I met Christina on the Weddingbee boards. She seemed knowledgeable about Philly weddings, and though she hadn't done a ton of weddings at that point, her price was really good. We were originally looking for just a day-of-coordinator, but because the price for full coordination was still less than half of what we budgeted for a DOC, we figured that we should go for it, especially considering that I was planning a Delaware wedding from Texas.
In the planning stages, Christina was a wonderful resource. She was very quick to respond to email and phone calls and offered valuable support and feedback to both my mom and me, especially on particularly sticky issues. She referred us to wonderful vendors who were within our budget, including Jeremy Evans Thomas (our wedding photographer), Synergetic Sounds (our DJ and lighting designer), Dollface Studios (my boudoir photographer), Citywrites (our calligrapher), Flowers by Mary Elizabeth (our florist), Wertz Motor Coach (our guest shuttle) and Cakes by Suzy (our groom's cake and wedding cake baker). With these references, Christina ended up saving us thousands of dollars and, for the most part, we were pleased with her vendor referrals.
Christina ran the rehearsal well, commanding attention and respect of a large number of people. She was efficient and addressed questions authoritatively.
There were a number of things, however, that didn't go so well. I understand that issues come up that can't be helped, but as a professional wedding planner, we expected Christina to more effectively manage these things. I made it clear that guests would start arriving at 5:30PM. I heard from a number of guests that when they arrived (after 5:30), the guest book and card vase was not set up and the staff was not properly dressed. There were 2 issues that probably kept Christina from having the set-up completely finished when the guests arrived: the chuppah was not properly configured and the shuttle was late. When we arrived at the museum at 5PM, the chuppah set-up was underway, but it was set-up incorrectly. This was a huge problem that needed to be corrected. More details can be found in the Flowers by Mary Elizabeth review below, but the bottom line was that if Mary was unclear about the set-up, Christina should have taken the initiative to get it fixed, rather than to rope the groom into fixing it. The other issue was that there was no point person for the bus, so the driver didn't have clear instructions on what to do or where to go, which meant that it was late leaving. I heard from a number of people Christina apparently told people that it would not be coming back and we would not hold the ceremony if people were late (neither of which were true), so people had to drive themselves instead of taking the shuttle, which is exactly what I didn't want. The bus ended up making a second trip and delaying the start time of the ceremony, which is fine, but the lack of communication around this was unacceptable. The bus should have been organized better so that the ceremony wasn't delayed by 20 minutes.
Further, I was waiting in the back of the museum with my mom and the rabbi from 5:30 on. At 5:30, I managed to catch Lisa (Christina's assistant) and ask her for my bag to touch up my makeup. After that, I heard nothing else from Christina or Lisa. 6 rolled around, and no one came to get me. 6:10 rolled around and no one came to get me. I knew something was wrong but had no idea what. Not knowing what was going on was HORRIBLE. All I wanted to do was get married, but for some reason, I couldn't! I had no idea that we were still waiting for people to arrive, and had I known, I would have felt SO much better about the whole thing. Instead, I felt in the dark and out of control. In the end, the rabbi had to say enough is enough and tell her to get on with the ceremony.
That being said, I was so pleased with the reception room set-up. Everything was set-up exactly as I intended and it really looked beautiful.
Once the ceremony was finished, however, it was as if Christina disappeared. I had to cue the DJ to do things like cut the cake and do the hora, and I had to tell my dad when to give the toast. Christina had a minute-by-minute timeline of the entire day, and she knew that toasts were to be done during the first and second courses and that the bride/FOB/groom/MOG dance was to be done during the second and third courses. But after the time for these things came and went and the DJ made no mention of doing it, I had to be the one to tell the DJ to make these things happen. This was precisely the reason I hired a wedding planner -- so I wouldn't have to make sure things like this were done at the reception!
