Arts and Entertainment

Tour to bring brides, big bucks to Whidbey Island

A couple poses for a photo at Fort Casey, which is a popular spot for weddings and events on the island.   - Photo by Vail Studio
A couple poses for a photo at Fort Casey, which is a popular spot for weddings and events on the island.
— image credit: Photo by Vail Studio

The wedding and event markets are growing, and businesses on Whidbey Island are looking to take advantage of it.

Gloria Mickunas, owner of Whidbey Party Girls! is co-producing Weddings on Whidbey and Events Tour on Nov. 9. There’s no way to get a taste of the entire island in a single day, she said, but this cumulative tour helps visitors come close to that experience.

“It’s not Clinton, Oak Harbor, or Langley competing against each other; it’s about everyone working together,” Mickunas said. “My community is Whidbey Island.”

Tobey Nelson, Weddings on Whidbey and Events Tour co-producer, said if more event business comes to the island it will have a trickle-down effect for everyone in the area to benefit from.

“We wanted to make a big enough pie to eat our fill, and have enough to share with others,” Nelson said.

Nelson is also the owner of Vases Wild, which is a studio that offers floral services on the island.

The tour starts at the historic Crockett Barn where people will check in. Each venue will have an array of different vendors, from caterers to the rental companies, who will be available for questions.

Other venues include Garrison Hall at Fort Casey Inn, Ciao, Bayleaf and Captain Whidbey Inn.

Shuttles will be available to take participants to and from the different venues.

“Where on the island do you want to be, what do you want it to look like, and what do you want to have?” Mickunas asked.

“That’s what people can find out on this tour.”

Mickunas says the wedding season is from February to November, not just 10 nice weeks in the summer. This event will showcase the island’s offerings year-round.

“Our community needs this,” Mickunas said. “A February wedding can make a big difference.”

Whidbey Island is a great location for destination weddings because of the proximity to Seattle. When visitors have to travel to the San Juans, it can be quite a trek.

“We need to brand and educate the community that Whidbey Island is the closest place to far away,” Mickunas said. “We are so alive and vibrant, and we get less rain than Seattle.”

The event is also sponsored by the Island County Economic Development Council. Seattle has very successful wedding shows, and this will help showcase what this area has to offer, said Sami Postma, executive assistant for the council.

In coordination with the event, The Whidbey Island Wedding and Event Guild is also being formed, Nelson said. That will give businesses a chance to work together and keep bringing event business to the island.

Many island vendors are excited for this marketing initiative to happen.

“This is a springboard for the industry to blow up here,” said Ali Vail, owner of Vail Studio.

Erik and Ali Vail are a husband and wife photography team. They live in Oak Harbor and would love for more business to come to the island.

“Unfortunately we’ve had to advertise as Seattle photographers because that’s where the market is,” said Erik Vail. “The island is a hidden gem for weddings.”

Every destination wedding matters, regardless of the size, Mickunas said. If 200 people are coming to the island for a wedding, that translates into car rentals, dining out at restaurants and lodging that all goes back into the community.

The national average budget for a wedding in 2012 was $28,427, according to a Real Weddings Survey released by and It’s the second year in a row that number has increased since the economic downturn in 2008.

“This industry is a growing industry and we don’t want to miss out on this opportunity,” Mickunas said.

One of the caterers participating in the event is Vincent Nattress, who graduated from Coupeville High School in 1986. He moved back to the island in 2009 to raise his family. He loved growing up on the island, and wanted his two daughters to have that same experience.

Upon returning to the island, he and his wife started a catering company called Cultivar. His menus are inspired by the seasons.

Promoting weddings and events on the island is important because it affects everyone, Nattress said.

“We spend thousands of dollars on employees, and on the food we buy from farmers, and we’re a tiny catering company,” Nattress said.

This a great opportunity for vendors to network. Most of the time at events they just have enough time to exchange cards and that’s all. Now, they can work together to bring more business to the island, Ali Vail said.

Even though they photograph weddings for a living, the Vails said they still get butterflies and shed a few tears at every one they shoot.

“We fall in love with every couple, so my favorite wedding is always the last one I shot,” Erik Vail said.

The tour is from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Nov. 9, and features more than 45 local vendors. Tickets must be purchased ahead of time.

Regular tickets are $20 each, and for those who want to beat the rush, VIP tickets are $35 and allow people to view venues one hour earlier.

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