The Creative Type » Plan + Style for Beautiful Weddings and Special Events

A Surprise Wedding – The How-To Guide

 A Surprise Backyard Wedding, image by  Aaron Shum Photography

One of my favourite things of all time is a good surprise. I LOVE finding out when a friend or family member is expecting, or engaged, or moving states, got a new job,  had a grant application accepted, comes out of the closet – if there’s a surprise to be had, let me at it!

Pulling off a surprise wedding is no easy feat. Particularly if you want to ensure a full-blown, “HOLY SH&T – WHAT IS HAPPENING!?” scenario, the devil is in the all in the planning and the stage-managing of the event.

Don’t Tell Anyone – SRSLY!

This is probably the most important. The more people you tell, the less of a surprise it is. Makes sense right? If you are after that memorable moment when ALL of your guests are united in surprise and delight – you can’t have half of them looking around knowingly at one another, and then the rest finding out after the fact that they hadn’t been let into the “inner sanctum”. Sometimes, a good surprise can go bad if people feel they were left out. So, make the decision early on to not tell ANYONE. Except the celebrant (for obvious reasons), and any vendors you may engage. They also really need to know that it’s a surprise too, and if they have a cover story (waiters for a birthday party etc etc).

Get Your Story Straight

The moment you decide to plan a surprise wedding, you and your intended need to ensure your back story is solid. Much like you’ve joined witness protection, and need to know each others’ new identities to fool the bad guys (in this instance – the guessers). It’s totally that important. Decide very quickly the how, when and why of the cover event. Think about what questions you may be asked, the big one being “Why is it so important that I’m there?”. And when you do get asked difficult ones, deflect until you can confirm your answer with your partner!

Make the Cover Event Believable

Ensure that the event you use as the cover for your surprise ‘do’ is one that the people you want to turn up, will turn up to! I know that a common cover event is an engagement party, but to be honest, I think a lot of people are half expecting a surprise wedding at most engagement parties nowadays. Scott & Kasie’s wedding, featured on Polka Dot Bride, dropped in at their son’s naming ceremony. Fantastic! Everyone is there for the all-important bestowal of the name, then Wham! – wedding!

Scott & Kasie’s wedding as featured on Polkadot Bride, image by Ryan David Ahern

Plan Plan Plan

The beauty of a surprise wedding is in the planning. The building of the cover story, the coordinating of the reveal and the orchestration of the whole day. What I love seeing as a planner is the little items that ensure the surprise rolls on, and doesn’t just stop with “hey, we’re actually getting married”. This means thinking about the whole event and its schedule, ensuring that you aren’t sprung if people are early, or if someone goes into a room they shouldn’t. Think about all of the elements of the day, and make allowances for how you want people to be surprised, and when!

Whitney & Rick’s Australian Kentucky Wedding from Polkadot Bride, images by Jessica Fey Photography

Orchestrate the Reveal 

If not telling anyone is the most important element, the reveal itself and how it is orchestrated comes in at a close second. One of my favourite weddings to be involved in has been a surprise wedding, and the reveal was seriously unique. Have a look at Amy & John’s surprise wedding and see how they went about pulling off a happy hijack of their daughter’s 2nd birthday, but also make note of how Amy designed her invitations specifically to evoke this response. Sure, she’s a professional letterpress designer – but she thought outside of the box!

Joy, shock, love, laughter all in the one go.

Get Some Help

If you’re having some trouble planning/thinking/brainstorming the vent, which is not unusual in surprise wedding territory, get help from an expert – like moi. Honestly, if you want maximum surprise – you need a ringleader who knows how to bring the fireworks! We can take the coordination off your hands, so you don’t have to make excuses for time spent researching or meeting vendors. Even a small, intimate gathering can benefit from a professional giving it the once-over.

So there you have it. My guide to creating and pulling-off a surprise wedding. There aren’t enough wonderful real surprises in this contemporary world, so give your friends and family the honour of a good one!


