Creating the right timeline is important: it ensures that all your vendors know when to come, how long you will need for your photographer/videographer, that your bridal party and family members know where to be and when, and that everything runs smoothly and you have enough time for all your photos that day. It takes a lot of coordination between multiple parties and your wedding vision to finalize your timeline.
Start with the ceremony
Start with figuring out what time of day you want your ceremony (sunrise, midday or sunset) and whether you will be seeing the groom before the wedding. There are many benefits to doing a First Look: you get a private, intimate moment with your groom before the ceremony, some really touching photos, and you can do all your photos before the ceremony and head on into cocktail hour with your guests. A First Look is not for everyone (it wasn’t for us) and waiting for the groom to see you for the first time at the top of the altar is a very touching moment, too. Whether you choose to do a First Look or not is completely up to you and there is no right or wrong answer, but it will dictate the rest of your wedding day schedule.
Whether you want a sunrise or sunset ceremony will also depend on where you’re getting married. For instance, in Punta Cana, the sun sets behind the resorts which causes it to darken quickly and doesn’t give the same sunset you might see in Negril. This is one of the reasons we chose to do a sunrise ceremony.
To figure out the time for sunrises and sunsets, check this site: www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/ and if you are planning a sunrise ceremony, email me for a sample of my timeline.
Once you have figured out when you want your ceremony:
If your wedding is off-resort, talk to your officiant about his or her availability and if the officiant’s schedule doesn’t match with the time of day you wish to have your ceremony, figure out what is more important to you: your officiant’s availability or the time of your ceremony.
If your wedding is on-resort, then you need to pick the location at the resort that you are most interested in having your ceremony and find out the times that are available for you there in addition to coordinating with your officiant, if your resort doesn't have one you want to use.
There are a few ways to schedule photos:
If you are doing a First Look…
…and you want a sunset ceremony and/or you want to join your guests for the full cocktail hour, then you must have all the photos done beforehand. Ask your photographer to come 4 hours prior to the ceremony start time to ensure that all the photos are completed.
…but you want to only do some of the photos before the ceremony and leave the family shots to be done during cocktail hour, then ask your photographer to come 3 hours prior to the ceremony start time.
…but you only want the First Look and Getting Ready done before, then ask your photographer to arrive 2 hours prior to the ceremony start time to allow sufficient time for the Getting Ready, First Look, and the bride/groom shoot. During cocktail hour, you can do your bridal party shoot and family shoot. This is likely the most popular option among brides doing a First Look.
If you are not seeing each other before the ceremony…
…your photographer should be scheduled to arrive approximately 1 hour before the ceremony for the Getting Ready photos and your ceremony and cocktail hour should be scheduled to allow enough daylight time after cocktail hour finishes so that you can have 30-45 minutes of bride/groom photos during dinner. This can be an excellent time to try to schedule some romantic sunset photos.
If you are having your wedding on the resort, suggest to your guests that they hang out at one of the bars for an hour and schedule cocktail hour to start an hour after the ceremony so that you can have 2 hours for the photos before the reception starts.
If you are having an off-resort wedding or you are having a resort wedding and want to join your guests for cocktail hour, consider extending the cocktail hour for 2 hours. You can ask that the appetizers be served in the first hour, giving the guests an hour to drink and mingle before the reception starts.
The rest of the reception usually flows like this: the bridal party entrance should be the start of the ceremony, even if you join your guests for cocktail hour; speeches should be scheduled between salad and main course; you can do the cake cutting at the end of dinner, even if you plan to have something else for dessert and have it served later on in the evening; and first dance should be done once dinner/cake cutting is over. If you have entertainment, schedule them to come after the first dance to get the party started.
talk to your vendors
Discuss with your photographer how many hours he or she thinks you need for your photos. There are: Getting Ready, First Look, Bride/Groom, Bridal Party, Family Shots.
As a general rule of thumb, I suggest leaving approximately 1 hour for Getting Ready photos and photos with the bride/bridesmaid and groom/groomsman. You should leave approximately 45-60 minutes for First Look and/or Bride/Groom Shots and approximately 30-45 minutes each for Bridal Party and Family Shots.
Estimate around 3-4 hours for all the photos total.
A little note about Getting Ready shots:
You do not need your photographer there all day. Schedule your photographer to come at the tail end of things, when your hair and makeup are done or nearly done. They can catch the finishing touches, some moments with your bridal party, and the photos getting dressed, including your mom, MOH or someone special typing or zipping up your dress for you.
If you have a second shooter, ask that the second shooter take the groom and groomsmen getting ready photos at the same since you don’t need a second shooter for getting ready photos. If you only have one, ask that the photographer first go to the boys and do those photos before coming to the girls. The boys can sit around and wait for about an hour or so while the girls get ready, they don’t have to worry about their hair or makeup getting ruined!
Don't forget to schedule some time for yourself and your ladies to have lunch. If you're getting ready on the resort, make sure to order room service (and champagne!) about an hour before you want to have lunch. If you're getting ready off-resort, those venues usually let you order off the menu or you can ask for a spread in advance so you can be prepared for how much it will cost.
Ask your stylist how long she needs for hair and makeup. I estimate around 45 minutes for each. If you have 4 or more girls getting both hair and makeup done, I strongly suggest that you get a second stylist to cut back on the amount of time it takes to get ready so that everyone isn’t sitting around all day. Give yourself an extra 30-minute cushion on top of what you have discussed with your stylist for how long it should take to get ready in case you run late (someone doesn’t like their hair or makeup or someone shows up late or it just takes longer than you thought).
A few pointers about hair and makeup:
Do not schedule yourself to go last. I know it’s tempting, but don’t. If you run late, you will be the one stressed and getting rushed. You are the only person needed for all the photos and they cannot start without you, so don’t schedule yourself to go last. If you have only one stylist, the order should be: bridesmaids, MOH, MOB, Bride, MOG. If you have two stylists, then the MOB and MOG can go at the same time, after the Bride is done. This allows you to get started with your getting ready photos with your bridesmaids while the moms finish up.
Wash your hair and dry it the night before. Discuss this with your stylist, but showing up with wet hair will only prolong the process.
Listen to your stylist if she says she needs a certain amount of time for hair and makeup, but also know your own hair; if your hair is long, thick or just takes longer to style than the average person, make sure to let your stylist know this.
Comment below if you have can think of anything else that should be considered when planning your timeline!