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The search for the right venue was a little like the search for the right college

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Traditionally, the bride’s parents are the hosts of the ceremony. They send out the invitations, pay for the reception and coordinate a long day of celebration. The groom’s family takes care of the bride’s ring, the marriage license and their honeymoon. 

That sounds all fine, well, and good. But, neither Enrique’s nor my parents work, and we’ve yet to find that elusive bride.

Planning duties fall on us and we have to do everything within our already busy schedule.  Enrique works in northern Virginia and has weekend duties at a gym. I work in Baltimore and attend classes four nights a week. Our only time to plan is on weekends and federal holidays.  

We’ve gone to wedding expos, browsed flowers and met potential vendors on our weekends. However, finding a venue is more challenging. Most venues host their big events on weekends. We could sneak in a place uninvited on a Saturday and check it out, but that seems too much like wedding crashing territory.

Nonetheless, the venue is the centerpiece of the wedding. For us, it is our greatest expense and highest priority. After our engagement in November 2012, I took on the task of scheduling our appointments at venues in and around Baltimore.

Our best chance to tour potential venues was on Martin Luther King, Jr Birthday/Inauguration Day. We’ve already discussed our want to marry in Baltimore — the Inner Harbor ideally.  We also wanted a place that could accommodate both a ceremony and reception. At the time, we estimated a total wedding cost of $15,000, so we were looking for a venue that would cost around $10,000 for 70 to 80 guests.

With only one guaranteed free day from work and school, I planned all of our visits six weeks in advance. I recommend starting early in booking appointments at potential venues and give yourself at least an hour at each place with a half hour buffer to travel and park. All of the venues we visited had complementary valet parking for engaged couples, and prior to each appointment, we received an electronic booklet on the venue’s wedding packages. 

In the end, we narrowed our search to hotels. Reminiscent of searching for a college, I picked a hotel on the high-end of our budget, a couple on the lower-end, and a couple that appeared in the middle. We also searched online to see their reviews. The HRC Buyer’s Guide and TAG Approved are valuable resources to identify gay-friendly businesses. Reading online discussion boards can also help you learn not only which venues treat their clients well, but also who in the organization was most helpful.

Before our long day of appointments, we discussed the top three qualities we needed in our ideal venue. First, we wanted a space that could provide an intimate ceremony and a lively reception. For a hotel wedding, many places require extra décor to convert its otherwise convention space into a tight-knit wedding. Second, we liked having a space that provided a suite for the night before and of the wedding. We plan to host our reception dinner within the suite, so it had to be large enough for our wedding party. Third, the hotel must be affordable. We are paying for the cost of our wedding, so the total price had to be something we could save and pay off during our 18-month engagement. 

Knowing your priorities beforehand will help both partners ask the right questions during the visit and to keep your interests mutual. Preferably, both partners should arrive at the same conclusion on which place would best serve for the wedding.

When we finished visiting all of the hotels, we agreed on the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront. We fell in love with their Waterview Ballroom and the accommodations were perfect for our rehearsal dinner plans. They were able to reserve a suite during an otherwise sold-out Saturday night due to Preakness. Their wedding consultant, Katharine Moog, was friendly, informative and received high praises online. Plus, the Marriott has both a 90 rating on the HRC Buyer’s Guide and was TAG Approved. If we were going to spend thousands of dollars on a venue, it had to satisfy our must-haves and welcome us with open arms.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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