Bridal Show Tips

Chestnut & Vine’s “Neighborly Chat” Featuring Total Experience Travel Owner, Chris Rakes

On many a summer evening, my Grandpa Clifford would sit in his lawn chair on the corner of Chestnut & Vine waving to all who drove by.  Rarely a person would pass that my Grandpa didn’t know, and it wasn’t uncommon for the drivers to stop to discuss the latest happenings of their small, rural town.  In tribute to his “Neighborly Chats,” each month I will introduce a friend that I have made in The Triangle Wedding Industry to tell us about their business and offer advice to engaged couples.

This month it is with great pleasure that I introduce you to Chris Rakes, owner of Total Experience Travel, who I like to describe as the “Fairy Godmother of Honeymoon Travel.”  Tell Chris where you want to go, and she’ll make it happen!

Chris Rakes Photo

Chris Rakes – Owner of Total Experience Travel and a Honeymoon Travel Specialist

Welcome, Chris.  Tell us about your business and the job you do.  

I am a professional travel planner, and honeymoon & group travel specialist.  Luxury Cruises, Adventure Tours and Premium All Inclusive Resorts are my forte.  Most traveled and favorite destinations include, Alaska, Caribbean, Europe, Hawaii, Mexico and the U.S. East & West Coasts.  I work with you 1:1 from research through returning home from your bucket list trips, at No Extra Cost over booking direct – saving you lots of time, worry and hassle.  

Who is your target audience?

My professional travel planning services are best for those seeking convenience, value and a personalized experience.  My target audience is anyone looking to celebrate their milestone event with travel; Honeymoons, Destination Weddings, Big Anniversaries or Birthdays. Another big part of my business is Groups planning special interest trips or family and friend reunions!

What makes you stand-out in your industry among your peers/competition?

I care if my clients have the time of their lives on their hard earned vacation!  I know planning the perfect trip takes considerable time and is commonly our biggest expense of the year.  It deserves professional personal attention.  I treat each trip like it is my own!  For the same cost as doing it yourself, I will save you time and worry, validate things you already knew, offer reminders of things you forgot, present options you never knew about, and improve your overall satisfaction!  As an independent contractor my only vested interest is in your best interest.  Visit  or our WeddingWire storefront for our  Client ReviewsTotal Experience Travel Logo

What was the motivation behind starting your business?

I believe in the benefits of travel and want to share in the joy it brings others!  My best and most lasting memories growing up are all centered on our family vacations.  I know a great travel experience strengthens relationships and creates lasting memories.  Statistics show that couples who continue to travel together, stay together.  My mission is to increase happiness through ensuring incredible travel experiences.

Please tell us the #1 piece of advice that you give to your engaged clients.

The advice I have for engaged couples is to think about what you will remember most and prioritize your budget accordingly.  Don’t leave the honeymoon planning until last and use a travel professional to help you decipher your best options.  In addition to saving you time, collaborating with a travel expert who trains daily on the various travel suppliers and options allows you to make a more informed and unbiased decision.  An independent travel planner works for YOU not any one supplier.

What’s your favorite memory from your own wedding?

As a young bride, the honeymoon was the most important part of the wedding tradition, for me.  Travel is still my passion and when I recently re-tied the knot, we chose a destination wedding because we wanted to make it a worthwhile and memorable event for everyone; especially for those traveling big distances to attend!  We have many incredible memories but, my favorite is that of a pre-wedding group dinner held under a million stars with transportation to and from dinner provided in a horse drawn carriage.  Amazing!

Thanks, Chris, for chatting with us about Total Experience Travel and how you can assist our readers with their vacation plans.  I am eager to plan my next getaway with my husband!  Whether you are planning your honeymoon, baby-moon, friend reunion or a much needed getaway, please contact Chris to see how she can help you plan the perfect vacation without the stress.  Visit her site at

Our Family-Moon

On June 21st, Jason and I will be celebrating our one year anniversary. (Woo hoo!) HOW IN THE WORLD DID TWELVE MONTHS GO BY SO QUICKLY?!  Unlike many couples who celebrate their first year with a romantic getaway for two, our anniversary will be a family affair that includes my two step-daughters, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  After all, I had the good fortune of becoming both a wife and a step-mom when I said “I do” one year ago.


