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JOURNAL

How to Build Your Wedding Day Timeline: The Ultimate Wedding Day Timeline - From Morning Prep to Last Dance


Your wedding day is a once-in-a-lifetime celebration of love and commitment, and crafting the perfect timeline is essential to ensure a seamless and unforgettable experience for you and your guests. From the tranquil moments of morning preparation to the joyous festivities of the last dance, every moment is precious and deserves careful planning. In this guide, we'll walk you through the essential components of the ultimate wedding day timeline, helping you orchestrate a day filled with love, laughter, and cherished memories. All you need to know is your guest arrival time and/or ceremony start time so you can adjust the example and you can have a full timeline ready to go in minutes!


Morning Preparation (9 hours before ceremony start time)

  • Hair and Makeup: Begin your day of pampering with hair and makeup services for the bridal party. Allow ample time for each member to achieve their desired look while enjoying a relaxed and festive atmosphere.

  • Bridal Suite: Retreat to the bridal suite to indulge in some quiet moments of reflection and anticipation. Provide a light breakfast and be sure to hydrate! Sneak off to another room if you need to lay down or take a nap. It is a marathon of a day and you have HOURS to go!

  • Photography and Videography: I don't recommend having the photography team in the bridal suite with you as you're getting ready as it can get very messy very quickly. Take mock getting ready photos during touch ups if you'd like, but don't force it in to your timeline if you're getting ready offsite.


Pre-Ceremony (4 hours before ceremony start time)

  • Photographer Arrival: Connect with your photographer to get a specific timeline but I recommend having them start about 3 hours before the ceremony to capture the pre-ceremony pictures and events. You do NOT need a photographer for the entire reception unless you're doing a sparkler exit (only about an hour or so into open dance to capture cake cutting, bouquet/garter toss and dancing photos). You could also do a faux sparkler exit to fit everything in but that's entirely up to you!

  • Transportation: Arrange transportation for the bridal party to the ceremony venue, whether it's a vintage car, limousine, or an Uber. Do not forget to factor this into your timeline and add about 15-20 minutes of "buffer" in case HMU goes over (which it usually does!)

  • Guest Arrival: I recommend requesting that guests arrive 30 minutes before the ceremony and explicitly stating the difference on your wedding website (i.e. Ceremony begins promptly at 4pm. Please expect to arrive 30 minutes prior to allow ample time for parking and to grab a refreshment). As a guest there is nothing more annoying than arriving 30 minutes before the stated invitation time only to wait an hour for the ceremony to start. Put the correct starting time on your invitation and the distinction on your website since people are most likely to reference the website on their phones the day of. Some venues do not allow a "false start" time so double check before you do anything!


Ceremony

  • Processional: Your spouse-to-be, bridal party, parents and other VIPs will process down the aisle before you. I recommend pairing bridesmaids and groomsmen versus having everyone enter solo. This won't take very long but it will take practice. Be sure to allot ~10 minutes before the ceremony to have everyone line up!

  • Vows and Exchange of Rings: The big moment! Declare your love and commitment to one another with heartfelt vows and the exchange of rings.

  • Pronouncement and Recessional: Seal your union with a kiss and celebrate as you make your triumphant exit as newlyweds. The bridal party will recess back out after you, along with parents and anyone else that processed in. Embrace the joy and excitement of the moment as you embark on the next chapter of your journey together and get ready to take a LOT of pictures!


Cocktail Hour

  • Refreshments and Appetizers: Treat your guests to a delightful array of refreshments and appetizers during the cocktail hour. Provide a variety of options to suit all tastes and dietary preferences, from signature cocktails to gourmet hors d'oeuvres. And be sure to have someone grab you a drink and a plate of everything to enjoy while you take photos!

  • Entertainment: Keep the atmosphere lively and festive with live music, entertainment, or interactive stations. Encourage mingling and conversation among guests as they celebrate your union and share in the joy of the occasion.

