"A Perfect Block Island Wedding"
by Dara Mandle and James Panero
from the Block Island Times, Fall 2006 Wedding Supplement

Block Island is where we got engaged—over a bottle of Dom by North Light on Labor Day weekend 2005. Block Island is also our family’s summer homestead now sixty years running. James’s grandfather, James Shipley, drove his family out here from Illinois every summer. Over decades he converted a naval observation tower on the south-east side of the island into a house. More recently James’s father, Carl, retired on island to become a regular fixture at Bethany’s, the Mohegan Café, and the Beachhead. New York City is our home, but Block Island is where our heart is.

What does it mean to say “I do” to a Block Island wedding? For us, it meant celebrating the most important day of our lives in this sacred place. It also meant, for 180 friends and family, a destination wedding, and a chance to share in all Block Island has to offer.

Our planning started right away with a call to our parents, our rabbi, and Danielle Dziok at The Spring House. Would our dreamed-of wedding spot (the Spring House lawn) and the only island hotel that could accommodate our numbers be available next year? The answer was, you just made it. The coveted shoulder-season weekends, with reduced hotel rates, were already booking up through 2007. But there was still one weekend available in August 2006! It was Saturday the 26th. We took it.

The next step was an inspection of the island inns and hotels, which we did over a weekend in Fall 2005. For island home-owners, this can be a secret thrill. For a bride’s mother new to BI, it was a chance to alleviate some apprehension. In all price ranges, we were impressed by what we found (but what’s up with the Narragansett Inn?). The innkeepers could not have been more gracious or accommodating. We blocked rooms at The Spring House, The 1661 and Hotel Manisses, The Atlantic Inn, Payne’s Harbor View, The Island Home, The Barrington, the Sheffield House, The Bellevue House, The Sea Breeze, and The Old Town Inn—most with two night minimums, a couple with three.

Since the hotel blocks were expiring in mid-November, we did not waste any time in sending out our save the date. In addition to hotel information, we clued in our guests about the car ferry (book with Interstate Navigation in January). Over that same fall weekend we met with Elizabeth Connor at the 1661. With a guaranteed block of rooms, including the awesome wedding suite (Edwards room), we secured the 1661 for a rehearsal dinner, and the Manisses for a Sunday brunch. We also got to meet Claire McQueeny, Block Island’s top-notch resident florist, who knows what island winds can do to a chuppah.

It may seem like a lot of work up front, but with so much out of the way early, we had extra time to think about the details. Dara found her wedding dress at Manhattan’s Bonaparte (www.bonaparteny.com). We found our music in a New York club DJ named Blue (www.djblue.net). Blue contracted Capron Lighting and Sound of Needham, MA (www.capron.net). Capron did a really professional job wiring up Victoria’s Parlor—all we had to do with book a van reservation for the gear! For photography, we wanted someone who could capture the island in an artistic but not overly sentimental way: no Vaseline on the lens. This we found in Chris Leschinsky of winkweddings.com, whom we flew out from California. We also contracted Robert Knowles of knowlesvideo.us to film the wedding. Vanda High of Great Beginnings (vhigh@gbevents.com) became our expert wedding planner and a field marshal on the day of the wedding. We later lined up a cake with Sean Kivlehan at Sullivan House and a string trio through Music Performance Services at musicperformanceservice.com.

One of the biggest compliments we received about our Block Island wedding was how our guests felt provided for. Block Island is not the easiest place to get to, and it’s not always obvious what to do when you’re here. First we set up a website about the island. After the invitations printed by Soho Letterpress (212-334-4356) went out in June, we mailed a ten-page packet about island attractions. The included an annotated map and even information about the peculiarities of parking in New London. (We invite you to see what we wrote here.) Upon arrival our guests also received a welcome bag in their rooms with taxi information and goodies from Island Mist, Blocks of Fudge, Littlefield Honey--and of course the August issue of The Block Island Times.

These months of preparation paid off. Armed with all the right tips, our guests became the perfect island visitors. They rented bikes. They walked to Mohegan Bluffs. The groomsmen even painted over Painted Rock. We got to enjoy the weekend with all of them—and what a pleasure it is to see Block Island filled with your family and friends. A dream-come-true!

While the weather blessed us with a sunny Saturday amidst a week of rain and clouds, the Block Island forecast was never far from our minds. When you plan a BI wedding, you’ve got to be tough about the weather. A hurricane or nor’easter could shut down the ferries. It can be cold and dreary. Short of checking in with the Weatherman above, we did all we could to minimize the risks. We asked Cantor Elliot Taubman (401-466-2861) to be on call for the service if our family rabbi couldn’t make it. We booked a couple extra ferry reservations. We put a link to weather.com on our website. Then we prayed.

But as we knew, the rewards of a Block Island wedding far outweighed the risks. We’ll never forget our sense of anticipation driving off the ferry before the wedding, our car packed with everything from the kiddush cup to our cat Bosco. Then there was the delicious lobster-bake rehearsal dinner at the 1661 Inn, exercising with groomsmen and bridesmaids the morning of the wedding, the wind whipping over the Spring House lawn, our reception on the veranda, the Spring House’s “chocolate fountain,” and dancing the night away in Victoria’s Parlor.

The next morning we rose early for some location shots with our photographer at Sachem Pond and Mansion Beach. This was especially fun. A puppy ran over Dara’s wedding dress as she posed in the sand. Laughter and spontaneity against the backdrop of the sea: it was a perfect Block Island moment in a perfect Block Island wedding.

Dara Mandle and James Panero were married at The Spring House hotel on August 26, 2006.