Vancouver Wedding Story: A Colourful, DIY Dance Party with Inflatable Dinosaurs

Our executive editor shares what she learned from planning an ultra-playful wedding in Strathcona.

January 24, 2018

By Stacey McLachlan / Photo: Justin Ho

Before I dive in here, please let me clarify: I was asked to post this by our editorial director and in no way am abusing my media powers to force you to look at photos of me. Okay? Okay. It’s just a happy coincidence that I happen to work here and that all I want to talk about or think about is my wedding.

vancouver bride and groom pose at crab park

Now that that’s out of the way: Max, who is now my husband (spoiler alert), and I had the best time planning our August wedding. The goal was to celebrate love with a big ol’ party for our favourite people, and to have a lot of very silly fun while taking the vows seriously and not much else. Also, breaking the bank was not something we really wanted to do, so we kept the splurging to a minimum—we spent about $12,000 total (including some generous help from family). The result was a colourful, streamer-ladden party at the Russian Hall with 175 friends and family members, a night filled with tacos, tropical hued Solo cups and plenty of dance floor surprises. Was it Pinterest perfect? Of course not—balloons are going to deflate, dresses are going to crease, party crashers are going to wander in and steal the seat of a pregnant lady. But we loved every minute of it.

So if you’re planning your own Vancouver wedding right now, here’s a few things I learned along the way. (Thanks to our photographer Justin Ho for the shots!)

We printed off colourful patterned paper and made our own bunting to hang. Colourful streamers and butcher paper were used for the table settings.
I personally just couldn’t get excited about a white dress, so instead I picked out this floral pink number—with pockets!—from Ted Baker, bought off the rack at Nordstrom. Max’s blue suit is from Simons. (I’m sorry I’ve made you look at us smooching. GROSS!)
The bridal party, wearing various shades of green, strolling to the venue after snapping a few pics throughout Strathcona.
Our rings were both handed down from family: mine from my grandmother who passed away in May, and Max received his as a gift from his mother years ago.
We had the ceremony and reception in the same venue—our MC just asked the guests to help out moving the chairs and tables and it was all set up in a few minutes.

1. Book a venue with chairs and tables included

We got a steal of a deal on the venue: the Russian Hall in Strathcona had just undergone renovations when we stumbled upon it, and they’d never actually done a wedding before, so they charged waaaay less than the industry standard. And they happened to have library-style chairs and folding wooden tables that worked just fine for our needs, so we didn’t need to rent any furniture at all. Many of the community halls we looked at had the same setup too, so if you’re looking to cut costs and aren’t picky about what your seats look like, this is definitely the way to go. We did our ceremony and reception in the same hall, so that was also helpful in terms of time and costs: our tables were setup and pushed to the side, so after the ceremony was over, our MC just asked guests to help out shuffling around the chairs into position and it was done in a few minutes.

Max did the signage for the wedding, utilizing graphics and fonts he downloaded from Creative Market.
Tacofino and Vij’s Railway Express provided a variety of dinner options.

2. Food trucks cost less—and nobody cares if you have plastic forks

Though we started off with the idea that we might just do a cocktail reception, ultimately we wanted to a) eat a delicious meal on our wedding day, and b) make sure our guests had full bellies so they wouldn’t get too drunk. (It turns out that no amount of tacos could have prevented the hangovers that were to come, but we tried.)

Of course, feeding 175 people is going to add up no matter what, but it could’ve been much more expensive than it was—we used food trucks from local heroes Tacofino and Vij’s Railway Express and the per-head price was almost half of what catering companies were quoting.

A customizable banner kit allowed us to mix and match letters to share very important messages with our guests.
Instead of a traditional guestbook, we filled a notebook with prompts (“If we have a kid, what should we name it?” or “What’s your advice for a successful marriage?” or “Do you believe in Sasquatch?”) and provided emoji stickers.
Instead of table numbers, we named each table after a pop culture reference or inside joke. We hung custom escort cards for each guest on twine on the wall instead of using a static seating chart.

3. Wedding guests love cocktails, so plan accordingly

We decided that we wanted to splurge on an open bar, so I turned to my best friend for help with crunching the numbers for supplies. In addition to being my maid of honour, she also has a master’s degree in business administration, so she made me an intense spreadsheet and we plotted out what we thought we’d needed and stocked up: we got a deal on some kegs from a friend who used to work at a brewery, and Max’s parents took care of the wine. But even with our careful estimates, we were way off: it turns out everyone really wanted to drink liquor, so our bar staff had to run out halfway through and restock, and wound up racking up a bit of a bill we weren’t expecting. Oops. 

Max’s mom, a former florist, put together bouquets of pinks and greens using flowers she sourced from Thrifty Foods, including gerberas, roses and lilies.
The balloons didn’t all stay inflated overnight, unfortunately, but they still managed to add a hit of colour to the space.
We strung drink umbrellas on fishing line to create a fun photo-op backdrop by the bar.

