a source not only for one-of-a-kind purchases, but also for ideas.

Custom cake toppers by dandelionland via etsy.com ~ Photo supplied by Pamela Jaegar

Save the Date created by Irene Suchocki, Montreal via etsy.com

Planning our wedding alongside Stephanie and Andrew encouraged an exchange of ideas via etsy. Stephanie summed it up like this:

The accommodating, creative, and talented vendors literally pulled off my out of town wedding. Everything from the save-the-dates to the wedding day accessories, confetti, to the menus and the hotel welcome bags- my wedding consisted of beautiful, unique, cost efficient touches that made our wedding day exactly what we dreamed. All the vendors worked with me on timelines, budget and shipped either to me in Canada or to my family in New York -where our wedding was held. If you have never been on etsy.com before, you are welcome in advance.

TIP: Etsy.com features designers from all over the world, so scroll through different countries to add another dimension to your options.

Confetti for Stephanie and Andrew's wedding was sourced on etsy.com ~ Photograph Alex Federov

6. Itineraries and quotes

Not being the most organized person on the planet, I do know the value of a well planned itinerary. Treat this document like an important contract; once you’ve laboriously poured over the timeline, filled in the gaps – address details, phone numbers, and specific requests – and triple checked everything twice, send it to family and suppliers within two weeks of the big day.

Suppliers are so helpful in helping you coordinate the wedding day, especially if you aren’t a local. Their experience speaks volumes; they will notice when something doesn’t flow and help you iron out the details. It helps if you were able to meet them on a pre-planning wedding trip too.

Make sure you keep copies of all quotes and email correspondence in one place. Carry these as hard copies and on a USB stick when you travel. Save your emails!

TIP: Supply maps and detailed directions of wedding venue locations to out of town guests. This helps when smartphones and WIFI aren’t accessible. Or, provide mini buses to transfer from church to reception.

Be precise on the timings especially, and hire a translator if you think it will help during any part of your planning process, or throughout the wedding day.

Candles and Baubles ~ Photograph Antony Schuster

Menu and table decorations ~ Photograph Antony Schuster

7. Spontaneity.

Embrace the unexpected. When you have everything planned, there’s room enough to let the unexpected happen with minimal mess. Above all, know the vision for your day inside out and be decisive when put on the spot.

One of my favourite memories of our wedding day was when we made an unplanned stop at a hotel bar during our photoshoot on the Pier; it was a great way to toast in the evening’s events with a glass, or two, of champagne.

Champagne at dusk ~ Photograph Antony Schuster

FINAL NOTE, a personal one: as a consequence of negotiating costs with our venue, the groom – my husband, a keen baker –made our wedding cake. What a scene stealer! It helped that we had access to a kitchen though it may be something to consider if you are wary of your destination not being able to produce the cake that you have in mind.

NB: this took a few baking attempts at home, in Brooklyn, beforehand; I was eating sponge, lemon curd, and meringue topping for days.

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74 thoughts on “Fit for Royalty ~ Planning Across the Miles

  1. These are just wonderful Marina, congratulations to you both. Lots of tips here, which every new, prospective bride to take note of, excellent. Thanks for sharing them with your friends here.

    • Dear Jenny, Thank you so much! It’s hard to believe all that happened a year ago. The stop at the hotel bar was just perfect – it was by the Sebel Pier One on Hickson Road. We just stopped for a few moments and relaxed.

  2. Well done!!!! Informative, insightful, smart and sentimental. Love the tips and advice as well as the gorgeous photos! Fantastic job!!! Happy anniversary to you two!!

  3. Happy anniversary! Some really great advice here and beautiful pictures. I’m shooting a wedding for some friends next month and will pinch a few of the ideas here, thanks!

