Guests joined this couple for a five-day river cruise before watching them swap vows in Hungary.
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Diana and Alex met as many people do, through a mutual friend. They loosely kept in touch by running into each other at bars and clubs in Hong Kong and the occasional Facebook message. One night, they ran into each other again on the street and said they'd meet up again later in the evening, which they did. "It was fate and the timing was crucial," Alex says. Neither of them were necessarily looking for love, and Diana definitely didn't want a long-distance relationship (she was living in China), but Alex knew he wanted to marry her from the start. They texted and emailed back and forth until she found herself back in Hong Kong for a month and they went on their first official date. Seven months later, they were an item.
Diana (a wedding planner) was actually the one to plan the proposal, which Alex (an entrepreneur and asset manager) executed. The couple flew to Chengdu in Sichuan Provence (where the biggest panda research centers are based) for a private "meeting" with a panda. At the time, private panda visits were prohibited, so a few strings had to be pulled. As the bear was being led out by its keeper, Alex dropped to one knee. Diana said "yes" and then the pair got to pet and feed the panda.
They officially got married two months later, had a destination wedding the following fall on November 13, 2017. Ninety loved ones gathered for a multi-day vacation in Budapest, Hungary. "I have always thought weddings were too short. You don't get to see your friends and relatives that often," Alex explains of the plan to celebrate over the course of more than just one weekend. They took the opportunity to host a five-day river cruise and spend quality time with everyone. The wedding itself—on land at Fisherman's Bastion—celebrated the bride's favorite animal (and the couple's engagement location) in an elegant palette of green and white with a pop of black. And though the weather didn't cooperate, the indoor event was a true highlight of the destination wedding.
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Alex popped the question with an engagement ring that had previously belonged to his grandmother, who shared nearly 50 years of marriage with Alex's grandfather.
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A Historical Venue
Initially, Diana and Alex were going to get married on a roof deck of a river cruise ship somewhere in Europe. After reaching out to several companies and comparing the options for a shortened four-day excursion (they are typically twice as long), the best option, the AmaBella, began in Budapest and ended in Vienna.
When they faced restrictions for a wedding on the boat, Diana started looking for old buildings as potential locations. She had been to Fisherman's Bastion before and remembered its beautiful views of the river and parliament building. "I knew this was going to be it," she says, and they booked the venue four months before their big day.
The trip's itinerary included stops in Bratislava and Vienna, too. And one of the guests organized a wine tasting one night to sample some Austrian wines. An open bar, a DJ and a singer, and a customized guide book for the three cities they visited kept things extra fun.
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Friend Hilary Ng designed and illustrated a chinoiserie painting that featured a family of panda bears. It was printed as a tri-fold panel that was backed in emerald green paper and wrapped around the wedding invitation, then sealed with a gold-and-green belly band. The invite itself was printed on a sheet of lucite so as not to detract from the illustration. An octagonal logo at the top showcased the couple's first initials and was flanked by illustrations of a pair of pandas, some of their favorite flowers, wine, and champagne.
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After a few months of wedding dress shopping, Diana still hadn't found anything to wear. There were a few options she liked but they were over budget. "I remembered that one of my clients had custom-made a wedding gown at a tailor and it was a fraction of the cost of any of the dresses that I liked," she recalls. So she took some ideas from different gowns, brought them to Classic Tina Bridal Shop, who then fused them together for the winning ensemble. Silk, lace, tulle, and beading were all incorporated into the two-piece look, which was a sleeveless gown with a deep V-neck and a jacket to fend of the chilly temperature.
Alex, who likes things that are traditional and timeless, went shopping with Diana to find his classic Armani tuxedo.
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On the big day, Diana wore her mother's emerald ring, which perfectly matched the signature color of the wedding.
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As wedding gifts, Diana's parents gave her a pair of emerald earrings and her in-laws gave her a diamond bracelet—both of which she wore for the ceremony and reception. She also wore this diamond-and-emerald bracelet that was her grandmother's.
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The Wedding Party
The bridesmaids wore custom dresses in slightly varied shades of green and different silhouettes. Six different materials (lace, tulle, velvet, chiffon, silk, and Thai silk) made each girl's look unique. To keep warm, she gave each woman a black stole. Groomsmen were asked to wear black suits. The group was comprised of close friends and siblings.
