Driving Distance from Detroit: Canadian Vineyard Weddings

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Photo copyright: Dudek Photography // Ontario, Canada Wedding Photographer

When I think of “semi-destination” weddings planned by Detroit couples, my mind quickly jumps to Traverse City, with its lush lakeside vineyard settings, only four hours north.

But what if I told you there are several more gorgeous, vineyard settings much closer to home? The only hitch is that they involve a passport. I’m talking Canada, folks.

A few weeks ago, while weekending in Grand Bend, Ontario, where my husband’s family has a cottage, we made our first trek up the road to Dark Horse Estate Winery. I’d seen signage for the vineyard and winery, but my expectations were woefully low.

As soon as we neared the property,  I realized that I’d been much to quick to judge. A large building loomed, surrounded by row upon row of grapes. The setting, just far enough (a few miles) from Lake Huron to welcome its breeze, was gorgeous at first glance. It only got better as we parked and stepped inside. A vaulted ceiling tasting room anchored the main level, with soaring windows that overlook the vineyard and a large patio with a fireplace that I imagine is as cozy as it gets when cooler fall temperatures arrive.

We chatted with the winery staff, marveling at the beautiful building, tasting the wines, and not surprisingly learning that the venue was fully booked with weddings for the summer. With a capacity to seat up to 300 (and also offering smaller rooms for more intimate parties), it’s an obvious choice for Ontario couples looking for a property outside the larger cities of London, Toronto or Windsor.

For Michigan couples, it’s an escape that’s (for once!) totally new. Not Traverse City, not Ludington, not Garland Resort. From Detroit, it’s an approximately two-hour drive, which includes a border crossing at the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron. Wedding guests wanting to make a weekend of their travels can book a room or rental in the cheeky beach town of Grand Bend, just up the road, or about 20 minutes away in the equally charming village of Bayfield.

The Dark Horse Winery, meanwhile, serves as the main stage for your event. It’s interior is a mix of dark tones and big, airy spaces, accented with modern furnishings (think Restoration Hardware style) and well thought finishes.

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Photo copyright: Love Knots Photography // Ontario, Canada Wedding Photographer

Between the stunning outdoor setting and the equally impressive architecture and design, the space seems perfectly suited for a modern wedding and is definitely worth checking out if you’re exploring new, out-of-town ideas for your big day.

Does two hours seem too far? Explore the Lake Erie North Shore wine trail, which is much closer to home (about an hour or so drive from Detroit, after crossing at the Detroit / Windsor tunnel border). Viewpoint Winery offers sweeping lake views from their venue, perched atop a bluff. Sprucewood Shores Estate Winery is also on the water, with more rustic vibes. Cooper’s Hawk offers a new restaurant and banquet areas as well as lots of green space.

So. All of this to say, if your guests carry passports (or can nab an enhanced driver’s license with enough notice),  your within-a-drive-from-Detroit wedding venue options just became much more varied … especially for those of us with a soft spot for good vino.

MORE INFORMATION:

Dark Horse Estate Winery

Wine Country Ontario (for more wineries and links)

Grand Bend Lodging:

Oakwood Resort, Grand Bend, Ontario

Home and vacation rentals in Grand Bend, Ontario

Bayfield Lodging:

Little Inn of Bayfield, Bayfield, Ontario

The Ashwood Inn, Bayfield, Ontario

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Photo copyright: Ikonica Photography // Toronto, Ontario Wedding Photography

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Planning A Detroit Bachelorette Party

*Updated July 2018*

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I might be bias, but Detroit is where it’s at right now. This blog targets brides that are living in or getting married in the Metro Detroit area, but I’d be amiss if I didn’t point out that one of the very best bachelorette ideas right now is a staycation.

Don’t you agree? For the bride or bridesmaids that live outside of the city and Uber in from time to time, this is an opportunity to immerse yourself in the best way possible.

I’ve been to what feels like a billion bachelorette parties, from the freaking Chateau Marmont in Hollywood to the (former) Library Pub in Novi (you know exactly the spot that I’m talking about, don’t you?). So when it came time to rally my own troop for a night, er, day out, I just wanted to stick around town and soak up the energy.

Where to go when you’re bacheloretting in Detroit? Let me share a few of my own ideas…

WHERE TO STAY

  • CASINOS: I’m not a huge casino fan, but the rooms are far more fun than any existing Detroit hotel and there’s also plenty of drinks to be had at any time of day on the gaming floor. Hungry? Just head to a restaurant downstairs. Bonus: You don’t even need to request an Uber to hit the nearest bar. Consider MGM Grand Detroit, MotorCity or Greektown (Jack) casinos.
  • HOTELS: Go with the Foundation Hotel. Their bar, a part of the Apparatus Room restaurant, is gorgeous and cozy and ideal for socializing. Capital Park is a short walk away, with more restaurants and bars to choose from. Otherwise, check out Aloft Detroit, or the newer Siren Hotel on Broadway, which is within walking of distance of some nice spots (including Wright & Co. for small plates and craft cocktails or the Candy Bar inside of Siren Hotel for a super intimate but chic setting).
  • AIRBNB: For larger groups, go big and rent a lofty space downtown where everyone can stay and the party can begin. Make sure that you can get in ahead of time to decorate the space – ahem – appropriately.

