Open Mind

Duke Chapel Real Wedding


April 22, 2020
Words by Lauren Ertl
Photos courtesy of A.J. Dunlap Photography

In situations with a couple’s family and friends spread across the country, there is often no natural central location. This was the case for Caitlin and Jeremy, so they decided to open up their options for a ‘destination’ wedding, as most guests would have to travel anyway.

College sweethearts, Caitlin and Jeremy, felt a special connection to Durham, North Carolina. Duke held so many precious memories for the couple, and they had several friends who were also alumni of the institution.

“Other friends and family were excited to see Durham and the place where our relationship started,” the couple says.

The cherry on top, an October wedding meant their southerner guests would get to experience fall weather and northerners could escape the cold for a weekend. When the couple broke the news to their guests, they weren’t expecting what came next. Jeremy’s family was so excited, they actually planned an impromptu family reunion in the area the week before the wedding, which helped alleviate travel concerns and pushed up attendance. The destination couldn’t have been more of a perfect choice, but that would only be the beginning of their wedding planning journey.

“Having a local wedding planner was absolutely necessary,” Caitlin says. The couple got in touch with a planner from the Raleigh/Durham area who made great vendor suggestions, coordinated visits, and took care of errands that had to be done in Durham. 

“While the internet had plenty of lists of vendors with any number of reviews, it really helped to have an insider’s perspective,” the bride says.

At first, the couple had trouble lining up dates for Duke Chapel and venues around town. Duke Chapel allows reservations on a rolling, monthly basis one year in advance. Many couples even place holds on reception venues in the area well in advance for multiple weekends. 

“We were so busy enjoying just being engaged that we didn’t move fast enough at first. Luckily, we were not in a hurry and by pure luck an evening time slot on a weekend in October happened to be available at Duke Chapel that matched an opening with our preferred reception venue in the heart of the American Tobacco Campus in downtown Durham,” Caitlin and Jeremy say.

The couple also made sure the travel and transportation logistics for their guests was buttoned up. They booked a hotel room block that would accommodate a majority of guests. Although Durham is a smaller city, it still has plenty of options for accommodations, so the couple was able to easily make recommendations for guests for whom the hotel block didn’t work.

“We chose a hotel within walking distance of the rehearsal dinner and reception venue, and provided bus transportation to and from the chapel, which ensured guests would not have to rent cars for the weekend or take Ubers on the day of the wedding,” the bride says.

Putting aside the emotional nature of the destination, when the weekend of their wedding arrived, Caitlin and Jeremy felt like guests were more present. Having a wonderful attendance at drinks on Friday night and then again at a going away brunch on Sunday morning, guests got to intermingle and enjoy the coming together of two families.

Sufficed to say, Caitlin and Jeremy’s wedding weekend went off without a hitch. The couple points to their local wedding planner for such success as they were incredibly valuable and relieved a huge amount of stress out of planning their destination wedding. In addition, they advise taking a slow pace to planning, as it allotted them extra time to foresee any snags in the plans and fix them before it was too late.

Ultimately, Caitlin and Jeremy say to “be sure that you take time to step back and enjoy your destination during the wedding weekend, that’s the whole reason you chose it.”

Vendors: Photographer: A.J. Dunlap Photography; Wedding Planner: Happily Ever After; Ceremony Site: Duke University Chapel; Reception Site: Bay 7; Florist: New Creations; Stationery: Indigo Envelope; Cake: Cinda’s Creative Cakes; Hair & Makeup: WINK hair+makeup; Gown Designer: Essence of Australia; Groom’s Clothing Designer: The Black Tux; Bridesmaids Clothing Designer: Azazie; Groomsmen’s Clothing Designer: The Black Tux; Catering: Angus Barn; Band: The Company Band; Rentals: CE Rental & Greenhouse Picker Sisters; Transportation: Greenway Transit

Couple in Punta Cana doing a destination wedding by the ocean
Weddings at Sandals
Black couple getting married in Jamaica
Jamaica Destination Weddings
Couple in Cancun doing a gazebo destination wedding
White couple getting married in Punta Cana, DR
destination wedding couple throwing rose petals in costa mujeres

Find a Vendor

Access our list of vendors based on your destination location.