The wedding venue is where it all comes together! The months of planning, the carefully selected colour scheme and décor; pretty much everything from the entertainment to the food and flowers – all these aspects will converge for a grand celebration with friends and family in the venue of your choosing.
It’s no wonder then that most couples agree that finding their perfect wedding venue is one of the most important decisions they will make in the run-up to the big day. Once you have an idea of what your budget is, and have identified the date on which you’ll be tying the knot, it’s time to start your search. But tracking down a suitable venue isn’t always easy. There are so many options to choose from, whether you’re looking for a country manor, rustic barn, rooftop penthouse, tropical garden, seaside resort or grand ballroom.
Local brides and grooms are spoilt for choice when it comes to appealing locations in our beautiful province. KwaZulu-Natal boasts everything from eco-friendly resorts set in lush coastal forests, to luxurious beachfront hotels, grand colonial estates in the picturesque Midlands, luxurious game lodges in ‘Big Five’ country, and sophisticated five-star or boutique hotels in the city, not to mention a variety of resorts and guesthouses in the foothills of the awe-inspiring Drakensberg mountain range. One of these destinations could be home to your special venue, the place where you and your partner celebrate the next chapter in your lives together.
If only choosing a wedding venue were as easy as simply finding a space that you like. It may not seem terribly romantic right now, but do remember to bear in mind the logistics of a venue as this could save you untold hassles later on. Consider everything from the number of guests the venue will need to cater for, to the time of day and the season, as well as any accommodation your guests might require.
You don’t need to know exactly what your guest count is before starting to look at venues, but you do need to at least have a rough idea before you begin – whether you’re planning a relatively intimate gathering of 50, the more standard size of 125, or a grand-scale celebration of 300-plus! The best starting point on your quest is the Internet, as web-based searches instead of phone calls and emails will save you lots of time. Many bridal sites have venue databases, and you should be able to find out most of venue details online, such as the size of their banqueting facilities and the services offered. Reading reviews on TripAdvisor might also help you to narrow down the list of possibilities.
If you plan on having a church wedding, the location of your reception venue will need to be in fairly close proximity to that of the ceremony. However, if you’re content with a civil wedding, this will widen your options greatly. Today many reception venues host both the wedding ceremony and the reception; a practical option which has the added benefit of minimising potential transport complications. Also think about the type of reception you’re planning. You’ll need more space for a formal, sit-down dinner than a cocktail-style affair. And don’t forget the entertainment; a band or DJ will take up lots of room, as will a dance floor!
Another prime consideration is your budget. Get a price estimate, including menu and bar prices and corkage fees, and the cost of waiters and bar staff. Some venues offer discounts on accommodation as well as other services if you’re prepared to be flexible.
Types of venues
There are all types of venues out there, but which will be most suitable for your wedding? In order to decide, you first need to know the style and feel that you’re aiming for. Would you prefer a quirky, DIY-style wedding, a romantic country-themed celebration, or something with a more sophisticated atmosphere? Once you know what you want – or even what you don’t want – you should be able to rule out some venues immediately. The more fitting your venue is for your chosen theme, the less you’ll have to worry about the décor, which will end up being a huge money-saver.
It’s also important to consider whether you want a full-service venue or not. The former should be able to supply most of your needs, such as tables, chairs, linen and catering, while the latter generally only offers you the space, allowing you the freedom (and the extra work that goes along with it) of hiring and coordinating all the service providers yourself.
Traditional venues such as hotels and guest houses, which usually have set wedding packages, might be just the thing. Choose anything from an elegant boutique hotel to an upmarket international resort or a charming country inn. Hotels are able to provide in-house food and drink as well as accommodation for the bridal couple and the guests. However, remember that the larger hotels may host more than one wedding on the same day so there could be issues with a lack of exclusivity.