WHERE TO START

  • IMMERSE SPA: Ommmm. My girls and I began at MGM’s Immerse Spa and it was nothing short of heavenly. We had all booked appointments around the same time and arrived early to nab spots by the indoor pool for loads of lounging before ordering lunch. The setting is gorgeous; and who doesn’t love a good rub-down?
  • BLOW OUTS: Head over to Detroit’s Blo Blow Dry Bar on Washington Blvd for a fresh blow out and to have your and your girl’s make up done. Pop into the nearby Ten Nail Salon for manis / pedis, if you’ve got time.
  • BRUNCH: If you’re not hitting the spa, start the day with a solid brunch. If your crew is rowdy, head to Eastern Market’s Vivio’s (request a long table upstairs) for the city’s best Bloody Marys or Bobcat Bonnie’s in Corktown. For a fancier atmosphere, try Townhouse on Woodward (great ambiance) or Selden Standard in Midtown.

WHERE TO DRINK

  • TASTINGS: Go big or go home, right? Get your party started by ordering up a round of flights for all the ladies. We like Detroit City Distillery in Eastern Market for a relaxed vibe (as well as nearby Eastern Market Brewing Company, which serves up brews only), as well as Two James Distillery in Corktown. The Royce in Grand Circus Park and is a lovely wine bar with an inexpensive corking fee that’s perfect for sharing a few bottles among a group. A short drive away, Brix Wine Bar on the east side of town, serves up vinos and charcuterie boards.
  • CRAFT COCKTAILS: Lady of the House in Corktown is my current favorite, with a small but sweet bar and amazing food. Eatori Market in Capitol Park offers a nice bar with good drinks in a great walkable area; and the nearby Bad Luck Bar – with it’s discreet alley entrance – is a great hideout with pricey but delicious cocktails. Sugar House in Corktown is a staple and it’s perfect for a small group of gals.

WHERE TO DINE

  • Nab a table at Parc in Campus Martius for bustling city views; book a reservation at Prime + Proper for the city’s glitziest dinner; or check out Lumen in Beacon Park, which offers open air, casual dining and a great patio with fire pit. For a more informal affair, try El Barzon near Mexican Village, a great hole-in-the-wall that offers both Mexican and Italian fare (this was where I opted to celebrate!) or Bakersfield in Midtown for tacos and tequila.
  • Swing into For the Love of Sugar (open late!) for fresh macarons or cake slices that include vegan options, equally delectable and Instaworthy.

WHAT TO DO

  • SHOP: No, really. Check out Shinola (Midtown) for leather goods, watches and bikes, City Bird (Midtown) for paper and home goods, Bird Bee (Capitol Park) or Kit and Ace (downtown) for clothing, and many other hidden gems in Eastern Market, along Woodward Corridor and in Midtown.
  • PEDDLE  BAR: I’m cringing a bit to say it, but peddle bike bars seem to be a bachelorette favorite. Handle Bar Detroit and Detroit Rolling Pub are two established options.
  • FOWLING: Have you tried it? A big ol’ group of girls might be a bit of a mess, in the funnest way possible, here. You’ll throw footballs at large wooden bowling pins in this indoor game, created by a local. The Fowling Warehouse gaming venue / bar is located in Hamtramck.
  • LOCAL SHOWS: Check out what’s happening at The Fox, The Fillmore, or any of the other smaller venues (Saint Andrews Hall or even Hopcat…)
  • OUTDOORS: In the summer, head over to Belle Isle for picnics, wading in the river and plenty of local events; consider renting kayaks for a tour of the river, too.

What have I left out? Let me know in the comments …

New + Noteworthy in “The D”

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Holiday pop-up shops at Cadillac Square in downtown Detroit

The holidays are upon us … hooray! And with the snow and colder temperatures have also come several hot, new openings downtown (see what I did there?) 😉

  • If you haven’t spent an afternoon or evening at the holiday markets downtown, do yourself a favor and get there soon. Beside adorable pop-up shops, there’s a rug-laden and cozy-couch-strewn tent called Cadillac Lodge that serves up spiked hot beverages, as well as the ice rink for skating and the giant Campus Martius tree for gazing at. No matter your age, there’s plenty to see and do if you’re feeling the holiday spirit. In other words, if you haven’t gotten those engagement photos taken yet … THIS IS YOUR CHANCE! All the feels.
  • A luxe new steakhouse – Prime and Proper – has opened in Capitol Park. I’ve been told that reservations are hard to come by at this point, but see if you can’t pop in for a drink and bite at the bar to soak up the vibe. Black, cream and gold Art Deco accents feel fresh, the service is superb, and the menu is mighty tempting. If you’re planning a girl’s night out or, say, a fancy bachelorette party, this is the place to begin.
  • Also in Capitol Park, new spots Eatori (lovely little bar, open til midnight) and brick-oven pizza joint La Lanterna (brought to you by the owners of Foxtown Grille), both cozy spots to grab a casual meal or end your evening with a glass of wine.
  • Did you know that last year, a bridal shop dubbed Beautiful Bridal with Keasha Rigsby opened up on Jefferson Ave., just a few blocks east of the Renaissance Center? I’ve driven past it several times, but never thoroughly explored. I’m excited to see that it’s not only a bridal boutique, but a venue for events like bridal showers, and – gasp – weddings! Housed in the Bagley Masion, it’s a gorgeous estate that we’re dying to check out.
  • In the Fisher Building, a restored retail space is now a stunning setting for The Peacock Room‘s second location. Find unique jewelry, hundreds of dresses and major vintage vibes at this shop. Perfect when you’re in need of a bridal shower or rehearsal dinner dress, as well as little bridesmaid thank-you gifts.
  • In a gifting pinch for the fella? Head over to Filson on Canfield (right near Shinola) and browse their outdoorsy men’s goods. You’ll pay more for the high quality, but we don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Choose from lined flannels, waxed puff vests and wool caps. Be sure to slink by the small women’s section before you leave.

