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Vendor Reviews (6/23/2012) -- VERY LONG

Hi everyone!  We're finally married and happy to be done with wedding planning! Overall, the day went rather smoothly with only minor hiccups that didn't affect the event too much.  For a sneak peek of our photos, check out: http://www.amandadonaho.com/julia-craig/

Here are a few comments on the vendors that we used for our Big Day:

(A+):  St. Monica - St. George Church in Clifton -- This is the church where my husband and I met, and it is BEAUTIFUL.  (Seriously gorgeous... check out our photos in the link above.)  Though we are parishoners of this church, they allow anyone to get married in this church regardless of religion.  One of the biggest conveniences of this church is that the music director hires all of the musicians (vocalists, piano/organ, trumpet, strings... whatever you want) and charges a set fair price for each musician.  Most of their musicians are trained at CCM, and we were able to listen to our vocalist and trumpeter prior to hiring them.

Rehearsal Dinner & Pre-ceremony "Getting Ready" (A++):  The Clifton House -- I am a huge sucker for convenience and smooth logistics.  With that said, we did something a little different for our rehearsal dinner.  The Clifton House is a B&B located near UC in Clifton.  It is a very large, historic home (circa 1900) that has been refurbished with modern amenities while maintaining its vintage charm.  For the weekend of our wedding, we rented out the entire B&B, which included 5 full bedrooms, three additional rooms containing twin beds & pull-out couches, and the entire ground floor that is big enough for a sit-down banquet for 35 people.  With the rehearsal on Friday evening, our wedding party & immediate families were able to check into the B&B at noon on Friday, settle in and freshen up until the rehearsal at 5 p.m., drive 3 minutes to the church for the rehearsal, and drive back to the B&B for the rehearsal dinner that had been set up while we were gone.  We were then able to enjoy a delicious rehearsal dinner catered by Fresh Table (reviewed below) and hang out with our wedding party and family members as late as we wanted.  As we all grew tired (things wrapped up around 11 p.m.), we only needed to climb a flight of stairs to the bedrooms upstairs.  By the next morning, the B&B's owner (Nancy -- she's fantastic!) had the ground floor cleaned and set up for breakfast served by her chef at 7:30 a.m.  It was really great that everyone staying at the B&B just rolled out of bed, shared a hot breakfast together, and then split up to get ready for the Big Day.  We had hair stylists and make-up artists show up at the B&B at 8 a.m. to "beautify" the girls so that no one needed to waste time driving to a salon that morning.  Flowers were delivered to the B&B, and our photographer showed up at the B&B around 10:30 a.m. to get pictures of everyone getting ready.  We had Jimmy John's drop of platters of sandwiches at 11 a.m., and everyone grabbed a bite to eat before heading to the church (3 minutes away) for more pictures at noon.  So the two best parts of booking the Clifton House for our wedding were:  (1) No one needed to drive anywhere from the start of our rehearsal dinner on Friday night until the ceremony on Saturday afternoon, and (2) the house is full of vintage decor that made our pre-wedding photos look gorgeous without any extra work for us.  After the wedding reception on Saturday night, we had a limo bus drive our wedding party & immediate families back to the B&B.  My husband and I also rode back to the Clifton House and spend the night at the separate "carriage house" owned by the B&B.  This carriage house was a 2-level cottage complete with king-sized bed and jacuzzi -- completely secluded and more spacious than a hotel.  I may be biased, but if you are having a wedding in the Clifton neighborhood, you should really consider using the Clifton House for its convenience and beauty.

