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It may not be the most romantic element of planning a wedding, but be forewarned: Transportation is one of those essentials whose importance becomes very obvious when something goes wrong. Unless you have a penchant for small disasters, you will want to carefully consider the transportation needs of your wedding party and guests. Think about the location of your ceremony and reception, and the location of your guests, and, as if you are playing that old game of connect the dots, find the best way to get everyone from one point to another. In the end the picture that will appear is of you, your family, and your guests getting where everyone needs to be, when they need to be there.

The first thing to consider is getting your out-of-town guests into town, or to the wedding site. With your invitation, or via direct Internet links if you create a website for your wedding, provide guests with airline and train schedules, as well as phone numbers for local taxi, car, and airport-shuttle services, that will help them plan their travel. (Many airlines, such as American Airlines and US Airways, offer special fares for wedding groups. If you decide to arrange a group plan, give guests the reference numbers and contact names.)

Decide whether you want to have all your guests, or only close family and members of the wedding party, greeted at the airport. Get their arrival information, and a few weeks before the wedding, find out whether the groomsmen, or the best man, on whom this responsibility traditionally falls, are available to pick up arriving guests. If this is not possible, arrange for a car service or family and friends to make trips to the airport and train station before your wedding.

With transportation, as with any aspect of hospitality, you can offer as much or as little assistance as you choose. You are certainly not responsible for shuttling guests to the ceremony, but you do want to let them know what they can expect once they arrive and whether they need to rent cars. Harriette Rose Katz, a wedding and event planner for Gourmet Advisory Services Inc. in New

York City says that when guests know what to do and where to go "they feel more comfortable, more relaxed, and more free to enjoy themselves."

If the wedding ceremony is a quick drive from where your guests are staying, simply send along directions or a map, which you can get from the local convention and visitors' bureau or from a website such as Mark the route to the ceremony and reception sites with a highlighter pen, and include the name of a trustworthy person guests can call in case they get lost. If the distance from the airport or nearest hotel to the sites is significant, let your guests know approximately how long the drive will take. You don't want your college roommate to land at the airport and discover that she has a two-hour drive ahead of her, putting her at the church just as the ceremony is ending.

Although it is reasonable to expect guests to rent cars, you may prefer to provide other transportation. It makes matters simpler for guests and relieves you of worries that they will drive when they're tired or after they've been toasting your future with champagne. If it is a long or difficult drive to the ceremony, if parking is scarce, or if many guests are from out of town, you may want to arrange to transport them on buses (luxury minibuses and coaches seat from 24 to 55 passengers and cost from $400 to $900 for two to seven hours) or trolleys (which usually seat about 40 people and cost $500 for two hours). Wooden seats and a bumpy ride may be pleasantly quirky parts of the experience.

As for parking, first decide whether you need a valet. If there is plenty of parking (say at a beach or in a church parking lot), if you're only having 50 guests, or if you're shuttling most of your guests in one vehicle, you may not need an attendant. But you will need to go to your town or city hall to find out whether you will need parking permits and how to obtain them. (Many valet services will do this for you.) You'll also want to notify your local police department and even your neighbors that you're having a wedding, just to avoid possible complaints. Particularly if you are not hiring a valet, think about the special needs of elderly or handicapped guests: Reserve parking spaces close to the event for them, or designate someone, perhaps an older niece or nephew, to escort them from and to their cars.

If your guests are arriving in individual cars and using street parking, the walk to the site may be a long one for everybody except the first to arrive. In this case, you may want to hire a valet, preferably one recommended by friends or a wedding planner. "Beware any company that simply asks how many guests there will be and does not care to see the site," warns John Dent, owner of Advanced Parking Concepts, a company in Verona, New Jersey, that has provided parking and transportation services for more than 800 weddings in the New York City area last year.

Typically, every 25 cars require one valet, but if there is a very long driveway or complex parking restrictions at your event, you might need one valet for every seven cars, at a rate of approximately $125 per valet. Request a certificate of insurance from the company that includes contractor liability, garage liability, and workman's compensation. The host or hostess should also be named as an insured party.

Additionally, make sure the contract specifies how many valets will be at the site, whether a manager will be present, and whether tips are included in the fee. (If so, valets should refuse tips from your guests.) Unless you're willing to risk having your dad parking your roommate's car at the moment he is supposed to be walking you down the aisle, or your favorite aunt slogging through a rainstorm to the reception (professional valets walk guests from car to building door under large umbrellas), you may want to think twice about arranging your own valet service. If you decide to do it anyway, call your homeowners-and automobile-insurance companies to make sure you are covered financially.

When you have considered your guests' transportation, you can think about how to get yourself, your wedding party, and your family to where you need to be. Hiring cars and drivers takes the burden of driving off of family and the wedding party. Ask to see the cars you will use beforehand. Decide how many cars you'll need (a standard stretch limousine costs about $80 per hour and seats eight people), and plan who is going to travel in which car.

If you're thinking about using antique cars -- and with everything from the earliest model Ford to a sixties Rolls Royce to a classic convertible T-bird or Mustang to choose from, you're bound to find one that suits you -- be aware that they come with their own set of considerations. Mike Wagner, owner of Absolutely All Antique Automobiles in Bayville, New Jersey, which has a fleet of more than 50 cars, explains, "A normal person wouldn't even know how to stop some of these cars." Often, the collector himself is the driver and most likely will not wait through the reception; you'll have to make other arrangements to leave. (Be sure, too, to make departure arrangements for any members of the wedding party who have traveled with you to the reception.) Ask whether the car can be decorated, whether it can travel on highways, and how fast it can go.

No matter who's behind the wheel, confirm that the driver knows the route, that there will be plenty of gas in the car, and that you have estimated correctly the time it will take to get from one place to another. You may even want to make a timed test run. Also, ask what the driver will wear, and don't be afraid to specify a uniform or to rent one for him -- just make sure he tries it on ahead of time: Your driver opens your door, and he will likely be in your pictures.

If your ceremony and reception sites are an easy and pleasant walk from each other, take advantage of it. Ask your valets to move cars from one site to the other so your guests have to deal with the vehicles only once. You can walk with your guests, or use your imagination: Take a horse-drawn carriage (four-, six-, or nine-passenger carriages cost upward of $500 an hour), a golf-cart, or a bicycle rickshaw. The choice depends on location. "Think about where you are," says Andrew Spurgin, who, as executive director of Waters Fine Catering in San Diego, has designed about 30 weddings a year for the past 20 years. "If the ceremony is on a lake, what's more romantic than for the groom to row his bride away from the ceremony?"

But Spurgin advises against going to elaborate extremes. "I did one wedding in which the bride insisted on arriving by helicopter," he recalls. "It may seem like a great idea, but the reality is that you're in this beautiful field, you've got all your friends and family there dressed up with their hair done, and they're now sitting in a wind tunnel breathing fumes." Likewise, arriving and leaving in hot-air balloons might seem like a romantic image, he says, but balloons land where the wind takes them, which could be quite far from the reception site.

Consider allotting enough cars so that the two of you can leave the ceremony alone. As much fun as you might think it would be to pile into a car with all of the wedding party, that ride may be the only moment you have to yourselves until the end of the night. Make it an opportunity to acknowledge the momentous thing you've just done together.


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