Weddings | Special Occasions


Planning a wedding, anniversary, or milestone birthday bash can be stress-free (and even fun) when you plan ahead, stay organized, and keep the overall picture in mind.

Top right and middle photo by Craig Dirkes,;
middle left photo by Noah Wolf Photography; bottom middle
photo of Stillwater Courthouse by Laura Ivanova

The Venue

The first item on your “to-do” checklist is finding a venue. The setting makes all the difference. Do you want a small, intimate gathering of close family and friends or a giant bash with a seemingly never-ending guest list? Do you want a lavish venue, or something simple? Take a look at a number of venues within your budget. Are you more of a traditional girl? Ultra modern? Vintage? Do you picture yourself celebrating in a hotel ballroom? Victorian-era mansion? Rustic lodge? Banquet hall? Outdoor pavilion? Dinner theater? Restaurant? Perhaps you’d prefer a breezy beach affair or formal black-tie event?

With a little imagination and creativity, even the most ordinary venues can be turned into fairytale settings.

When it comes to unique reception sites, one of the Twin Cities’ best-kept secrets is Chanhassen Dinner Theatres. Whether planning a rehearsal dinner for 20 or a seated dinner and dance for 250, there are a variety of banquet rooms for rent—including an actual theatre with a stage for the bridal party. “Couples sometimes even play off the theatrical theme incorporating invitations and place cards to mimic theatre tickets, or programs designed after a theatre playbill,” says Halley Bechtold, weddings and events manager.

Rivertowns like Stillwater and Hudson, Wis. are especially beautiful locales for a wedding—whether saying “I do” on a riverboat, at a charming inn or bed and breakfast, in the Stillwater Historic Washington County Courthouse (built in 1870 — the oldest standing courthouse in Minnesota), at an interesting hotel, or at Camp St. Croix in Hudson.

For those from the Land of 10,000 Lakes, a wedding “on the lake” can be the perfect fit for a wedding destination. The scenery is beautiful on its own without spending more on decor, and the weekend becomes a fun reunion for family and friends, with a list of activities like golfing, spa days, hikes, and bonfires. Excellent options include Breezy Point Resort in the Brainerd Lakes area (the Breezy Belle Paddle Boat can accommodate 100 people for a sunset dinner cruise), The Lodge on Lake Detroit in Detroit Lakes, Lutsen Resort in the Lutsen/Tofte area, and venues in the pretty harbortown of Grand Marais. 

Tip: If you’re having a destination wedding, a welcome bag is a nice gesture to show that you appreciate those guests who have traveled to celebrate with you.


The Attire

Find out if you should make an appointment with the store where you intend to look at dresses. Many salons prefer to have brides make appointments, and some require it. Once you’re there, try on different dress styles. Don’t rule out anything at first glance. You might be surprised at what you like.

Tip: When trying on gowns, wear shoes that are easy to slip on and off, leave the big, dangly earrings at home (they could snag the dress), and don’t bring a crowd with you. Two people is plenty (we recommend mom and a sister or close friend). And make sure to stick to your price range. Falling in love with a gown that is way more than what you can afford will either break your heart or break the bank.


Fashion goes in and out of style, but a classic dress will stand the test of time. Right now brides are loving elegant strapless gowns, romantic lace, delicate cap sleeves, satin sashes, birdcage veils, vintage hair combs, and feather fans. For the bridesmaids, you can’t go wrong with dusty rose, lavender, taupe, pale yellow, shades of grey, or bold, bright colors that really pop. And speaking of colors that pop, more and more brides are choosing to show their personality by wearing fun shoes on their wedding day, and letting their bridesmaids choose their own style of shoe as well. (Colorful shoes make for some great wedding photos!)


The Flowers

Consider the style of your gown before choosing your flowers, then go with what makes your heart sing. Many brides are choosing locally-grown blooms in an effort to reduce their carbon footprint. Other hot trends include retro chic (snapdragons, roses and hydrangea), the 1920s/Charleston era (lace and neutral colours, such as ivory, pinks and muted peaches), and Hollywood glamour with extravagant floral arrangements, shiny gold and silver, deep red, and crystals that really add sparkle.

Tip: Don’t strangle your flowers by gripping them too tightly while walking down the aisle or when you’re taking photos! You’ll look more graceful if you relax your arms and let the weight of the bouquet bring your arms down so that the bouquet is at your belly button and your arms are resting on your hip bones.


Real stories from brides-to-be

Tina photo by Megan Norman

Tina Toffoli, 26
Fiancé – Andrew Vincelli

Met: Working at Midlands Hills Country Club

Proposal: In a gondola while skiing at Lutsen

Wedding date: 10/1/2011 at the St. Paul Hotel

Advice: No matter what anyone says, it is NOT too early to start figuring out your guest list.

Personal touches: For the rehearsal dinner, we are toasting with “Toffoli” prosseco. My dad found the vineyard and thought that would be pretty cool for my last night as a Toffoli.

I’m most excited about … just being married, and then starting the party! I would be more excited about the ceremony, but I’m nervous about crying through my vows.

* How’d the wedding go? Read here.

Bethany photo by Dominika
Irmina Photography

Bethany Diehl, 28
Fiancé – Kevin Fitzgerald

Met: Mutual friend

Proposal: Walking on the beach in Costa Rica

Wedding date: 10/7/11, Ceremony at the Basilica of Saint Mary, reception at the Varsity Theater

Advice: Enjoy your time together, celebrate with family and friends, and have fun while you plan the wedding. However, don’t lose sight of the bigger picture.

Personal touches: I love peacock feathers and will be incorporating them wherever I can—invitations, bouquets, hairpieces, etc.

