I’m 37 years old, and I’ve just got back from my honeymoon in Bali. I had never been married, and by the time I was proposed to, three years ago, I already had a wonderful life with my long-term partner, a house, a career, and two kids.
My dreams of a wedding had died in my early 30s, and along with it, any concept of how such a wedding should look.
My fiancé and I had toyed around with the idea of a winery wedding, given our devotion to South Australian Shiraz, but had never quite bothered planning anything. “When the kids are older” teamed with “when we have more time” really prevented anything from getting off the ground.
Everything changed in January when I saw a Facebook ad for “The most beautiful wedding destination in the world”.
A destination wedding had NEVER been on the cards, but I wanted to know where exactly this place was, and who had the nerve to make this outrageous claim.
I also had NO idea how much weddings cost, or what to expect on the planning front.
It was research, pure and simple. Except the company behind it all, Botanica Weddings, wouldn’t give me the price.
“We need to make a time with you and your fiancé” they said.
So with a bottle of red on hand, I convinced Steve to sit down and go through their phone conference and presentation.
By the time the call was finished we were in.
Craig Levitt – wherever you are now – you are the best salesperson we have ever come across. And we do this for a living. Well played sir.
The venue, the Royal Pita Maha, was spectacular.
Think Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, Disney Princesses and every exotic destination you’ve seen rolled in to one. Craig casually mentioned that the King built the resort where the wedding is held, alongside a sacred river, deep in the rainforest of Ubud in Bali. Unbelievable.
The package was amazing. It included everything from the ceremony and reception, to the DJ, Balinese musicians, the celebrant, flowers, make up, hair, photography, the honeymoon suite, transport for the guests and more. And all we had to do was choose a date.
Craig told us that September/October was the driest time in Bali, and therefore the least humid. With no rain, no humidity and slightly cooler mountain air on offer, September 30th seemed like an ideal date – and it was available. All we had to do was sign up and the rest would be done – like by magic – by an Australian wedding planning team, based in Bali. No risk of language barriers, or dealing with Balinese suppliers who are renowned for doing things ‘all in good time’.
Before making the leap, we did our due diligence – and called around to around a dozen wineries – to see prices, availability and essentially what was on offer. While most of them didn’t get back to us, those who did generally said that while we could book their venue and wine, we needed to organise catering, flowers, lighting, bands, DJs, transport, and essentially everything else under the sun.
Steve and I work in an industry peppered with events, so the idea of planning our own event seemed far too stressful, and when we added it all up, far too expensive.
A destination wedding it was.
We had about 6 months to organise our side of things, which included an invitation, which we never sent out, bridal robes, which were never purchased, and a wedding play list, which was finalised 2 days before the wedding. Leaving the bulk of duties to a wedding planner was possibly the best decision we’ve ever made in our relationship.
There was also the issue of organising the guests.
Botanica Weddings and the Royal Pita Maha had offered up a list of sister hotels, which would be great for the guests if they didn’t want to pay the premium prices of the Royal – which is essentially heaven on earth.
Options included the Pita Maha, which was booked out early, and the Tjampuhan Hotel – where we managed to get around 30 of our guests booked in. The trouble was, it turned out to be more of a combo of Faulty Towers, paired with Indiana Jones. With mosquitos everywhere, an incredibly steep, terraced layout (with hundreds of stairs), and a restaurant with very basic service, and an even more basic menu (where we all caught mild Bali belly), the only thing enjoyable was the outlook. Our room was double booked, and we ended up in the dingiest, smallest room in the place. The pool was filled with broken tiles, and with only around 6 or 8 lounge chairs surrounding it, so the only recreational option at the hotel was overcrowded with our guests. The beer was ICY COLD though, which in Bali is actually an important factor. The hotel is budget, so if you can afford to stay elsewhere, do.