All images, unless noted, by Luke Lornie Photography

October 11, 2013 - 6:33 am

Traci Renee - What are some other good ideas instead of an Engagement party – we don’t have children so we can’t use them as an excuse, but I’d like to have a good enough story to get family from other states to come!

October 11, 2013 - 7:53 am

Caroline - Hi Traci!

Good question! The following could work for getting people over (though, from the states, you’ve got a bit of work on your hands to build up the event enough for a ticket purchase!)
– Milestone Bday (e.g 30th)
– Housewarming (purchased a new home – invite the US folks over to stay and celebrate the new place. The lure of free accommodation could help!)
– A special family gathering (think up a reason to get the whole family together, something like a “Smith Family Reunion”, particularly if you all haven’t seen each other in a while)

Or , the alternative is – you only tell the folks from the US that it’s a secret wedding, and go with an event that others would still come to. That’s risky of course, and it depends on the family!

Hope this helps! I’d love to hear what you end up going with!


October 11, 2013 - 9:26 am

Traci Renne - Thank you Caroline! I really like the family reunion idea. That may be JUST crazy enough to work.

I appreciate it, keep up the great blogs!

November 5, 2013 - 5:19 pm

Roesheli - I am lost. My fiance and I don’t have much of a budget, we are getting married April 5, 2015 and my mom doesn’t even know. It is a total surprise to everyone….. I need help!!

May 25, 2015 - 7:58 pm

Tiffany - I need deperate help… My fiance and i have been together since 2009, We woukd like to get married but we dont have funds to do so.. we been putting it off mainly because of me.. I always invisioned a big wedding with family and friends.. a wedding thats unigue in the way i imagined it. I would like a wedding thats a play/show, where there’s live singing and dancing, pranks, skits, comedy and just laughter and fun. Even tho it will be my day i dont like a lot of attention.. just mim. I also would like it to best pocket We Cant afford to have a small wedding yet alone a big one! I thought of having it at our family reunion , my cousin actually gave me the idea joking with me and I cant get it out of my mind! She said if u have a surprise wedding at the family reuion… atleast you dont have to worry about food, invitations, venue.. you can just come with your dress(and daughter’s dress), wedding cake, and fiance, and rings. Everything else is history and a surprise.. that made me google surprise weddings, thats how i ended up here. Would that be rude to do such a thing? Also are there any organizations that can help with a surprise? Please write back… im soo lost.. and I want to be a bride desperately but feel more for a wedding instead of going to justice of the peace. My Parents already paid for my younger sister’s wedding.. its 3 girls and 1 son… all are marry except me.. im the oldest. My brother went to the justice of the peace, and my sister beneath me in age went to the justice of the peace.. but my parents paid for the youngest sister’s wedding. They could only afford to pay for one wedding and they made it known of there (they are blessed they didnt have to pay) I have an imaginative mind and im pretty sure i can think up some creative ideas.. I just want to have a wedding where everyone feels happy from a good laugh, good food, and had lots of fun, I want them to truly feel they was apart of our special day.

May 25, 2015 - 8:31 pm

Tiffany - Roesheli, How did your wedding turn out? I see you posted in 2013 , and your wedding was for april 2015 that was last month 😉

August 31, 2015 - 2:15 am

Aubree - My brother got engaged a few months after I did. We had already had a venue and a date set. After he got engaged we were told his date was set only 20 days after our date. The stress of being in their wedding and planning our own at the same time overwhelmed my fiancé and I. They sent out their save the dates 13 months in advance so that everyone could plan to attend their wedding before planning to attend ours. After a couple months of going through this, we decided that we are going to have a surprise wedding. We were over the “competition” it felt like it was turning into. November 21 we are hosting thanksgiving at our house for family and friends. We are not telling parents, any family, nor friends. My maid of honor and my fiancés best man are the only 2 that know. We are having it in our backyard. We were able to change our date with all of our vendors. Unfortunately not the deposit for the venue, but we are just looking at that as a minor loss to a big achievement. Photography, video, sit down dinner, entertainment, and lots of fun this day will be filled with!! Our families would never expect something like this!….Wish us luck!

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