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Explainer: 15 ways to wow your wedding guests

  • Allover lighting

    Revolutionize your venue with creative lighting. Project falling leaves or snow to add drama to a boring, beige wall; add a funky geometric pattern or your monogram to the dance floor; or get basic up-lighting for the perimeter of the room to instantly transform the space. Your guests won't be able to stop staring (in a good way!).

  • A decked-out entryway

    We're not saying you should spend a gazillion dollars on a 20-foot-tall floral arrangement, but first impressions are important, so take time to think out the entrance to your reception. Add a couple flower arrangements to the escort card table or have your stationer create a stylish seating chart display. A table topped with your engagement photos, your parents' wedding albums, and any other from-the-family artifacts would make meaningful additions.

  • A showstopping ceremony exit

    Adam Charles George
    If you play it right, your ceremony exit will be one of the most heavily photographed moments of your wedding — so forget the rose petals and birdseed. Jazz up your exit by passing out small bags of colorful confetti, paper airplanes, mini beach balls, or even lavender buds for everyone to toss your way. Even better: Stage your own mini parade by passing out noisemakers and asking your guests to escort you to your getaway car.

  • Unexpected wedding music

    Sure, a string quartet is nice, but you'll blow guests away with a jazz trio or a Spanish guitar player. To get the party going during the cocktail hour, look into hiring a mariachi band, a bluegrass group, or even a barbershop quartet for some seriously memorable melodies.

  • A wedding dress change

    All eyes will be on you, so it'll be a huge shocker when you go from a classic wedding dress for the ceremony to a shorter, flirtier dress at the reception. Whether it's a cocktail dress you bought (but couldn't find an excuse to wear) or a sparkly, white dress that's just too short for the aisle, have fun with it! If you honestly can't imagine changing out of your wedding dress, make other changes: Let down your hair, switch your shoes, or add a few new pieces of jewelry.

  • Cocktails served differently

    Grab guests' attention as soon as they arrive at the cocktail hour by having drinks and hors d'oeuvres displayed on colorful trays or even placed along the shelves of a makeshift bookcase-turned-bar. Or, have a fleet of waiters standing at the entrance, drink trays in hand, ready to greet guests at the door. The message will be clear: It's time to par-tay.

  • Extra signage

    If it's an outdoor wedding, create rustic, wooden signs in your wedding colors as pointers for guests ("this way to the cocktail hour" or "wedding this way!"). For a more formal wedding, make beautifully scripted table numbers, monogrammed cocktail napkins, and even bathroom-door labels that read "ladies" and "gents."

  • A photo booth (rented or handmade)

    Having a photo booth is a surefire way to capture memories a photographer might miss. For an extra-special touch, outfit your booth with themed props (snorkel gear and an under-the-sea backdrop for a summer wedding, opera masks and monocles for a formal affair, etc.) to get your guests in the mood; then be sure to send them a copy of their photo in your thank-you note.

  • Wedding favors with entertainment value

    Think of your wedding favors as an accessory to your reception. Want a packed dance floor? Distribute kazoos, maracas, or even rally towels for a good time that just won't quit. Or use wedding favors as a way to up your guests' comfort level. Set out baskets of comfy flip-flops for guests who love to shut down the dance floor, or cozy wraps to fend off the chill of a seaside wedding.

  • A (really) creative groom's cake

    How could your guests not take a picture of that? Find the right cake baker and go nuts with your groom's cake for a unique photo op. We've seen everything from elaborate guitars to football stadiums to armadillos to library book cakes. Other non-cake ideas: a table decked out in donuts, an ice cream bar, or a giant Rice Krispies Treat cake.

  • A (surprise) choreographed dance

    Take a few dance lessons before your wedding, but instead of the standard waltz, kick it up a notch by learning a sultry tango or a high-energy swing routine, and then surprise everyone during your first dance. For an unexpected surprise, get your dad or even your grandpa in on the act. Imagine the looks on your guests' faces when you and your pops break into a hip-hop routine mid-father-daughter dance. (Bonus points if he can do the worm!)

