Planning a wedding is in one word—overwhelming! Whenever you feel you’ve knocked off a couple items off your master list, five more pop up in their place.
But once vendors are confirmed, it’s vital to start creating a wedding day timeline. If you’re working with a planner chances are they will handle the timeline, but no matter how much you trust them it’s important that you and your fiancé review it well in advance and adjust it as necessary. If you’re developing the timeline on your own, hopefully I can share some helpful tips. Either way a day-of timeline is a crucial detail to wedding day success.
The day-of timeline keeps everyone organized and on track. It’s essentially a break-down of the entire day from vendor deliveries and set ups to hair and makeup timelines, photo opportunities, onward. The best timelines allow flexibility for any complications that may arise, while a rigid timeline may actually add to the stress of the day.
Wedding timelines have been developed over thousands of weddings and sample templates can be found in every wedding book, magazine, and planner website. Even though the same one may work for most, it doesn’t mean it will work for you two. Take time and consider every line to make sure it’s what works best for y’all’s big day.
Think about your dream day. With your timeline, run through it from different perspectives. How will the day go for you? How will it go for your groom/parents/wedding party? Then consider it from your guests’ experience. Does the timeline give your guest enough time to get from A to B, mingle, eat, drink, etc? You may find revisions need to be made.
Reviewing your list of wedding priorities is a great way to confirm that your wedding day will be everything you dreamed of, upholding moments that mean the most to you. This is a great way to verify enough time is allocated for moments that are more important to you two. Perhaps more time for toasts from your nearest and dearest is more important to you than cake cutting. Do you want to mingle AND dance? Well let me tell you that based on the number of guests attending, unless you specify time to get down you may find yourself stuck chatting with guests instead of busting a move on the dance floor. Then consider adding more dance time.
Remember: It’s y’all’s wedding day! Design the wedding timeline to fit YOUR dream day.
For our Maui destination wedding, our planner with Belle Destination & Events created the initial timeline and after a bunch of online research, reviewing, and discussing we made appropriate adjustments to focus on our priorities and wishes.
Details + Notes to Consider when Developing your Day-of Timeline
- Most wedding ceremonies typically last 15-30 minutes
- Most wedding receptions last roughly 5 hours.
- Consider the photographer’s and videographer’s timelines. After you figure out what portraits and shots you want done, use that information to make sure time to capture those moments are built in to the timeline. Most photographers/videographers shoot 5-10 hours depending on the package you select so if it’s important to have them capture the “send-off” remember they will need to stay till the end. If you want them to capture the “getting ready - hair and makeup” then they will need to start earlier in the day.
- Don’t forget to coordinate vendor delivery, set up, and tear down into your timeline.
- If you’re getting married somewhere you’re not getting ready or your ceremony and reception are in different locations, confirm there’s enough time for everyone to get to each location.
- There will always, always be unexpected things that come up on the day. Whether they’re good things like a unexpected toast from a grandparent, or a hiccup like a broken heel, adding buffer time throughout the day is key.
Working backwards is a great way to get an initial timeline. Venues typically have strict event end times so knowing when the night needs to end can help dictate the other moments.
Again, this timeline should be used as a guideline. It’s YOUR big day so what worked for us may not work best for you. Looking back on the day, there were some adjustments we wished we would have made and wanted to share our timeline with some notes and tips in the hope that you’re wedding day-of timeline will be a perfect as the day itself. :)
9am: Bridal party and mothers hair and makeup at the bride’s parents’ villa // Groom, groomsmen, and fathers prep in our suite
Quick Tip #1: Make sure to eat some breakfast!
Quick Tip #2: Don’t forget to set up a getting ready playlist or feel free to use ours on Spotify!
Quick Tip #3: Make sure to drink lots of water and don’t overdo it with champagne or beers before the ceremony.
11am: Bridal’s hair and makeup
Quick Tip #4: Your beauty team will be able to give you a timeline dependent on how many ladies will be getting hair and makeup done and how long each will take.
12:30pm: Eat lunch
S+L Note: Our venue was small and didn’t have A/C so we got 95% ready at the hotel and the remaining 5% ready at the venue. This way our outfits were wrinkled from the 45-min ride from the hotel to the venue.
1:15pm: Sprinter Van pick up bride, bridesmaids & family
S+L Note: The “ladies” van included my bridesmaids, my mother, my mother-in-law, aunt, her daughter our flower girl, and myself. DON'T FORGET YOUR DRESS! We did, though luckily remembered before we were out of the gates. Whew!
Quick Tip #5: Remember to factor in drive time between the getting ready location and the venue, if applicable.