4. Skip the things that don’t excite you

There were lots of traditional wedding elements we just skipped all together because we weren’t excited about them or didn’t care. The goal was to have a fun party and personal ceremony, not to follow every tradition. We were happy with paper plates and napkins from the food trucks, so we didn’t bother renting plates or cutlery. We skipped paper invitations in favour of good ol’ email, and passed on wedding favours all together. Our rings were both passed down from family (mine from my grandma who had passed away a few months earlier, and Max moved his signet ring from his right hand to left during the ceremony). Max’s mom did the flowers—she used to be a florist—and his dad took care of the wine. My mom planned out (and paid for) all the desserts. We used butcher paper instead of proper tablecloths, so saved money there AND gave our guests somewhere to doodle (we put crayons on every table). And we both got our outfits off the rack—mine from Ted Baker and Max’s from Simons—so probably spent less on those than most people. Oh, and we made our own playlist (and had a lot of fun doing it), so no DJ.

Another decision I’m happy with is that we didn’t bother getting the photographer to document the “getting ready” part of the day. That allowed us to extend the time he was at the actual party instead. (We also did our bridal party photos before the ceremony, which allowed us to actually spend time with our guests from start to finish instead of taking a break in the middle…highly recommended.)

And since we were getting married in town, we just cabbed home afterwards—no hotel or limo costs to worry about.

Pink flamingo pool floaties were a fun addition to the dance floor.
Friends came out in dinosaur costumes to bust a move.

vancouver wedding colourful
Our friends took to the stage to put on a dramatic reenactment of our relationship.

5. Hire some help

Our most invaluable investment was in a day-of coordinator named Lauren Harcott. This was a last-minute decision. Max and I both love planning and producing events, so we were pretty confident in taking charge of the wedding from the beginning, but as the date began to creep closer, I started having nightmares about missing the party because I was too worried about the logistics of whether or not the taco truck showed up. We decided it was a good investment to hire somebody to handle any day-of problem solving so we could actually enjoy the party we planned. It turned out to be well worth it: when the bar ran out of booze and ice, when a wedding crasher wandered in off the streets, when it turned out we miscalculated the spacing for seating and had to revise the room layout on the fly, she was on the case and we were none the wiser.

But if you don’t want to outsource these sort of things to a stranger, remember that there are plenty of other people in your life who are ready and willing to help out. People love to feel useful. Giving your friends a job to do or a specific responsibility will not only make your life easier, but it will make them feel happy and helpful too. Just remember to feel grateful and not guilty about it.

A friend gifted us retro Pacman and Mrs. Pacman wedding toppers, and my mom sourced a two-layer chocolate raspberry cake.
An all-female mariachi band joined the party around 10 p.m.
vancouver mariachi band
A guest grabs the mic for a rendition of “La Bamba.”

6. Add a few surprises

We splurged on some very silly surprises for the dance floor: we bought three inflatable dinosaur costumes and asked some friends to come bust some moves to “Shout” and “Too Close.” We also hired a mariachi band in full regalia (all female musicians) to show up unannounced so we could bully a family friend into singing “La Bamba” for everyone; we threw some flamingo pool floaties into the mix and they were a hit.

Oh, also, 11 p.m. greasy pizza was a slam dunk.

Bridesmaids wore a variety of green dresses; groomsmen sported matching bolo ties and boutonnieres made of greenery. We shot some of our engagement photos in front of this colourful mural by artist Tristesse Seeliger.
Shot in Crab Park.

The Takeaway

The motto for our wedding was “look good, have fun” and everybody complied. We were laughing the whole time. We wrote our own ceremony and vows and I loved hearing our officiant bringing everything to life, and making each other laugh and cry. The speeches were amazing, too (one of my bridesmaids even arranged for two other friends to do a hilarious “dramatic re-enactment” of our relationship). And we loved loved loved the dance floor—all our favourite songs playing, dancing with everyone, seeing inflatable dinosaurs groove, watching the flamingo pool floaties getting passed around.

Five months into marriage things are pretty great, and we’re so happy how things turned out, and that we didn’t overspend to make it happen. I also need to acknowledge how much help—physical, emotional, financial, hanging 600 feet of string lights from the ceiling on the world’s shakiest ladder—we received from family and friends: it definitely was way more than a two man operation and we are so appreciative to have so much love in our lives.

For us, getting married was an opportunity to say thank you to our family and friends and to celebrate our happiness, and I think we pulled off a day that did just that. The next morning we woke up sad that it was all over…but we’re already talking about how we can top it with a big 10th anniversary blow-out. Hopefully the dinosaur costumes will still be in working order then.

Guests contributed cookies to the dessert bar (including these chocolate rosemary delights from VanMag‘s editorial director Anicka Quin!)

Do you have a real Vancouver wedding you’d like to share? We want to hear from you! Shoot us some photos and a quick description of the day at mail@vanmag.com and we’ll be in touch.

 

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