You’re engaged!

How many people have already asked you when the wedding is? How many times have you searched, “How to start planning a wedding?”

Your wedding day should be one of the best, most unforgettable days of your life. Everything that goes into that day, however, can be stressful. You have budgets to set, colors to choose, vendors to find, seating charts to create, tweak, throw out, and create again. There are a lot of decisions to be made in your future, and it can get overwhelming. We believe your wedding day should be about YOU and every day up until the big day shouldn’t be filled with stress, but with love. We talked to our expert wedding planners and learned their best tips to start planning a wedding.

Determine your wedding budget
Nobody likes to talk about wedding budgets. The truth is, a lot of venues and vendors offer customized packages now to work within a budget. Your wedding budget sets the stage for every other part of your wedding. When it comes to setting your wedding budget, consider these three things:

If you have loved ones who are offering to help cover the wedding, find out how much they’re willing to spend. This goes for specifics too. If someone has offered to cover food, don’t surprise them with a bill for a four-course seated dinner after the wedding. Don’t find yourself falling in love with something you can’t afford. Get every number up front and work within your means. Consider using a wedding budget tracker to keep on track.

When it comes to your wedding, what’s the most important thing to you? Maybe you have a dream venue that you’re willing to splurge on. Or maybe you want to invest in a great photographer, so you’re willing to spend less on food. Also, what doesn’t matter to you? Are you not as concerned about having centerpieces or live band? Knowing what matters most to you — and what you might spend more money on — will help you customize your budget to fit your needs.

To help get you started on how to prioritize your budget, rate the following list of items in order of importance:

Entertainment & Activities
Bachelor/Bachelorette Parties
Gifts & Favors
Food & Drinks
Flowers & Decor
Cake, food, drinks, and favors are more or less important to different couples. Don’t hesitate to choose what’s right for you – no matter what a wedding checklist, your maid of honor, or your social media feed might say.

No matter how much you plan or how much research you do, there will always be surprises. Our wedding planners recommend setting aside a small portion of your budget for any emergencies. This way you won’t have to scramble to find money if something happens.

Set your guest list
A common thing our wedding planners hear is how many couples are surprised by everything they have to factor in when making their guest list. If you have been dreaming of a certain wedding venue, you’ll be limited by how many people it can accommodate. If your family is insisting on certain invites, that will increase the guest list. Do your guests have kids? Is it a kid-friendly wedding? Will you allow anyone to have a plus one? Would you rather have quality time with every guest of a big celebration knowing you might only see people for a few minutes?

Answer these questions as you’re making your guest list. Our planners recommend starting with a “must have” invite list. If your family members do have people they want to invite, consider giving them a limited number of invites. If you already know you want to have an intimate wedding, consider limiting plus-ones or children under a certain age. Our wedding planners have worked with several couples who hire a babysitter or two at the hotel during the wedding.

You heard it here first: Never feel pressured to have a certain number of guests for the sake of appearances, or invite someone because you were in their wedding. Inevitably, whoever you choose to be in your wedding will affect how your day unfolds, so make sure whoever you select has your best interests at heart.

Decide on a wedding planner

Do you want a wedding planner? It’s not required, it’s entirely up to you. Some couples don’t want to deal with every single detail or they have big dreams for their wedding and don’t know where to start. A wedding planner will help you prepare for your entire event. They often have connections within the industry to help you find vendors that will make your dream come to life. If you don’t need a planner for the entire wedding, you can also hire a day-of wedding coordinator, who will make sure your wedding day goes smoothly.

Tip: Some wedding venues, like Hornblower, include a wedding planner in the package cost.

Find your venue
A lot of couples make the mistake of starting with their wedding venue before they have any other information, but it will be a lot easier if you know key items like your budget and guest list.

You may already know where exactly you want to say “I Do.” Maybe you decided when you were a kid, but maybe you haven’t thought about it at all. If you haven’t yet, here are a few questions to get you started:

Local wedding or destination wedding?
Indoors or outdoors? Are you flexible with weather conditions? Is there a backup plan?
Where? Private estate, church, an event center, winery, hotel, on a yacht, beach or in a national park?
What time of the year? Do you like crisp autumn weather or summer breezes?
Once you have a general idea of location, wedding sites like The Knot, Wedding Wire, The Venue Report, and Here Comes the Guide are perfect resources for information, reviews, and additional pictures of wedding venues.

Once you’ve narrowed down your venues, make sure to educate yourself on all aspects of the venue so there are no surprises in your contract or on your wedding day! Here are some insightful questions our team of wedding planners recommends you always ask:


Is our specific date available?
Does the price differ by day or on special holidays?
What’s the best time of year for this venue?

What is included in the cost of the venue? Are chairs and tables included? Linens? Dinnerware? If these items are included, what kind of table/chair/linen?
Are there other fees on top of the cost of the venue (i.e. tax, service charge, landing fee)?
What is the deposit/cancellation policy? When is the balance due?
Does the venue require liability insurance? Or insurance from vendors?
Is there a package minimum/revenue minimum?
How flexible are your packages?
What is the payment structure?
Dining, Drinking & Entertainment:

Does the venue have a liquor license?
Are shots allowed? Does the venue allow hard liquor?
Are there restrictions on decor?
Are there AV capabilities or will entertainers need to be self-sufficient? Can the venue accommodate live music?
Is there a curfew that dictates when the event must end? Are there restrictions on noise ordinances?
Vendor Management:

Does the venue have a preferred vendor list?
Can I bring outside vendors? If so, is there an additional fee?
Are there any additional fees associated with the vendor load-in/out?
What time can vendors arrive to set-up? How much time do I have on site prior to the event?
Planning & Day of Assistance:

Does the site have a venue coordinator who can assist with vendor management or set-up?
Can the venue accommodate a ceremony and a reception? Is there an additional fee for holding both?
Does the venue provide staff? If so, is there an additional fee? If so, how many?
Who handles clean-up at the end of night? Set-up for the event?
Is there time for a rehearsal blocked off?
Who will I be working with during the planning process? Day of coordinator?
Logistics & Accessibility:

Is the venue wheelchair accessible? Is there a handicap restroom on site?
Is there parking on site or nearby?
What is the venue capacity?
How many restrooms are on site?
Is there a bridal suite?
Does the venue have a bad-weather back-up plan? (Crucial for outdoor weddings)
Is there any furniture included the rental?
Is there a fee for moving/removing furniture?

Get inspired
Once you’ve identified the most important features of your day, log on to Pinterest and create inspiration boards for each of these categories. We’ve created a number of Pinterest boards to help you get started, inspired by weddings held on our yachts from California to New York.

Planning a wedding is a lot like having a second job – a job where you learn as you go. Hundreds of little pieces need to somehow come together in a matter of months, with a strict deadline and budget. At the end of the day take a breathe and remember the why behind it all. It’s about you and the person you love. Everything else is just icing on the cake.

We suggest working with a wedding coordinator to help you manage everything – you can choose to hire one, or if you decide to have a Hornblower yacht wedding you’ll be matched with one for free!

A Hornblower wedding is truly a departure from the ordinary. We would love to chat with you about your unique wedding, browse our wedding packages at any of our ports: San Francisco, Berkeley, San Diego, New York, Marina del Rey, Long Beach or Newport Beach. Alternatively, fill out the form below and a Hornblower wedding coordinator will help you get started.

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