Weddings & Special Occasions


He popped the question and you said “Yes!” Now what?

Before you start spreading the news, you should come up with vague timeline of when the wedding will be (spring of 2012, for instance), because after “Congratulations!” and “Let me see your ring!” you will undoubtedly be asked, “When’s the wedding?” Figuring out when the wedding is will be the first of many decisions you will make for the biggest day of your life. The next big one is determining the budget. Your budget will help you decide where you’re getting married (your venue will account for the biggest slice of your budget) and how many people you can invite. Finding the perfect venue will help set the tone and play a significant role in many of the other planning decisions you’ll make. You’ll spend most of your wedding day here, so it’s vital that the venue is exactly what you want. Start researching your options now—good venues book far in advance.

The perfect location

You can narrow down the list of possible reception sites by answering a few questions about your style. Are you more of a traditional girl? Ultra modern? Vintage? Do you picture yourself celebrating in 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?

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. Over the theatres’ 43-year history, more than 1,500 wedding receptions have been hosted at CDT. One room, The Club, is actually a theatre with a stage, explains Kris Howland, public relations director. “We like to position the bridal table right on the stage, with the area surrounding the stage illuminated with lights for special effect,” she says. The rental fee not only includes a one-of-a-kind setting, but a helpful, professional staff, white linen and napkins, complimentary cake cutting, white satin skirting, votive candles, free parking, and delicious food at a moderate price point.

An uncompromisingly beautiful venue, The Carlson Towers Rotunda and Amphitheatre in Minnetonka is the epitome of “distinctive elegance.” The two-level venue accommodates up to 360 guests and features a cathedral ceiling, marble floors, majestic fountain, grand piano, breathtaking views, English gardens, and a spectacular outdoor Amphitheatre for photography and ceremonies. The rental fee includes almost all extras, including a day-of wedding coordinator.

There are 24 different wedding venues or sites available for use in Stillwater, a charming rivertown on the Minnesota side of the St. Croix River. There are quaint bed-and-breakfast inns (check out the Water Street Inn and Lowell Inn), luxury hotels and resorts, unique wineries, and one-of-a-kind restaurants and pubs perfect for a wedding or special occasion. History buffs should consider saying “I do” at the Historic Washington County Courthouse (built in 1870 — the oldest standing courthouse in Minnesota) or taking their wedding party for a spin in a turn-of-the-century trolley.

When a couple wants to get away from it all, a destination wedding can be the answer. You don’t have to have a memorable destination wedding. It can be as simple as getting married in Minnesota, a few hours away from home. Destination weddings in Minnesota appeal to people who prefer an option that’s not too fancy or formal. The scenery is beautiful on its own without spending more on decor, and the weekend becomes a fun reunion for family and friends.

In addition to a spectacular setting on the North Shore of Lake Superior, couples celebrating at the Bluefin Bay Family of Resorts (Bluefin Bay on Lake Superior, Surfside on Lake Superior, and Temperance Landing) can choose to have their wedding or special event at one location and reception at another, selecting the perfect combination of North Shore venues. For instance, a couple could get married on the cobblestone beach at Bluefin Bay and have the reception just a mile away at the state-of-the-art banquet facility at Surfside. Other perks include shuttle service for guest transportation, group or solo spa days at the new Waves of Superior destination spa (complete with appetizers and champagne), and lakeside outdoor campfires for gathering with friends and family for s’mores, stories, reconnecting and recharging before the big day. The fun doesn’t just happen at the wedding and reception either! Take a wedding party sea kayaking lesson on Lake Superior in double or single kayaks or hike to Oberg Mountain and breathe in the refreshing scent of spruce and cedar trees. Or, perhaps you prefer to snuggle up in your suite with a private fireplace, whirlpool tub and lake views.

Couples and their wedding guests will soon discover that The Lodge on Lake Detroit is not your typical lodge—it’s a luxurious, yet affordable, lakefront lifestyle hotel. The lodge features 55 lakefront rooms with an emphasis on eco-friendly initiatives (the hotel was recently recognized by the Minnesota Office of Tourism with the “Sustainable Tourism Award”) and upscale in-room amenities. A two-story lakefront lobby features a grand piano, stone fireplace, lobby bar and balcony (complete with sunset serenades), the Renewal Spa Suites offer aromatherapy whirlpool tubs and fireplaces, and guests can unwind with spa services at The Spa Within.

“In the summer, the green space between the hotel and the private sandy beach is a favorite place for outdoor weddings,” says owner Chris Holland-Mehlaff. Guests receive a two-for-one experience: a gorgeous wedding in a gorgeous lodge plus access to boat slips, firepits, picnic tables, kayaks and paddleboats, and beautiful rain gardens.