  • A luxe reception lounge

    Give guests a place to mingle between dance breaks by creating a lounge area at your reception. Fill the space with couches or chairs and plenty of pillows to sink into. It's the perfect way to keep everyone in on the party even when they're resting. Really want to wow 'em? Close off the area with curtains to create a VIP vibe.

  • Killer midnight snacks

    Just when everyone thinks the fun is winding down, liven up the party with late-night nibbles that will leave everyone ready for an after-party. Think about it: crinkle French fries, fresh chocolate chip cookies and milk shooters, a fully loaded taco bar, or even a waffle truck!

  • Decked-out transportation

    Come up with a transportation plan that'll get guests talking. Maybe your car-obsessed uncle would be willing to play driver for the night in exchange for showing off his ridiculously cool Mustang. Your oversized clunker from high school might actually look pretty cool decked out with streamers and a "just married" sign. Even your bicycles — tied off with fresh flowers — would create a memorable exit.

  • A genius wedding website

    Start the party long before your wedding day with a brilliant wedding website (computer science degree not required). Upload vlogs (aka video blogs) of your bridal party, poll guests on the reception music, add animated elements, or even create a "wedding guest of the week" spotlight column. Start your web page on (ahem) TheKnot.com or get the souped-up version on WeddingTracker.com ($30, but so worth it!).

updated 9/13/2010 4:23:38 PM ET 2010-09-13T20:23:38

Video: Where will TODAY’s wedding couple celebrate?

  1. Transcript of: Where will TODAY’s wedding couple celebrate?

    JOE WITTE, announcer: TODAY'S WEDDING: MODERN LOVE is brought to you by...

    ANN CURRY, co-host: MODERN LOVE , the reception venue. Once Melissa and Jeremy have exchanged their vows and rings on our plaza, it'll be time to party, and you get to pick where that's going to happen. We've got celebrity wedding designer Colin Cowie . He's helped us line up our choices and he's here alongside our bride, Melissa McMillin , and also...

    This morning on TODAY'S WEDDING: Good morning, Melissa .

    Mr. COLIN COWIE: ...out at Bagram Airfield we've got joining us again live, Jeremy Gebhardt . And he's on duty, by the way, as we've been mentioning, in Afghanistan . Good morning again, everybody, and it's nice to have you, Colin .

    CURRY: Good morning.

    Ms. MELISSA McMILLIN: Good morning, Ann. Thank you.

    Mr. COWIE: So what should people be thinking about when they think about where to have a reception?

    CURRY: I think the most important thing with a venue is it dictates so many things. How many people you can have or when you can have it, and also you want to make sure that you can have indoors and outdoors and make sure that you take care of the weather. And it needs to be a space that speaks to you.

    Mr. COWIE: Mm-hmm.

    Ms. McMILLIN: It needs to be a space that is going to allow you to put as much as you can in front of your guests without having to reinvent the space . So we looked at three great spaces in the city which I was quite excited about.

    Mr. COWIE: Right. So you considered the -- this couple and you chose among your three choices, one of the choices is Hudson Terrace .

    CURRY: Yes.

    Mr. COWIE: Which is a venue, a place where people have parties and weddings and things like that?

    CURRY: It's downtown, it's young, it's hip, it's kind of chic and friendly and it's right across the -- with a fabulous view of the Intrepid . So it does have that little patriotic moment as well.

    Mr. COWIE: And you can see a lot from those windows, including the Intrepid and from the roof deck and there's so many things to look at?

    CURRY: It gives you a great view of the indoors and it gives you a great view of the outdoors. And one of the things, they have a big retractable ceiling so you can start up outdoors and should there be a problem with the weather you can fix it real easily.

    Mr. COWIE: OK, let's take a look then at what you found.