Back to the wedding. While we were promised a land of no hidden costs, there were plenty. Want drinks between the ceremony and reception for your guests? You’re paying. Want satays or snacks during that time? Additional cost. I think it was going to be around $3000 for satays for our 50 guests – but you don’t need them. There’s only an hour between the ceremony and reception, so as long as you remind people to have lunch before they come, they’ll be fine. As for the drinks after the ceremony – take advantage of the $10/bottle corkage. It’s incredible value as it allows you to bring in bottles of duty free spirits (think gin, vodka, white rum) and they will make up the cocktails for free. Same goes for the wedding – so it’s just a matter of convincing your guests to allocate their duty free allowance to the wedding.
Want your bridesmaids hair and make up done? Flowers for anyone other than the bride? More money. You can get some incredible prices on local hair and make up artists if you can be bothered organising it. We used James from Toni & Guy in Seminyak Village – and he was sensational. His package included two ‘dos’ so I had my hair down for the ceremony and up for the reception. It was so incredibly hot (I also wore a veil) that my hair completely flopped by the time I got to the end of the aisle. I didn’t anticipate that nobody could see my hair down under the veil anyway, so I just ended up being overheated, and the curls all dropped – and I ended up with terrible photos. You want stiff hair that won’t move, or have it pulled back off your skin at least. As my hair was falling across my face and then getting sweaty, it looked horrendous. Pin it all back. My biggest regret. At least I was cooler for the reception but it was pinned up quickly and without a lot of product – so didn’t look great. Overall my hair was the only major disaster of the wedding. It was my fault, not the hairdressers though as he was only following my instructions.
Our photographer cost was included as part of a special deal on at the time, but generally you’re looking at $1500 – $7000 for a photographer and that again for a videographer. We ended up flying in our photographer from Australia at the end. Paid for that too – as there is an external photographer fee.
The videographers we had booked had a ‘misunderstanding’ and didn’t show up. We ended up with a completely different company, who had 4 video guys in their crew. They were very invasive, and not only got in the photographer’s way, but had us doing ridiculous poses, filming us eating, and generally smothering the guests. I’d suggest providing the videographers a list of shots you want, and don’t want – to keep their impact on the guests to a minimum. It’s been six months since the wedding and we still haven’t received the final cut, so make sure you get solid deadlines from your videography company.
The options to buy hand held, personalised fans for your guests was possibly the best money we spent. As it turns out, it rained the whole week before the wedding and was the hottest, most humid day of my life. Epic sweat fest. Without the fans I’m not sure how anyone would have survived.
In regards to the music – the DJ didn’t play the songs we gave Botanica Weddings – as he didn’t think it was upbeat enough for the dance floor. If you want specific music, keep that in mind and include a lot of great dancing tracks, otherwise you may also end up with a 70s and 80s flashback session.
Mosquitos? There were none. The Royal Pita Maha do regular fogging and had all the systems in place to keep them away. I forgot to put repellent on, and didn’t get a single bite all day/night. It was amazing.
The food was fantastic. I can’t fault that. The menu options weren’t too fluid – so we had an odd combo of Asian and western dishes, but it was all great in the end. The cake was delicious too.
The child minding was brilliant. The room where they put the kids is part of the reception complex, so they were close by if any kids got upset and wanted parents, or if clingy parents wanted to check on their kids. Highly recommend it.
I didn’t wear a watch so I had no idea of the time all night – so when it was over, it was a sudden thing, and I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to anyone or even finish conversations. I’d suggest asking the wedding planners (who were like event CIA – you’ve never seen anyone so organised in your life) to give you time checks throughout the night.
The reception venue was the most beautiful I’ve seen. Lanterns and flowers hanging from the trees, fairy lights, spectacular Balinese stone carvings, ornate doors, artistic details everywhere. It was magical. Like a fairytale. Better than we could have ever imagined (and we have been to A LOT) of events.
I’m sure there’s plenty more I could include – but those are the main things I would have wanted to know ahead of time. All in all, it was the most incredible destination I’ve ever been to. The Facebook ad was right. It was a beautiful day and night and I’ll remember it forever.
One more thing – if you’re heading over to Bali – make sure you get your vaccinations. I went home with a husband, a tan and Hepatitis A. Read more here.