Choosing the perfect wedding location

Choosing the location for your wedding will either be one of the easiest things about planning your wedding, or it will be one of the most difficult. Many couples have a home church that they wish to get married in or a special location that has sentimental meaning to their relationship. But many others choose to go a different route or do some shopping around before they decide on a venue.

If you are considering getting married in your home church or are looking at which area church could be right for you, here are some things to consider:

Lighting: Bad lighting can throw your wedding day into chaos. Both your photographer and videographer will have problems with poor lighting and you want to look your best walking down the aisle. Poor lighting can wash out your complexion and cause dresses to appear to be a different color than what they are. Avoid locations that have fluorescent lighting or have yellow or green windows or light shades. Look for a church that has recessed lighting near the front of the church or a lighting system that can cast additional light on the wedding party.

Church: Visit's Church Center for a list of area churches.

Size: if your home church is small and you are planning a large wedding, consider an alternative location. Trying to seat 300 guests in a sanctuary that will comfortably hold 100 or so people is not going to work well. Along the same lines, you wouldn?t want to seat 25 guests in a sanctuary set up to handle 500 parishioners.

Style: If you are planning a very elegant and formal wedding, a small country church is probably not the best choice. By the same token, a informal morning wedding is not well suited to a huge, elegant sanctuary.

Accessibility: Will it be easy for your wedding party and your guests to get in and out of the church? Is the facility handicapped accessible? Most of the time, you will be inviting at least a few older guests who may have problems with lots of steps or narrow walkways. Constricted can also cause problems for the wedding party. There should be plenty of room down the center aisle for the bride, her skirt and her escort to walk comfortably without touching the pews.

Facilities: Is there plenty of space for the bride and her attendants to have a dressing room well away from where the male contingent will be waiting? If you want to have your reception on-site, is there a kitchen and food preparation area available? Is there a place to take photos other than in front of the alter (this could include a stained glass window that you would like to have as a backdrop or a arbor or gazebo outdoors, even the church entrance if it is attractive)?

Shopping Around

Once you have determined that you want to shop around for a venue for your wedding, you will need some idea of what kind of site interests you. The choices are almost endless. There are churches, wedding chapels, hotels, banquet halls, restaurants, parks, historic sites and bed and breakfasts.

Churches: They come in all shapes and sizes, as well as all denominations and affiliations. You can usually find a church to fit any style or size wedding. However, some churches have rules about who can get married in their facilities and who can perform the ceremony. Sometimes you have to be a member of the congregation to qualify. Also, there may be rules about who is allowed to perform the ceremony. If you are planning the reception at the church, be aware that there may also be rules about serving alcohol on church grounds. Also be aware that many pastors now require a pre-wedding class or series of meetings before they will agree to perform the ceremony.

Church: Visit's Church Center for a list of area churches.

Wedding Chapels: Many chapels have the look of a church, without many of the restrictions. Most also offer additional services such as wedding planning, flowers, catering, baking, reception, photography, music and transportation. Our area boasts several wedding chapels, including the Wedding Loft in Jonesborough and Rose Hill Wedding Chapel in downtown Johnson City. There are also many chapels in the Sevierville/Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area. There is usually an officiant on staff (you can usually provide your own to perform the service if you would like), and often the facility doubles as banquet or reception hall. You can plan the majority of your wedding in one place, which is very convenient. The downside of wedding chapels is that they are normally relatively small, seating fewer than 200 guests and dates can fill up pretty quickly during peak season.

Hotels: A sizeable hotel can accommodate very large weddings and receptions. The seating, reception tables and caterers are normally already on-sight, and out-of-town guests will find it very convenient to stay at the same location as the wedding. The downsides of a hotel wedding can include a reduced choice of caterer or menu, having more than one wedding in the same hotel on your wedding day and the chance (especially if you book early) that the d?cor of the halls may change. Be sure to ask about upcoming renovations and approved vendor lists before making your final decision.

