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Have y’all heard?! Jess in our office is engaged!! We could NOT be more excited for her (like, really could not). The last few weeks have been about celebrating, but since she’s planning on a shorter engagement, I, the resident wedding planning guru in the office (!), am excited to get down to brass tacks with her soon!

Having a newly-engaged gal on our team has made us appreciate all over again anything that can simplify the wedding planning process. Enter: Zola, our favorite one-stop site that’s reinventing the wedding registry and planning experience!

From engagement, to your wedding, to decorating your first home, Zola is with you every step of the way. Here’s how:

Your Zola Weddings dashboard includes planning checklists, your wedding website, guest list management, and your registry, all in one easy-to-use place. Your checklist is custom-created based on your wedding date and the traditions you may want to include in honor of your religion or heritage. Of course, you can also add, remove, and edit tasks to best suit your needs.

In your guest list tab, you can add guests and all their information (imported from your contact list, by requesting info via a private link, or by entering it manually), specify what the inner and outer envelopes of your invitation should say, and then mark an invitation sent or not sent. Guests can then RSVP through your wedding website so you can track them in real time. No more penciling numbers onto the back of reply cards in case someone doesn’t fill out their name!

Creating a wedding website is SO helpful for your guests (we’d even call it a gesture of Southern hospitality!), and Zola Weddings makes it incredibly easy. Their 50+ templates are beautiful (and free!), the pages are customizable, and the entire thing is mobile-optimized.

We have to talk about Zola’s claim to fame: their online registry! With the ability to add gifts from over 500 top brands, like Waterford, Le Creuset, and KitchenAid, Zola is like your and your family’s favorite department store. BUT, unlike a department store, you can also register for experiences (like cooking classes, spa visits, and more), for newlywed staples like Blue Apron meals, and for cash funds for your honeymoon or a house down payment!

True to their reputation for amazing customer service, each couple who uses Zola Weddings will have access to a Zola advisor. This person will be able to answer any questions you may have as you use the system, and they’ll even walk your more technophobic guests through your registry!

Cheers to making the wedding planning process simple, so you can focus on what matters during your engagement. We hope you love this awesome service as much as we do!

This post is brought to you by Zola Weddings. Thank you for your support of the brands who make Southern Weddings possible!

emily Written with love by Emily
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I’ve had the privilege of helping many friends and family members plan their weddings over the years –when you work at a wedding magazine, you become the go-to gal! As much fun as it is to dream about color schemes and escort card ideas, the area where I feel I’m really able to add value is the logistics. A wedding day is a complicated event with a LOT of moving parts, and if you’ve never planned one before (and don’t necessarily have the assistance of a planner), it can be overwhelming.

A solid wedding day timeline is the best tool I know for making sure the right things happen at the right time with the right people present, and so today, we’re going to walk through how to create one!

A note: If you’re working with a wedding planner or day of coordinator, creating a wedding day timeline is likely something she will handle. If you’re on your own, it is absolutely essential that you create one of these yourself. (And trust me, there are very few things that I will say are essential for every single wedding!) A well-crafted timeline creates a seamless experience for your beloved guests (and maximizes your time with them!), helps your vendors do their best work, and cuts down on the amount of “managing” you’ll need to do on your wedding day — all very good things!

Let’s get started!

Begin by gathering information and materials. Collect all of the information you have, especially the parts that are externally set/not in your control. It might help to start by asking yourself these questions:

A note: Most ceremonies last approximately twenty minutes, but I would recommend rounding up to at least 30 minutes – and some can be much longer. Add up liturgy, readings, entrances, vows, homily, communion, rituals, etc. to get a ballpark.)

Whew! Answering these might require conversation with your vendors, particularly on subjects like food timing. Your caterer will have the best idea of how long it will take to serve all of your guests at your venue based on whether you’re having a plated dinner, a family style meal, or a buffet, and your photographer can advise you on how long portraits will take based on the list you give him. If they don’t offer this info, ask! Never assume you’re on the same page about how things will run – always confirm.

