Sep 10, 2011
~Most of my vendors are not on PW, so this will have to do until they approve~
Venue: Four Mounds Inn and Conference Center - Dubuque, IA. Book with Caution
First of all let me say that this is the most absolutely beautiful spot for a wedding in the Tri-State area! If you like vintage, classic charm...this house is beyond perfect. The house and grounds are immaculate, the staff is pleasant and the actual ceremony location is outside the ivy-covered mansion overlooking the Mississippi. We honestly couldn't have asked for a better setting, especially because with the whole house rental the entire BP can stay together but have their own rooms, and there is another house right on the grounds for out of town family, which has 4 additional rooms and a kitchen...also beautiful!
That said, we were LESS than pleased with the events that occurred during our ceremony and the way the management handled it after. So you can fully understand the issue - the Inn rents by the room or a full-house rental. You must rent the full house to have the wedding there, which was good for us anyway. We paid $2000 to rent the 14-room house, which included the staff cooking a full breakfast for us the morning of the wedding. My family rented the entire 2nd house on the grounds, $100 per room per night. Plus, we had to pay a $200 event fee to hold the wedding outdoors.
That is all well and fine....except they forgot to tell us that they also rent space on the grounds for one of those Outdoor Adventure ropes courses. It can kind of be seen through the trees but it's not right up next to the house and we didn't give it a second thought. Imagine our surprise when about 100 kids began streaming across the grounds the morning of the wedding. We found out it was a group booked to use the ropes course. We called the manager at the Inn, who does not stay on site on weekends when there is an event, she said the guy that runs the course knows he is not to book events when a wedding is going on, she said she would take care of it. We also checked with the people in charge of the kids, they said they would 'disappear into the trees'. No problem.
Except there were a few BIG problems - people with this ropes party were driving up through the area all day, and since parking is VERY limited here, there was no place for them to go. We had plans to direct wedding traffic and guests were instructed ahead of time, because the road up and down is a very narrow, ONE way trail. Having all the extra traffic complicated things quite a bit. And then the SINGING...our wedding vows were interupted by an extremely loud chorus of "Happy Birthday". The people on the ropes course had been heard yelling and screaming all day - they were told to be quiet and they said they would. The manager of the Inn was also supposedly taking care of this.
Finally, it seems shady to me that when I handed the manager a check for the remaining balance, the amount showed on the last invoice we recieved - she said we were short over $100 because the government raised taxes back in April. She said there was nothing she could do about it - but every other vendor I have worked with has you book early to lock in the rates, even if prices raise later. We had booked over a year earlier and were never made aware of any tax hikes. I thought a business had to eat those kinds of costs...maybe I'm wrong.
After all of that, DH and I asked for our $200 event fee back. We felt that the singing that is in our wedding video, the overbooking, the unnannounced added costs, etc. merited it. The manager sent us to the Foundation Director, who waited two weeks to answer my email. (No phone number was given). She stated that I was already given a discounted rate and so she would not refund my money. DH and I paid the amount listed in the brochure - nowhere did it say this was a Discount rate. I pointed this out, to no avail. After a few back and forth emails and threats from me to take the matter to the BBB, the manager sent me a voucher (good only for 1 year) for a one night stay in one room.
Overall - Book with Caution. I strongly advise anyone considering the Four Mounds as a location to double-check that they won't be double-booked with the ropes course. And make sure you get a signed guarantee that the price you are being charged is the final price. We had a contract but apparently that doesn't matter. The site is absolutely gorgeous but you don't want your memories tainted like ours will be.
Reception site/Caterer: The Palace Ballroom - Farley, IA. Fantastic food and room for all!