 

Bagley Mansion, Detroit, Bridal Boutique

The Bagley Mansion, home of a new Detroit bridal boutique and event venue

Traveling Hawaii: Maui Edition

Maui Honeymoon Vacation Planning

Around our first anniversary, we did something that’s not too common in our marriage – booked a very typical American vacation. I had traveled to Hawaii for work a while back, and stayed on the remote side of Maui the entire time. It was stunning and beautiful and one of the many places that I swore I’d visit with my one-day husband.

Our trip, which fell a couple of weeks before our actual anniversary, but also over my husband’s March birthday, made for an ideal celebration. And let’s be serious, who doesn’t want an infusion of sunshine as we wait out the achy chill of Michigan winters?

Planning on this trip was a bit ad hoc. We were gearing up for busy spring seasons at work, and our goal was to chill, so I admittedly slacked a bit on forming our itinerary … that said, I got lucky because it couldn’t have turned out better.

Thank goodness to our friends (more than one!) who recommended that we pick up the Maui: Revealed guidebook.  I can’t overstate how helpful it turned out during our stay, guiding us to the off-the-beaten path waterfalls and best roadside food stops. {Side note: I downloaded the ebook on Kindle, so it was easy to toss into my bag and carry everywhere. Until now, I haven’t been sold on digital guidebooks … but now I can attest, it works!}

Our Itinerary:

  • Day 1 – 3 // Wailea, Andaz Resort
  • Day 3 – 5 // Hana, Hana Kai Maui
  • Day 5 – 7 // Lahaina, Hyatt Regency Maui

Wailea

If you’re looking for the luxe side of Maui, this is it. Beautiful beaches and a walking path that meanders in front of all the gorgeous resorts makes it especially perfect for aimless strolls (and impromptu bar crawls, it turns out).

We checked into the Andaz Maui, based on great feedback from two sets of good friends – one of which who had honeymooned there. With its chic tiered pools and location at the edge of the mega properties strip, this resort offered the best of both worlds. It was relaxing and not over run by beach combers, tucked behind a craggy coastline that just about hides the property from folks who may not be too familiar with the area. But it’s also new and youthful, with minimally styled rooms and an excellent sushi restaurant overlooking the water.

If you’re not enjoying the pools, there’s a small beach (and plenty more within walking distance) where whale watching outrigger tours and kayaks depart.

We spent our days lounging by the pool – for the love, please order yourself the loaded pork waffle fries – and walking the beach, popping into other resorts along the way for drinks and apps whenever we felt like it. It. Was. Bliss.

Our favorite stop outside of our resort was, believe it or not, the lobby bar at the Grand Wailea called Botero Lounge, which was happily abuzz with live music and a great charcuterie board.

Hana

After a few days of luxury in Wailea, I was eager to head out and explore Hana. We picked up a rental car right from the Andaz and headed directly to a grocery store to stock up on wine and dinner foods, as well as snacks, anticipating not many restaurants on the opposite side of the island. Once we loaded a soft-sided cooler with groceries and ice, we began our trek toward Hana.

This is where our guidebook proved invaluable. While every bend along the Highway to Hana is striking, the book outlined the “must-see” stops that any tourist would have otherwise driven right past. We crawled along a slippery rock creek quite some distance before we came upon a stunning waterfall – completely to ourselves – near mile marker 13. Of course, we made several other stops before we pulled into the small, beachfront Hana Kai Maui Hotel and found ourselves mesmerized by the black stone beach.

We stayed in Unit 2, which was a small studio style guest room with a kitchen and queen bed and the most beautiful oceanfront balcony view I’ve maybe ever seen. {The sound of the waves rolling over the smooth stone beach was magic, y’all. I mean, sound machines have nothing on this!}

Breakfast was fresh banana bread picked up along the drive to Hana, lazily enjoyed on the balcony, and lunch was apples, cheese and wine while we laid on Red Sand Beach for our first full day. We end-capped it with a couples massage and hot tub soak at the nearby (and only) luxury resort Travaasa, followed by cocktails at the bar, before we went back to our room and cooked crab cakes and fresh asparagus for dinner. Side note: Can I please replay this day in my head over and over and over?