Other things weren't in place when they needed to be -- there wasn't a knife and plate next to the cake, so we were standing there for a few minutes awkwardly waiting for these things (apparently my sister had to ask her to get it, and Christina said to her "Oh, I figured she would have a cake set?" Christina had made a checklist of everything I had and I handed it all off to Christina the day before, and there was no cake set there.). We needed chairs for the hora and after the DJ made the announcement, it also took her a few minutes during the hora to get them. It was like the DJ would make an announcement, and then we would stand around waiting for a few minutes, and then whatever we needed appeared. This was unacceptable, and really awkward.
Lastly, and this is the least of my worries but it impacted my mom a lot, when we asked Christina to help us transport the gift bags to the hotels, Christina declined. She also did not offer to help us transport everything from our house to the museum. I believe this is standard wedding planner stuff, and it was a significant hassle for my mom in the days before the wedding.
In the grand scheme of things, these things did not impact the event. We were still married. Our guests still had a ton of fun. And I understand that things go wrong. But when things do go wrong, the wedding planner should be the one to make it right -- that's why we hired one. Unfortunately, it was Christina's lack of communication and preparation that made these things go wrong. This was unacceptable for a professional wedding planner.
My wedding planner, Christina Hill of cHill Weddings, referred me to Flowers by Mary Elizabeth. At that point, I had a floral design for the reception and my bouquet in mind, and I needed someone to execute it while sticking to the budget. Mary came in well under budget and had good ideas about what would work and what wouldn't. She came up with creative ideas, and when I didn't really like one of her ideas, she was open to all of my feedback and suggestions. She really just wanted my mom and I to be happy, which was nice to see. I also hadn't given her much direction about things like the cake flowers or the centerpieces for the square tables (I just told her that I wanted a number of square vases of varying heights, each with different white flowers), and what she came up with was great.
However, when we arrived at the museum, it was clear that the setup of the chuppah was wrong. Considering that my mom had gone over to Mary's house and they had had a meeting for over an hour about what the chuppah set-up would be like, it was very strange that it was setup like it was. Further, the fact that Cory (the groom) had to oversee Christina and Mary to make sure that it was fixed correctly is unacceptable. If they needed clarification on how it was setup or needed to practice, they should have done it beforehand. Considering that they only had an hour to setup the ceremony and cocktail hour, they should not have wasted it playing around with the chuppah configuration. Fixing the chuppah was the last thing Cory should have been doing in the minutes before he got married. I think the problem stemmed from the fact that Mary is more of a big picture person, rather than someone who focuses on the little details, which didn't work well for the chuppah setup.
At the end of the day, however, the end result was really beautiful. After it was fixed, the chuppah was exactly what my mom and I wanted and the quality of the flowers was beautiful. While I wouldn't work with Mary again, I recommend her to any bride that isn't as detail-oriented as I am.
My wedding planner, Christina Hill of cHill Weddings, referred me to Cakes by Suzy. Both the wedding and the groom's cakes looked amazing and tasted even better. I was pretty clear in what I wanted for the wedding cake -- 4-tier, square tiers, chocolate ganache frosting -- and Suzy added fresh flowers to make it look really beautiful. We had 3 different flavors -- yellow cake with raspberry preserves filling, chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream filling, and spice cake with cream cheese buttercream filling. I don't know which one I liked better! I received so many compliments on the wedding cake. I wasn't as clear with the groom's cake, but I told her I wanted it to be like a "my favorite things" kind of cake. For more details and pictures of the groom's cake, you can go to my blog here. We served it at the rehearsal dinner for dessert, and Cory (and our guests!) really got a kick out of it. I was a little wary about using fondant (it usually tastes like glue), but Suzy's fondant was so thin that I couldn't even taste it. Suzy was prompt with delivery and always professional, and communicated quickly through email. Her creativity and attention to detail is unparalleled! I can't say enough good things about Suzy.
