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Make a Weekend of It for Your Wedding Guests

Show your guests the best of the city with a weekend-long celebration.
By: 
Leila Kalmbach

After all the months of planning that go into a wedding, it’s amazing how quickly the night goes by. Many couples don’t even get to greet all their guests, much less spend quality time with them. And when many guests are visiting Austin for the first time, it’s only natural to want to show them around.

So it’s no surprise that more and more engaged couples are planning wedding weekends instead of a single “big day.” The extra planning it takes to expand your celebration from a night to a weekend is often worth it—and sometimes not nearly as much effort as it seems.

There are a few things you should know to ensure success. That’s why we spoke with local pros, including one recent bride, for their best tips on scheduling, activities, getting to and from, welcome gift bags and more. Read on for their best advice about hosting a weekend-long celebration that’s perfectly you.

Why should I host a wedding weekend, anyway?

If you’re in the throes of wedding planning, you may be hesitant to take on extra obligations. But wedding weekends have some serious benefits.

For one, a weekend gives your guests a chance to relax. Weddings can be stressful not just for the couple, but for guests as well—traveling, dressing up, finding the venue in time, making small talk with strangers and distant relatives. A weekend-long event allows everyone to take a deep breath, settle in and fully enjoy their time.

That goes for couples, too.

“So much of wedding planning feels like another chore,” says Jessica Ryan, who held a June 2018 wedding weekend themed as a music and arts festival; she’s also the director of planning and coordination for 3 of Cups Weddings + Events. “Even on the wedding day, it’s ‘Be here now,’ ‘Set this up,’ ‘Where does this go?,’ ‘Walk down here,’ ‘Say this,’ ‘Smile for the pictures,’ ‘Do a dance, ‘Sparklers, everyone!’ ” says Ryan. “And then the day is over.”

Having a whole weekend means this event you’ve spent so long dreaming about is less of a whirlwind. “It’s those moments outside of the chaos that allow you to connect with your friends and family who traveled to be with you at this monumental moment in your life,” says Ryan.

Plus, chances are good that you’ve changed quite a bit since you last saw many of your more distant relatives and old friends. Spending a few days introducing them to Austin and some of your favorite things can be a great way to get to know each other again.

“Sharing part of your life and city with those closest to your heart is such a meaningful experience that will create cherished memories,” says Lauren Field, wedding planner with Lauren Field Design. This will, in turn, help strengthen your relationships with the people you love, who will be part of your support system for years to come.

Planning It Out

One question comes up over and over: How much should we schedule?

“I think it’s important to have loosely scheduled events,” says Becky Levin Navarro, founder of event planning group Pearl Events Austin. “Giving hints and suggestions of things your guests might enjoy is helpful, but you don’t want to overstimulate them.”

In other words, it’s their vacation, too. Help them enjoy it.

Here are planners’ recommendations for each day of the weekend:

Thursday/Friday

During the day on Friday, many brides host a bridal luncheon for their bridesmaids, then the rehearsal dinner is usually the big event of Friday evening. Several of the wedding planners recommended a welcome celebration at a central location to help your guests relax and get to know one another, which can take place Thursday (for early arrivals) and/or Friday after the rehearsal dinner.

You could also have a more structured activity before or after the rehearsal dinner. That could be a casual cocktail party, backyard barbecue or a get-together at a local watering hole.

Or something more out-of-the-box. “I love the idea of doing something out of the ordinary, like pre-wedding bowling, dancing or even karaoke,” says Kristi DePew, co-owner of Eclipse Event Co. “Something that is a fun ice-breaker that includes a lot of laughter is a good way for your guests and wedding party to get acquainted and build excitement about the upcoming wedding.”

Or you can keep things loose and breezy. Navarro recommends having a hospitality room open for a few hours at the main hotel where guests will be staying. That allows guests to pop in at their leisure to hang out, grab a snack (such as granola bars, fruit and trail mix) and welcome bag, and check out the schedule for the weekend.

The hospitality room is often hosted by one or more family members as an alternative to hosting yet another bridal shower; the couple can drop by when they’re free without obligating them to stay for hours.

Saturday

“Before the wedding, choose something active and possibly outdoors that can accommodate a variety of ages and group sizes,” says Field. “Think about what you love about Austin and what you would want to share with someone visiting for the first time.”

The important thing, she says, is to plan ahead. If you need to take RSVPs, include a space on the wedding invitation or send out an email in advance to get a head count.

As an alternative, consider something casual. Navarro sees a lot of brides hosting Saturday-morning yoga sessions for their guests, which is an ideal activity because you can simply hire a yoga instructor for whoever wants to come.

“I think that’s the main thing when you’re scheduling,” says Navarro. “You don’t want to be held to a number of people that you have to guarantee or you’re out money if they don’t come.”

The wedding is typically held on Saturday evening of a wedding weekend, and many couples keep the party going with an after-party at a bar they love.

Sunday

Sundays are for brunch, and wedding weekends are no exception.

“A brunch is a nice way to get everyone together to reflect on how much fun the night before had been,” says DePew.

It also provides a relaxed atmosphere to say your goodbyes and do the catching up you didn’t have time for at the wedding.

“Sometimes couples aren’t able to spend time chatting with every guest at the reception, so this is a good way to fit in that last hug,” says Field.

The wedding weekend is over after brunch, giving your guests plenty of time to decompress, pack and get to the airport or drive home.