Our second day in Hana would’ve been hard to compare, but I’d booked a surprise birthday activity for Trevor – power hang gliding – which, again, came highly recommended by friends who had done it before us. We arrived at the tiny Hana airport, where Hang Gliding Maui is based out of a small hanger. The tandem gliding experience probably seemed a bit intimidating at first glance, but after Trevor landed from his 45-minute tour, he was on a true high. Armed with a ton of photos from the excursion, we scrolled through them approximately one million times over the next hour – oohing and ahhing as I listened to him relive the experience of seeing  Maui from an entirely new perspective.

That afternoon, we ventured to the Pipiwei Trail, part of the national park system, south of Hana. Just about two miles, the trail is a popular one, which winds upward – and through a magnificent bamboo forest – before ending near a 400′ waterfall.  If you have the time, put this on your must-do list. Note that the Seven Sacred Pools trail is also right near the trailhead and is an especially popular stop, although the pools were closed for swimming when we were there, unfortunately.

After our hike on our third day in Hana, we were headed over to the opposite side of the island – to Lahaina – and so we opted to take the less-traveled southern road out of Hana. If you do the same, be ready for lots of long bumpy dirt roads and hairpin turns. Also, wildlife. Like the bull that was standing in the middle of the road when I was behind the wheel. And if you can, pre-plan and hit the open-and-rolling-hill middle of the route just around sunset. It was shockingly beautiful, enough so that we pulled over alongside a handful of cars just to watch the glowing sun settle beneath the hills, washing the southern part of Maui in golden hues before it dipped out of sight.

Lahaina and Ka’anapali Beach

I hadn’t really planned on tacking on another “stop” during our stay, but my husband wanted to stretch the trip out a bit, and let’s be serious, I wasn’t complaining. So, we opted to head toward the more populated part of Maui – Lahaina. I had realized when booking our stay at Andaz – part of the Hyatt brand – that by booking Hyatt properties through Costco you received a member discount (woot!), so I ended up booking the Hyatt Regency Maui since it seemed like a solid, easy choice and a different atmosphere than our previous properties.

Unlike what we tend to gravitate to, the Hyatt Regency is a BIG family style resort that has its own network of pools, restaurants, bars and a fantastic stretch of pristine sand beach. We had great ocean views from our room on the top floor and the hotel even left us a complimentary bottle of bubbly and chocolate-covered strawberries in honor of our anniversary, which was an extremely appreciated touch.

Our only gripe was that this was the type of resort where you’re required to wake up early and stake claim to decent lounge chairs if you want to hang by the pool. Which we did … don’t get me wrong … after I nudged and prodded husband to go do it. {He’s the best.} And gripes aside, we ended up sitting quite close – literally – to a sweet Australian couple who unexpectedly, but delightfully, imparted their words of marital wisdom to us over the course of the morning. {See? My only complaint really ended up working in my favor.}

We toured downtown Lahaina and its cute shops and restaurants and also found time to drive through the clouds to the top of Maui’s volcano, which one half of our traveling duo loved and one half {me} sort of thought was not that impressive …

And then, it was time to head back home. Tanned and buzzing with that sort of zest for life that you really only get when you’re simultaneously not working and in one of the world’s most beautiful settings, we left Maui. Not without committing to return, of course.

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Walking the Ka’Anapali Beach near the Hyatt Regency Resort

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Cartwheels and rainbows! Wailea at it’s best.

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Red Sand Beach in Hana

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Powered hang gliding outside of Hana

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Desolate waterfall stop along the Highway to Hana

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A natural soaking pool along the Highway to Hana

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Best. View. Ever. at Hana Kai Maui.

 

Packing for your Honeymoon

Please note: This post contains affiliate links.

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The packing list is long when it comes to travel itineraries that extend beyond one week. And with the added pressure of “honeymooning,” sometimes it’s easy to overlook to the most obvious must-packs.

Above, I’ve highlighted three of the things I found incredibly valuable on our trip, as well as one item I wish I would’ve brought along.

Versatile Cover Up | $148
An easy-to-pull-on cover up that goes from breakfast to beach to cocktails and looks appropriate at all three is essential to truly relaxing and minimizing runs back to your guestroom. The lace trim neckline and cold shoulder detail of this Holy Caftan option are the perfect mix of sweet and sultry.

Jet Bags for Traveling with Wine | $14.99 for 3
One of my favorite memories from our time in Bora Bora was uncorking my favorite bottle of wine by our private pool during a drizzly afternoon. I’m so glad that we had the foresight to bring along a couple of our favorite bottles in our checked luggage.

Kindle Paperwhite | $99
From guidebooks for your honeymoon locale to magazines on the plane and novels for down-time reading, I love how easy it is to tote around the Kindle Paperwhite, rather than a bulky stack of books. It’s simple to download books using WiFi and if you have a local library membership, you can even borrow e-books for free using an app like Overdrive.

Beats Pill Portable Speaker | $170
One of the face-palm moments that we had during our trip was not packing one of our portable speakers. I love my Beats Pill speaker (although, we admittedly rely on Google Home most of the time these days) and it would have been ideal for playing music on the balcony of our guestrooms or as we set up shop on the beach.