Hop on a ferry out of Bayfield, Wis. and leave the mainland behind for a wedding or private party at The Inn on Madeline Island, located in the Chequamegon Bay area of Lake Superior. Whether casual or formal, The Pub, the new Lightkeeper’s Lodge, and the beachfront are ideal for any celebration. “Imagine a beach setting with a sunset arching the wedding vows, musicians on the dock, and sailboats gliding in the distance,” says Susan Hartzell, proprietor of The Inn.  The friendly and professional staff can arrange every detail of the big day, including lodging, custom menu options, and rentals. Whether it’s memories of lupines and daisies, extraordinary night skies, or the magic of the lake, guests will remember an island celebration long into the future.


Personalizing your event

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. According to Twin Cities wedding experts The Wedding Guys, Bruce Vassar and Matthew Trettel, the hot colors for weddings are emerald, ruby, teal blue, coral, and peacock blue. “Velvet will be an inspiration for the upcoming season, so watch for shades of rich blacks,” Trettel says.

Watch also for an infusion of luxury in brocades, raw silks, and taffeta. On the other end of the spectrum are bold glossy reds and dark pinks paired with flesh tones. Another twist is white as an accent, but this time paired with neutrals like taupe and camels, then combined with rich blacks and bold reds.

No matter what color combo a couple is considering, chances are they can find elements to add extra pizzazz at Event Lab, promising a wedding or special occasion that is not only visually spectacular, but logistically streamlined. The company’s formula for success includes an expansive warehouse stocked with interesting props, full-time designers to help with custom pieces, a full line of linens, napkins, chair covers and ties, and on-staff experts in lighting and special effects.

The full-service event company, Festivities, offers event design, planning, rentals, fresh floral design, ceiling draping, and décor, lighting, and props.

The cost of a planner to help with planning, design, and orchestration of the big day is well worth the investment, says Jennifer Braun, Festivities co-owner. “Most individuals are not as rigorous as they should be in establishing and following an event budget.  A professional will aide you in that process, advise you on ways to save money, and help to negotiate pricing on your behalf.”

Couples won’t regret hiring a planner to not only help create the event, but manage no-show vendors, power outages, long lines, rooms with poor traffic flow, charges for last-minute changes, or late start times that affect the rest of the evening’s timetable.

“The greatest tragedy for a special occasion or wedding can be when the guests of honor are stressed about the event itself and don’t get to enjoy the day. Wedding professionals alleviate that possibility,” Braun says.

Eat, drink and be merry

Food and drink is the cornerpoint of any celebration. Don’t serve your guests ho-hum chicken when you could be serving something extraordinary like applewood grilled chicken, pancetta, gorgonzola, creamy brie, and cinnamon poached pears. 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. One fun idea is a mashed potato martini bar—a dollop of mashed potatoes served in a martini glass—with toppings like chives, bacon, sour cream, and shredded cheese.

At Chowgirls Killer Catering, the focus is on local, organic, and seasonal ingredients (especially impressive for out-of-town guests). From American comfort food to vegetarian and spicy ethnic selections, the diverse menu not only receives rave reviews for flavor and taste, but also beautiful presentation, efficient timing, and attentive, friendly service.

Another catering company that offers good local, fresh, organic food is French Meadow Café. “We are seeing an increase in the number of inquiries we get for menus with special dietary needs—like vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options—as well as a heightened concern for the quality of food that is served,” says Mary Speidel, catering director.

French Meadow offers action stations, butler-passed hors d’oeuvres, custom menus, decadent dessert buffets, and special upgrades such as composting services and eco-friendly disposables for zero-waste events.

When searching for an environmentally-friendly rehearsal dinner site, the restaurant group of Barbette, Bryant Lake Bowl, Red Stag Supperclub, Gigi’s Cafe, Pat’s Tap (opening spring 2011), and Bread & Pickle (opening spring 2011) all  compost and offer locally-farmed and organic ingredients on their menus. “We also provide outdoor catered events using these same standards,” says Anne Saxton. Bryant Lake Bowl has become a popular destination for Thursday night groom’s dinners. “With more couples choosing to get married at local theaters, music venues like the Varsity Theater, and art spaces, many couples are getting married on Friday night, so they come to BLB for a Thursday night bowling party groom’s dinner.

For a fun, economical, and handicap-accessible rehearsal dinner site, keep Buca di Beppo in mind, with locations in Burnsville, Eden Prairie, Maple Grove, Minneapolis, and St. Paul. The restaurant offers a variety of room sizes for rehearsal dinners or special events. (Many couples prefer a private space where they can be loud and have a good time without interruption.) The servers are skilled at handling large groups, the atmosphere is fun and interactive, and the family-style Italian meal gives guests an opportunity to sample a little bit of everything—without breaking the bank.

Flowers and Décor

In today’s world of “anything goes” weddings, flowers are bold and eye-catching, with centerpieces of different heights and bridal bouquets embellished with crystals, ostrich feathers, and even produce. Hand-tied bouquets are popular, as are romantic roses and the all-white combination of classic and timeless lily of the valley and orchids.

At Sassafras Floral and Garden Design, a floral design studio in northeast Minneapolis, style and good taste is delivered on any budget. Co-owners Sarah, Sarah, and Sara absolutely love what they do and agree that it’s touching to see a bride cry—in a good way— when she sees her bouquet for the first time.

