If there’s one thing all guests can agree on, it’s that weddings don’t go for long enough. One second they’re arriving at the ceremony, the next it’s all over. And if it feels that way for friends and family, imagine how quickly the time speeds by for the bride and groom.
With this in mind, many couples are shifting away from a one-day celebration in favour of a long weekend away, where they head out of town for a three-day wedding slash mini holiday that is also part reunion, part adventure and part relaxation retreat.
It’s something they see a lot of at Barwon Heads Resort at 13th Beach in Victoria, which made wedding coordinator Kloie Vanhooft the perfect person to give us the lowdown on why three days add up to one magical dream day.
So tell us, is a long-weekend-away wedding just like a destination wedding?
Sort of – just on a smaller and more accessible scale. You see, when people talk about destination weddings, they’re often focused on going overseas for the big day. And if that’s their dream, that’s wonderful. But it’s not always practical – for the couple or their guests. There’s holiday leave, family responsibilities, budget and other issues to consider. So by still doing it away from home and familiar surroundings, but picking somewhere that’s easily drivable or flyable for most of your guests, you get the best of both worlds.
We love this idea of a mini-break. But what’s the thinking behind making it two nights instead of one?
Well for starters, it gives people more time to enjoy each other’s company, especially if they don’t get to catch up that often. But it’s also a great way to just chill out. Everyone’s lives are incredibly busy these days, and even though we all talk of having time away, curling up with a book, or just relaxing, it can be hard to do in a familiar environment when, for example, the work laptop is always within reach. So by giving people an important reason to get away, you actually help them to carve out some ‘me’ time. Plus, bringing them in the day before the wedding also helps to make sure they’re relaxed and in a good frame of mind, and can thoroughly enjoy the party without having to think about getting home.
Wow, that does sound like a nice holiday for guests, but what’s in it for the bride and groom?
Well for them, it’s all about access to their wider circle of friends and relatives. If you can imagine a normal wedding day, it’s go go go from the moment they wake up. The morning is spent getting ready, the ceremony might be about 3pm and then, by the time they’ve had photos, dinner and the official part of the reception, they’ve only got limited time to spend with their guests. So by spreading it out across a couple of days, it gives them quality time to spend with the people who were important enough to score an invitation in the first place.
What a great idea. But doesn’t this add a lot of extra work to their wedding planning?
DefiniteIy – if they decide to do everything themselves. In fact sorting the accommodation alone would be like having a part-time job. But that’s why so many of them turn to places such as Barwon Heads Resort, which specialises in extended celebrations. The idea is that by working with a specialised wedding co-ordinator, the bride and groom can illustrate the vision of what they want, and then you make it happen for them. You deal with guest accommodation and inquiries, organise meals, arrange transport, style receptions, help ensure the band is set up, book golfing games and lessons … you name it. Basically, it’s about being wedding angels to make sure the long weekend is as beautiful, as relaxed or as action-packed as people want.
So how does a long-weekend-away wedding usually unfold?
As a general rule, a long-weekend-away wedding runs from Friday to Sunday. Friday is generally taken up with travelling time. People can either take the day off to arrive early, or hop in the car or on a plane straight after work, which works here as we’re only 75 minutes’ drive from Melbourne and 45 minutes from Avalon Airport. So they come, they check in, they can have a bath, take a nap, watch TV or go for a wander and see who else has arrived. Something else we find brides and grooms love to do that night is also transform their traditional rehearsal dinner into an invitation-only private dining event with a wider guest list extended to immediate family and close friends. This gets the festivities off to an excitable start as people look ahead to the next day, and you can really set the scene with amazing food drawing on seasonal menus. Then it’s off to bed to enjoy a good night’s sleep without having to get up early to drive the next day. In the morning, guests can enjoy such activities as golf at one of the nearby courses, day spa treatments (our salon is opening soon), adrenalin-charged pursuits such as skydiving, a dip in the pool or family friendly activities such as the zoo, museum or berry picking. Then, of course, the rest of the day is devoted to the celebrations. Finally, on Sunday, couples often have a special brunch or lunch as a way to chill out with everyone now the big day has passed, and then people start to leave at their leisure. It’s a great last hurrah and lets the bride and groom farewell absolutely everyone they want to.
Now to money. Who pays for the accommodation?
Pretty much everyone pays for themselves, unless the bride and groom decide to cover the cost of rooms for VIPs such as their attendants or parents. The convenience of a resort is actually something guests really take advantage of, because it saves them having to hunt around – in an area they may not know – for accommodation that is family friendly, boutique and has ready access to the ceremony and reception.
How do couples cater for food?