  • Family Photos, Bridal Party Group Photos, and Golden Hour Romantics: These will take about an hour depending on the photographer and time of year. If the sun sets earlier or later you will need to adjust accordingly. Write down everyone in your family photos in specific groupings so it's by shot and not by person (i.e. Melena, Dave and Melena's Grandma; Melena, Melena's Mom and Melena's Grandma; Dave and Dave's Parents; etc.). You do have the option to bump these up before the ceremony if you're doing a first look but you will need to be ready earlier.


Reception

  • Grand Entrance: Make a grand entrance into the reception as guests cheer and applaud your arrival. Choose a memorable entrance song and revel in the excitement of being introduced as the new Mr. and Mrs. I recommend going straight into your first dance after to keep the energy high and the evening flowing. Everything italicized is estimated time-wise and should happen one event after the other.

  • First Dance: Take center stage for your first dance as a married couple, surrounded by the warmth and love of your family and friends. Invite parents and bridal party members to join you for special dances, celebrating the bonds of love and friendship before the dance floor opens!

  • Dinner and Toasts: Enjoy a sumptuous meal with your guests as you share in laughter, love, and camaraderie. Invite loved ones to offer heartfelt toasts and well wishes, creating cherished memories that will last a lifetime. Opt for no more than four toasts to keep the evening moving. For buffet/family style dinners I recommend putting toasts after all tables have retrieved their food and had a moment to eat, usually about 20 minutes in. For plated, I recommend coordinating with the banquet staff to slate toasts after the first course is dropped and everyone has had a moment to eat. If you opt to give a welcome and thank you, put it at the end of toasts so you can thank everyone who just gave incredible speeches on your behalf!

  • Dancing and Celebration: Kick off the dance party with lively music and infectious energy that keeps guests on their feet all night long. Feel free to add a group photo to get everyone on the dance floor! Create a playlist with your DJ that reflects your unique style and musical preferences, ensuring that everyone has a chance to hit the dance floor and make memories that will last a lifetime.

  • Cake Cutting and Dessert: Indulge in the sweet finale of the evening with a decadent wedding cake and dessert spread. I always recommend an unannounced cake cutting so the party doesn't stop!

  • Last Dance: Bid farewell to your guests with one final dance that captures the essence of your love story. Choose a poignant song that encapsulates the magic and romance of the evening, leaving guests with fond memories and hearts full of joy. Be sure to turn the music off and the lights on so everyone gets to memo (and you don't get charged!)


Real Life Example (No First Look*):

7:00am - hair and makeup begins

1:00pm - photographer arrives

1:30pm - final touch ups

1:45pm - travel to venue

2:00pm - robe shots

2:10pm - bride into dress

2:15pm - bridal party portraits

2:45pm - individual portraits

3:15pm - detail shots

3:20pm - bridal party hides

3:30pm - guests arrive 

4:00pm - ceremony

4:30pm - ceremony ends

Cocktail hour begins

Family portraits

4:50pm - Bridal party group shots

5:00pmGolden hour romantics (start an hour before sunset and last approx. 30 minutes)

5:30pm - cocktail hour ends

Guests sit for dinner

5:35pm - bridal party is staged for grand entrance

5:40pm - grand entrance

First dance

6:00pm - toasts (~5 minutes per speaker)

6:15pm - dinner begins

7:25pm - dinner ends (add more time if over 150 guests)

Parent dances

Dance floor opens 

8:00pm - cake cutting

8:15pm - garter & bouquet toss

9:00pm - photographer leaves

9:30pm - last call and bar closes (30 minutes before event ends)

9:55pm - last dance

10:00pm - event ends


*To add a first look place it after "individual portraits" and bump everything before that up by 20-30 minutes


Conclusion

Crafting the ultimate wedding day timeline is a labor of love that requires careful attention to detail, creativity, and coordination. By following these essential guidelines, you can create a day filled with love, laughter, and cherished memories that will last a lifetime. Embrace the journey with open hearts and open minds, knowing that your wedding day is a celebration of the love and commitment you share with your partner. Cheers to a lifetime of happiness and unforgettable moments!

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