I have had soooo many compliments on the food we had at the reception, and it was all thanks to Joyce at The Palace! They do catering and so prepare the food from scratch right there in the kitchen at the Palace. They have a large menu but will make anything you request. We had roast ham and chicken alfredo, with potatoes au gratin, buttered vegetables, caesar salad and dinner rolls. Yum!! It's served buffet style but for an extra charge they will serve everyone or just the head and family tables. **Make sure you are very specific about what you want - we wanted the family tables served in addition to the head table with the BP, and somehow they weren't aware of this and didn't have things ready to go...however they recovered nicely and there really wasn't a delay. They also didn't wait for our cakecutter to come around, they just cut the cake without asking us and served it, we didn't realize that and ended up getting charged. Not a huge deal but definitely make sure you are clear about all the minor details.**
The Palace holds 900 people, so it's plenty big enough for any size wedding! They have an assortment of round and banquet tables and you are able to set it up and decorate however you wish. They are very flexible about when you come in to do this and have a whole selection of things you can use - extra lights, arches, candle holders, etc. It's nice so that if you forgot something with the centerpieces/decor or if you need to change something last minute they are prepared right there. Joyce will go over your ideas for the floorplan ahead of time and they will set up everything as much as they can for you in advance, and will have all the candles lit and ready to go. They have a nice dance floor, a raised platform for the DJ and a fully stocked and tended bar.
DJ: T's & J's Productions - Dubuque, IA. Unprofessional, wouldn't recommend
I booked T's & J's quite a bit after the rest of my vendors because my original DJ went out of business unexpectedly. T's had a good reputation and have been around for a long time, and they were really pleasant to speak with. I actually ran into them later at a bridal show and they were offering my package for $100 cheaper than I had paid, when I mentioned it they reduced my price on the spot!
But...they were very hard to get a hold of throughout the planning process, they never answered their phone and when they did call me back it was always after 9 at night on a weekday! We met one time to go through our "must play" lists, etc. and we were very clear about the songs we wanted for certain things and the the Do-Not plays. However, a few days before the wedding they called to tell us that the DJ we had met with couldn't make it and they were sending someone else, and to make the check out directly to this person.
It turns out they must have overbooked and subcontracted out to a completely different DJ service WITHOUT telling us - and didn't tell the new DJ until right before the wedding. He came with only half of our information and didn't have enough time to get hardly any of our Must-Plays. I had requested mostly Classic Rock to be played that night because that is what our families like and he didn't play hardly ANY. It was mostly pop music which no one really danced to. So much for their motto of "We Like to Party - How About You?"
The new guy (I'm not giving his name because I don't feel this was entirely his fault) couldn't pronounce our names right during the Intro, and he rushed through everything. We had literally just finished walking around to all the tables when he started the first dance, which caught us off guard. And before we could catch our breath he was right into the Father/Daughter, Mother/Son, and we no sooner were done with that than he started playing the cake cutting song but didn't announce it!! So we had to rush over to cut the cake but didn't realize that no one was watching because he didn't announce it. I found out later that only a few people saw us cutting the cake and got pictures.
We never got an explanation from T's & J's even though I've called a few times. Overall everyone had a good time so I'm not making a big deal of this, but I would never recommend these people.
Cake: 1st Avenue Bakery - Dyersville, IA. Delicious, Highly Recommend!!
OMG Yum is all we can say! These cakes are the most absolutely amazing thing you'll ever have in your mouth!! And she is very reasonable, considering how good they are and how she can pull off any kind of design you can imagine. All I had to do was drop off a picture of my idea along with my color-scheme and any extras I wanted - ribbon, flowers, etc. The designer is brilliant and will work to make sure you get exactly what you want. I double-recommend the Spice cake!
Photographer: Big River Studios - Dubuque, IA. Highly Recommend!!
Rachel is fantastic!! She answered all my questions promptly both before and after I booked her, and she was very open and friendly about getting my vision down correctly and making changes as time went by and my plans were altered.
She took all of my suggestions for 'must-have' shots and added a ton of creative and beautiful ideas of her own and everyone commented the day of the wedding on how great she was! She was everywhere that day, I don't think there was a single thing that was not photographed! She brought an assistant for the ceremony and pictures after, so that with 2 cameras working so many more angles and important moments were captured.
