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Upstate New York Wedding Expert Artsy Tulum Wedding

Guys – I am finally blogging my artsy Tulum wedding. Honestly, I don’t know why it took me so long – but here we are – one year later! I think most of the reason is that I knew I would be incredibly emotional about it. I also wanted to get it in a magazine – which I did! Rock n Roll Bride Mag Issue #37! Additionally, I knew it would take me 5+ hours. Remember that when you’re like, “wedding albums cost how much?!” 😘

OK but really. I am obsessed with my wedding. My hope is that you all can be as equally obsessed with your wedding as I am. That’s why I do what I do here at Upstate Indie Weddings. There is no set formula for ideating your wedding. All of the vendors in our directory are here to bring your ideas to life. Moreover, they just looooove when couples come with ideas that are authentically “them.” So if you’re reading this and looking through my photos, I hope that it inspires you to follow your own hearts and desires.

Now, shall I tell  you a bit about my wedding planning process?! How about the dream team I worked with!? Let’s dig in, friends!


Photography: Lydia Maybee Photography | Videographer: Justin Bondi Productions | Ceremony/Reception Venue: Hotel Tiki Tiki Tulum | Stationery: Rust Belt Love | Flowers: Stacy K Floral | Dress: Handmade by Bride: Made by Anatomy and painted by Alixandra Martin | Hair: Cut and color Kristin Draudt of Yellowbird Studios | Make Up: Bride | Grooms and Groomsmen Outfits: Suit: Get Dressed Buffalo / Tie and Pocket Square: Chemistry Neckties | Cake and Desserts: Emmanuel Montiel | Reception Decor/Props: Archive Rentals | Caterers: Catering by Corina | Band: Mariachi Band | DJ: DJ Manuscula | Officiant: Brides childhood friend, Emily-Rose

Why Mexico?

Well, for a few reasons.

  1. I wanted a vacation.

  2. Mexico is a special place to my husbands family.

  3. I wanted a vacation.

Really, though, about 20 years ago I came across this blog post of a wedding in ancient ruins. Needless to say I was enamored by the thought and look of it. Therefore, I set out to make it happen! However, when we were working with that wedding venue, we realized that it would be a logistical nightmare. Traveling to Cancun from Merida would be long and maybe also sketchy. Not the way to spend a week in paradise. So we scrapped that dream and started building a new one.

When I saw the Tiki Tiki Hotel, I fell in love all over again. The charm, the color, the intimacy and size of it all hooked me. I also loved the chance to see Tulum in addition to Cancun. After the wedding we all went to Cancun for more fun and r&r! Like I said – I wanted a vacation. 😝

We decided to spend the morning of the wedding on an excursion with The Custom Tour. I can’t say enough AMAZING things about Rod and his crew. If you’re traveling to Mexico, definitely look them up. We hiked through some ruins, had the most incredible authentic home cooked lunch and swam in the cenotes. Oh, there was also zip lining! I wanted to have as many opportunities as possible for the whole group to kick back, have fun and connect. I know the wedding days can whiz by, so I wanted to draw it out as long as possible!

Boutique Tulum Hotel Wedding Venue

The Tiki Tiki Hotel was really awesome to work with. I had started chatting with Julie, the manager about 3 years before the actual wedding date. That says a lot, in and of itself! She helped fill in all of the gaps that I couldn’t since we had never been there before. I know some people may be nervous to plan a wedding at a destination without ever visiting, but if you have the right team you have nothing to worry about.

There were only 15 rooms in the hotel, therefore we rented out the entire place for the long weekend. Julie gave us free reign over the space and let me clear out what I needed to make my vision come true. Tulum is a very small and more rural sort of city in Mexico. There are a lot of boutique, wellness focused resorts and private beaches. We enjoyed a lot of authentic food and shopping when we weren’t setting up for the wedding! I mean – just look at these images of this magical place. I’ll never forget the moment that I walked into the hotel and saw it for my own eyes for the first time. It was like I was stepping into a photograph. It was our own little oasis for the weekend.

Now, I didn’t have a wedding planner – which is a HUGE regret on my part. The one thing I did have was 3 years of time to plan! It really helped to have that time to find good deals with our travel agent here in Buffalo. If you’re considering planning a destination wedding, I would 100,000,000% work with a travel agent. They just get the best deals. Plus, it will save you SO much time. Another thing that helped was my wedding website. It was rally easy to communicate all of the details, flight information and other necessities to the small group at once.