Banquet Halls: Those that are separate from hotels offer many of the same benefits ? with the exception of overnight rooms for your guests. Most -- including the Centre in Bristol, Tennessee, and Southeast Culinary and Hospitality in Bristol, Virginia ? have caterers (and sometimes bakers) onsite, limiting your food options. Sometimes these facilities can be quite beautiful and other times the d?cor may not be up to the standards you set for your wedding. Be sure to have a thorough look around and be satisfied with what you see before you sign anything.

Restaurants: If you want to get married at your favorite restaurant, you will be guaranteed that the food will be good, but most restaurants can?t accommodate a large guest list and most do not have the space available for a walk-down-the-aisle wedding. Some restaurants, Including the Troutdale Dining Room in Bristol, Tennessee, have the space for a small, outdoor ceremony followed by a reception inside the restaurant.

Parks: Interested in an outdoor wedding? If your back yard is not up to the challenge, consider one of the areas many parks. You could hold the ceremony on the beach at Hungry Mother State Park in Marion in the Fall with the lake and all the beautiful turning leaves as a backdrop or plan a Roan Mountain wedding while the rhododendron is in full bloom. The picturesque bridges at Steele Creek Park in Bristol, Tennessee would also make a beautiful backdrop. But outdoor weddings do cause some challenges. Accessibility may be a problem for guests who are elderly or handicapped (ask about renting a golf cart to shuttle your less mobile attendees). Facilities including bathrooms and kitchens are sometimes hard to come by. You can?t control the weather. Hope for sunny skies and a temperate day, but be sure to have a back-up plan. You will likely have to arrange for your guests seating and a multitude of other small details that are taken care of automatically at other locations. There may also be restrictions on alcohol and the number of guests who can attend the wedding.

Historic Sites: Another beautiful place to get married is one of the area?s many historic houses, farms or sites. Consider the Allandale Mansion in Kingsport, the Fields-Penn House in Abingdon, Rocky Mount Historic Site in Piney Flats, Tipton-Haynes State Historic Site in Johnson City or Sycamore Shoals in Elizabethton. These sites offer beauty, elegance and the convenience of being within easy driving distance of all area residents. Also, these sites are all well signed, so it will be easy for out-of-towners to find the right location. Often, there is no indoor space available for the ceremony or reception, so be sure to ask about the facilities before you decide. Also, food preparation areas can be an issue and often a site will offer a list of approved or suggested caterers who are familiar with the sites culinary limitations. There may also be restrictions about alcohol, so be sure to ask. Also inquire about the number of guests the site can accommodate.

Bed and Breakfasts: These quaint, often stylish inns can be the perfect location for a small wedding. The feel is often warm and welcoming. Many of this area?s Bed and Breakfasts are located in restored Victorian-style houses (such as the Mountain Laurel Inn in Damascus) and are furnished with local antiques and decorated beautifully. Some B & Bs may cater the reception, while others may have approved or suggested caterers. Be sure to ask. You will also want to check on how many guests the inn can accommodate and what its facilities for the wedding and the reception are. Many weddings are held outdoors with the reception following inside. If this is the case, inquire about rainy day alternatives.

Unique Wedding Locations

Do you want to try something different? What about getting married at the location of your first date or where you got engaged. Maybe there is a special place that is close to your heart. Don?t be afraid to ask if the ceremony can be arranged.

Having your wedding in your family?s back yard makes for an intimate ceremony and the wedding party will likely feel more at home with the location than any other, but this option is not without its problems. Consider what you will do in case of rain, how you will handle the number of guests and their vehicles, and the intricacies of catering, seating and insurance.

If you and your future spouse are nature enthusiasts, what about having your wedding at a one of the parks or plantations in the Lowcountry? If you're a water lover, then why not try a harbor cruise ship or wedding along the Charleston harbor? If you into sea life then you could host the reception at the South Carolina Aquarium. Charleston being a historic city, there are numerous colonial and historical buildings to choose from as well.

Don?t be afraid to be creative. Your ceremony should be a reflection of your and your fiance's personalities. That may mean a traditional ceremony or it may mean something completely unique. While you should be aware that you are going to look back at your wedding pictures in 20 or 30 years, don?t be afraid to make the day and the ceremony uniquely yours.