For newlyweds Jill and Michael Earles, their wedding at the Zota Beach Resort on Longboat Key was a dream come true day for them and their guests.
Groom Michael works in the solar panel industry. Bride Jill is part of the team at Mote Marine Laboratory, following her passion for sea turtles. It was essential to the couple that not only they and their guests have fun but that their wedding had as little impact on the environment as possible.
The couple met playing ultimate frisbee. It was only fitting that part of their wedding celebration included an ultimate frisbee competition on the beach with their guests following the ceremony and reception. In fact, they decided on a rather unusual guest book for the wedding, a frisbee for their guests to sign.
Not a fan of cakes, Jill and Michael decided to break from tradition, having a selection of custom-made cookies at the reception instead of a cake. Guests also were invited to enjoy a beer brewed especially in honor of the celebrations named “Solar Turtle.” The personalized cans of beer served as a party favor for guests.
Jill said that having the ceremony at 9:30 in the morning, with a brunch reception to follow at the resort, gave her and her new husband plenty of time to spend with guests. A sea turtle nest located right by the ceremony site on the sand made the day even more perfect for Jill.
And though the day couldn’t have turned out better for the happy couple, they agree that planning a wedding was not without its challenges.
“No matter what, it’s stressful,” Michael said of planning the perfect wedding day. They agreed on the elements to splurge on, including professional photography and the resort. He advises couples to discuss what they do and don’t want. His suggestion to engaged couples is to have a conversation about what is important to each partner and then assign specific tasks to each other. It gives the other person direction on how to handle their assigned tasks and lets that person take care of planning those items.
“You have to trust each other to pick what’s right,” he said.
Jill advises that couples work together to plan the celebration to reduce the stress of planning a wedding. That way, they also avoid bowing to pressures from each other’s families to have a certain kind of wedding.
Another tip they suggest is to utilize the skills of your friends and family. It makes them feel like an integral part of your wedding celebrations. It also may help you as a couple to save a little money.
“Cash in all of your favors with friends,” Michael advised.
“Don’t be afraid to ask your family and friends to use their skills,” Jill agreed.
Jill’s sister, a florist from Wisconsin, put together all of the couple’s flower arrangements. Jill added that they asked for greenery and floral clippings from their friends’ yards to make their arrangements eco-friendlier. Once the wedding was over, she and Michael kept the flowers at their home for as long as possible before composting them into food for their garden.
Michael made a display for their reception cookies out of recycled wooden pallets from his job. The remnants of the pallets were reused as handpainted signs for the wedding celebrations. Rather than using plastic packaging for cookies or take-home boxes, the couple used compostable to-go containers.
For couples seeking to follow in their environmentally green footsteps, Jill advises renting linens and using reusable or compostable dishware instead of paper napkins or tablecloths and disposable dishware and cutlery. For their reception, Jill and Michael chose compostable dishes and bamboo cutlery. Glassware for centerpieces was borrowed or regifted after being obtained through a second-hand social media site.
Jill said they elected to have a sweetheart table just for the two of them during the reception instead of a head table, and guests weren’t restricted by a seating chart. Eliminating the seating chart gave guests more opportunities to mingle with each other. And while the sweetheart table didn’t cut off the newlyweds from their guests, Jill said it did provide them with a moment together amid the reception.
To have guests participate more in the celebrations, the couple chose to hold a seashell ceremony from shells collected on beach walks. Guests were asked to select a seashell, think a happy thought, or pray a blessing for the newlyweds. Guests gathered on the sand to toss the shells back into the Gulf of Mexico.
One final piece of advice Michael has for every engaged couple is to plan to have a nap on the day of the wedding.
Trust me, get the nap in,” he said, noting that while their wedding day was wonderful, it was also tiring for the couple. Michael said having a nap in between the reception and the afternoon with their guests on the beach allowed the couple to enjoy more of the time they got to spend with family and friends.
From the guest book to the timing of the ceremony, every element was a reflection of Jill and Michael and their life together. “It was a truly magical day,” Jill said.