The Art in the Artsy Tulum Wedding

Michael is such a good sport. 😝 He really let me do whatever I wanted for the wedding. However, we did work on a lot of it together. The one thing that he did not know anything about was my dress. 🤩🤩🤩 I am a fashion designer and I create custom wedding gowns in my shop in Buffalo, NY. Obviously this was a big deal for me. I had dabbled with a lot of different ideas over the 7 years we were together prior to our engagement. It wasn’t until I knew that I really wanted to incorporate color into the dress that I dreamt up this stunner. There were a few other things that I took into consideration when designing my dress.

  1. My body. I’m very hippy and curvy, so the last thing I wanted was to accentuate that. When I played dress up at my friends bridal shop I got to see myself in other dresses, and every time I wore something fitted all I could focus on was my hips. I just didn’t like it and knew that it would be all I stared at in my photos.

  2. Comfort and ease of wearing. The weather in Mexico is hot – in case you didn’t know that. Ensuring that I wouldn’t sweat all over my dress and it would look great all day and night was a paramount.

  3. Low back. I knew I wanted a low, open back dress. A halter style was the best way to ensure the dress would stay up but I could go low!

I started drawing some ideas for the dress itself, sans train in order to figure out what I wanted. I used my favorite fabric of all time – silk crepe de chine – and settled on this simple, but uniquely structured sheath dress. The seams around the bust area that reach across the backside gave the otherwise plain look a little something extra. In a way – they lead you down to the party in the back: the hand painted train! The “artsy” part of the artsy Tulum wedding!

Hand Painted Wedding Dress

My dear friend, and Michael’s favorite artist, Alix Martin worked with me on my design idea for over a year before the wedding. Like all of the other elements of my artsy Tulum wedding – I showed the original direction and let the pros run wild with it. That’s one of my best pieces of advice, BTW. If you love the wedding pros you’ve hired – let them do what they do best. You probably won’t be disappointed. So anyway, the painting made it’s way to me via a surprise visit from another dear friend, and I was just beside myself with glee. I’ll share the behind the scenes process blogs in a bit on my made by anatomy blog. For now we’ll focus on the finished product.

It’s pretty f*#king amazing, though, isn’t it?!

The best part of it all is that after the wedding I will remove the painting from the underskirt and stretch it over canvas. The artwork is an actual painting – so the painting is Michael’s wedding gift from me. The train piece of the dress was a whole separate skirt. It was very heavy with all of that paint on it, so this way I could just slip out of the underskirt and dance my ass off.

Lastly, I made all of the other dresses too. 🤩 No, I’m not Oprah, but I do love my people. London (my step-daughter), my mother, mother-in-law and two attendants were also decked out in custom Anatomy. How could I not?! It’s literally what I do! 😝 Plus, I really wanted them all to feel as special as they are to me on the big day.

The First Look

The first look was what I was most looking forward to in the entire week! I definitely pulled off a major surprise for Michael. Michael said he could never have guessed that I would have made what I did. We even got to do a first look with London, too! I saved some of the painting for her dress as well!

I wanted to do a first look with everyone in the wedding party as well. The look on their faces was priceless. Especially my father – he got pretty emotional! Everyone finally got to see the artsy Tulum wedding coming together now! We spent the next 30 minutes of so taking photos together on the rooftop patio off of our bedroom and down around the rest of the venue.

Our Ceremony at the Tiki Tiki Hotel in Tulum

Despite common assumptions – I had no theme or design ideas for my artsy Tulum wedding. No lie. I was so wrapped up in the dresses and how the clothing would look in the venue that by the time I met with Stacy I had nothing. Stacy, owner of Stacy K Floral is a great friend, so when I asked her if she could create an everlasting bouquet for me she had some tricks up her sleeve! Can you believe that all of the flowers are artificial?!

After seeing photos of the venue, and knowing that I wanted to use the amazing circular backdrop for the ceremony, Stacy came up with some great ideas. Mixed in with the large scale greens and huge paper flowers, we foraged for greens around the venue. Lydia, my photographer and I arranged the flowers in the wall on Friday so we could enjoy all of Saturday!

Our officiant is Emily-Rose, one of my oldest friends who is creative writer/editor. We incorporated sand pouring with London, so she gets to keep the bottle of sand. For our unity ceremony as a couple, we used fabric ribbons for hand fastening. A less traditional decision we made was to allow our loved ones to participate in the ceremony if they wanted. We did not choose readings or follow a set structure. My mother and my maid of honor, Jen, spoke from their hearts.

I was suuuuuper excited about having a mariachi band there! They were absolutely lovely, and their music was so beautiful. They stayed for the ceremony and a bit after for cocktail hour! Michael and I wrote our own vows that we repeated to each other. We wrote the vows together so we could make them our own.