Trends they’ve noticed include modern lines, monochromatic bouquets, fun vintage elements, and an interest in ‘green’ weddings (a local, certified organic farmer supplies Sassafras with flowers all season long). Perhaps one of the biggest trends is an effort to move away from cookie-cutter weddings and focusing on creating a memorable, unique event.



If you’re looking for a meaningful wedding or shower gift that will be remembered, give an heirloom-quality cooking or baking gift with local roots: Look for the Minnesota-made Nordic Ware brand. Nordic Ware, founded in 1946, is a family-owned, American manufacturer of kitchenware products available locally at Kitchen Window, Chef’s Gallery, and Kitchens, as well as Williams-Sonoma, Sur La Table, and the Nordic Ware Factory Store.

Another unique gift idea—one the couple will keep forever—is a piece of original artwork in clay, metal, wood, fiber, glass or jewelry available at The Grand Hand Gallery on the corner of Dale and Grand in St. Paul. More than half the gallery selections are by Minnesota and Midwest regional artists, with the balance by artists from across the United States.

Budding oenophiles will find that creating a wine and spirits registry at Surdyk’s is a unique and fun alternative to traditional gift registries. Wine can be a very personal and enjoyable gift to both give and receive, and Surdyk’s offers a wide variety to match all tastes and budgets.

The Honeymoon

When the rings have been exchanged and your wedding guests have (reluctantly) left the dance floor, your honeymoon is the perfect way to enjoy quality time with your beloved before real life intrudes again.

Staff members at Canoe Bay in Chetek, Wis. know how to cater to honeymooners. Guests enjoy peace and quiet in the heavily wooded 280-acre country estate, an upscale cabin atmosphere, amazing views, top-notch service, an award-winning wine selection and memorable meals in the elegant lakeside dining room. Canoe Bay was designed by a couple—especially for couples—and no children or pets are allowed. A visit to Canoe Bay is peaceful, relaxing, and romantic.

Another blissful honeymoon locale is the Best Western Superior Inn in the harbor village of Grand Marais. The harbor is the centerpiece of town (Grand Marais is the only North Shore community whose downtown is right on the lake), but the backdrop of the Sawtooth Mountains and Superior National Forest just beyond makes the area one of the most unique in Minnesota. Honeymooners will appreciate the clean, secure, and smoke-free hotel with all rooms offering dramatic views of Lake Superior, and will feel absolutely spoiled in the Renewal Steam Suites, featuring a spacious steam shower, five shower heads, hydrotherapy whirlpool, and spa gas fireplace. 

At Carrousel Travel American Express, a destination wedding or honeymoon is not treated like just another vacation, says Carol Flanigan, senior travel consultant. It is treated like the once-in-a-lifetime experience that it is.

Hiring a travel agent like Flanigan can help a couple simplify their search, give them access to expert advice and recommendations, and help them get the best pricing and deals. The options can be overwhelming at first glance. A travel agent knows the ins and outs of destination wedding and honeymoon locations.

“Every resort looks beautiful on the Internet,” Flanigan points out. “A good travel agent will listen to the needs and wants of the couple and help narrow down the options based on personal experience and what they know about the destinations the couple is interested in. There is a good destination for every honeymoon budget.”

The agent then offers suggestions based on budget, season of travel, importance of resort amenities such as: Is the resort all-inclusive? Does it have a nice beach? A swimming pool? A spa? A nearby golf course? Is it adults-only or family friendly?

At Macy’s Travel by Carlson Wagonlit, up to $300 on travel purchases is offered as a honeymoon discount, says Cindy Nelson, sales manager. After spending so much time making wedding decisions, it can be a breath of fresh air to hire a travel consultant to take care of the honeymoon details.

Whether staying close to home or traveling to an exotic destination, it’s important that newlyweds some time to unwind, have fun, and enjoy one another’s company. You will take many vacations together as a happily married couple, but you will have only one honeymoon. Make the most of it! 

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? If not, are there many stairs? How close is the parking to the ceremony and reception rooms?

For all-in-one venues (ceremony + reception):

• Are there enough chairs for the ceremony, or will they need to be rented?
• Does the wedding venue have an entirely separate area for the ceremony?
• If not, how long does it typically take for the staff to change over the room?





Bill Plattes – goldsmith

BNOX Gold & Iron


Bryant Lake Bowl

Buca di Beppo

Chowgirls Killer Catering

French Meadow Café


Event Lab


The Wedding Guys


Sassafras Floral


The Grand Hand Gallery 

Nordic Ware Factory Store



Best Western Superior Inn, Grand Marais 

Canoe Bay

Carrousel Travel American Express

Macy’s Travel by Carlson Wagonlit


Arrowwood Resort

Bluefin Bay Family of Resorts (Bluefin Bay on Lake Superior, Surfside on Lake Superior, and Temperance Landing)

Carlson Towers Rotunda and Amphitheatre

Chanhassen Dinner Theatres

The Inn on Madeline Island

The Lodge on Lake Detroit

Minnesota History Center

Stillwater and Oak Park Heights CVB