These picks barely scratch the surface, of course. There’s a multitude of regular old travel needs (sunscreen! phone charger!) that you’ll want to remember, as well as all of the honeymoon gifts that friends and family have probably gotten for you. Narrowing everything down and smartly packaging it within your luggage can be a task, so pre-plan and pack ahead of time if you’ll be heading to the airport shortly after your wedding!

Free Printable: Kids Coloring Page for Your Wedding Reception

Cover Photo COLORING PAGE

Other than our nieces and nephews, we invited adults only to our wedding ceremony and reception, but even with only a handful of little ones in attendance, I wish I would have thought to offer a little to-do like this sweet custom coloring page at the reception.

{I should point out that we loaded up our ring bearers – our three- and four-year-old nephews – with customized Pottery Barn Kids backpacks filled with goodies to keep them occupied, which was helpful!}

Had we anticipated more children to be joining the festivities, I just love the idea of tying a ribbon around a handful of crayons – or including a mason jar full of colored pencils at each table – and placing these customized coloring pages at the seat of each child. It’s a simple and inexpensive way to add a little touch of fun.

This wedding cake themed coloring page is now up on the Etsy Shop for $4.99 and is on sale through September 4th for 30 percent off, as is the whole darn store! But we’re offering the non-customizable version in PDF format for blog readers for FREE 🙂

{If you’re interested in the customizable version, head over to Etsy to download a Microsoft Word document, where you can customize it with the bride and groom’s names and wedding date for your big day. Easy-peasy!}

What other creative solutions have you found for keeping kids busy at wedding receptions? WEDDING CAKE COLORING PAGE

 

Our Honeymoon {Bora Bora, New Zealand & Australia}

honeymoon bora bora new zealand

It took a while, but I’ve finally pulled my sh*t together and am ready to wrap-up our honeymoon overview! It was good. It was really good. Maybe so good that I felt {for a year, approximately} that I couldn’t do it justice in summary. But, here goes. I’ll give it my best.

Let me start with a bit of background. While I was busy planning the nitty-gritty details of our Big Day, Trevor took on the work – and I do mean the entire responsibility – of planning our honeymoon. That was excellent because I didn’t really have the energy to get into all of the necessary travel research, and also, because we completely trust each other when it comes to vacation planning. The only requirement that I had, which I stressed, was that it had to incorporate some element of relaxation for at least part of the trip. {You-know-who sometimes defaults to adventure mode, and I knew that I’d appreciate winding down after the wedding craziness ended.}

On top of planning the full vacation, my lovely husband also thought it would be fun to keep it a surprise. So, a surprise it was! An amazing surprise. Our trip was a perfect mix of luxurious relaxation and wild adventure. We slept in stunning accommodations – from a waterfront thatch-roof villa to a lakeside yurt. Lord knows how I was able to fit both wardrobes in one suitcase, but I did it.

Our Itinerary:

  • Day 1 – 5 // Bora Bora, The St. Regis
  • Day 6 – 7 // Flight + New Zealand, Aukland
  • Day 8 – 10 // New Zealand, Queenstown
  • Day 9 // New Zealand, Wanaka
  • Day 10 // New Zealand, Kaikoura
  • Day 11 – 12 // New Zealand, Marlborough Region
  • Day 13 // Australia, Sydney
  • Day 14 // Flight home

Bora Bora

We arrived at the tiny Bora Bora airport {via DTW – LAX – PPT} with several other couples and were greeted with fragrant purple and white leis before we climbed aboard the St. Regis yacht to head toward our resort. It was raining, but even in the drizzle, the endless blue of those French Polynesian waters are something spectacular. It was early morning, so we arrived just in time for breakfast while we waited to check into our room. The process was seamless, with a golf cart tour of the property and a few hours to lounge while our villa was prepared.

You might be thinking, isn’t Bora Bora known for its over-the-water bungalows? Indeed, it is! In fact, if you’ve seen the movie Couples Retreat, you’ve seen this resort up close … they filmed the whole movie on site and in honor, the movie is looped continuously on one channel at the resort 😉

We, however, didn’t stay in an over-the-water bungalow. Based on the photos, Trevor angled for something a bit more private, with some swimmable space that wouldn’t be shared with other travelers. Instead, we booked one of five Beachside Villas with Pools, which turned out to be more ideal than we could have imagined.

You see, we hit a bit of a rainy patch during our stay, so while bungalow guests were holed up inside and asked to stay out of the deeper, stormy waters underneath their rooms, we spent the entire day hopping in and out of our private pool and lounging beachside under the leaves of palm trees. It was magic. A bottle of wine and some cocktails delivered to the room? Yes, please!

When we weren’t outside, we were enjoying the Miri Miri Spa by Clarins. Not once, but twice. We indulged in 90-minute couples massages and when it rained the following day, we trotted back over for another, without a twinge of guilt. It was our honeymoon, after all!