Our Artsy Tulum Wedding Reception

Since we rented out the Tiki Tiki for the weekend, we needed a caterer too. They are a boutique hotel with a small café, but no kitchen. Julie recommended Corina, a local caterer and previous restaurateur. Corina did NOT disappoint! Her food and staff were sensational. Catering by Corina brought an entire outdoor kitchen with them. It was IN-CREDIBLE to watch. Completely out of this world and surpassed all of my expectations. Not only was the food delicious, but it was gorgeous to look at. Corina prepared a taco bar for the rehearsal dinner, a fully catered tapas dinner on the wedding night and a morning after brunch. That brunch was clutch.

For desserts, Emmanuel Montiel is so kind and thoughtful in his dessert designs. Like most of the other vendors, we communicated a few times prior to the wedding. We shared some direction in terms of the flavors that we liked, and asked for a variety of small bites and a cutting cake. Emmanuel brought it all together with matching flowers and greens. He and his wife even stuck around for a drink and dance!

Tiki Tiki took care of the decorations, rentals, DJ set up and bar. When the rentals arrived, they set up the tables. When it came to the design, Stacy helped me pull that together. Remember when I said that I didn’t think about much other than the dresses…? Thank goodness for my wedding vendors or my guests would have been dining on bare ass tables. A few of my friends helped bring the linens, fruits and candles together. When dinner was served and the sun was setting, those candles really looked so elegant. It all fit in to our artsy Tulum wedding perfectly.

Julie at the Tiki even sourced small, gold bolt nuts to use to hold the candles upright so that we didn’t have to bring candle holders! They concocted a special tequila cocktail for our signature drink and kept them flowing all night. Our bartender, Esmerelda was the absolute sweetest. Manuscula, our DJ was also so friendly and as you can see – kept us dancing all night. My little brother even busted out his old breakdancing moves! Everyone at our wedding was just too kind. We probably spent over $700 in tips for everyone we were so pleased. 😂 All of my cash was gone by the end of the night, that’s all I know.

First Dances

Other than the traditional mother-son, father-daughter dance, Michael and London shared a dance, too! They danced to Lovely Day by Bill Withers. Michael and his mother, Diane, danced to My Wish by Rascal Flats. For my dance with my father – I was surprised. Very. Surprised. 😭 My Dad is not very emotional. He doesn’t talk about his feelings, like, ever. So I was totally taken a back when he spoke about how proud he was of me, how much I meant to him and when he played I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables. I played Fantine in my high school’s rendition of the musical. WAY too emotional for me. 😂

OUR dance was also a surprise! This was all Michael’s doing. One day as we were working on our home reno’s (that are never ending) he suggested a song for our first dance. Total head banger. It was perfect. Being from the soundtrack to a Fast and Furious movie was another little bonus. His love for that franchise is something I tease Michael about incessantly. Yungblud’s cover of Time in a Bottle was our first dance song. You can see from my sneaky smile the exact moment when the tempo changes and the guitar rips!

The dancing ended on a bit of a sad note, as we all joined arms and swayed to Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond. This song is Michael’s late fathers’ favorites. We were completely crushed when he passed just one year before the wedding. During our ceremony we honored Mike and Diane spoke a few words at dinner on his behalf. Ending the night with this tribute to Mike was the best way to do so.

Our Husband and Wife Photo + Video

This was the second thing I was looking the most forward to! 🤩 After looking at so. Many. Wedding photos from other people – I couldn’t wait to have my own! Lydia and I met years ago at Wegmans! She stopped me in the store to compliment my dress. After our paths crossed twice more in the same manner, we reconnected after I opened my business! The universe was clearly trying to bring us together! Justin went to high school with Michael’s sister, and he and I had met through the local wedding circuits. He is a seasoned film maker and all around fun guy to have at a party!

Being close to our wedding vendors made this whole experience so much more memorable. So – as another pro tip – find vendors that you vibe with. You don’t have to become  besties, but if you guys really get along, the entire experience will be so much better.

Our photos were taken in and around the Tiki Tiki, as well as at a neighboring yoga resort called Holistika. We had the chance to scout out the locations the days leading up to the wedding. Since we arrived on Thursday with our photographer we were able to wander and explore. The landscape all around us was just perfect for our artsy Tulum wedding. I can’t say enough about this whole experience. I wish I could get married all over again. There is nothing that I would change. However, I would hire a wedding planner the next time around. 😘

I will treasure every photo, video and memory from this week. The gratitude I feel every day since my wedding has just increased ten fold. Being married is pretty awesome, I have to admit. For those of you who are in the planning stages, please just remember this one thing. Do it all for your own love story.

xoxo Ali

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