    • Thanks so much Lucy! How fun that you’re photographing your friends wedding. Good luck and I would love to see your pictures – I know they will be beautiful! Our photographer takes cool candid shots and his website is schusterphoto.com.au if you wanted some more inspiration 🙂

      • Thanks, I’ll check his website out. A bit nervous about the responsibility of being a wedding photographer but am doing it with my boyfriend so at least there are two of us to share the pressure! Will let you know how it goes.

      • You’ll be great! I can understand the pressure but like you say, both of you can split the responsibility. Antony Schuster worked alone! I have to say, I hardly saw him during parts of the day as he was running about. One thing he did have was a small step ladder. For those overhead shots of a large crowd – say, at the church when you gather everyone, or for overheads in the reception, he would climb the little ladder for extra height. A good idea for sure, and light to carry. Have you seen the website, stylemepretty.com ? Lots of inspiration there too.

  4. Happy Anniversary!!! Fabulous post 🙂 The pictures are gorgeous and you looked stunning on your wedding day! I will refer to your page when (if) I plan my wedding 🙂

    • Thanks so much Cornelia. Our photographer was such a great guy and smart too – we have many many photos and even working alone, he managed to give us many wonderful shots. His website is schusterphoto.com.au if you wanted to take a look. I am glad you liked the photos!

    • Thank you Brandie! He did a great job of the cake and it was one of the most talked about things on the night 😉 – there was none left over the freeze as you’re traditionally supposed to do. Oops!

  5. Absolutely first rate’n’fab post..Loved it…
    Rhianydd and I had a very long distance wedding back in 2000. We got permanently entangled on the island of Mauritius and it was THE most fantastic experience!
    (Having said that we basically ignored pretty much all of your really sensible advice…..Believe me we know how lucky we were that it wasn’t a total disaster.)
    In our case Lady Luck was maid of honour, but my advice to everyone is “Listen up!! Marina knows what she’s talking about !”

    • Mr Hyde, you most definitely followed a few tips.. inspiration in details…. photographer (you?)… spontaneity… location, location, location! Thanks for your lovely comment 🙂

      • No..I think your tips are totally spot on, but..with the exception of location, honestly we didnt follow any of them….We totally flew by the seat of our pants…We arrived 2 days before the big (biggest) day with no-one to actually marry us, no venue, no photographer, no family and no clue….
        When we did find a minister he was gay and drunk, both of which are fine with me, but wearing a sweaty blue polyester suit which wasn’t….We wanted music but ended up with a deaf guy with a ukelele and a kazoo….I’m not joking….And.. for a venue we had a palm tree strategically sited under the airport flight path, (so we couldnt hear the minister mis-pronouncing both of our names, and two rattan chairs one of which collapsed when I sat on it..
        All this aside I look back on every single moment with TOTAL unbridled joy…..
        We plan to renew our vows..When we do it will be to the Chetner plan.
        🙂

      • Oh wow….. I think you should go to Vegas on a whim 😉 PS I have a vision of you collapsing on that rattan chair… I am laughing right now as I type!!

      • Yes…I know I’m flippant, but the chaos and mishaps were very much part of the whole experience…I do remember every single minute and I’d happily do it all again….Though next time I’d make sure I landed on a cushion.

  6. What a fantastic post! Happy anniversary Marina!!!
    You have covered all the essential information. As a wedding photographer myself I was very interested in reading your thoughts about hiring a photographer. Besides liking and admiring the portfolio is also important to like the person – the wedding couple will be spending lots of time with their photographer.
    All the best Marina, I always enjoy reading your blog, and now that my wedding season is over I will have more time for it. Cheers!

    • Thanks so much Alicia 🙂 it is great to read your comment and I most definitely met with all photographers when I was on a trip to Sydney. I mentioned that in the post… it was a gut feeling for me upon meeting,; for Ali, he knew simply by reviewing his work online. Maybe you can fly to the US and cover some spring weddings 🙂

  7. Happy Anniversary Marina! A bit late, but I guess the excitement of yesterday’s still there, right? I love the save-the-date of yours and certainly, the giant hersheys 🙂 And I salute your husband for the cake! Congratulations you both!