I’m most excited about … hearing our family and friends’ toasts. I am always so touched by the love and support in the room at other weddings. I am marrying a great man and it will be nice to hear other people talk about why he is so amazing and why I am so lucky.

* How’d the wedding go? Read here.

Heather photo by Spencer
Combs Photography

Heather Harrington, 26
Fiancé – Chad Wicklander

Met: Working together at Byerly’s

Proposal: Las Vegas

Wedding date: 9/17/11 Ceremony in Matoska Park (WBL), reception at the White Bear Country Inn

Personal touches: The one thing we knew we wanted was for our wedding to be fun, both in design and execution. Our theme ultimately centered on incorporating pinwheels as bridesmaids bouquets.  From there we decided that we wanted all kinds of whimsical touches, like using lots and lots of polkadots (another personal obsession!). 

I’m most excited about … spending time with our family and friends, and seeing all of our hard work in action!

* How’d the wedding go? Read here.


Questions to ask before booking your reception site

Save yourself money (and potential headaches) by asking the following questions before signing the contract:

  • What is the facility rental fee? How many hours do I have the facility? Is there an overtime fee if the reception lasts longer?
  • What is the deposit and when is the remainder due?
  • What is the cancellation policy?
  • Is there an in-house caterer or list of preferred caterers? Are they exclusive caterers?
  • What comes with the rental fee or food and beverage package?
  • Do you charge a separate gratuity fee for servers and bartenders?
  • Are any decorations included?
  • Are there any decorating restrictions?
  • Does the site have any music or noise restrictions?
  • Are there any other events taking place at this time in this location? If so, how will this affect your event?
  • Does the wedding venue already own a sound system with adequate speakers or will that need to be rented?
  • Is there on-site parking available for guests?
  • Do you provide security? What are the costs?  
  • Is there a changing room for the bridal party?
  • Is there a coat check?
  • When can vendors arrive to set up?
  • Is the wedding venue wheelchair accessible?



The Photography

Your wedding day photos are an important investment—one that will stand the test of time long after the cake has been devoured, flowers have wilted, and your gown is lovingly packed away. Good wedding photographers book far in advance, so don’t waste time hiring one. Ask for recommendations from friends and family, ask for recommendations from wedding vendors, and visit wedding fairs. 


If your first look doesn’t have to be when you’re walking down the aisle, have your photographer capture “the revealing” in a secluded spot prior to the ceremony. This way, you won’t feel rushed through pictures, and you’ll get to share a special moment with your future groom without everyone watching.

My advice before booking a photographer is to talk to your fiancé about what you imagine your wedding photography to be like.  What parts of your day will be photographed?  Is your photographer introverted or extroverted?  What do the photographs look like?  Does the photographer provide direction or truly only capture what happens naturally?
This will really help you start to realize what you want.

– Noah Wolf of Noah Wolf Photography

The Food

Food and drink is the cornerstone of any celebration. Don’t serve your guests boring chicken when you could be serving something extraordinary. Organic foods are popular, as are interactive food stations accented with linen and floral displays and cocktail party receptions where guests mix and mingle instead of staying put at one table. For catering recommendations, visit professional wedding sites like NACE,


Consider a mashed potato martini bar where guests are served a dollop of mashed potatoes in a martini glass, and with toppings like chives, bacon, sour cream, and shredded cheese. For dessert, consider a buffet that features pies, cake pops, old-fashioned candy jars, or an ice cream sundae station. And you can never go wrong with a statement-making cake.

The Personal Touches

There’s a saying that “presentation is everything,” and on no day is that more true than your wedding day. Couples are going the extra mile to make their wedding totally unique by personalizing their wedding celebration through “branding” their names on the invitation with their own special logo, then carrying that monogram throughout on the menu covers and table plans, incorporating an ethnic element to showcase their heritage, or using interesting color palettes. “The art of the ceiling treatment is really changing,” says Jennifer Warner of Event Lab, a local company combining the talents of skilled designers, decorators and stylists, with the technical and mechanical expertise needed to produce truly magical events, such as weddings. “We are doing less and less ‘traditional’ ceiling draping and incorporating more suspended shapes, chandeliers, and lighting elements to enhance spaces.  This helps to personalize the space and offers a great canvas for the couple’s personality to shine through.”


Vintage is in! Rent a classic car to get you to the ceremony or reception in style.

Whether you’re planning a milestone party or a wedding, think about having a theme to spice things up. Examples include nautical, 1950s, garden party, beach, Renaissance era, Western-style, or a cultural theme such as African, Hawaiian, Italian or Asian.  And while you’re planning the Party of the Year, think of your guests. A photo booth is a fun way to get guests in a silly mood (and makes for a great guestbook!) A surprise party at Mystic Lake Casino Hotel included fun elements like boas, sparkly headbands, a photo booth, and a dance party complete with a Lady Gaga impersonator. “The more you do to keep your guests engaged, the better their experience will be,” points out Jennifer Christenson, catering sales manager, Mystic Lake Casino Hotel.

The Finale

You need a honeymoon. Don’t put this off—after planning a wedding and then getting married, you won’t be ready to “go back to the real world.” Either take a staycation or go somewhere exotic (what better excuse for a fun trip than the fact that it’s your honeymoon?)

Tip: If you want to travel to a far-off land, hire a travel agent to help simplify your search. They can give you expert advice and recommendations, and help you score the best pricing and deals. A travel agent can also be your best advocate should a problem inadvertently arise. All-inclusive honeymoons, where everything is taken care of—the flight, hotel, food, drinks, and tips—are increasingly popular because they allow the couple to not worry about the details! (And after planning a wedding, this can be very appealing.) Popular destinations include Jamaica, Cancun, Riviera Maya, Punta Cana, Hawaii and the Caribbean.