    CURRY: The reason I selected the Hudson Terrace as one of the possible locations for our wedding is working with the team of MODERN LOVE , we're looking for something that was edgy, young and downtown. The great part about this location is not only do you have the ability to be outdoors on this wonderful deck but there's a magnificent view of the Hudson River right behind me. While we love to entertain outdoors, you should always have a good plane B. The first thing I'm going to do is remove all of this furniture and work with square table tops with 10 guests seated at each table. For the dancing, we're going downstairs. After they cut the wedding cake , the bridal party and guests will come down here to dance where you've got a stocked bar to keep the party well-fueled.

    Mr. COWIE: Hm . Looks like fun. Melissa 's smiling.

    CURRY: Yeah. Oh, my gosh.

    Ms. McMILLIN: That's a good sign. All right, and now we -- let's take a look at another venue that Colin has picked out for you possibly, and that is the Central Park Zoo . Let's take a look at this.

    CURRY: Cool space .

    Mr. COWIE: The Central Park Zoo is an exclusive tranquil oasis right in the middle of New York 's Central Park and home to over one million visitors a year. Behind me the sea lion exhibit is an ideal spot for us to host the cocktail reception. It's a very unique venue and not many people know that you can host a wedding in Central Park Zoo . We call it one of New York City 's jewels. This great tent will serve as a wonderful venue for our reception. I love the fact that the tent is clear because it brings the outdoors in and we're protected whether we have rain, hail or shine. From the vision point of view, I foresee one or two very long banquet tables down here. The Central Park Zoo is home to over 1400 animals. Any proceeds that come here benefit the Wildlife Conservation Society .

    Mr. COWIE: Colin , this is a surprise. I think most people wouldn't realize you could get married at a zoo.

    CURRY: It's a great space . It really is a beautiful space . We overlook this gorgeous, it's lush, it's green in the middle of this oasis right in the middle of the city.

    Mr. COWIE: All right, let's take a look at our third choice, which is at Gotham Hall .

    CURRY: This is Gotham Hall . Originally commissioned as a bank, it's an historic landmark building but recently has been host to some of the most beautiful weddings and parties in the city. The reason I love this space is because of the elegance and the scale. The details are quite extraordinary. If you look at the Corinthian -style columns, gilded ceiling with the beautiful chandelier, the domed roof with the crystal glass all make for wonderful details. But what I really like are the finials that are used over here, Mercury and Minerva , who represent wisdom and commerce, two things I think every marriage would like to be blessed with. My vision for this would be to host the cocktail reception up on the mezzanine level overlooking this beautiful, elegant ballroom and then have the bridal party seated at one long table here with all the guests seated at round tables around them.

    Mr. COWIE: It looks amazing. I want to ask Jeremy what he's thinking about all these choices because he's way out there in Afghanistan , about ready to come home. Jeremy , you must just be ready to lose your mind with all the excitement. You're going to get to come home from Afghanistan , see your girl and get married. What do you think of these venues?

    CURRY: Oh, I think -- I think they all sound wonderful. It's so surreal to have this happen, to be here and it's not necessarily -- I don't -- I don't really comprehend, you know, or -- I don't really see it all happening, but I know when I get home it's going to be -- it's going to all hit me and everything's going to be amazing, so I can't wait to see what everything turns out to look like. It's going to be great.

    Mr. GEBHARDT: OK. Melissa , he's so sweet. Obviously, it's still hitting him.

    CURRY: Yeah. He's still in shock.

    Ms. McMILLIN: Well I think we -- I'm sure that you both are.

    CURRY: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

    Ms. McMILLIN: But it's so exciting to be with you . Colin , thank you so much this morning.

    CURRY: Thank you, Ann. Thank you, Melissa .

    Mr. COWIE: Thank you so much .

    Ms. McMILLIN: And so we want to tell people how they can vote. You can go to our Web site at todayshow.com and you can vote for your favorite or you can head to facebook.com/todayshow. And don't forget to like us, if that's not too hard, on Facebook to follow our wedding progress. And we will be checking our page for you comments and your votes. And you can also text in your votes to 622639. Text one for Hudson Terrace , 2 for Central Park Zoo and 3 for Gotham Hall . And we'll reveal the winning location next Wednesday. And coming up next, why you should be adding healthy whole grains to your diet. But first, this is TODAY on NBC .



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