How to plan an outdoor wedding

Photo by Photoworks

Imagine walking down the aisle basking in the glow of the afternoon sun, surrounded by the natural beauty that only nature provides. You share your first kiss as husband and wife as the sun sets just behind you. Later at the reception you have your first dance as a married couple under the stars.

Whether you are looking for an alternative to a religious venue for your ceremony or simply a gorgeous setting for your reception, the appeal of an outdoor wedding, with its romantic natural backdrop, is undeniable. Planning and executing an outdoor wedding, on the other hand, can be unpredictable and is not without its challenges.

Over the years, we’ve played host to a number of weddings in the natural beauty of the Toronto Harbour. As such, we know what can make or break an outdoor wedding.

Here is our top ten list of what every bride and groom needs to consider when planning their outdoor wedding.

1. Rain Plan

Despite how well you plan, short of consulting a crystal ball, there’s no sure way to predict whether or not it will rain on your wedding day. That doesn’t mean that you can’t be prepared for less than ideal weather conditions.

When selecting your outdoor wedding venue make sure that they have a viable rain plan. This could be anything from setting up a tent, adjusting the sides of your tent to keep out the wind and rain, or relocating to an indoor space.

Outdoor Wedding Rain Plan

Photo by Isbertophoto Wedding Co.

At Mariposa Cruises, the Events team always ensures that there is a contingency plan for just about any kind of weather. With only 24 hours notice they can swap a floor plan the day of an event to either the interior deck or the covered deck depending on the vessel that the event is being hosted on.

If you are planning on using a tent as part of your rain plan for your outdoor wedding, find out what is the cut off time for making a decision about whether to erect a tent or not. Some tent companies require anything from 24 to 72 hours notice.

Make sure you also have sturdy umbrellas for you and your bridal party. Select umbrellas that closely match your wedding colours and they can also be used as great props for your wedding photos.

Outdoor wedding rain accessories

Photo by Anne Edgar Photography

 2. Climate Control

Similar to precipitation, when planning an outdoor wedding, you will have no control over temperature. This doesn’t mean that you can’t provide temperature relief for your guests by providing some fun and inexpensive accessories, either in a pretty basket by the aisle or on your guests’ seats.


Photos by Avenue Photo

For hot and sunny weather provide your guests with hand fans, inexpensive sunglasses or sunscreen and some refreshing beverages such as lemonade or water.

For cooler weather pashminas or warm blankets on the seats will help keep your guests warm. Find out whether your venue will provide outdoor space heaters or whether you will need to rent these as well.

Don’t forget to accessorize your dress in the event of cooler weather by having a nice jacket or shawl to cover up with during your ceremony or reception. Consider some weather-appropriate accessories for your bridal party too, such as shawls for cooler temperatures or parasols for hot sunny days.


Top left & bottom photo by Laurel Leaf Photography. Top right photo by Anne Edgar Photography.


 3. Rules + Permits

Every venue is different, as are the rules and permits that you may be subject to. Do your research before selecting an outdoor venue to find out whether there are noise restrictions, photo permits or liquor licenses required. In most cases, your venue will be able to instruct you on what’s needed and can often apply for these permits on your behalf.

Outdoor wedding rules and permits

Centre photo by Anne Edgar Photography

At Mariposa Cruises, brides and grooms do not need to worry about applying for permits as each vessel has a full liquor licence & adheres to city noise by-laws while cruising in the inner harbour.

4. Washrooms

When dreaming of your wedding day, this factor is probably furthest from your mind. It is nonetheless, a basic necessity that can have a huge impact on the comfort of your guests during your outdoor wedding. Find out if there are washrooms onsite and whether they are for the publics’ use or belong exclusively to the venue.

Outdoor wedding restrooms

Photo by Avenue Photo

You may need to rent porta-potties which can vary in price depending on how deluxe you would like them to be. Also consider the logistics of how easily accessible they will be in a bridal dress before making your decision about the venue or the bridal dress itself.

5. Lighting for your Wedding Ceremony

Ask any photographer and they will confirm that natural light is the most flattering for your photos. As such, it’s no wonder why most brides and grooms choose to have their photos done outside. There is however no magic switch that can control the sun so you may need to adjust the timing of your ceremony to correspond with where the sun will be in order to maximize the best lighting for your ceremony.

Consult with your venue coordinator and photographer to determine where the sun will be during your ceremony. You may need to adjust your seating arrangements accordingly so that your guests are not blinded by the sunlight while they watch you say your vows.

Consider your own comfort level as well. You don’t want to be squinting throughout your ceremony or in your photos, nor do you want to be cast in dark shadows. While your guests can wear sunglasses to combat the sun it would not be fitting for the bride and groom to do the same.