Add times and details as you confirm them. As decisions are made and information comes in, start plugging each piece into a doc (Word or Excel, your choice!). For example, you probably already know what time you have to vacate your reception venue, so that’s a great place to start! If you’re totally stuck, here’s the general arc most evening dinner receptions at two locations tend to follow:

Of course, there are many, many, many factors that can affect this timeline. Let’s discuss a few.

— One location or two. If your ceremony and reception are at different locations, be sure to build in time for your guests to get to their cars, travel, park, and walk. Take traffic into consideration. I would recommend underestimating the amount of time travel will take, because there are few things worse than having guests arrive to a reception that’s not ready for them!
Portraits. While there are many reasons to recommend them, first looks are not the only option – but, if you’re not having one, you need to be realistic about the time of year and time of day you’re getting married, and adjust your expectations accordingly. (i.e. If you’re having a winter ceremony at 5pm, don’t expect your photographer to be able to capture daylight portraits.) Whether or not you’re having a first look, I recommend checking off as many bridal party and family portraits as you can before the ceremony, and leaving a concise list of group portraits for after.
Location and transportation. Confirm where the gents and ladies will be getting ready, and if it’s not at the ceremony location, confirm transportation for everyone as well as how long it will take. If you’re taking portraits at the ceremony venue but getting ready elsewhere, consider putting on your gown once you arrive to make travel easier!
Dances. At our wedding, we moved immediately into our first dance when we entered the reception, which I loved. You could also use your first dance or parent dances to open the dance floor after dinner, or do them during dinner.
Toasts. I like when toasts are offered during dinner, perhaps between courses. I’d also recommend splitting them up, so guests are able to focus on each one individually.
Sunset. Your photographer will likely suggest taking a few bride and groom portraits at sunset. Even if you did a first look, I think this mini portrait session (10-15 minutes) is a great idea. You’ll be in a different “head space” than before the ceremony, and it will also give you a chance to be (mostly) alone in the middle of your reception. And, there will be lovely glowing light!

Photo by Blue Ribbon Vendor Sawyer Baird

And finally, a few tips to remember:

Guest will arrive early. Fact. Plan to begin your pre-ceremony music at least half an hour before the invite start time. Likewise, if you’re doing a first look or pre-ceremony portraits, have everything wrapped up and be “hidden” away from guests at least half an hour beforehand – otherwise you might get caught chatting with arriving guests when you’d rather be spending a few quiet minutes with your ladies.
Make multiple versions of your timeline. I had a typed, single-spaced, two-page timeline that outlined exactly where every person was going to be for nearly every minute of the day — but I certainly didn’t send it to anyone but my day-of coordinator. That would have been completely overwhelming! I made simplified versions for each major vendor, and emailed them out a week in advance. I also printed out personalized copies for family members and the bridal party, so everyone felt confident about where they had to be when.

Photo by Blue Ribbon Vendor Gandy Photographers

For all this talk of detail, though, hear this: your wedding timeline is a guideline. As long as you don’t keep guests waiting and the food is fresh, it’s totally fine to deviate from it as the day begins to flow. And that’s where a talented coordinator or planner comes in. I know one is not in every budget, but I would highly recommend making room for one if you can, and if not, at least arranging a handpicked family member or friend to be the point person on the big day. If you’re the type to stress over whether everything is getting set up correctly and whether little details are being taken care of, a coordinator could be the best gift you give yourself. I think a coordinator is also a gift to your family and friends – both because you’ll be less stressed, and because it will allow them to relax, as well. A win win!

Tell me: Do you have a timeline for your wedding day yet? Are you doing anything different with the flow of your day? I’d love to hear!

P.S. Does this advice sound reasonable to you? (Ha! Hopefully!!) Well, if you love it, you will surely love our Joyful Wedding Planner – there’s lots more where this came from!

emily Written with love by Emily
4 Comments
  1. avatar Kelly reply

    I love this information! So resourceful, I can’t wait to use it some day. :)

  2. avatar Kyla Shattuck reply

    This almost perfectly matches the timeline we built for our June wedding! Our timeline was crucial to ensuring that every meaningful moment had space in the day to be enjoyed, but also left room for spontaneous moments to bless us throughout the day! :)

  3. avatar Pixie Weddings reply

    Great article as always! Leaving contingency time in the morning is so important just in case of any last minute delays or dramas!

