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Our safari wedding – Charlotte and David Saidden

Couple: Charlotte and David Saidden, Venue: Mahali Mzuri Camp (who also did everything)

Date:  JUNE 22, 2017

By Marcella Akinyi

How did you meet?

Charlotte: We met whilst undertaking individual overland travel adventures in Africa. I started my travel in Nairobi and David started in Egypt. We first met at Lake Malawi and saw each other at many different intervals over a three-month period.

How long did you date?

We dated for four years before getting engaged. Shortly after meeting David, I had a trip planned to Australia, his home country, and what should have been a two-month trip turned out to be a four-year stay.

How was the proposal?

It was magical and a complete surprise. We went on holiday to Kakslauttanen in the Arctic Circle in search of the northern lights. We waited three days but the weather was closing in, so we were not hopeful.

One night, we went Aurora hunting on a reindeer sleigh, which was beautiful. As we stopped by a campfire in the middle of the forest, the Aurora (northern lights) danced for us and David got down on one knee in the snow. It was the perfect moment.

How was the process of planning your wedding?

Exotic destinations for weddings have been trending for some time.

We wanted to enjoy our engagement, so we waited one year before committing to our wedding plans. We knew we didn’t want a stock standard wedding.

The experience of the wedding location and making it more than a one-day event was more important to us than the traditional ‘details’ that typically come with planning a wedding. We had key elements that we wanted to include and were clear on these with Virgin that owns Mahali Mzuri.

The main challenges we faced included overcoming the fact that our wedding was the first to take place at the venue, we’d never seen the place nor would we see it until the day, and also the first party to fully book the venue – we embraced the firsts and saw this as an opportunity to have exactly what we wanted rather than it being a concern.

Why a destination wedding?

Hailing from opposite sides of the world (I’m from England), we knew we wanted to go back to where it all began – Africa. Also, this would be midway for our family and friends, and we didn’t want a typical wedding.

How did you settle on the venue?

We wanted a venue that would be exclusive to us and would be complimentary to the surroundings, that is, we did not want a hotel, yet we wanted luxury.

The guests were 22 in total.

This left us with one choice – Mahali Mzuri. It provided us with everything we wanted.

We wanted to give our guests the wow factor from the moment we arrived in Nairobi to the moment we left. We wanted the journey to the venue to be spectacular – which hiring two private planes was.

We wanted the wedding celebrations to take place over a three or four-day period, so it was important that the venue provided enough to do for that time frame. We wanted there to be unlimited opportunities for game drives and amazing food and drink options, plus relaxing at the venue in the pool and spa.

We had 22 guests, and we wanted to ensure each couple had their own space, whilst there being communal areas too. From the wedding ceremony itself, we knew we wanted to be out in the savannah and be close (but not too close!) to the animals.

Lastly, we wanted a venue that was at the heart of the community and was helping the local people.

What were some of the highlights on your big day?

I remember getting ready at the tent my parents were staying in and a heard of elephants stood at attention just in the distance – it was as though they came to wish us luck!

Reception in the wild.

I loved that our wedding jeep had been decorated with ribbons and that Betty drove us across the savannah to the ceremony. I loved that as we were getting married, the wildebeest were migrating in the background too!

A really key defining moment though was the Maasai blessing in the evening around the campfire. This was not planned and was so special to be welcomed into the community and for all our guests to be dancing with the Maasai too.

David: Going on an early morning safari with my mum and grandma and having breakfast in the bush before getting ready.

I also remember being told we may have to change the ceremony venue at the last minute because two leopards had taken up home in the Acacia tree we planned to be married under! I also clearly remember the stunning full moon rise as we had our evening blessing by the Maasai. This was really special.

What was the theme of your wedding?

The theme was our location and Africa! We wanted it to be as natural as possible. We did not want a lot of decorations or flowers that would take away from the beauty of the Mara. We therefore chose simplistic pastel flowers that were flown in from Nairobi.

Our cake was a simply tiered sponge and we made our own giraffe cake toppers. For the wedding favours, it was important that these were local, so, we asked the Mara Trust to make us some traditional beaded animals as a momento of the fantastic experience.

You didn’t have a bridal party…

Mahali Mzuri Wedding Cake.

Yes, ours was an intimate wedding. We did not have bridesmaids or groomsmen.

Charlotte’s mum, dad and brother travelled with her to the ceremony in her jeep, and they walked down the aisle together. For the speeches, we chose the mother of the groom and the father of the bride.

Any challenges faced during the wedding?

The main challenge was ensuring all the paperwork was in place for the wedding to be legal. This took a lot of work from the UK, Australia and in Kenya itself.

We travelled here early to ensure there was time for the paperwork, but it was touch and go right up until the day itself that the wedding would be legally recognised. Another challenge was that we didn’t want it to come to an end and to have to leave! There were definitely tears on departure!

Advice to couples on choosing a destination venue?

Mahali mzuri kweli!

Remember why you are having a destination wedding in the first place. Keep asking yourself why you have chosen that location, and how it can play a key role in the wedding.

We wanted our wedding to be true to the location, which made it easy for us in terms of choices. We also had to trust that everything would be okay, as we didn’t visit the location, see the ceremony venue, flowers, priest or even taste the food prior to the wedding.

We were comfortable with this and we also knew it would be too late to change anything when we got there, so we would just have to go with the flow. Luckily for us, everything was perfect – even the bride stepping directly into elephant poo as soon as she started walking down the aisle!