You want to savor every moment of your wedding day, from morning brunch with your girls to a picture-perfect sendoff at your reception. Establishing a wedding day timeline sets aside just the right amount of time for each moment so you can capture pictures, relax during each activity, and enjoy the experience.
Use this wedding day timeline template to create your schedule so you can enjoy your big day.
- Start your wedding day preparations five hours before the ceremony.
- Use wedding signage to direct your guests throughout the event.
- The average reception lasts four to five hours.
5 Hours Before the Ceremony: Get Ready
Your day should start five hours before your ceremony, so you won’t feel rushed during prep and photos. You can make your preparations more relaxed by reserving a room at your venue, so you don’t have to include travel time. You also won’t have to worry about wrinkling your dress when driving to the ceremony.
The steps of wedding day prep include:
A trial run of hair and makeup before your wedding day will let you know whether you’ll need a few extra minutes for prep.
4 Hours Before the Ceremony: The Photographer Arrives
Ask the photographer to capture intimate pre-wedding shots with your girls. You’ll be able to capture small details like lacing up your dress, putting on the veil, and first looks with your bridal party.
We recommend gifting your bridal party with matching robes to make these photos more picturesque and memorable.
3 Hours Before the Ceremony: Start Bridal Photos
Reserve an hour for photographs with your bridesmaids and self-portraits while you look the freshest (and before the waterworks start). Be sure others at the wedding know where you’re taking pictures so your groom or guests don’t accidentally see you in your dress beforehand.
2 Hours Before the Ceremony: First Look
Find a private location away from the hustle and bustle of wedding prep where you and your fiancé can meet with only the photographer present. Lakes, forests, and plain walls make excellent backgrounds for the first look.
Use this time to exchange letters, gifts, emotional words, and a quiet moment together.
1 Hour Before the Ceremony: Wedding Party and Family Pictures
Time to capture photos of the entire wedding party. These can be formal, fun, or a mix of both.
Next, you will take family pictures. Write a list of who you’re taking pictures with so your family can be ready and the photographer can quickly take these pictures.
The start time on your wedding invitation won’t be when you start walking down the aisle.
Instead, plan to walk down the aisle 15 minutes after the time on the invitation. So, at the invitation start time, have the pianist play music to alert guests that the ceremony is about to begin. Then, your ushers can encourage guests to move to a seat.
While guests are sitting, you and your wedding party are lining up. Once everyone is seated and the bridal party is ready, the ceremony begins. Consider providing ceremony booklets so your guests know what to expect and can follow along in the celebration.
Wedding ceremony lengths vary depending on culture, religion, and personal preference. Non-denominational weddings typically last around 30 minutes. Meanwhile, religious weddings often include sermons or traditional ceremonies lasting up to an hour.
Immediately After the Ceremony: Photos and Cocktails
After you and your husband exit the ceremony, the after-party begins. First is usually a cocktail hour with hors d’oeuvres. After that, your guests can mingle, sign your guest book, admire your decorations, participate in a photo booth, and enjoy light snacks.
Meanwhile, you and your wedding party take after-wedding photos. If you didn’t have a first look, you could take your couple, bridal party, and family pictures during this time.
Consider planning your wedding around sunset, which happens between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. depending on the time of year. Sunset offers some of the best lighting for photographs.
1 Hour After the Ceremony: Entrance and First Dance
The after-wedding photos shouldn’t take longer than an hour. Then, as you’re wrapping up, your ushers and family can move guests to their reception seats for dinner.
You can make your grand entrance and first dance when everyone is seated.
1 Hour 15 Minutes After the Ceremony: Welcome Toast and Dinner
The first dance or dances should take no longer than 15 minutes. Then you can wrap up and move to your seats of honor. Finally, the hardest part is over for you – so take a deep breath and relax.
Your parents or other hosts will welcome your guests with a toast. The welcome toast will signal the start of dinner.
2 Hours After the Ceremony: Other Toasts and Dances
Dinner will last around 45 minutes before your guests start slowing down. Before guests get up and move around, you can begin toasts and speeches. Typically, your maid of honor and best man will give speeches. Although, you can also plan for others to speak during this time.
After your friends and family finish their speeches, you can signal the start of after-dinner activities with your parent dances.
3 Hours After the Ceremony: Final Traditions
Give your guests about an hour after dinner to complete the order of events at your wedding reception. Then you can bring out the cake and have the official cake cutting.
Once you cut the cake, some guests might start to leave. So, if you want to do other traditions like a bouquet toss, garter toss, or farewell speeches, now is the best time for them. During the farewell speech, thank your guests for coming and encourage them to stay and enjoy the music and cake.
4-5 Hours After the Ceremony: Couple Sendoff
The average reception lasts four to five hours before your grand sendoff. If your sendoff is in the dark, consider sparklers or glow sticks. Otherwise, bubbles or environmentally friendly confetti work well for stunning shots as you run to your getaway vehicle.
Improve the Flow of Your Wedding Day Timeline
Wedding signage and stationery help your guests know the timeline of your day. Explore Shine Wedding Invitations’ elegant designs and signs that help your day flow smoothly so everyone enjoys their time.
Explore our wedding invitations and other stationery to organize your wedding day.
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