During our stay, we met several other honeymooning couples because let’s be real for a second. Bora Bora is ALL honeymooners. Honeymooners, or anniversary celebrators, or romantic vacationers. It’s luxurious and exquisite, but a party island it is not. Not even a little bit. If you’re visiting, expect to be back in your room no later than 10 p.m., because there’s not much to do elsewhere, with restaurants and bars all closing unusually early. {Of course, the time difference is impactful here, so most folks are ready to head back to their rooms earlier than later anyway.}

Because the property was so amazing, we only ventured out – via the shuttle boat – for a couple of dinners.

Our best meal, hands down, was at Villa Mahana, on the main island, which offers two prix fixe menus – one French, and one Tahitian inspired – at each of its seven tables. Trevor claims that it’s the best meal he’s had … and I don’t disagree. The service is phenomenal, the courses are masterpieces and the setting is intimate and special. Book your reservations early, definitely before you arrive on the island.

Our second dinner out was to the legendary Bloody Mary’s. After I made myself comfortable on the wooden stool seating, our server told me that only a week ago, Jennifer Aniston had sat in the same place {if he was lying to impress me, it worked!}. The food was good – not extraordinary – and the drinks were delicious. Most importantly, the vibe was fun and entertaining, with a sand floor and live music.

New Zealand

Aukland

From our “pit stop” in Bora Bora, we flew to New Zealand’s north island, into Aukland, where it was necessary to spend the night before catching our connection to the south island the next morning. Not a lot to report on Aukland … it was a big-feeling city but unusually empty due to a government holiday. Somehow, we landed in a chaotic pub and had a few brews before calling it a night.

Side note: Traveling from Bora Bora to New Zealand, you’ll lose an entire day due to the International Date Line.

Queenstown

Ah, Queenstown. What a breath of fresh air! As soon as we stepped off the plane, it felt like we were where we needed to be. While it was spring at home, the fall season was just cresting in April in New Zealand, and as a fall-sorta girl myself, I was in heaven.

Queenstown is beautiful. The foliage was brilliant against the deep blue of Lake Wakatipu, which the entire city looks out over. Downtown was a bustle of people and tourists, with casual bars and high-end shopping and a little bit of everything else squeezed between.

We stayed at the charming Cherry Tree House, a part of the Trelawn Place B&B. Positioned above and overlooking the fjords, this tiny slice of countryside felt like it was far from 2016. Low ceilings and a pot-belly stove warmed the cushy interior, and a bedroom upstairs offered a Juliet balcony that opened up to amazing views. Each morning, our hosts either delivered breakfast fixings to us or offered it hot in their own dining room, where we made friends with fellow travelers.

There’s SO much to do in Queenstown that it was tough to leave. We hiked during the day, visited the nearby Arrowtown – an old timey village tucked among the hills for window shopping and wine, and got our adventure on zipping down the world’s steepest zip line with Ziptrek Ecotours.

One afternoon, we headed out toward Glenorchy, west of the city, to walk the long mountainside beach. The town held little interest, but the drive … the drive was awe-inducing. I’d recommend splitting your time behind the wheel so that you can truly soak up the scenery, but also experience the smooth and winding blacktop. Lots of fun, whether you’re in the driver’s seat OR the passenger seat.

I should mention here, too, that when we arrived in Queenstown, we rented an SUV. All of our travel through New Zealand after landing in Queenstown was on wheels.

Wanaka

Just when I thought that New Zealand couldn’t feel more special, we drove to Wanaka. For some reason, Wanaka felt like home to me. Maybe it was that we arrived at dusk, as the sun was setting over Lake Wanaka, all slanty and orange, with people settled along the beach just watching it slowly set. But it could have also been the uniqueness of our lodging – a “glamping” style yurt – that was positioned approximately in the middle of nowhere, overlooking a lake, and underneath a blanket of the brightest stars I’ve seen in a long time.

Our New Zealand yurt was dubbed Mt. Gold by Explore Life and offered a comfy bed with plenty of layers for keeping warm, seating outdoors, a flushable toilet, shower and working sink. It was a cool night, which made a good excuse to drink an extra glass or two of wine and cuddle up, but when morning came, we were rewarded with expansive views of the lake; I’m not lying when I say that it was difficult to leave.

Kaikoura

We then drove up the coast – a long and windy and slightly scary-in-the-dark coast – to the little beach and fishing town, Kaikoura. I’m hesitant to say that I had a favorite accommodation on this trip because they were all so wildly different, but if I had to choose, it might just be our night at The Factory.

We arrived late, but our hosts were incredibly gracious, with fresh bread, local honey and jam, yogurts and more awaiting us for the next morning’s breakfast. For that night, however, a bottle of bubbly – sparkling sauvignon blanc, my favorite! – was chilled and ready for popping.

With a champagne flute in hand, I walked the unit, marveling at the spirited decor {including an adorable black Smeg fridge} and choosing between two bedrooms before we headed out to dip into the hot tub.

The next day, we lazily enjoyed our morning in our spacious suite before chatting up our hosts on must-sees in the area. We walked the small downtown, swung by “The Original” Kaikoura Seafood BBQ for fresh-grilled crayfish {pricy little suckers, but scrumptious} and then made the short hike up Oahu Stream, where you’re guaranteed to find dozens of baby seal pups splashing underneath a waterfall. An instant antidepressant, those seal pups and absolutely worth seeing.