Perhaps a golf or country club is just what you’re looking for. Many have beautiful buildings and grounds that are ideal for a wedding reception. Like a hotel, they’re also used to catering for large numbers of guests, particularly if you’re after buffet-style catering. For a smaller wedding party, a restaurant could offer a sure-fire recipe for success, and it’s often the most cost effective venue option too!
You’re free to do things your way at a home wedding, and could save money by hiring the caterer of your choice and stocking your own bar. It can nevertheless end up being quite costly in the long run once you take all the extras into account, such as cutlery, crockery and linen, tables and chairs, and probably a tent or marquee, lighting, generators, portable toilets and flooring too. In addition, you may have to supervise the set-up of equipment, organise parking for guests, and clean up when it’s all over.
There are a number of non-traditional venues to be found, such as art galleries, barns, beaches, boats and hired halls. If you’d prefer something outdoors, KwaZulu-Natal has an immense variety of beautiful spots for you to pitch a tent or marquee, giving you endless flexibility regarding décor and styling. Although romantic and scenic, al fresco weddings can nevertheless be a lot of work to organise. Take into account things like the privacy of your location and competition from the elements, such as sun, heat, rain or insects. Accessibility and parking facilities should also be considered.
Timing and weather
When you’ve settled on your short list, and made sure the venues are available on your chosen day, it’s time to pay them a visit. A good tip here is to go and see the venue on the same day of the week that you’re planning to get married and, if possible, at around the same time. This way you’ll be able to notice the little details, like the quality of the light and if there are any regular goings-on and routines that might interfere in any way with the smooth running of your special day. If you have a wedding coordinator, take them along too as they will be able to cast an experienced eye over the set-up and offer good advice.
Also take the weather and the time of year into account when deciding on where to host your reception. Find out whether the venue is air conditioned and/or heated and, in the case of an outdoor wedding, if there’s an alternative space should it suddenly begin to rain. While Durban and the coast enjoy wonderful weather all year round, with glorious, long summer days, there is also the chance of rain and humidity during the warmer months. Conversely, the subtropical coastal areas experience warm and dry winters: even during the coldest months the average maximum temperature rises to 23°C during the day and rarely drops below 10°C at night.
In the Drakensberg and KwaZulu-Natal Midlands the weather is much more temperate. Mild winter days are followed by cold nights and the possibility of snow between July and September. During summer the days are warm and generally sunny, although afternoon thundershowers are common. A bushveld wedding in Zululand or the Elephant Coast is usually more pleasant in the cooler months between May and October, with January being the wettest month as well as having an average daytime temperature of 28ºC compared with the average July temperature of 22ºC.
Remember to ask lots of questions, and don’t only ask the bookings manager. You might get different answers depending on who talk to, so also chat to people like the catering manager and the event coordinator. Find out things like how many weddings are held there on one day, who will be in charge on the day, and whether they have any major renovations or building programmes scheduled before your wedding. Other questions you could ask include:
- • Accommodation: Is there adequate accommodation, either at the venue itself or nearby?
- • Facilities: Is the venue accessible by wheelchair and suitable for disabled guests? Does it have adequate seating for the elderly and does it cater to the needs of young children? Are there sufficient bathroom facilities?
- • Catering: Must you provide your own caterer, or does the venue have a kitchen and catering staff?
- • Liquor: Does the venue have a liquor license and would you be allowed to bring your own alcohol? If so, what are corkage fees?
- • Parking: Is there enough parking, and how close is the parking lot to the reception area?
- • Restrictions: Are there specific venue limitations, such as a ban on candles and confetti, loud music or dancing?
- • Entertainment: Does the venue have its own sound and PA system with adequate speakers, or will this need to be hired separately?
- • Décor: Does the venue provide table linen, floral arrangements, menu and place cards, as well as other decorations, or must you supply your own?
- • Extra items: Will items such as a cake stand and cake knife be available?
- • Coordinator: Is there a manager or coordinator available to supervise the set-up of the wedding? To what extent will you be able to liaise with them?