    • Thanks so much Rob!! It’s been our anniversary since May 1 Sydney time! The giant Hersheys – I carted suitcases of those to Australia. Can you believe that?! Glad you mentioned the Save the Date – I project managed Ali on it for hours 🙂 Thanks again!

    • Shira, I am so happy that you say that! I planned on pulling it together in record time as I wanted to honour the day, and I was scared I wouldn’t finish it in time! Thanks so much! It gave me a great excuse to look through our photos and remember some of the parts of the day. So happy you liked it!

      • LOVED it. So awesome that you shared something so wonderfully special to you. What a day and a gorgeous dress and setting and food and …everything! Well done! Happy Anniversary 🙂

      • Thank you so much, so kind of you Shira 🙂 it makes me so happy and I am so glad to share anything that could help someone else 🙂

  8. I loved this post! You look so beautiful. What a lovely day! And what an amazing photographer you had. I love the candidness of many of the pictures…it looks like it is out of a magazine!!

    • Thank you so much! We were so drawn to the candidness, and I am so sure our photographer would love to read your comment about his work 🙂 it was a wonderful day, the year goes by so fast. I hope that some tips may be useful to you in future? 🙂

  9. Hi Marina, what a delicious record of your special day! I can remember so many of the details so clearly a year later and funnily enough am back at Deckhouse this Friday to decorate with the glass baubles for another bride! I miss planning with your Mum, I had no idea she lost her shoes on the day! no doubt she overcame the obstacle with her usual style! All the very best to you and Ali for year 2!! R xx

    • hi Raymond, so great to hear from you and thank you for all of the efforts you and my parents went to in planning the decorations. I highly recommend your company, The Styling Company, especially for your effortless style advice and ease of communication. I would love to see photos from your Friday wedding – I am going to join your facebook page now. Thank you for making a day so memorable for Ali and I! x

  10. Great blog post Marina ! Thanks for your useful advice. I think about reflagging this plot on my French blog, hoping that my readers will understand 🙂 By the way, have your purchased your new lens yet ? How is it working for you ?
    Cheers from France

    • Hi Kasia! Thanks so much – I hope it might help 🙂 I haven’t bought the lens yet – no rush but it is something I will get to soon. It seems to be a time for birthdays and ‘special’ holidays right now 🙂

  11. I loved your post. It is very informative and many new brides will be able to get great ideas. Your pictures were very nice. I liked what you said about following your instinct when you pick a photographer. It is very important that couples meet the person who is going to spend the whole day with them. I don’t know if many couples realize that bigger studios book several weddings on the same day then send an available photographer that the couple may not have met before to cover the wedding. As a wedding photographer I see it from the other side too. If I have a connection with the couple I photograph we are all relaxed and the pictures turn out so much better. By the time we are done it feels like we knew each other forever. Congratulation and have a great marriage.

    • Thanks so much Lia. Our photographer really elevated the day for us; it really makes a difference to the whole day – I agree! I am glad you took a look at the post. Many thanks again!

  12. Came back for another look, firstly to wish you both Congratulations! Secondly to thank you for sharing those images of Sydney – miss that place so much….and a great site for anyone making wedding plans. Very talented…

    • Thanks Andy! I am so glad you liked the pics of Sydney – I have many with the backdrop of the icons; and they are a good reminder of the city’s beauty. Thank you for the congrats as well! That’s lovely of you 🙂

  13. Hi Marina, congratulations on the first anniversary!!! Was so nice to see the beautiful pictures again and what a great article. Wishing the two of you many many happy years together. Elena Raklev (Denmark)

      • Dear Marina, Indeed my husband and I have discussed this and we are keen on the idea! But it will take some time before this happens :-). Meanwhile, I enjoy being in contact with all your family. Best to you, Elena

  14. Pingback: It's The Bride In Me – Fit for Royalty ~ Planning Across the Miles | Marina Chetner

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