14 Questions to Ask Yourself when Creating your Wedding Day Timeline

After your marriage license, your wedding timeline is your wedding’s most important document! It helps organize all the moving parts, guiding you, your wedding party, your family, and your vendors through practically every moment of the day. The timeline is vital for making sure the everything runs smoothly and keeping stress to a minimum. 

While creating your own timeline can be challenging, many items will start to fall into place after making some of the big decisions. Here are 14 questions to ask yourself and items to consider when structuring your wedding timeline: 

1. When will your Ceremony Begin?

Your wedding day revolves around when you are actually getting married, of course! Are you thinking about a cheery brunch? Afternoon picnic? Evening soiree? All of these options play into the feel of your your wedding. Determining the general time is the biggest piece of the puzzle, and then other decisions can help you zero in on the exact ceremony time.

2. Traditional or First Look?

This decision plays a huge part in your timeline. The tradition is that on the day of the wedding, the couple should not see each other until their marriage ceremony begins. The alternative is what we call the “First Look,” a special moment when the couple sees each other before the ceremony. It doesn't replace the walking-down-the-aisle photo, but actually is an additional wonderful moment! The First Look allows for taking most the formal photos prior to the ceremony, avoiding the typical photo rush between the ceremony and the reception. 

3. How Much Time do you Need to get Ready? 

Whether you’re getting your hair, makeup, and nails done at a salon or are confident in doing it yourself, the time allotted for getting ready is not something to cut short! Plan on two or three hours, though a few additional items can help lock in this part of the timeline:

  • A hair and makeup run-through prior to your wedding day is very helpful in determining how much time you need and makes things more smoothly the day-of.
  • How big is your group of bridesmaids? This will help you figure out how much time will be needed for everyone to get their hair and makeup done.
  • Are you going to a salon? Double the transportation time you anticipate! Or, is a stylist coming to where you are getting ready? This option costs a bit more but saves you transit time.

4. How Long will your Ceremony Be?

When it comes down to it, getting married is the whole point of your wedding day! Religious ceremonies can last an hour or more. As far as secular ceremonies, some couples opt for short and sweet, while others add in proceedings such as readings or unity ceremonies. Think about which pieces of a ceremony are important to you and your fiancé to determine how long it will last. Don’t forget to include the time needed for the processional and recessional!

5. What Time does your Reception Venue Close?

If you’re doing an evening wedding, some venues have a set-in-stone ending time. Figure out how much time you want for your reception and work backwards to determine at what time the party should begin. 

If you opt to do a reception exit, such as bubbles or sparklers, plan enough time for that to end before the venue’s deadline.

6. Are the Venues for your Ceremony and Reception the Same or Different? 

If the two key parts of your wedding are at different places, build in ample time for transportation! 

7. How Big are your Wedding Party and Family?

The size and variety of these groups, as well as your desired shot list, helps determine how long this part of the timeline will last. However, if everyone is accounted for, the formal photos actually go pretty quickly - just two or three minutes per group!

8. How can you Avoid Hungry Guests?

Weddings can be long affairs, especially if a cocktail hour follows your ceremony. Guests can get surprisingly voracious, so try not to make them wait too long before the meal, or plan on providing them with appetizers or snacks. 

If you’re opting for a buffet over a plated meal, it may take longer than you’d think for each table to go through the line to get their food. If possible, have guests go on both sides of the buffet table to double the pace!

9. Which Wedding Reception Traditions are you Doing?

There are so many options for the festivities on your wedding day! By no means do you have do all of these traditions! The ones you do opt for is entirely up to you:

  • Wedding party reception entrance
  • First dance
  • Father-Daughter and Mother-Son dances
  • Toasts
  • Cake cutting
  • Bouquet toss
  • Garter toss

10. How can you Best Manage the Crowd?

Whichever of the above wedding festivities you choose, plan adequate time for them. There’s some time and strategy involved in “managing the crowd” and gathering your guests for a particular event. Structure a flow that minimizes the number of times they drift apart and must come back together. The larger your wedding is, the longer it takes to round up everyone, unless they’re already in the same place after an event such as the first dance.

11. Can you Stagger the Toasts?

Encourage your speakers to aim for short and sweet toasts about two or three minutes long. They will probably appreciate the lower pressure! Plus, long speeches delay the party and can be costly considering your wedding vendor team's hourly costs. Also, keep your reception's flow lively by breaking up toasts so your guests don’t have to listen to too many speeches in a row. For example, give the mic to the father of the bride before the meal and conclude it with toasts from your maid of honor and best man.

12. Would you like a Group Photo?

A group photo is a wonderful way to remember everyone who celebrated your special day with you. Again, plan enough time for this and keep the art of crowd management in mind. I usually recommend this at night when everyone has gathered on the dance floor!

13. Will you do a Receiving Line?

A receiving line is a good option if your wedding has 100 or more guests. It decreases the pressure on you to greet everyone but does take some time. As for timing, I recommend doing your formal wedding party and family photos, then joining your cocktail hour with a receiving line.

14. Would you like Sunset Photos? 

Key West is known for its beautiful sunsets, and they are an especially breathtaking backdrop on your wedding day! I highly recommend not passing up this opportunity. Whether you choose a traditional or First Look timeline, consider planning a quick getaway to capture some photos of you two and the sunset. Keep in mind that depending on the time of year, it can be as early as 5:38 pm in the winter or as late as 8:20 pm in the summer.