Photos by: Kali Gradberg
Excited to be writing about our hot air balloon wedding as we just celebrated our 3-year anniversary last month!
So many weddings were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, including ours. It absolutely rocked this world causing us all to change plans and re-prioritize our lives.
Bret and I were planning to have a medium-sized 80-person wedding on July 11th, 2020, but in March 2020 we got the email that our venue was going to be closing for the foreseeable future.
We had already spent about $6,500 on save the dates, invitations, my wedding dress, and deposits for the venue, photographer, DJ, and wedding planner.
We now had to come up with a new wedding plan and that ended up being an intimate hot-air balloon wedding!
This is our story of how we initially planned (and later canceled) our first wedding, followed by the process of organizing and executing the second one, along with a detailed account of the special day. ❤️
Planning the first wedding
When we first started wedding planning and saving in the summer of 2019, we initially had the thought of having a really small wedding and using the bulk of the money saved to buy a home. We couldn’t see ourselves spending upwards of $20,000 on a wedding! (little did we know…)
But, after many discussions between ourselves and our family, we decided we wanted to move forward with having a bigger wedding. All of my family lived out of state (most of his lived in-state) and we loved the idea of our families coming together to meet one another and celebrate our love.
We had been together for almost 7 years and wanted to celebrate that, too.
When planning a wedding, we started to notice that it really just adds up. $1,000 here and $2,000 there. We estimated the wedding was going to cost about $20,000. Ha!
It was looking like we were going to be spending what we initially didn’t want to but continued to remind ourselves it was going to be for an amazing day.
Canceling the first wedding
Fast forward to March 2020 and things started to shut down. It was unknown what July 2020 was going to look like and the best thing for us to do at that time was to cancel the wedding.
We canceled our venue, wedding planner, and DJ and got most of our deposit money back, thankfully! We knew we still wanted to have a small ceremony, so we kept the photographer and the florist because those two vendors were the most important to us.
A photographer to capture our memories and I just love flowers.
We started to switch gears and began discussing again the possibility of using the money we had saved to buy a home. I don’t remember exactly how much we had saved at this point, but I think it was around $10-$15k. So we started putting out inquiries and one thing lead to another and we were closing on a home before we knew it!
Our first inquiry to a real estate agent was sent on April 13th, our first offer was accepted on April 30th, and we closed on June 3rd!
If you want to read more about the details of our homebuying purchase, how much we put down, the purchase price… all of the deets check out this blog post, How We Bought a House With a $56k Salary.
Planning the hot air balloon wedding
So we bought our house, yay! But we still needed to plan our wedding because we knew we wanted to keep our July 11th wedding date but didn’t quite know what it would look like.
We started brainstorming and Bret had the idea of getting married in a hot air balloon.
He said he had a light bulb moment and had a visual image of a ton of hot air balloons floating in the air, us in one and our family members spread out in the others (he didn’t initially say this out loud).
But he knew that wasn’t plausible, so then he shrunk the idea to just having us and our officiant in one balloon. I never heard of anything like it and I immediately loved it!
Looking more into it, it seemed as though it would be better to have the ceremony on the ground, and then he and I take a ride on the balloon alone afterward. This would also allow us to invite multiple family members.
We found a local hot air balloon company and bought the ticket that evening.
In our county, we were able to have gatherings of up to 25 people, and our new headcount was going to be 20 so that worked out perfectly.
We decided to invite immediate family only and then live stream the ceremony on Facebook for those who couldn’t be with us in person.
I then made a Facebook event page and invited everyone who would have came, and then some!
We sent out a large group text to everyone who was invited to come in person telling them our new plans, and that the ceremony was going to be at 5 AM.
We had to have an early ceremony because our hot air balloon ride was going to be taking off around 5:30 am. They take off so early in the morning due to low winds and so we can see the sunrise. Thankfully everyone was a good sport with that start time.
Leading up to the day, we added updates to the event page and shared videos. People posted statuses and videos of themselves congratulating us.
Bret’s best man even recorded a video giving his “best man speech”. It was a nice way to still have the people we loved be a part of our day.
The ceremony and hot air balloon ride
Bret and I drove separately, and I arrived last with my little sister-in-law and flower girl. My sister was in charge of streaming the Facebook live for those watching at home.
We were on the grass with Bret’s grandfather who performed our ceremony while the hot air balloon was being blown up.
Afterward, we gave our family hugs, said hello to everyone who was viewing on Facebook Live, and then headed to take some photos before we had to fly off.
The schedule was fairly strict so we couldn’t hang around for long, but that was okay because we were going to see everyone at our house for our breakfast reception anyway!
Our photographer, Kali, got some photos of us in front of the hot air balloon and then we were off! Our family watched us float away and then headed to our house where we would meet them after our ride.
The ride lasted about an hour and a half and was soooo fun! Neither of us had ever ridden in a hot air balloon and it was a lot more calmer than we had expected.
We were going only about 20 miles per hour, it truly felt like we were floating in the air.
We did have a navigator with us from the company who was awesome and shared his experience participating in hot air balloon races. There’s a lot of skill that goes into learning how to move the balloon exactly where you want it to go.
We went really high in the sky and then we would go low near fields, close enough to even hear animals.
Since it was so early in the morning, there was just that quiet calm atmosphere you experience when you get up early. It was really peaceful.
We love breakfast food and hosting a breakfast reception was a no-brainer! We had quiche, eggs, bacon, donuts, fruit, and cake.
My mom, aunt, sister, and stepdad got the food ready while people were arriving (the real MVPs!)
We ate, laughed, and enjoyed each other‘s company. Since we didn’t have a DJ, we had a long list of songs we had combined into a playlist to play throughout the morning.
This was the time when we were able to take our family photos and then people began slowly leaving in the late morning.
And around 2 pm Bret and I went to our hotel which was actually at our original wedding venue. Our photographer was so amazing that she went with us to take pictures there, too!
The hotel had a restaurant and places to explore on their property, so we ate dinner and enjoyed our evening together, just us two.
How much did we spend on the hot air balloon wedding?
Here is the breakdown of how much we spent on the wedding:
- Taylor dress & shoes: $1141.97
- Bret tux: $300
- Rings: $2,237.37
- Hot air balloon ride: $699 + $100 tip
- Photographer: $1,500
- Flowers: $1,000
- Cake: $94
- Food: $250
- Serving platters and other dishes: $150
- Hair and makeup: $75
- Guest book: $88.20
- Decorations: $166.62
- Favors: $204
- Chairs for extra seating: $120
- Hotel room 1-night: $205
- Marriage license: $60
- Total: $8,391.16
We were definitely approaching a high, high number but our experience has shown me that people can still have an amazing day on a smaller budget (and I know $8,300 is still a lot!).
Looking back on everything that happened, we are just so grateful to have had the opportunity to buy our home and still have an unforgettable wedding day.
This really all could not have been possible without the help of our vendors, and family dedicating their time and supporting us financially.
It was quite literally the best day of my life.
Did you have a smaller wedding? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!