  4. avatar Kristina reply

    I’m a reader from Germany and have always been curious about one thing when reading about or hearing of American weddings. And that’s the fact that there is a definite end to the reception. Is there a traditional reason for that? All the weddings that I have been to ended after the last guest had left. And that is usually not until well into the early morning hours. It’s just one thing that has always struck me as a big difference between American and German weddings and I was just wondering if you, as the wedding experts, could tell me if there was a reason for it. Lots of love from Berlin, Kristina

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The easiest way to guarantee I will cry buckets of tears at your wedding ceremony? Include “Be Thou My Vision.” We sang it during our ceremony, and to this day, anytime I hear it, I’m immediately transported right back to June 23, 2012. There’s something incredibly powerful about music and its ability to bring emotion to life’s most special moments – your wedding ceremony most certainly among them.

A darling reader bride recently asked us to share some of our favorite outdoor ceremony music suggestions, so I’ve happily compiled a few selections, from processional to recessional. (These would all work well whether you’re getting married indoors or out!) My main tip for outdoor ceremonies, though? Be proactive about the sound system, if you’re not hiring live musicians. If you want your guests to be able to sing along or enjoy the music, make sure everyone can hear it.

P.S. The linked headings below lead to a Spotify playlist, where you can listen to our suggestions! A perfect activity for a weeknight dinner :)

Favorite wedding ceremony classical processional songs:
• Wedding March – Mendelssohn
• Canon in D – Pachelbel
• Ave Maria – Bach or Schubert
• Water Music – Handel
• Ode to Joy – Beethoven

Favorite wedding ceremony hymns and songs:
• Abide With Me
• All Creatures of our God and King
• Be Thou My Vision
• Come Thou Fount
• In Christ Alone

Favorite non-religious ceremony songs:
• Wedding Processional – Rodgers and Hammerstein
• Can’t Help Falling in Love – Elvis
• Falling Slowly – from “Once”
• Make You Feel My Love – Adele
• A Thousand Years – Vitamin String Quartet

Favorite modern recessional songs:
• The Real Thing – The 5 Royales
• Book of Love – The Monotones
• Brighter Than the Sun – Colbie Caillat
• Everlasting Love – Carl Carlton
• Love, Love, Love – The Clovers

One final tip? When picking music, think about the overall feel of your big day – is it classic? romantic? laid-back? upbeat? Pick music that will tell your story and maybe even make you tear up when you hear it at a friend’s ceremony years later ;)

We have more ceremony music suggestions (along with heaps of helping ceremony planning recommendations) in our Joyful Wedding Planner. Snag one over in our shop!

Image round up: Jen Dillender, Tanja Lippert, Jen Fariello, Blue Ribbon Vendor Amy Arrington and Perry Vaile

kristin Written with love by Kristin
4 Comments
  1. avatar Savannah Fannon reply

    Any suggestions on playing music outdoors?

  2. avatar Patti reply

    I’m a church organist and singer and play at weddings all the time. For outside ceremonies, it will depend on what musicians you will have. I heard a string quartet playing Beatles tunes at a wedding and they played “Here Comes the Sun” as the bridesmaids came down the aisle. I’ve heard a recorded instrumental of “Someday My Prince Will Come” at an outdoor wedding. One of my daughters used recorded dulcimer music for her wedding that included the traditional “Here Comes the Bride” and for her recessional, she used “How Sweet it Is (to be Loved by You)” by James Taylor as her recessional. It was perfect.

  3. avatar EvDressau reply

    This is a great reference, I think I will listen to these music before my wedding, and then find out that I feel suitable for my wedding song.

  4. avatar Geoff reply

    Choosing music had to be one of the hardest things we had to do for our wedding, but once we had the ceremony entrance and first dance songs the rest seemed to fall into place.

Southern Weddings reserves the right to delete comments which contain profanity or personal attacks or seek to promote a business unrelated to the post.  And remember: a good attitude is like kudzu – it spreads.  We love hearing your kind thoughts!

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