The lighting was incredible. The Kyles wall-washed the room with amber uplights. Synergetic Sounds had a ton of different colors of amber/orange, and I told them to bring a bunch and use their judgement about which was the best. They made a wonderful color choice -- the room was warm and bright, yet incredibly chic. We had also chosen to pinspot all of the tall centerpieces (the curly branches and the calla lilies), which really made them pop. When combined with the DJ, lighting the room was actually very cost-effective and packed such a huge punch. It was really impactful.
Although we had spoken on the phone, the first time I met Kyle was at the wedding. He's a bubbly guy who really seems to like being a DJ. He em-ceed when it was necessary, didn't talk when it wasn't, and didn't think our ideas were weird. He played all of the Dinner Music playlist, even though it meant that they had to download about 20 songs that they didn't have (songs that weren't typical at weddings like Death Cab for Cutie, Jack's Manniquin, The Clarks, etc.). Kyle played nothing on our Do Not Play list, everything off our Must Play list and most of our If You Have Nothing Else You Can Play These Songs list. The dance floor was packed most of the night, and when it wasn't, he played something to get people moving. He played just enough slow songs without it being overbearing. He did a wonderful job em-ceeing the hora (which most guests hadn't ever danced before!), and people had TONS of fun with it. There was just 2 issues: 1) for the bridal party entrance, they played Hootie's "Only Wanna Be With You" instead of The Rembrandt's "I'll Be There For You," which was actually pretty funny (and was rectified quickly!), and 2) Kyle had asked everyone to remain standing while Cory and I did our first dance. This really wouldn't have been a problem except that I felt like all eyes were on me and I got really self-conscious and didn't really want to dance anymore. =( We had asked Toscana to serve the salad during the first dance so that there wouldn't be all eyes on us, but since people were standing, they couldn't do that. There was no way that the Kyles would have known that though, and we just ended the first dance reeeeeally quickly. =) They did, however, slow down our first dance so that we could actually dance to it, which we really appreciated!
My family has been eating at Toscana ever since we moved to West Chester, so choosing Toscana to cater the wedding was pretty straightforward. In fact, we were pretty set on using Toscana before we even had a venue! Erica was a phenomenal partner in planning this event. She made sure that every single detail was looked after -- even the really weird quirky ones! She totally bought into the aesthetic of the event and really made sure that what she did meshed with the event as a whole -- she really understood that "geek chic" vibe we were going for. I was truly touched by the time, effort and energy Erica put into making this event everything we wanted and more. She was equally as excited about things like the prosecco bar and the cheese course as I was, which made planning with her that much more fun.
We were under a *strict* budget, and she did everything she could to bring us as close to that budget as possible. She worked with Party Rental, Ltd. for the high end rentals (i.e., flatware, water glasses, linens) and Diamond State Party Rental for the lower end stuff (e.g., generic glassware, dishes, kitchen rentals). In doing so, Erica did a sweeping cost analysis of each rental item to make sure that we were getting the absolute best deal possible. However, she understood that compromising in some areas would take away from the overall look of the event and made sure that that didn't happen.
The food was phenomenal. We knew it would be good -- Toscana Kitchen is awesome -- but the fact that wedding food was that good was incredible. I didn't actually eat during the wedding, but this comes from my parents and our guests, who have since told me that they really enjoyed themselves and what they were eating. (Erica did put together a to-go box for Cory and I though!) Erica made great suggestions about what would work and what wouldn't, and she was constantly going back and forth with the chef. The presentation was modern and artistic; the plate was full yet not messy. The service was great; the waitstaff were friendly and quick to serve each course (and best of all, they were constantly making sure a glass of prosecco was in my hand).
We could tell that the entire Toscana staff -- from Erica, to the chefs, to the waitstaff -- were truly invested in our wedding, which made working with them really wonderful.