- • Photography: Does the venue have scenic grounds with sufficient natural light for good photographs? If not, is there an attractive spot nearby?
- • Payment: What sort of deposit is required, and what is the cancellation policy? Find out details such as overtime charges and whether there are any hidden costs before signing the contract.
Locations in KwaZulu-Natal
The seaside playground of KwaZulu-Natal is bounded by the warm waters of the Indian Ocean to the east and the Drakensberg to the west. In between beach and ‘berg lie the Midlands, while further north there are historic battlefields and world-renowned game reserves.
East meets west in the cosmopolitan city and tourist capital of Durban, the cultural melting pot of the Zulu Kingdom. Durban, or ‘eThekwini’ as it is also known, boasts colourful markets, oriental bazaars and modern shopping malls, golden beaches and water sports, as well as top-class hotels, restaurants and casinos, and attractions such as the Botanical Gardens, uShaka Marine World and Valley of 1000 Hills.
Some forty minutes northwest of Durban is the town of Pietermaritzburg, beyond which are the green hills of the Midlands, where the crisp climate and crystal clear air offer a refreshing respite from the coastal humidity. Venture further inland to witness one of the great natural spectacles of the African continent, the uKhahlamba Drakensberg mountain range, which extends some 200 kilometres from north to south, rising to heights of over 3 400 metres.
The tropical paradise of the South Coast, which stretches from Port Edward up to Scottburgh, and includes the holiday towns of Margate, Southbroom and Pennington, is known for its beaches and golf courses, annual Sardine Run, and Oribi Gorge nature reserve. From Durban, a sun-drenched coastline extends through the North Coast’s premier holiday resorts of Umhlanga, Ballito and Zinkwazi, and along the unspoilt Elephant Coast to Sodwana and Kosi Bay in the north. This is the site of the iSimangaliso Wetlands Park, a marine treasure trove and World Heritage Site with whales, dolphins, turtles, elephants and rhinos.
Travelling inland through indigenous coastal forests and thornveld plains teeming with wildlife are the famed game reserves of Zululand, including the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Reserve, which was once the hunting ground of Zulu kings like Shaka and Dingiswayo. Zululand and the Battlefields area of northern KwaZulu-Natal were also witness to military conflicts between British, Boer and Zulu armies. These areas encompass the towns of Ulundi, Melmoth and Eshowe, Vryheid, Utrecht, Dundee and Ladysmith, and legendary battles such as Isandlwana, Rorke’s Drift and Spioenkop.
A destination wedding is a popular option for couples wishing to put a unique stamp on their relationship, and these types of weddings have so much in their favour. Firstly, the fuss of planning the wedding is hugely reduced, as many destinations offer customised wedding packages and planning services. What’s more, since you’re already in an idyllic location, your décor needs will be kept to the minimum. Many couples also enjoy the fact that their guests list will be much easier to manage. Furthermore, it’s a great opportunity to combine your wedding and honeymoon. Once the celebration is over, there’s no need to rush on to a new destination; just kick back and relax!
You should also be aware of the potentially negative aspects of a destination wedding. With the exception of the venue’s online photo gallery and a ‘virtual tour’, you probably won’t be able to scope out the location and grounds yourself before you get there. While some brides might find this a bit unnerving, remember that destination weddings can produce some of the most relaxed and fun-filled celebrations, provided you ask the right questions and find out the finer details beforehand.
When you contact the venue, ask whether they have a dedicated wedding planner on site who you can liaise with via email. This will make the logistics of planning your wedding much easier! Also establish exactly what services the wedding coordinator will provide, and whether there is a fee. Find out what reception and ceremony areas are available, how many guests each can accommodate, and whether they are air-conditioned. Also ask the manager to email you a layout of each, including pictures. If you’d like to have a wedding on the beach, will this be possible? If travelling outside South Africa, it’s also vital that you find out what the legal obligations are for a wedding in your destination of choice, and what paperwork is required.