Bride-to-be Blogger Stephanie: The Quest for the Perfect Venue


When I started this mission, my final destination is not at all where I expected to end up, and I definitely didn’t foresee the roadblocks I’d hit along the way.

I didn’t grow up dreaming of getting married at the Bellevue or Valley Forge Park. Don’t get me wrong—I had dreamed of the day many, many times. But the venue never really came into focus, just the groom. If anything, I had a better idea of what I didn’t want: a stuffy, dark hotel ballroom with no windows and no outdoor space. I was hoping to achieve something that was unique, intimate, and a reflection of me and Pat.

I began my search with some heavy-duty research: wedding websites, blogs, bridal magazines, former brides, experienced bridesmaids. I compiled a lengthy list and began inquiring. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was inquiring about! Of course, I knew the basics—how many people can the space accommodate, price per person—but it was questions like “How many bathrooms do you have?” and “Is the facility air-conditioned?” that I later learned were essential.

Our guest count, 250, quickly eliminated many venues right off the bat—such as the ARTS Ballroom and the Kimmel Center’s atrium rooftop, which I was disappointed to learn could only accommodate 200. And while I was certainly attracted to the beauty of a venue like the Lake House Inn, I also quickly began eliminating venues based on location and their proximity to hotels. So many of the gorgeous venues in our area happen to be in the middle of nowhere. And knowing that I’ll have many guests from out of town, as well as a heavy-drinking crowd, it became a priority to look at venues with nearby hotels.

My very first visit was to the Manor House at Prophecy Creek, a lovely venue quite close to where I live. The property features a gazebo, pond, and outdoor ceremony space that are stunning. But once we got inside, I noticed that there was not enough room for a band to set up, and the small dance floor was on a different level than the dining area with only a tiny, steep staircase to adjoin them. That was a quick cross off the list, as my family likes to dance just as much as they like to drink.

My next visit was to Fairmount Park Horticultural Center, which I happened to fall in love with. While definitely rough around the edges, I was totally charmed by the natural beauty of the place—the fountains out back reminiscent of a park in Europe, the tropical cocktail space with an adorable fountain lined with candles. I had been really intrigued at first by a tent wedding, but I was definitely wary just thinking about bad weather. But at the Horticultural Center, it was as if the outdoors had been brought inside—a weather-resistant tent.

So why was that not the blissful end of my quest? Well, I excitedly showed my mom pictures from the venue later that evening. Unlike the Manor House, my mom couldn’t make the appointment at the Horticultural Center. As I scrolled through the photos on my phone, it was clear she was not impressed—or even remotely interested, for that matter. Rough around the edges and natural beauty was certainly not something that appealed to her. I was deflated. But I held out hope that when she visited it herself, she would come around to the charm.

In the meantime, we set up visits at Cescaphe’s Curtis Center and Vie—other promising prospects. But after touring each, I just didn’t have the feeling I did when I walked out of the Horticultural Center. The food looked delectable, and for how much is offered within the package, it’s an amazing deal. It was clear that things would be run extremely efficiently, and the Atrium in particular was quite exquisite—the fountain, the marble floor, the towering ceilings, the mosaic in the cocktail area. It was absolutely beautiful. But it didn’t feel warm or intimate to me, it had no outdoor component, and most of all, it didn’t feel like me and Pat.

My mom, however, adored it. As soon as we walked out, I knew I we were going to be at odds. This is what she wanted, and the Horticultural Center is what I wanted. When my mom eventually visited the Horticultural Center herself, she surprisingly acknowledged that she understood what appealed to me, but then went on to explain how it felt like it was a 100 degrees inside and proceeded to tell me how many fans were in each room and how poorly they were working.

She brought up a very important point, of course. I hadn’t even thought to ask if the facility was air-conditioned. When I visited in early May, the temperature was still crisp. A greenhouse by nature, I should have thought of it, but I couldn’t fathom that so many events—300+ person events—had already taken place there without any air conditioning. And sure enough when I visited again a month later with Pat and my mom, it was scalding hot inside, and my mom pretty much said there on the spot that there was no way we were having the wedding there.

Very disappointed, I continued on with the search. The Rittenhouse Hotel felt too stuffy and was expensive. The WaterWorks—astronomical and weather-threatening, as only a tent could accommodate our numbers. The Moshulu—four different floors for ceremony, cocktails, dinner, and dancing. Trust—a tiny floor for food and a floor for dancing with only a narrow staircase to connect the two. PAFA—Pat and I aren’t particularly artsy, and there was no red wine allowed (a major no-no for my Dad). Sherman Mills—funky and cool but didn’t give me that feeling.

Frustrated and confused, it wasn’t until the Loews Philadelphia Hotel came along that I started believing it was possible to find the wedding venue we wanted. I was immediately enticed when I met the hotel’s wedding coordinator, who was so down-to-earth and actually listened to what I had to say, rather than spouting off the usual spiel with no regard for who is actually there in front of them.

Originally put off by hotel ballrooms, the Loews’ was unique—very modern, especially compared to the paisley prints and obnoxious colors of most. And what wowed me was the 33rd floor—a room on the very top of the building available for cocktails with a breathtaking panoramic view of the entire city. I really liked it, and when I brought my mom and Pat back to see it, they liked it too. Just didn’t love.

A popular wedding destination, the Loews told me I had a week to decide before they had to release the reserved date. So we did one final set of visits. The Ritz-Carlton Philadelphia was first on the agenda. It was exactly what I didn’t want: a stuffy, dark hotel ballroom. But I was running out of options, and I surprisingly liked it. The ballroom was beautiful—arched ceiling, marble pillars, very intimate. The staff couldn’t have been any nicer, answering all of our questions even though we didn’t have an appointment. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was so, so far away from my vision/what I was hoping for.

Right after the Ritz, we visited the Loews once more for comparison. And my mom and Pat decided they no longer liked the Loews – and here I was all over again. Confused and disheartened, I decided it was enough for that day, and we went to meet Pat’s parents for dinner. They suggested the Four Seasons Philadelphia.

When we arrived, a wedding was about to begin in the outdoor courtyard. The set-up was like something out of a dream—magical. The candlelight, the flowers, the breeze, the waterfalls lining the perimeter, the elegant bridesmaid gowns, the smartly dressed guests. As I walked toward the bathroom, I took the opportunity to peak into the ballroom. Dark, textured linens adorned square tables with magnificent candle centerpieces lit in a deep pink. Stunning.

I returned to the bar, and as I was looking out on the beautiful scene before me, I thought to myself, “Why the heck didn’t I look here? It’s exactly what I want.” I made an appointment later that week, and as I stood in the courtyard beneath the canopy of trees admiring the would-be-aisle, it was the first time I actually envisioned myself getting married in the space I was visiting. And I couldn’t stop smiling. Neither could my mom.

July 20, 2013: I can’t wait to walk down that aisle.

How did you decide on your venue? Did you know what you wanted immediately or was it a process of elimination? Did you run into the problem of differing opinions between you and your mom or you and your fiancé?

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