Marlborough

Marlborough was our last stop in New Zealand, so we stayed for two days, allowing ourselves plenty of time to sample the several sauvignon blanc wines that the region is known for. We booked a day with Wine Tours by Bike, where we were picked up from our lodging and taken to be fitted with a helmet and bicycle for some wine tasting on two wheels. Because the vineyards are so close to one another, biking is the perfect way to roam around, and this vendor allowed us to explore separately and at our own leisurely pace, which I appreciated. Thankfully, they also provided wine bags that attached to our cycles, and also offered to pick up boxes for those folks who wanted to ship home a crate or two.

While in town, we stayed in Adelaide’s Barn, a separate garden suite to the Marlborough Bed and Breakfast. With a cozy bedroom, lounge area and full kitchen, we made ourselves comfortable for two nights, and at this point in the trip, even enjoyed hitting the grocery store to make an easy meal of pasta in one evening.

From Marlborough, we also explored the tiny port town of Picton, picturesque and perfect for spending the morning stationed on a cafe patio.

Australia

Sydney

Between you and me, our trip was not supposed to include a night in Sydney. Yet, the travel gods declared that it be so, and we – not at all begrudgingly – found ourselves with 24 hours in the harbour. Because of our travel dilemma, we simply got a room at the hotel airport in order to make our early flight easily, dropped our bags, and headed into town immediately.

It doesn’t get any more cliche, but our first stop was to the Opera Bar at Sydney’s famed Opera House. With seagulls diving all around us, we ate overpriced but decent sandwiches and sipped on beers, soaking up the beauty of the area. Afterward, we walked the Royal Botanic Gardens next door, and then boarded a ferry toward Manly Beach, where we bought cheap beach towels, changed into our suits and found some sand. The beach was different than I’d expected, rather shallow and long, with tall, tall pine trees and fallen logs. It was crowded, too, so after an hour or two, we headed up for a snack and to catch a ferry back to the harbor.

From there, we explored the options in Darling Harbour, which were aplenty. We ended up at a casual Italian chain – Criniti’s – that’s tucked behind the lit-up ferris wheel and simply relaxed. The food was fine, but the conversation, recapping our two weeks away, was most memorable.

Our honeymoon was a little bit of everything. A bit of relaxation, a bit of adventure. Lots of planes {those flights are a doozy} and quite a bit of time behind the wheel, too. But we saw and did SO much in our two weeks, simply enjoying the company of one another, rehashing our favorite wedding moments along the way, and indulging in some amazing food and wine along the way.

It was a perfect balance, I think. And it was also a once-in-a-lifetime excursion.

I wouldn’t trade it for anything. 

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Cocktail at the beach? If I must …

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The rain had just ended, but here’s a partial view of our villa’s beachfront and pool

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Bicycling the overwater bungalows

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The view from Cherry Tree House in Queenstown, New Zealand

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A moment to pause in Glenorchy, after our amazing drive

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Another view from our drive to Glenorchy

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Hiking in Queenstown; don’t worry, there was wine and cheese in the backpack

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That slanty Wanaka sun! Gets me every time.

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Glamping in a yurt near Lake Wanaka

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Walking a beach near Kaikoura, New Zealand

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Pardon the helmet hair; a stop on our bicycling wine tour in Marlborough, New Zealand

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Manly Beach area in Sydney, Australia

To Do or Not to Do? Wedding Welcome Gifts

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Merigold & Gray’s “Glitter & Gold” Pre-Made Gift Box ($109)

If spare time was infinite and budgets didn’t exist, I’m pretty sure that every bride would design sweet welcome gifts for their overnight guests. They’d spend hours flipping through the gorgeousness of the Merigold & Grey Instagram account and then they’d shed just a tear or two imagining the “ooohs” and “ahhhs” of guests gleefully receiving their packages as they enter their hotel rooms. {Wait. Is that just me?}

As destination and semi-destination (northern Michigan, for instance) weddings become more common, it’s not unusual that friends and family are shelling out for not just one, but two, nights at your primary hotel or resort dependent on the weekend’s itinerary.

I loved the idea of a little “welcome gift” that would be given to each guest as they arrived at the hotel, as a thank you from us. So, inside small, black fabric baskets, I organized a couple bottles of water, some snacks (popcorn, pretzels and chocolate-covered fruit) as well as mini vase of flowers. {Tip: In hindsight, lose the flowers … they require way too much work – like buying and arranging them – on the weekend of your wedding.}

Additionally, it’s worth nothing that our crew of out-of-town guests was really only about 15 couples, so the workload was considerably less than if we’d been hosting 50 or more travelers. Had it been more, I definitely would have adjusted the cost and approach to our gifts.