She was always pleasant and friendly, and when it appeared that she had finished all the shots we truly wanted at the reception, rather than wait out the time taking a bunch of random pictures of guests she asked us if we wanted her to stay and do that or if she should leave 30 minutes early and save us $100! I doubt too many people would offer that up front even though it makes perfect sense. She is one of the more reasonably priced photographers in the area, offering many different packages or the by the hour rate which we did, and we get 3 disks full of edited, copy-right free images to do with as we please. I highly recommend!!
Limosuine Service: Stratton Charters - Cuba City, WI. Recommend
I found Stratton Charters to be extremely reasonably priced. By the time we decided we wanted a limo to take us from the ceremony to the reception (DH wasn't sure it was necessary!) all the limo services in the Dubuque area were booked for 9-10-11. I was worried that a service coming from 25 minutes away would charge us quite a bit to then drive another 25 minutes in the opposite direction - but they didn't care at all! I think we paid $180 for 3 hours, mileage didn't matter. And the 3 hours started when they arrived to pick us up, so we had plenty of time to drive around and get pictures, etc. This was a 10-passenger car. They told us their rule of thumb was "8 adults comfortably, 10 teenagers" but the 10 of us in the BP fit just fine. The limo was beautiful - spotless inside and out, and very comfortable. The driver was professional and courteous and arrived well ahead of time.
Centerpiece/Decor Rental: Elegant Occasions - Dubuque, IA. Stay Away From This Nutcase
DH and I are pretty easy-going people, not much riles us. But the lady running Elegant Occasions about drove both of us up a tree, along with MOH, who only met her twice!! I was calling her 'the Wackadoodle' by the time it was all over with. When we first met for a consultation I loved the pieces she had, I hadn't found glassware like what she offered anywhere else, which is why we booked her. I did think her a little odd, but friendly and she jumped right in with ideas. She had several tables set up that you could place linens and centerpiece stuff on to really visualize what you wanted.
We booked very far out since the date was so popular. We couldn't do much after getting her our idea and the depost, until we had a firm headcount. As soon as that came in I emailed her the number so she could order the table runners...and never heard back. I then called her, no one answered. I started calling more frequently and finally got through...she didn't know what I was talking about. I finally got her to remember (luckily she had our deposit and notes on what we wanted) and she said she still needed a headcount, she had never received my email. I told her I was resending it while we were on the phone...she said that was perfect and she would review the info and get back to me after the weekend. She never got back to me...I had to track her down and she said she never got the email, but after looking - oh wait, she did have it! This kind of stuff happened a lot throughout the planning process. She charges extra to set up the centerpieces herself, so my Mom, MOH and MIL decided we could do it. We made arrangements to pick everything up at a certain time, which Wackadoodle specified because the time I wanted she wasn't available. We show up, the Thursday before the wedding (decorating Friday morning) and she wasn't there. The door was open but no one was around. We called, we knocked, we walked around the building...eventually she came to the door, she had been napping in the back! She didn't have anything ready, she thought we were coming the next day even though SHE picked the time to do this. I was freaked - the day before we are suppose to set up and all my reception decor wasn't ready?! She promised to have everything delivered to the reception site but obviously that didn't make me feel any better since she had such a stellar track record of keeping her end of the deal. We didn't have a choice because she refused to get it ready while we waited, so I spent a lovely night before the RD sweating it out. She finally showed up with all the decorations the next day - LATE - and didn't stick around to help us set up. Two of the glasses came to us broken and she included almost double of what we needed, although that's better than the other way around. (The woman that handles the reception hall said this wasn't the first time she had had trouble with the Wackadoodle). When it was all said and done, she was suppose to inventory the materials we returned and get our deposit back within 2 weeks...it was over a month before I got the check and that was after I had called and emailed several times. DON'T WASTE YOUR TIME!!!
**All pictures were taken by Rachel Miller of Big River Studios, Dubuque, IA. They are copyright released, but please give credit if you use anywhere!!**
I love these shots of DH's face as he watches me walk down the aisle!
Ceremony of Sand and Roses
You may kiss the bride!!!