Rehearsal Dinner Caterer (A++):  Fresh Table -- This is a relatively new catering business run by Chefs Louis and Meredith out of Findlay Market.  They are by far the best catering chefs in the city.  We looked into other caterers, and Fresh Table far surpassed any of them in culinary creativity and flexibility.  We gave them a price-per-plate budget and they presented us with a custom menu.  Just to wet your taste buds... they served grilled salmon, grilled asparagus with hollandais sauce, filet mignon with mushrooms, sausage-stuffed pork loin (delicious!), parmesean mashed potatoes, salad with homemade salad dressings, and an assortment of cookie bars/brownies and gelato for dessert.  Our families were so floored by the food that they gave Chef Louis a standing ovation when he passed through the dining room to clear the dinner plates.  I only wish that we could have hired Fresh Table to cater our wedding reception as well.  Fresh Table gave us the biggest "bang-for-our-buck" because they (1) created a custom menu to fit our budget, (2) we were able to serve our own beer & wine without hiring a bartender (HUGE $$-saver), and (3) we were able to purchase and use our own table linens and place settings rather than renting them.  Renting table linens and place settings is a BIG hidden expense if you cater any meal.  We were able to save a lot of money by planning ahead and ordering table linens from linentablecloth.com during their Black Friday Sale on the day after Thanksgiving.  We purchased our porcelain place settings & glassware from a discount store (Gabriel Brothers... Big Lots has similar deals), which worked out to be half the price of rentals.  Our silverware was purchased from Kohl's during their Black Friday Sale.  The best part of choosing not to rent these items is that we now have linens, place settings, glassware, and sliverware to host formal dinner parties for 36 people.  At the end of the day, our rehearsal dinner cost was similar to going to a nice restaurant, but the atmosphere and quality of the dinner was a million times better (and more convenient) than any restaurant.  The rehearsal dinner was the BEST aspect of our wedding weekend.

Flowers (A):  Blossom's Florist -- Carol (the owner) is great.  We booked her after reading many positive reviews about her on this message board.  She only charges for the market price of the flowers and a flat fee for her design services, which worked out to about half the price of quotes we got from other florists.  For $1000, we ordered a bridal bouquet, 5 bridesmaids bouquets, 1 flowergirl bouquet, 11 boutineers, 3 corsages, 12 centerpieces, and 45 orchid stems for other floating candle centerpieces (candle provided by our reception hall).  We had no idea what we wanted for flowers, but Carol takes all of her brides to the flower warehouse to pick out their flowers.  Seeing the flowers in person really helped us figure out what we wanted.  One week after meeting Carol at the flower warehouse, I spend nearly an entire afternoon with Carol working on mock-ups of the bouquets and centerpieces.  I don't know many florists who would be willing to spend so much time with their clients.  There are pictures of our flowers in the link given at the beginning of this post.

Make-up (A+):  Brideface --  Nancy is the best!  Take a look at our wedding photos in the link above and judge for yourself.  If you can work it into your budget, hire someone to do your make-up.  It's your wedding day, and you deserve to look and feel beautiful.

Hair (A+):  Bella Rey Salon -- Amanda Arias and Ryan came to us at the B&B and did a fantastic job.  Unfortunately, I don't think she is booking any future weddings.  Regardless, she did a wonderful job with my hair and my bridemaids.

Photography (A++):  Amanda Donaho -- BEST vendor we booked, hands down.  We found Amanda by Google searching for photographers who had shot weddings at our reception venue... and we were floored by the beautiful photos that Amanda had taken.  Besides taking gorgeous photos, Amanda's two best qualities is that (1) she is EFFICIENT (we had all of our photos done 30 minutes ahead of schedule), and (2) she and her assistant have the ability to shoot candid photos without people even knowing that they are having their picture taken.

VideographyJeff Cooney Weddings -- This is a relatively new husband-wife duo from Dayton.  We booked them as they were just starting their business last year.  We were really "on the fence" about wedding videography.  I wanted it, but my husband didn't.  We compromised on the issue by hiring Jeff because their equipment was small (a.k.a. "less noticeable") and reasonably priced.  They were very unobtrusive during the ceremony & reception and easy to work with leading up to the big day.  I'm not giving them a grade here because we haven't seen the video footage yet.  I post a separate review after we get our wedding video.  Now that the wedding is over, I cannot stress enough that having a wedding videographer is a MUST.  Neither my husband nor myself can remember much about our wedding day -- it passed way too fast.  Therefore, we are both very thankful that we hired a videographer to capture the moments that we missed.