Outdoor wedding perfect lighting

Left photo by Samantha Ong Photography

Many brides and grooms choose to host their wedding during the summer months aboard Mariposa Cruises because the evening cruising timeline offers the perfect lighting schedule. Wedding ceremonies are scheduled to take full advantage of the romantic effects of the sun setting. Once the sun sets, the great city lights shine bright, creating a spectacular backdrop for any wedding reception.

6. Lighting for your Wedding Reception

For your outdoor wedding make sure you include good lighting during your reception so that guests can safely make their way around. Set the mood by incorporating lighting elements into your décor. While candles are beautiful and useful, not all venues will allow them, as they can be a fire hazard, so be sure to ask.

Outdoor wedding tent lighting

Photo by Anne Edgar Photography

Paper lanterns and strings of lights add great ambience. Be sure to light up adjoining walkways for safe and easy access to the bathrooms.

Outdoor wedding lighting for night

Photos by Avenue Photo

7. Sound

Depending on how large your venue space is, you may need to hire speakers, microphones and someone to setup your audio to ensure that people can hear everything during the ceremony as well as speeches and toasts during the reception.

You’ll also need to ensure that your DJ or band has adequate power for their instruments and equipment. Check with your venue about whether there are noise restrictions and if so at what hour you’ll need to get your DJ or band to unplug.

Outdoor wedding sound

Left photo by Laurel Leaf Photography.

Mariposa Cruises’ charters include a professional DJ with the venue rental and have AV capabilities to set up microphones on all levels of the boats. Some vessels require a cordless microphone rental.

8. What’s included and what’s extra?

While some outdoor venues may seem inexpensive at first, the necessary extras that aren’t included can add up quickly and seriously impact your budget. When looking at outdoor wedding venues find out exactly what is included in the cost and what you will need to rent. This could be anything from tables and chairs to the marquee tent, plates and glassware. You may also need to supply your own energy which would mean bringing in a generator.

Determine what additional décor items you’ll need to create your ideal setting for your outdoor wedding. If the venue is full of floral and or lush surroundings you may not need to buy additional floral arrangements which can be a huge savings.

Outdoor wedding lush venue

Photo by Laurel Leaf Photography

Check with your other vendors to see if they have any issues with an outdoor venue. Ask what they will need to set up at your site and if they charge additional costs for theses setups. If you are hiring an outside cater, bring them along on a site visit to ensure that they are equipped to work in the space. Your caterer will most likely need a separate prepping area or tent as well as access to electricity and running water. Check to see if they will provide plates and glassware and if there is an additional cost for this. In some cases you may need to source this yourself.

Outdoor wedding catering

Photos by Avenue Photo

Find out what the return policy for each of your vendors is. Some companies may require that glassware and decor be cleaned and boxed before they are returned. They may charge an additional fee if the directions aren’t followed correctly.

Check with your venue to see who is in charge of clean-up. Some sites may take care of this for you as part of the hiring fee while others may charge you an additional fee. Some venues may require you to take charge of the clean-up yourself and may require you to do it directly after the event. If you are comfortable with the latter you should ask members of your bridal party or family members to help with these tasks.

9. Bug Relief

The worst kind of wedding crashers are of the blood-sucking variety. To minimize the presence of mosquitoes and other pesky insects during your outdoor wedding consider having your site sprayed by an exterminator two days beforehand. Incorporate citronella candles as part of your décor and provide bug spray on a communal table for your guests to use.

Outdoor wedding bug relief

10. Communicate with your guests

Be sure to communicate with your guests before your wedding day. Either include details about your outdoor wedding in your invites or on your wedding website or send an email out a couple of days before your wedding day to communicate what you are expecting the weather to be like and what you would suggest they wear or bring to maximize their comfort.

On the day, use signs to indicate where everything is such as the restrooms, the ceremony area, the cocktail hour space and the reception area.

Outdoor wedding signage

Left & right photo by Avenue Photo Centre photo by Anne Edgar Photography.

If you keep these 10 tips in mind while planning your outdoor wedding, you are certain to have a memorable day!

If you are looking to minimize the challenges of planning your special day but still want to take full advantage of natures beauty, consider planning a semi-outdoor wedding by choosing a venue that is a hybrid of an indoor-outdoor wedding. There are plenty of venues such as Mariposa Cruises fleet, that take full advantage of the extraordinary beauty of it’s natural surrounds while still providing the comfort and amenities of an indoor venue.

Either way, it is important for every bride and groom to decide early on whether they are up for the challenges of planning an outdoor wedding before diving straight in.

Happy Planning!


About the Author:

As the Event Manager for Mariposa Cruises, Lauren Matunin prides herself on delivering fun and memorable events for our clients. She is always ready to take the helm and willing to go the extra nautical mile to ensure all events go off without a hitch. Lauren relies on her attention to detail, creativity, and passion to ensure each and every event is one of a kind and credits collaboration among the entire Mariposa crew as the key to our event successes.