1:45pm: Sprinter van pick up groom, groomsmen & family
S+L Note: The “boys” van included the groom, groomsmen, his father, father-in-law, my uncle and his youngest our usher.
2pm: The ladies arrive at the venue, put on dresses, and finalize makeup // Photography and videography teams arrive
Quick Tip #6: Make sure to leave time for photographers to take details shots before you get dressed. Detail shots include the dress on a hanger, shoes, and heirloom items, etc.
2:15pm: Photos of the mother-of-the-bride helping the bride get dressed and the bridal party including the flower girl
Post-Event Note: We wished we had arrived slightly earlier so this next section didn’t feel so rushed. Although we were already melting from lack of A/C at the venue with this timeline.
Quick Tip #7: Whether you’re doing a first look or not, it’s a good idea to get ladies and boys photos or entire wedding party photos prior to the ceremony. This way you save time post-ceremony and can focus on newlywed and family portraits.
2:30pm: The boys arrive at the venue and finish getting dressed
2:45pm: Photos of the groom and his groomsmen including the ring bearer and usher
3:45pm: Bride and groom’s “first NOT look.” We decided to exchange gifts back-to-back and save the first look for the ceremony. Photographers and videographers were on hand to capture the moment.
Quick Tip #8: If you’re not doing a first look, leave more time after the ceremony for newlywed portraits. Alternatively if you are doing a first look, make sure to budget in at least 15 minutes shortly before the ceremony.
3:15pm: Guest shuttle pick up at the hotel
S+L Note: Since our venue offered very limited parking, the majority of our guests didn’t rent a vehicle, and we wanted our guests to be able to fully the night (whatever that may mean for them), we organized transportation to and from the venue.
3:30pm: If you are hungry, grab a simple snack and don’t forget to brush your teeth
Quick Tip #9: Have the wedding party and yourself gather your belongings. It will be much easier for departure later if the majority of your belongings are already ready to go.
3:50pm: Photography and videography team photograph ceremony and reception areas before guests arrive
4pm: Guest arrival at the venue, greeted with refreshments
Quick Tip #10: Take some deep-breaths and relax!
4:20pm: Guest are seated for the ceremony // musicians begin prelude
4:30pm: Ceremony begins
4:55pm: Ceremony ends
5pm: Post-ceremony photos including family and wedding party portraits // Cocktail reception begins + musicians move up from ceremony site
Quick Tip #11: Bring a printed version of the shot list for photographer.
S+L Note: With an intimate wedding we were able to take photos individual photos with our guests before releasing them to the cocktail reception.
S+L Note: We also opted for a two-hour cocktail reception, giving us time to take photos and enjoy drinks and apps (or pupus as they’re known in Hawaii) with our guests.
5:50pm: Musicians announce newlyweds for grand entrance, couple greets people and dances first dance as husband and wife.
S+L Note: This was a late minute decision on our end, but since some of our guests wouldn’t be able to attend the Nashville reception we decided to do a practice run of our dance. Hint: It’s really difficult to dance (and spin) when you’re dress is not bustled.
6:30pm: Newlywed portraits during golden hour with photographers and videographers
7pm: Sunset and cocktail reception concludes as the father-of-the-bride gives a short toast and invites guests to the dining area to take their seats for dinner
7:05pm: The bride and groom join their guests for dinner
7:15pm: Dinner begins as first course is served
S+L Note: We served a first and second course at the table and dessert while mingling. Check out of locally-inspired Maui wedding menu, place cards, and calligraphed menus.
7:40pm: First course is cleared
7:45pm: First best man and maid of honor speeches
Quick Tip #12: It’s smart to let toast-givers a time frame for their speeches.
7:55pm: Second course is served
8:35pm: Second Course is cleared
8:40pm: Second best man and brother-of-the-bride speeches
8:50pm: Dinner concludes
8:55pm: Guests invited back to front of venue for cake cutting
S+L Note: We opted for an 8-inch round cake for the traditional cake cutting photo opportunity, which guests enjoyed alongside make-you-own-s’mores around the fire pit. Check out details of our reception here.
9pm: Lounging and mingling // Dessert is served
9:45pm: Bar closes
9:55pm: Final song is played
10pm: Wedding event comes to an end and guests are guided to shuttle area for departure
S+L Note: We debated whether or not to ride back in the shuttles versus renting a town car to drive us separately, but the additional cost of renting another car overnight wasn’t worth being alone 45-minutes earlier.
10:45pm: Shuttle drop-off at hotel
S+L Note: We hung at the hotel bar with some friends for about an hour after we arrived back at the hotel, but wished we hadn’t. It’s best to enjoy time together with your new spouse on your wedding day after the event.