Wedding Party Transportation (A+):  Ride My Party Bus -- Biggest surprise of the day!  We hired this company for their 18-person mini-bus because they were the cheapest option that we could find.  For $500, we got 3-hours of service that could be split, which allowed us to use them for 2 hours after the ceremony to drive our wedding party around Cincinnati for pictures and drop us off at the reception followed by another 1 hour after the reception to drive everyone back to the B&B at the end of the night.  Since they were so much cheaper than everyone else, I was expecting the bus to look pretty ghetto, but it actually was really nice inside with fun lighting, cup holders, cooler with ice, and comfortable seating.  The driver was great, and I couldn't be happier with our service.

Wedding Guest Transportation (A+):  Petermann Bus Company -- I was nervous about this company after reading mixed reviews, but they did everything we asked for a very reasonable price.  For under $500, we hired a 36-passenger air-conditioned bus to shuttle guests between the hotel and the reception.  Our guests greatly appreciated the free transportation, which allowed them to drink freely at our open bar and keep the party going at our reception.  Setting up a shuttle bus for guest transportation was a bit of a pain (it was hard to estimate how many people would actually use the bud)... so if I had to do it again, I would have found a reception hall that was located within walking distance to a hotel.  Given that our reception hall was located 30 minutes from the nearest hotel, this was the best option that we could arrange in order to ensure that people used our open bar.

Tuxes (A+):  Folchi's -- The guys looked great and the service was superb.  Everything went very smoothly despite the fact that half of the guys don't live in Cincinnati.

Wedding Dress (B-):  Fabulous Bridal -- The service was great when I was picking out my dress, but not great when I picked up my dress after paying for it.  The sample gown of my wedding dress fit like a glove when I first tried it on... so I ordered my dress in the exact same size.  When my dress arrived, the bust was 4 inches too big, but the shop insisted that they had ordered the right size.  Since I didn't have time to re-order and pursue this issue, I took the dress and found someone to do the alterations for cheap.  After alterations, the dress fit like a glove again, but I was really stressed about it for a few months.  Another thing that really irked me about Fabulous Bridal is that they refused to press my dress before giving it to me.  The dress was VERY wrinkled from shipping, and my alterations lady said that she spent hours pressing the dress.  It is incredibly unprofessional of Fabulous Bridal to not press their wedding dresses, and I would be reluctant to use them again.

Bridesmaid Dresses (A):  Bridal & Formal -- They definitely had the widest selection and best prices for bridesmaid dresses.  We had no problems with our orders and the dresses came in on time.

Reception Venue (A):  Aston Oaks Golf Club -- Aston Oaks was incredibly flexible with our requests.  We booked them nearly 2 years in advance and they gave us 2010 pricing (big $$ saver).  They also threw in a lot of extras free of cost -- extra tables & chairs on the back patio for people to get some fresh air, champagne for a signature drink (champagne poured over raspberry gelato), upgrades to our buffet, and any three draft beers of our choice (my husband enjoyed selecting 3 unusual craft brews).  Their bar-tending staff is phenomenal.  They were mixing a huge variety of drinks all night long, and my husband and I were shocked that they were willing to serve shots (we've never seen this at a wedding before).  They provided a premium selection of liquor, and our families are still raving about the incredible bar selection.  The food was standard wedding food -- nothing all that special, but decent in taste.  The only inconvenience is the location.  The nearest hotel is the Holiday Inn on Rybolt Road, which is 20 minutes away on winding local roads.  Not many of our guests used this hotel because they required a 2-night stay on weekends.  Instead, most of our guests stayed at hotels downtown (30 minutes away) where they could book a single night.  We tried to make it work with a shuttle bus, but picking a more convenient location would have worked easier overall.

DJ (B):  Joe Griffin -- Our reception hall venue recommended Joe because he has worked there before and knows the venue layout.  We've seen Joe work before at a New Year's Eve party and were happy with his music selection.  Overall, he was easy to work with and had a good selection of music for our reception, but our only hiccup of the day was with his announcments.  Aston Oaks has an L-shaped room, which makes it difficult to for the music/announcements to be heard in the corners of the room.  Joe knows this and told us that he would place a second set of speakers in the corner of the room to fill the space with sound.  I don't know that happened, but for some reason, he was unable to set up the second set of speakers, which made it impossible for any of his announcements to be heard.  The music never really reached the back of the room throughout the night either, which made it difficult to get the dancing started.   Wedding guests always seem to mention the one thing that goes wrong at a wedding, and they keep reminding us of this one.  I think this was a rare mistake for Joe (he is very experienced), but it was unfortunate that it affected our wedding reception.  I would book Joe again, but I would insist that the second speaker be used at Aston Oaks.