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Simple boutonnières by Floresie were made of hellebores and ranunculus in shades of white and green. Each was tied with raw silk ribbon.
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The ceremony was set up on a beautiful terrace overlooking the city. But then the weather wasn't cooperating with the plan for an outdoor ceremony, so it was reset inside. "I think we knew the day before that it would be raining, but you always have hope for the rain to stop during the ceremony," Diana says. Alex adds that it was the worst day of weather throughout the entire trip, but that in the end it didn't bother them.
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A Pretty Rain Plan
When it was time to execute the rain plan, Joy Proctor Design and Floresie moved the ceremony setup inside Fisherman's Bastion. "In the end, we were all warm and toasty and it was as romantic a setting as anyone had ever seen," Diana says.
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The matron-of-honor's husband (who happens to be a youth pastor) officiated the non-religious ceremony. The groom and his groomsmen entered to Ed Sheeran's "Perfect" before the bridesmaids walked down the aisle as Colbie Caillat's "Bubbly" played. Diana chose the score from the movie The Holiday as the soundtrack for her processional with her father. "I remember feeling really overwhelmed with emotion as I entered," says Diana. "A combination of gratitude and happiness that everyone was there to celebrate with us. And of course it's quite a dramatic feeling when everyone is standing up in honor of you walking down the aisle."
Alex had similar feelings, noting that walking in to the ceremony was his favorite part of the day. "Most of the people who attended live in Asia. We had 100 people who flew over to Budapest to attend. We really felt loved and special," he says.
After making things official, the couple recessed to Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World."
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Diana's god son Adam read Robert Fulghum's poem "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" during the ceremony.
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Four of a Kind
Diana's four god sons all had roles in the wedding. The oldest read during the ceremony and the other three served as ring bearers.
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Green escort cards were displayed on a large sheet of Lucite. "That way we didn't block the beautiful architecture and the cards appeared to be floating," says Diana.
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Calligraphed Escort Cards
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The First Dance
The newlyweds entered the reception dancing to "Get Low" by Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz—the song they danced to at a club the night they reconnected in Hong Kong. Then it was time for their first dance song, which began with Brian McKnight's "Back at One" and after a few verses it transitioned into Luis Fonsi's "Despacito." "We had choreographed a one-minute routine which we hoped would get the guests dancing," Diana explains. "I'm happy to report that it was a success."
Alex was on the fence about the mash-up but came around. "First I was really against the idea, but it was really fun and special."
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A Mini Toast
Diana's four-year-old god son Logan said grace before dinner started. Several toasts followed, which was a highlight of the night for the groom.
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The Reception Setup
Like the ceremony, the reception was originally intended to be outside. But the indoor setting was just as elegant. The historical building had tables that fit perfectly within the various alcoves, and linens from La Tavola Fine Linen Rentals dressed them up.
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A round table in the center of the space was decorated with a large floral arrangement surrounded by taper candles.
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Shades of Green and White
Floresie combined white blooms of all sizes, including tulips and amaryllis, with a mix of leaves and trailing greenery for the main centerpiece.
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The Little Touches
Gold chargers were brought over from Hong Kong, as were votive holders custom made with the couple's monogram on them. Ceramic panda figurines sourced at a market in Bangkok were placed next to each place card. Like the invite, the menu was printed on lucite. Placed on top of the white napkins, it outlined the four-course meal: pheasant consommé with ginger noodles and smoked quail eggs, pan-fried sea bass with green pea puree and parmesan mousse, thyme venison filet with sweet potato truffle and cranberry, and sorbet.
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A View From Above
Twenty guests were seated on the balcony and got prime views of the dance floor. "I think that even though we were on two floors, it was still very intimate," Diana says. "You were still able to see and hear everything going on."
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The river cruise ship Diana and Alex had chartered for the occasion gifted a three-tier hexagonal wedding cake covered in white fondant, which was then personalized with help from Diana's sister, a pastry chef. She printed the wedding's signature chinoiserie pattern onto wafer paper and applied it in panels to each tier.
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Photography, Greg Finck
Location and Catering, Fisherman's Bastion
Event planning and design, Joy Proctor Design
Cake and Hair, AmaWaterways
Music, Cool Miners
Bride's gown, Classic Tina Bridal Shop
Groom's tuxedo, Giorgio Armani