Venue Hunting (cont.)

So I mentioned in my post on Friday that we were going venue hunting over the weekend. We went to State College to look at the two Penn State hotels to see if we liked the setup and I have to say, we were impressed.

We were escorted around the properties by a woman that we'll call Hope and she couldn't have been more helpful. We met her in the lobby of the Nittany Lion Inn, where we stayed the night before, and she showed us around the premises. First, she took us to the Boardroom, which was the smaller of the two places where they would normally hold a reception. It was... ok. The room currently was set up for a field hockey banquet, but we got an idea of what it would look like for a wedding. It was kind of small and the ceilings were low, but the walls had sections that were cork where you could pin up pictures or other such things. She explained how the bar would be in a separate room just outside the main room, which was kind of nice. The room would have soft seating and would serve as a nice little hang-out area for people who wanted to get away from the action for a bit. With a dance floor and band setup, the room could hold about 200 people (but it looked a little tight).

The Nittany Lion Inn from the outside

She showed us this room because unfortunately, it's the only one at the NLI that's available on our (now pretty official) date of July 3, and also because our wedding probably won't be big enough to have in the Ballroom, which is for weddings between 250-350. Apparently they used to let you use sections of the Ballroom, but they don't do that anymore. That's too bad because the Ballroom is much nicer than the Boardroom, with high ceilings and a ton more space:

Nittany Lion Inn Ballroom

Nonetheless, we continued onward. Next we saw the Alumni Lounge, which was basically a medium-sized room that connected with another room about the same size that had a real fireplace. It was nice. We were thinking that it would be a good place to have a rehearsal dinner. It felt very homey and intimate. Then we sat down in the restaurant onsite and talked about the packages and what they included. We were blown away by how much the package included. Here's the list:
  • 1-hr. cocktail reception following the ceremony with butlered hors d'ouevres
  • Champagne toast
  • Three-course meal with choice of soup, salad, appetizer, and entree, and three flavors of Creamery ice cream
  • Wedding cake (huge value)
  • Room rental
  • One night suite rental
  • Linens (white)
  • Personal day-of event planner
There's probably some that I'm forgetting, but even so, this is pretty good for the price. The base price does not include the open bar, but Hope told us how to figure out the cost per person with the open bar, tax, and gratuity tacked on (it's basically between 90-130 depending on whether we want NLI or Penn Stater and whether we want served or buffet style dinner). We left the Nittany Lion Inn feeling less than overjoyed, though. It wasn't a bad place, just not quite what we had in mind. Here are some positives and some negatives:

+ More elegant venue, felt more classy
+ Hotel is located closer to downtown, making for easier access to shopping/bars
+ Could do everything right at the hotel
+ Bar in separate room with soft seating
- Wasn't crazy about the Boardroom and the fact that we couldn't rent out part of the Ballroom
- No place for an outdoor ceremony due to the lack of space
- Didn't get quite as much for the money, but still a good deal

So it was on to the Penn Stater, which is a much more modern hotel that serves mainly as a conference center.

The Penn Stater from the outside

We seriously weren't expecting much out of this hotel. We weren't crazy about how modern it looked and we just didn't think it would be as intimate. We also didn't like how it wasn't close to campus. It is located in a section of campus known as Innovation Park. It isn't within walking distance to downtown, but Hope assured us that their Hospitality Services had shuttle service to anywhere within a 3-mile radius, which was a great feature. We are planning on having a bar tour with wedding party and VIP two nights before the wedding. With no way to get back to the hotel, we were concerned. Alas, we can let them know how many people and at what time we need picked up and they will come and get us.

After a few minutes at the hotel, our attitude towards it changed. True, it wasn't as intimate and it wasn't nearly as elegant, but we actually came to like it more than the Nittany Lion Inn. Hope showed us the room where our reception would be held. It was a large room with a very high ceiling. The room (Dean's Hall) itself at least looked a lot bigger than the Boardroom at the NLI. She showed us where the bar would be set up and where the dance floor would be. Also, this room came with lighting included since the ceiling wasn't all that attractive. They drape the lighting down from the ceiling from the center to the walls and it looks pretty nice. The room was also much more plain, and this allows us to customize more than the NLI because the colors really come out in the carpet and walls in the Boardroom. She showed us the area where the cocktail hour would take place and this also looked very nice because it included an outdoor patio area where guests could walk around and smoke or whatever. Being that our wedding is going to be in July, this was almost a must-have.

Now the downfall. Yes, they can do an outdoor ceremony. No, it isn't the best-looking location. The pictures that she showed us had the chairs and "altar" area set up right outside building. It looked like graduation or something. Not formal at all. We think we may be able to work with the space, but we aren't entirely sold on the outdoor location. We feel very strongly about having an outdoor wedding ceremony, so this is a very important part of our decision process. However, they are planning on renovating the space and adding a stone wall and fountain so we'll see how that goes. I think we will be able to make it look nice. The only other negative here is that they charge a small fee for use of the site but it includes chairs, so it's all good.

Next she showed us some of the guest rooms. This is where we were really blown away. The guest rooms were spectacular. Hope showed us all the different room types and we especially liked the large suites for bridal/groom's suites for the wedding party. Each of these rooms came with two double beds and a pull-out that also looked like a double, a soft chair and TV and they were huge!! Here is a pic of part of a suite:

Suite at the Penn Stater

There was also a "hospitality area" which is basically like a small lounge to hang out in when there aren't events going on. We could just picture friends and family hanging out with each other, eating cookies or watching TV.

Hope then took us downstairs to show us the bar and Orchid Room, where the day-after brunch would be held. This is an extra cost, but it's a nice thing to have. Since everyone is coming in from out of town, having a morning-after event like that leaves open the option of staying an extra night instead of driving home late at night and it gives everyone a chance to catch up with the bride and groom after all the craziness of the wedding day. The best part is that you only pay for what your guests consume, so there isn't any wasted food or money. Positives and negatives:

+ Dean's Hall was bigger than the Boardroom and we liked the high ceilings
+ Outdoor area for cocktail hour
+ Possibility of outdoor ceremony site
+ Awesome guest rooms
+ Hospitality area
+ More included for less $$$
- Outdoor ceremony area was not as elegant as we would like
- Small fee for outdoor ceremony site

One of the best aspects to the wedding packages here is the day-of event planner. This comes included with the wedding package. They basically assign a planner to you on the day of the wedding that takes care of all the details of the wedding day. Hope explained to us that if anything goes wrong, we will never know. For instance, if the server drops the wedding cake on their way out, we won't ever know. If it's a half hour til the reception is supposed to start and the band or DJ hasn't showed up yet, we won't know. They take care of everything for us and they try their best to make our day as stress-free as possible. Which is fantastic, in my opinion. I know that I'm going to be a nervous wreck and Sezzy probably will as well, so this little thing is very valuable to us.

All in all, we left favoring the Penn Stater for the reception, but we are thinking we will do the rehearsal dinner in the Alumni Room at the NLI because of the intimate setting. If nothing else, this trip pretty much solidified our decision to have the wedding in State College. It's a special place for both of us and we really both feel like it's been a second home to us. We put our names on the waitlist and now it's up to us to decide just how we can make the space look like us. Hopefully, we can think of some creative ways to make the ceremony site to our liking.