Not with my groom, of course—that part looked familiar. But the rest—the village church with the bright orange walls, the better-than-the-pictures flowers, the 1960s-era organ—they were all nearly as new to me as they were to the 50 U.S.-Americans I had persuaded to come to Scotland for the event.
I planned my wedding entirely online and lived to tell about it.
In fact, I’d recommend it.
Not that it was perfect. Had I known about the orange walls, I might not have gone for purple kilts. But planning online, with a mix of shrewd, targeted research and aimless Googling, forced me to accept something many brides don’t realize until crunch time: Perfection is overrated.
Couples spent nearly $10 billion on “destination weddings” last year, according to Mintel, a market research firm in Chicago. No doubt much of this expense was justified with phrases like ``you only do it once'' and ``most important day of my life.''
Still, these same people, like me, take sizable risks with the day and the cash. Many don’t see the venue beforehand, and depend on online brochures for information. Forty-three percent rated wedding Web sites as influential in helping them pick a destination, Mintel found. More than 20 percent used social networking sites, like MySpace, and blogs.
Theresa DiMasi, editor-in-chief of Conde Nast’s Brides.com, says many of the 1 million visitors who come to that online site each month are looking for inspiration and stay for research and community.
``I think the Internet gives you much more opportunity and accessibility to information. You're a savvier shopper. You can hear what other people have said about a vendor, or see people who have negotiated deals and learn from awful experiences other brides have had,'' DiMasi said, adding that most people leave the virtual world before cutting a real check.
My fiancé and I would have if we could have. There are 5,000 miles and a wallet-busting 2-to-1 exchange rate between us in Las Vegas and his childhood home, Glasgow, our destination of choice. A planning expedition would have blown the budget.
So my mother in Minnesota, my partner in planning, and I turned immediately to the Internet.
We started with long sessions on the phone, each at our respective computers, e-mailing links back and forth. A search for ``Scotland wedding venue'' would lead to a link to ``Inverness castles.'' We stopped only when we wandered onto sites with pictures of men dressed as William Wallace.
Her neck started to hurt. My cell phone bill skyrocketed. I taught her how to use Instant Messenger. (Eventually, I taught her to use the space bar.)
It was slow. If something looked promising we would e-mail the venue, and often not hear back for days. We could discuss a site for hours, without having any idea about fees or availability.
There is another way, though I’m not convinced it’s a better one.
Online wedding clearinghouses such as TheKnot.com and Brides.com, offer a mix of planning tools, articles, and lists of ideas, registry help and vendor directories. Both sites have budget trackers that are far easier than an Excel spreadsheet and are accessible to anyone who knows your password, making it easy to share with, say, your mom. The scores of photos of dresses, flowers and place settings on these sites can be habit-forming.
Visit also: http://www.toledotietheknot.com/bridal_shops.html, http://www.ohbridalguide.com/ohio_bridal_shops.php and http://www.pbdetroit.com/shows.php
But the vendor directories are filled largely with paid advertisers in the United States—an obvious limitation for the bride wanting to go to an overseas or out-of-the-mainstream location.
Lacey Collins, a 24-year-old new bride from Sawyer, N.D., says she scanned Web sites for photographs and tips for traveling brides, but relied on a friend’s recommendation when picking a hotel for her wedding in Puerto Vallarta, México.
``I really trust this friend,'' she said less than two weeks before the day. Still, she found herself combing the hotel review site Tripadvisor.com “probably weekly'' for possible bad reviews or horror stories.
``I keep thinking, is it really that perfect? Or are these people just coming off this great time and writing great things?'' Collins said. ``How can it be this perfect?''
I know the feeling. When we found our venue—a country estate with just enough rooms to hold the Americans and within easy driving distance of the Scottish relatives—I ramped into reporter mode.
Trust, but verify.
I asked for more photos of the grounds, and got 37 back, with names and phone numbers of references. A good sign. I trolled a British wedding Web site—Confetti.co.uk—for reviews of my potential venue. Nothing. I happily discovered Indiebride.com, a site for anyone vaguely uncomfortable with the wedding industry. I was amused by the advice on how to tell your family you're eloping, and relieved to see that no one mentioned my Scottish estate on the site's chat page, ``Kvetch.''
Feeling 70 percent assured that I knew all I was going to know, and 30 percent desperate to make the decision and move on, we booked it.
And so went my planning. We relied heavily on the staff at the venue for recommendations, and then followed up with our own research.
A recommended wedding singer sounded lovely on the mp3 on her Web site, but we still asked her to sing a few selections a cappella into the telephone before we sent a check.
The florist and I landed on my bouquet through exchanges of photos by e-mail. (So that's what a thistle is!) We chose the wine from a list sent by the distributor, much of which I couldn't find in our local store. Sans tasting, we took a leap.
There were times, and that was one of them, when we felt we were missing out on some of the fun.
And there were times when the curiosity nearly killed me.
I would have paid too much for a photo of the interior of the church that generously opened its doors to American strangers on a busy Saturday. The only one online was black and white. The Internet had its limits.
But had I found one, it might only have allowed me to believe that the church decor really mattered. Orange paint, it turns out, looks pretty good as a backdrop for photos.
Aside from the night I met my husband, it was the best blind date I've ever had.