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Airbnb or VRBOs can be the perfect place to host an intimate wedding reception. But finding the right one takes a little work.
In 2020 Airbnb announced a global ban on all parties and events. The guidelines prohibit gatherings of more than 16 people and “all disruptive parties and events.”
The current ongoing pandemic definitely impacted that decision, but according to Airbnb it was more about cracking down on big ragers that were being held at houses and disturbing the surrounding communities.
The good news is that most intimate wedding and elopement receptions are focused around a dinner party and are not what I would call “disruptive.” The bad news is the guidelines make it harder to find properties if your total group size is greater than 16.
Airbnb is pretty serious about the rule – here is the guideline from their website:
“Guests who are reported for throwing a disruptive party or violating our rules on gatherings of more than 16 people are subject to suspension or removal from Airbnb’s platform. In some cases, guest reviews left after such parties may be removed. We may also remove listings if we determine that a Host has authorized a party that violates this policy. If we receive reports that a listing is disrupting the surrounding community, we may request that the Host update their rules or suspend the listing.”
That being said, if you are having a reception with more than 16 people and find a property on Airbnb you absolutely love, it’s worth reaching out to the host to see what your options are. For one thing, most of the bigger homes are cross-listed on other platforms that may not have the same restrictions in place.
Want to see what your airbnb wedding might look like? Check out this intimate celebration from 2021 at an Airbnb outside of Shenandoah National Park
For instance this home is on Airbnb https://bit.ly/3rREfp8, but when you click through the pictures there’s a sign that says “Spotswood Lodge.” If you google that, then the actual website comes up for that facility. On their website they do offer wedding and elopement packages for up to 75 guests! See here for that info.
Not booking through Airbnb also allows you to cut out their processing fees and may result in a slightly more affordable nightly rate on your vacation rental of choice.
Another popular platform to look for vacation rentals is VRBO. And VRBO does not have the same restrictions that Airbnb does when it comes to events.
To search VRBO for an event-friendly place simply input your location and dates (or leave this part blank if your date is flexible) and then click on filters. Scroll down until you see “house rules” and click the box labeled “events allowed.” This will automatically filter out all the properties that don’t allow events.
However, typically this will reduce your search volume by about two-thirds so if you don’t find anything you like, unclick the button and start reaching out to other hosts. Some have hard-and-fast rules – absolutely no events. But some are open to intimate weddings, though they don’t advertise this. In either case, there is nothing lost, and maybe something gained, by asking.
For example this property does not come up under events allowed, but I shot a family-only intimate wedding there in 2021 with the owner’s knowledge and permission.
Okay, moving on.
There are three things I look for when perusing vacation rental homes for my clients.
A lot of big houses near the mountains have a “cabin” vibe – i.e. the indoors are decorated floor to ceiling with exposed beams. These are beautiful places, but they are not my top pick for an event. Why not? Those warmly beautiful exposed beams, often graced with wooden walls, make everything kind of…warm and orange. Photographically it can be tricky to work with, unless I set up external lights like flashes, which I don’t like to do except for the dance part of receptions. As a general guideline, flashes can be distracting and don’t feel natural.
Instead I look for homes that are painted on the inside – preferably in neutral colors.
Here are three examples of large vacation rentals with painted interiors that I would recommend:
And here is an example of a property I would probably steer clear of:
No matter how many guests you are having, you need to have a rainy day plan in case there is unusually monsoon-like weather on your wedding day. It might not matter to you if it rains (and it certainly doesn’t matter to me) but grandma or dad or young kids might not fair as well if things get really soggy.
So when considering properties, ponder: Does it look like there is sufficient space indoors for the ceremony and reception if need be?
This is an example of a property that would work well:
The living room and dining room area could be used for a ceremony and/or dinner.
This place has an onsite pavilion that could serve those purposes:
While this place has a huge living room area that would work well:
https://bit.ly/3rQAdNL << This house is actually on site at a vineyard.
The final thing I consider when looking at vacation rentals for intimate weddings or elopements is the outdoor setting. For couples who want to include a few guests, we often will do a sunrise first-look in Shenandoah National Park or another stunning location, and then do the ceremony and reception back at their vacation rental.
There are two reasons for that.
One, I highly recommend carving out some time on your wedding day for just the two of you. Doing a private first-look up on the mountaintop gives you that time as well as some of the stunning mountaintop portraits you probably booked me for.
Some people also do their ceremony in Shenandoah National Park, but if you have more than 15 guests you will need a permit and you’ll have to coordinate everyone meeting you at a location that does not have reliable cell phone coverage and may require a hike to reach. Additionally, if it rains heavily on your wedding day, the rainy day plan at a national park is umbrellas and rain boots. And that’s totally fine – I’m up for that. But if there are a few of your guests who wouldn’t be, doing the actual ceremony back at the Airbnb might be the way to go.
Most people choosing to do their ceremony and reception at an Airbnb are looking to do everything outdoors.
So you want to pick a place that has enough space for you to do that.
Most of the vacation rentals at Charlotttesville-area ski resorts like Massanutten or Wintergreen are not good picks because the houses tend to be on small, often steeply sloped, lots. It’s basically the house and enough room for parking and that’s it. Some of the places do have big decks that can work, but most of the time I tend to steer away from those properties.
Instead I look for properties with large flat spaces beside the home that can work for a ceremony and outdoor reception.
Here is are two examples properties with stunning outdoor spaces that would work well for hosting a ceremony and reception on site:
And here is an example of one that wouldn’t:
Although this last house is really beautiful and has stunning mountain views, there is absolutely no flat area around the home useable for a ceremony or dinner reception.
Remember the home-base house you choose as the backdrop of your wedding ceremony and reception does not have to be the house every single one of your guests stays in.
Some properties have multiple houses on site, which can be perfect if you have one house filled with younger folk and one with parents who may want to go to bed a little earlier.
Some properties will allow you to have visitors come on site for the ceremony and dinner (although some definitely do not allow this, so make sure you check before booking).
And some houses actually are big enough for everyone to hang out together.
If you are having trouble finding a place, consider being more flexible with your dates. You’ll have a lot more options on weekdays than you will on weekends – especially during “high traffic” times of the year like the leaf-changing season.
Step 1. Go to a platform like airbnb.com or vrbo.com and input the number of guests you want to stay with you and the general location. The more people you add, the fewer options you will have. So if you are having no luck, consider booking two houses that are close together.
Step 2. If you have flexible dates, leave the dates blank when searching. That will allow you to see everything that is available for your party size.
Step 3. Look carefully through all of the pictures. What are the aesthetics of the home? Is it wood or painted? Is there enough room somewhere for you to hold everything inside or in a sheltered spot (i.e., a pavilion) in the event of bad weather? Is there enough space outdoors for a ceremony?
Step 4. Make a list of the places you like and type out a general inquiry. Inquire after every single property you are interested in – even if they don’t explicitly allow events. The worst they can say is no. See if there is a direct website for the listing somewhere. That will allow you to bypass Airbnb fees and may give you more flexibility with having an “event” on site.
Step 5. Make sure your photographer is available on the dates you chose and then go ahead! Book your beautiful vacation rental and photographer. There, done, boom.
VRBO and Airbnb definitely have a corner on the vacation rental market, it’s also worth checking out this site, which has a few additional properties in the Charlottesville area:
Also booking.com has some vacation rentals – simply filter by property type > vacation homes to see those.
The Ultimate Small Wedding Planning Guide and Checklist