HOW TO DIY WEDDING WELCOME GIFTS

  1. Call your primary hotel (where you’ve booked a block of rooms for your wedding) to find out the total number of rooms booked for your guests. Note the number of gifts that you’ll need to create; one per room.
  2. Ask the hotel if they are able to hand out gifts to guests as they check-in to their rooms, or if room delivery is required. If so, ask what fees apply. 
  3. Determine what your welcome gifts will consist of and get to buying things in advance; you’ll want to pull these babies together at least a week in advance so that they’re not on your to-do list in the last days before your wedding.
    • Vessel: What type of vessel will you use to deliver the gifts in? A soft basket like I used worked nicely {Dollar Store FTW!}, but wooden crates, fabric bags or even inexpensive paper gift bags get the job done.
    • Hydration: Unless your hotel offers free bottles of water for guests, these are a MUST. After a night of festivities – and likely, an open bar – everyone wants to stay hydrated and cross their fingers for a hangover-free morning.
    • Snacks: I like the idea of either late-night or breakfast snacks. If you’re sticking with the late-night theme, consider salty and sweet options like chips or chocolate. If you’re looking for breakfast options, consider pastries {doughnuts!} or granola bars.
    • Other: Aspirin … no explanation needed, tissues for the emotional criers among us, gum for close conversations, simple bud vases, fans {for outdoor summer weddings}, maps of the venue, weekend agendas and itineraries.

Looking for more inspiration? Martha Stewart Weddings has a great roundup of real-wedding welcome bags here. Brides.com also highlights five companies that will craft lovely gifts for you.

And if you’re a Detroit bride, we couldn’t end this post without linking to some of our favorite local and state-made shelf-stable products that we think are just perfect for gifting …

 

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The simple DIY welcome packages for our wedding guests

Weekly Wedding Deals + Steals

This week’s wedding deals are up and at ’em; happy Monday, everyone!

This post contains affiliate links, which means that when you click through and make a purchase, I may receive compensation. Please note that this NEVER means you pay more as a customer.

  • NORDSTROM: This playful “love” banner is 40 percent off and only $14.40 (originally $24). We love the coral color and fun, gold tassels … perfect to hang above a bar cart at your engagement fete or even in the bedroom post-honeymoon. Also “oooohing” over this world travel canvas that’s perfect for guest’s well wishes at the wedding – and way more fun than an ol’ guest book. It’s 33 percent off for $49.90 (originally $75.
  • BHLDN: This parisian bridal hair comb is the perfect balance of tulle, netting and sparkling crystals and at $60 (originally $220), it’s also an uh-mazing deal.
  • REVOLVE: This simple, sexy white dress screams bachelorette party IMHO. You can scoop it up for $95 (originally $158), by NBD. Fully lined and hand-washable, you might as well pack it for an evening out on the honeymoon, too!
  • DAVID’S BRIDAL: This mid-length veil with a filligree comb is a simple complement to nearly any style bridal gown. If you’re on the fence about whether or not to don a veil, this one – at $70 (originally $200) – seems like an affordable way to try it on and make the final call.
  • RENT THE RUNWAY: When it comes to a summer bridal shower, how could you do better than this soft, flowy number? Philosophy’s Garden Maxi is sweet enough for daytime with a plungy neckline that could easily take it right to a dinner party, too. Best part? Originally $1590, now $239 to BUY at Rent the Runway.
  • OLIVE + PIPER: These coral-colored drop earrings are maybe, just maybe, everything? They’re on sale for only $15 this week only (regularly $28), so snag ’em now! Free shipping with orders of $49 😉
  • TINY PRINTS: Order your wedding or shower thank-you cards {featuring engagement or wedding photos} or custom return address stickers from Tiny Prints, and get 50 percent off when you purchase a gift credit through Gilt.com for the next three days. Buy a $60 credit for $30, $100 for $50 or $150 for $75 – just note that you need to place your order by June 14th!

p.s. Don’t forget to use a cash-back site like Ebates when you’re shopping online!

New + Noteworthy in “The D”

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Source: ChelseaBrownPhotography.com // Rusas Printing Building

SO. MUCH. is going on in Detroit right now. It’s hard to keep up! Let’s cover some of the most recent updates …

  • The QLine is up and running; hooray! If you’re a bride that’s considering Detroit, this transit system will significantly help your guests get around the city. Rehearsal dinner at The Whitney? Easy, hop on the line from the Aloft Hotel and take it up a few stops to Midtown. Grab drinks at Townhouse a short ride later. Then head toward the DIA for the Big Day … it’s the Woodward Wedding of my dreams!
  • The Foundation Hotel  in the old firehouse is open! Book a room today and scope out the new restaurant and roof-top event space … perfect for wedding ceremonies and small receptions, I believe?
  • One of the region’s wildest wedding cake bakers has opened up a brightly-colored brick-and-mortar shop in Cass Cooridor and let me say this: I cannot wait to try these sugar masterpieces. From soft and elegant to sleek and sculptural, these beauties are something else; you can check out the full wedding cake gallery here.
  • The reno of the old Packard Plant is underway and plans are to include a ground-floor event space that could be used for wedding receptions – hooray! The only catch? We’ll be waiting 18-24 months for the renovations to be complete.
  • The Detroit News provides guidance on how to help your wedding guests mingle and ensure that everyone has a good time.
  • Detroit Metro Times published its “Best of” list for retailers and service providers … check out the full list here and consider yourself recommended by the masses.
  • Love, love, love these wedding-inspired photos by Chelsea Brown Photography at the Rusas Printing Building in New Center. (Shown above.)