The best idea is to pick a resort with a restaurant, because that is – pardon the pun – ensuring readymade food on the plate. Here, we have the Rough Restaurant, which specialises in modern Australian flavours that showcase local produce. It caters for the rehearsal diner, the reception and a Sunday brunch, including special dietary requirements, but also allows people to tap into offerings such as breakfast boxes and children’s menus. Again, it’s about making sure guests can just relax and access everything they need in the one spot.
Is it wise to look at using local services for a long-weekend-away wedding?
Yes, definitely. Any professionals that come recommend are right at the top of their game, from celebrants, string quartets and photographers to hair and make-up artists. What it helps to remember is that wedding-friendly resorts deal with a lot of people in the industry, and know exactly what to look for, so you can be confident in their recommendations as a starting point when you pick their brains.
Can you still add a touch of razzle dazzle to the day when you’re out of the city?
Absolutely. In fact we do things such as a helicopter arrival that may not be possible in urban areas. It’s certainly an eye-catching way to arrive at the ceremony.
Speaking of ceremonies, what are the locations like?
They’re fabulous. In fact, part of the reason boutique resorts are so popular is because they not only have great spaces for receptions, they also have access to stunning spots for the actual vows. To give you an idea, we have two beautiful locations available for our couples – one by the pool/on the grass and one on the beach. That means you have a really beautiful backdrop to “I Do”, and we build on this with such enhancements as parasols, garden umbrellas, an arbor and chairs. It’s all about creating a beautiful and unique piece of paradise that feels like you, and the guests, are the only people around. Plus, there’s myriad spaces to serve as beautiful photographic backdrops, from a stunning grove of trees to beautiful architecture such as a jetty and bridge, or even a spectacular sunset over the ocean. Like they say in the real estate game, it’s all about location, location, location.
That’s great advice. So overall, what would you say are five things to look out when considering a venue?
- Look at their packages and ask yourself questions. Do they cater for a variety of budgets? Are they flexible with the menu, with both cocktail and sit-down offerings and basic beverage packages that can be upgraded? Do they have a generous inclusions package, like we do, which encompasses such things as a wishing well, an in-house music system with iPod connectivity, a beautiful easel on which to display a seating chart, or a high chair with colouring books and pencils? It’s all about making sure you get the most value for every dollar.
- Be realistic about function spaces. Don’t let yourself fall in love with a venue before you know it can cater for the number of guests you expect to attend. Flexibility is also important. Here, for example, we have two stunning spaces – the Barwon Room, which can seat up to 70 or 120 standing, and the Charlemont Room, which can be set up for 100 seated or 300 standing. Both of them can be opened to create an extra large function space, which offers reassurance should the guest list unexpectedly boom.
- Make sure the events team has good contacts with the local area so they can help guests get the most out of their stay, whether that’s pointing them towards a local winemaker to visit or suggesting great events at an annual festival.
- Also choose somewhere that thinks of practical matters. At Barwon Heads Resort, for example, if you do choose to marry at the beach, we can arrange transport on the day to save on any hassles for guests. It all comes down to making everyone’s life easier.
- Pick somewhere that will cater to a broad range of guest interests. For example, we have a gymnasium available, which is perfect for guests who like to work up a sweat rather than stroll along the beach.
Kloie – who’s beautiful eye for wedding styling allows her to turn elements such as table decorations into eye-catching tableaus – believes the idea of a long-weekend-away wedding is one that will only grow in popularity.
“We have 30 self-catered apartments here, and we already find most of our brides and grooms book them out,” she says. Part of the attraction is that because they’re self-catered, it sets them up equally to cater for solo guests, couples or families.
Privacy is also a big factor, as the wider wedding party pretty much gets the resort to themselves. Paired with attractions such as the surf beach, which is just 10-15 minutes’ walk away, it basically means they can check-in and retire their outside lives and stresses until it’s time to go home.
This goes for the bride and groom too.
“Once couples have settled on their vision for the day, my role is to ensure they don’t have to do a thing as I pull the ceremony and reception together,” says Kloie. “I’m available 24/7, I go to people’s houses and they can have as many appointments as they like.
“Once they’ve booked services such as the photographer, the baker for their cake and the band, I tell them to give the professionals my details so I can deal with all of the little queries and questions they don’t need to be inundated with.
“Then, on the day, we’ll look after little touches such as sending breakfast to the room while the bride and bridesmaids are getting ready, and supply champagne and snacks through the day.”
It’s all about leaving them free to focus on “I Do:.
Another huge drawcard for couples is the resort’s stunning location.
“Barwon Heads is a small little beach town, and it’s everything you could hope that description entails,” Kloie says. “There’s a relaxed and friendly vibe, the scenery is stunning and everyone goes home feeling like they’ve been away for much longer than they have.
“It’s such a wonderful experience for the newlyweds to have shared with their nearest and dearest.”