Gelato Bar (A++):  Aroma's Gelato -- This was a last-minute addition to our wedding.  We had a little extra room in our budget, so we added an outdoor gelato bar for cocktail hour.  This really made our wedding unique, and our families are still raving about the gelato.  If you have extra money for something fun, this is a fantastic option!

Wedding Cake (A++):  Marilyn's Cakes -- Wonderful!  Marilyn can do any design you ask, her cake is delicious, and she is very reasonably priced.  Since we ordered 300 slices, we decided to do a small 3-tiered wedding cake with kitchen cakes that were served (but not displayed).  The kitchen cakes really cut down the overall cost of the cake to $1 per slice.  We had 5 different flavors and everyone thought the cake tasted great!

Groom's Cake (A++):  Artrageous Desserts -- We found a Groupon for this baker, which made our groom's cake affordable.  We did a Reds-themed cake with Mr. Redlegs popping out of the the cake, and it looked INCREDIBLE.  Better yet, the cake tasted even better than it looked!

I think this post is plenty long enough!  Feel free to post any questions!

Happy planning!

Re: Vendor Reviews (6/23/2012) -- VERY LONG

  • Sounds like you had an amazing wedding! I am also using Amanda Donaho for my 2013 October wedding...her work is exactly what I want...

     The Clifton House looks and sounds amazing but a couple of Q's....did you and your fiance see each other the morning of your wedding at breakfast? Or would it be easy to remain seperate? And, was the whole B&B your treat for your immediate family/wedding party, or did you somehow have them chip in with the cost?

  • You'll love working with Amanda!  :)

    So my husband and I wanted to not see each other before the ceremony... and it kinda worked out, but not entirely.  Even with so many rooms in the house, running into each other while trying to grab showers, brush teeth, etc. was inevitable.  In the end, we eventually ran into each other on our way to breakfast, but it truly didn't matter.  We were both in grungy PJ's with tangled hair when everyone sat down to breakfast.  You go through such a huge transformation after hair, make-up, and wedding dress that your fiance will still be equally stunned as you walk down the aisle (my husband was crying as I walked towards him despite seeing each other only 6 hours earlier for breakfast).  

    My bridesmaids and I had our hair & make-up done in the main dining room, which has doors that could be shut to stop any prying eyes.  After my hair & make-up was done, Amanda's assistant made sure that my husband was tucked away in another room as I slipped upstairs to get dressed.  After that, we really had no problems keeping ourselves separated.  If you really wanted to avoid each other during breakfast, I'm sure that the owner (Nancy) couild serve breakfast to one of you in a separate room.

    If you book the B&B just for the bedrooms (i.e. no rehearsal dinner), the cost is just the cumulative price for all rooms for a 2-night stay.  We paid an additional $300 to use the bottom floor for our rehearsal dinner.  Four of the five rooms were paid by the people who stayed in them (bride's parents, groom's parents, bride's sister, groom's aunt & uncle).  The fifth room is a 3-room suite that encompasses the entire 3rd floor.  We paid for that room ourselves because we stuffed 9 people from our wedding party up there (bride, groom, 4 bridesmaids, and 3 groomsmen).  We only booked the carriage house for our wedding night since it was more expensive.  Everyone was very pleased with this arrangement, and told us many times that they enjoyed the B&B much more than a hotel. 

    Hope this helps!
  • Great review! I've been looking for a church that has beautiful architecture but wasn't specific to a various religion. I grew up Baptist, but boy do we have some ugly churches. Your pictures are beautiful and so was the church!

    I have never heard of the Clifton House, but this sounds amazing! Your review was very helpful...thanks for being so detailed with pricing!!

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