Of course, there’s plenty of wiggle room within these guidelines, so do what feels right to you. See “Themes and Activities” on page 51 for specific recommendations to plan for or suggest to your guests.

Start the Party with Gift Bags

Many couples like to welcome guests to their wedding weekend with a gift bag, often part of the hotel check-in. Not only does this give them fun goodies, these gift bags can also contain important info they’ll need throughout the weekend.

You’ve no doubt already put pertinent info on your wedding website well in advance, but including a printed map in the bags is always a good idea, along with a list of restaurant and bar recommendations and ideas of things to do, and a weekend itinerary.

“Most of the time, people forget the timing of events,” says Navarro. “If you’re going to do something where you have lots of events, list everything out. That way you don’t have people constantly texting you or your wedding planner or your mom asking when things are happening.”

As for the fun stuff, the planners recommend making it personal, and useful to the specifics of the weekend. Ryan, for instance, included cascarones—confetti-filled eggs sealed with bright tissue paper—as a symbol of the lighthearted “Keep Austin Weird” vibe of her wedding festival weekend.

Go for a mix of useful items for the weekend and mementos guests can take home, but always keep it relevant to you as a couple or to the itinerary. “It’s always fun to include something from how or where the couple met—college? Another state? A restaurant?” says Field. (See “The Welcome Bag” on this page for specific ideas of what to include in your gift bags.)

Field suggests including your favorite local snack as well as seasonal items and items that relate to any activities you have planned. She also recommends branding items in the gift bag with your wedding logo.

“It’s not even about the product anymore, it’s the way that everything looks,” Navarro says. “Every single gift box we do is branded; the items inside are branded. We have a custom brand around the water. It might be their favorite nuts but the package says, ‘TJ’s favorite salty snack,’ ‘Becky’s favorite sweet ’n’ savory.”

She also says that more and more couples are turning to gift boxes rather than bags, which are easier for hotels to stack and hand out, and don’t get squished.

Where It Happens—and How to Get There

Where should wedding weekend events take place? It’ll depend on the specifics of your celebration, but always try to make things easy. If most guests are staying at a particular hotel, it makes sense to host events like happy hours or Saturday yoga at or near the hotel. DePew also points out that many hotels offer pool rentals where your guests can cool off privately on the rooftop and take in the views of downtown.

Alternatively, many venues offer weekend packages. For her own wedding, Ryan rented Casa Rio de Colores for the weekend, which allowed her to turn her wedding weekend into a “music and arts festival,” complete with swimming and canoeing, DJ day parties, roller discos at night, live music by her new husband’s band, painting, swing dancing, and poker games—without transportation worries for the guests.

You can also rent out a private property where your group could stay and you could host events.

You’re not obligated to provide transportation to wedding weekend events, but if it’s in your budget, it’s certainly a nice touch.

For the wedding itself, however, many couples do provide transportation, whether it’s a bus to a more remote venue, charter vehicles, or just ride-sharing service codes guests can use at their convenience. These days, many couples are going for more unusual forms of transportation, such as trolleys, Segways and double-decker buses.

“I have even had one couple go as far as renting a charter boat to take guests from the docks to their wedding venue,” says DePew.

As a rule of thumb, the further from their hotel you’re asking your guests to travel, the more strongly planners recommend providing transportation.

In conclusion, keep it loose, keep it fun and keep it on theme, and without too much extra work you can take your wedding from a whirlwind night to a relaxed, memorable weekend for both you and your guests. *

Themes & Activities
Tie the weekend together and let your “couple personality” shine through with activities on theme.

If you’re …
Sporty/outdoorsy
Offer yoga, stand-up paddle-boarding, golfing, hiking or kayaking; hire a dance instructor; do a party barge on Lake Travis; visit the Wildflower Center; visit McKinney Falls State Park

Arty
Take a trip to the Blanton or Laguna Gloria; hire a painting instructor; go to a Ballet Austin or Long Center performance

Foodies
Visit your favorite restaurant; hire a cooking instructor; visit a farmers’ market; do a pedal-powered pub crawl

All about Texas
Visit the Capitol; eat barbecue; check out the armadillo races; do a duck boat tour

Into local history
Visit the Bullock Texas State History Museum; go on a ghost tour; host events at the Driskill or another historic hotel; host your rehearsal dinner in an old bank vault (such as Perry’s Steakhouse)

Into music
Go to a show; hire a band for the welcome party; provide drums and guitars around a bonfire; do karaoke at the Highball

Austin hippies
Screen Dazed and Confused; going roller-skating; visit Barton Springs Pool or even Hippie Hollow (a clothing-optional park)

Into wine
Visit Driftwood Vineyards, Fall Creek Vineyards or Duchman Winery; host a blind wine tasting; hire a winemaking instructor or wine educator for a class

The Welcome Bag
Ideas for what to include

  • Items related to your college/favorite sports team/favorite movie, etc.
  • Bottles of water; bonus points for a personalized label
  • A sample of your favorite local beer, wine or liquor
  • Local chocolates or candy
  • Themed koozies
  • T-shirts (maybe with your wedding hashtag or other personalized graphic)
  • Hats and/or sunglasses
  • Snacks (bags of popcorn, chips, pretzels, etc.)
  • Personalized “Do Not Disturb” door hangers
  • Buttons matching your wedding theme or giving some love for Austin