Sophia – Age 10

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Carina – Age 7

I am blessed to have two loving step-daughters who instantly accepted me into their lives, and I wanted them to know that I love them like my own.  So soon after we were engaged, I suggested to Jason that we take the girls on a Family-Moon the week after our wedding.  This way we could solidify our new family and, most importantly, the girls wouldn’t feel like I was taking their Daddy away from them.  Jason thought it was a great idea, and the girls were thrilled when we told them we were ALL going to Mexico after the wedding.

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Family-Moon in Puerto Morales, Mexico

We had a blast!  We swam and snorkeled and ate our hearts out.  The girls LOVED telling anyone who would listen that we were on our Family-Moon and that they were junior bridesmaids in their Dad & step-mom’s wedding. Including them in our post-wedding vacation made them feel special and helped Jason and I seamlessly transition into our new roles as co-parents.  It was the perfect way to begin our new family, and I encourage other blended families to plan Family-Moons of their own.  Of course, Jason and I recognized the need to also celebrate the commitment we made to one another, and six months later we went on our own Honeymoon to Australia and New Zealand – which I’ll tell you all about in a future edition of The Corner of Chestnut & Vine.

Finally, this blog entry would not be complete without a shout-out to my wonderful parents, Dee and Dennis McCauley, who also celebrate their wedding anniversary on June 21st.  Happy 46th Anniversary, Mom & Dad!  Your example inspires me to be the best wife and parent I can possibly be.  Jason and I love you and are honored to share your anniversary!

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Dee & Dennis on their 45th Wedding Anniversary

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Bridal Show Mania

Last Sunday Chestnut & Vine participated in its first Southern Bridal Show and Expo at the NC State Fairgrounds presented by Forever Bridal Productions.  Thank you to all of the brides and their entourages for stopping by our booth to learn about our day-of wedding coordination services.  It was especially fun to meet the valiant grooms who braved the wedding mayhem to support their beautiful brides.  These ladies have found keepers!

It was easy to differentiate between the first-time bridal show attendees and the veteran bridal show experts.  The veteran attendees wasted no time and got right to business.  Here are some great “Bridal Show Survival” tips that I observed during the show:

    • PRE-MADE LABELS with your name, fiancé’s name, wedding date, e-mail and phone numbers are a must.  Not only will this prevent hand cramps from writing your contact info a hundred times, the vendors will not have to guess if your e-mail address contains an “e” or a “c”.  You may have won a free massage or a full-photography package, but you’ll never know because we couldn’t read your handwriting.
    • LIMIT YOUR ENTOURAGE to 2 or 3 members.  Any more than that becomes a chaotic scene with the bride’s attention being pulled in too many directions.  Instead of collecting solid information about vendors in our area, the bride leaves with an overwhelming case of brain fog.
    • Speaking of your entourage, BRING A GOOD LISTENER and A RECENT BRIDE with you.  You will get bombarded with a lot of information in a short amount of time.  A good listener will help you remember the important details and refresh your memory of who you liked and why when you debrief on the car ride home.  A recent bride will provide helpful tips on what she did but more importantly what she WISHES she had or hadn’t done.  I lost track of how many Matrons of Honor told me their biggest regret was not hiring a day-of wedding coordinator.  (So learn from their mistake and hire Chestnut & Vine asap!)
    • YES AND NO” BAGS.  Start the sorting process before you head home.  Like a vendor?  Put their marketing materials in the bag you are holding.  Not interested in another vendor’s services but feel rude refusing their literature, put it in your friend’s bag.  Just don’t forget which one is the YES bag when you get home.
    • AVOID THE CROWDS by meeting with vendors during the fashion shows.  When you first arrive, stroll through the isles to get your lay of the land.  Then while the masses are watching the entertainment on the main stage, visit the vendors that interest you most.  We are thankful for the company and have more time to give you the attention you deserve.
    • Most importantly, HAVE FUN!!  And if you are wondering how in the world you are going to bring all your ideas and vendors together for your wedding day, hire Chestnut & Vine to help you sort it all out.  Sorting through the chaos is what we do best!