My wedding planner, Christina Hill of cHill Weddings, referred me to Citywrites, as one of her colleagues highly recommended Kari Jo. Her work is beautiful. The style is modern and fresh while still giving the document the sense of formality that traditional calligraphy imparts. However, I had a few problems with Citywrites. When I received the inner invitations, there were about 30 of them that were completely off-center (not like, right-aligned, but both vertically and horizontally off-center). It was so bad that Christina wrote her an email and she offered to fix them, but she only kept about 5 extra envelopes. At that point, I needed to get the invitations out the door and there just was no time for us to do a back-and-forth through the mail. This was a mistake that a professional calligrapher should never have made. Further, I had sent Citywrites the place cards and escort cards more than 4 weeks before I needed them back. When I reminded Kari Jo in late August that I needed them back in a week, she made it clear that she hadn't worked on them at all, making me really worried that I wouldn't have them in time. When I did receive them (on time, but later than I would have liked), there were a few escort cards that were on the list but that were missing, and others that were spelled wrong. I had sent Citywrites about 40 extra cards (she requires an overage of 10%, which would have been 10 cards), but she didn't keep any of them. Again, this was about 2 weeks before the wedding, so there wasn't time for us to go through the mail (and by that point, FedEx was like, $50!). Cory ended up having to make the cards from pieces of her handwriting in Photoshop and we printed them out on our inkjet (they didn't look the same as the others obviously, but there was nothing else we could do). While the calligraphy is beautiful, the process of dealing with Citywrites was SO stressful.
Denise was wonderful to work with. The rooms were clean and well-appointed for the price ($115 under the room block). The front desk staff handled the gift bags professionally and to my knowledge, everyone who should have (even those who didn't book inside our room block and used AA or Expedia or something to book their reservations) received the right gift bag (there were apparently like 4 weddings staying at the Sheraton that weekend). They don't have a bridal suite, but the rooms are nice enough that I really didn't care. We got pricing for the afterparty, but they were a little expensive so we didn't use them, and they had no problem with us bringing in pizza instead.
For the longest time, I thought this museum was sort of a dumpy, fifth grade field trip kind of museum. Not one that you would have a wedding at, and certainly not one that was fabulous and chic. And that was true, up until a few years ago when the museum was completely gutted and remodeled. The museum was perfect for us. The Skylight Gallery, where we had our ceremony, was airy and full of natural light from all of the windows. The rest of the museum has interesting galleries, which was perfect for mingling during the cocktail hour, with lots of nooks and crannies, which were great for setting up bars and stations. And the Exhibit Hall was just the space we were looking for -- we wanted a raw, modern space with nothing on the walls. Really, a blank slate. It was a little hard to imagine what it would look like without an exhibit in there (we got married on one of the only weekends this year that the Exhibit Hall was empty), but once I saw it, I knew we had picked the perfect venue. Because it is a blank slate, you can do whatever you want -- any decor, any theme, any colors, it all works in there. It's really the perfect event space. It's just a shame that it's available so infrequently! (Most weddings they have are tent weddings in the back of the museum.)
The first venue coordinator we were working with was a little flakey, but he left mid-way through the planning process. His replacement, Dawn Swartout, was phenomenal. She was quick to answer all of my questions and so helpful in providing assistance. She was very willing to meet with Erica Razze of Toscana Catering and spoke frequently with Christina Hill of cHill Weddings.
One of the biggest perks of this venue is that they offered 3 babysitters for $180 for the entire night. They were Education staffmembers at the museum, and they really helped the kids have a ton of fun and the parents enjoy themselves. This was a great price and the fact that I didn't have to bring in yet another vendor was a huge load off my mind.
The only downside, and this wasn't a huge downside but still one that I think I should mention, was that the museum was hypervigilant about getting us out of the museum by 11:30 because they had a museum event in the Exhibit Hall the following day. As such, they cut off the bar at 10:45 without telling my parents or I. I had clearly specified to the caterer that I wanted the bar to close at 11, but they had to listen to what the museum said. It was just a little strange that they made this decision without telling us. Like I said though, it wasn't a huge deal.
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