Engage!19 just happened. And every time it does, my mind starts to sizzle with new ideas, inspiration and knowledge. This is my second year attending, and I found a good rhythm this year. I attended with my husband, Collin and Chris Rebollo, the director of events for our venue, The Estate. Chris is also the lead destination planner on my wedding planning team (his fluency in Spanish and Italian makes him indispensable to me!), so this luxury wedding business summit is the perfect place for a wedding photographer, a planner, and a director of events to meet 325 other like minded industry creatives that are looking to grow their knowledge, stretch toward new goals and evolve their businesses just like we are.
Photos below: Rachel May Photography
Engage brings together the best in the luxury events industry for three days of inspiration and opportunity, with powerhouse speakers, specially curated content and intimate experiences with the leaders of the industry. Attendees learn from the world’s top wedding, event and business innovators, as well as form lasting friendships and network with industry trend-setters from around the globe. Not to mention, they host these events at spectacular properties and throughout those three days bring together some next level parties.
At NIZUC, everything is beautiful. From the beach, to the swim up pool bar . The restaurants are amazing, the rooms are gorgeous. Also, who could ever forget about that spa (OMG THAT SPA!). For three days in December, we were able to talk all things wedding in a legit Mayan paradise. With the sunny beaches, lush grounds, and sumptuous accommodations, NIZUC provides the perfect destination for a summit or luxurious event. It is also an ideal place for a destination wedding (HINT HINT!!! Let's do your wedding in Mexico, would that not be so fun!!). It is a really unique opportunity for serious wedding professionals from all over the world to build a community. A little of information on Nizuc: it was listed as "Best of the Best" "Top 100 Hotels in the World 2018" and a "Top 10 Resort Hotels in Mexico 2018" by Travel & Leisure, and they were not wrong. There are 6 restaurants to choose from ranging from the contemporary Mexican flavors of Ramona to the fusion of Asian spices at Indochine to a Peruvian menu at Ni. There is something for every pallet and it is all very, very good. I love fresh fish, and there are spades of options. The Havana Lounge is also a really cool place for cocktails. Although they boast about their rum selection, which is substantial, I loved the tequila tasting ?.
Our room was a junior suite with a garden view. I will admit that the view was not out of this world, but the space in the room more than made up for it. We had OODLES of space, an incredibly comfortable couch and a private plunge pool and deck that came in very handy when we just wanted a little downtime. The bathroom had a very roomy shower, with great pressure and hot water in the rain shower head, and a bathtub that had a view of outside (which I love). I have not one complaint about the room - it was amazing. I also loved the butler that was stationed right outside and booked our spa appointments. In fact, these guys are so good at what they do that when I asked him if it was possible to move down my hair and makeup appointment, he went to find out and met me at the pool to confirm that he had moved the appointment for me. THAT. IS. SERVICE. Jonathon was next level.
ok, now back to the conference...By attending Engage, I get to participate, learn from and interact with some of the industries top producers, designers and creatives. The speaking program was really dynamic and full of variety, to see the full lineup, click here. It was SO refreshing to sit in the audience and listen to someone as revered as Preston Bailey discuss that all of us in this industry need to evolve, and seek out additional streams of revenue; how to be creative within an oh so neccessary evolution. I loved listening to beloved, internationally sought after planner Marcy Blum. She always has such humor, wit, honesty and serious wisdom to share, and is someone that I look forward to listening to and learning from whenever presented with the opportunity to do so. She challenged those of us in the audience to find our point of view, and to understand what makes us great at our jobs. She was very much about communicating the importance of what makes us special. And that while one of us may be exceptional at over the top indulgence, another of us may be fabulous at modern simplicity. She reminded us that luxury, is subjective. What is luxury to you, may not be luxury to me, and she is so right. I took much away from her presentation.
Priya Parker is an author who wrote extensively on the reasons that we as humans gather to celebrate. She challenged listeners to "know the purpose of the event you are creating" and that was some serious food for thought. A take away that I loved from her presentation, "Gathering matters because it is through each other that we figure out what we believe..." YES!
I also really appreciated Andrea Eppolito's break out session. It is not easy to "get behind" the curve and embrace an economy that is changing, but Andrea presented with humor, knowledge and such valuable insight that I hung on every word. She is also responsible for why I have now become obsessed with Tik Tok, LOL.
We were in sessions fro about 4 to 9 hours a day for three days in a row, and I have an entire notebook of notes and album of photos that I took during the presentations because I did not want to miss anything.
And then, there are the events. A Pinterest link arrives in your inbox weeks prior to the event to help assist you in properly packing. Oh yes - a dress code for the entire trip is sent via Pinterest. Now, one is by no means forced to participate, but in an industry of creatives, and with over a dozen photographers capturing our every move, it would be such a shame not to dive right in to each and every suggested dress code, don't you think? This is one of my favorite parts because I always feel incredibly pulled together as an individual AND part of something bigger than myself because you are in a crowd of people interpreting the exact same inspiration that you received, and it all looks unique and different on everyone. That is so COOL to me!
Admittedly, some of the social interaction can feel a little forced for me. I am not the greatest at light banter, it really is not my jam at all. But what I have learned in life is that there is a very BIG difference between when something nudges you a bit outside your comfort zone, and actually being legitimately uncomfortable. The important thing about life in general, but especially a large conference is that you have to go at a pace that works for you. As with ANYTHING in life, you will get out what you choose to put in to it. I set a few goals for myself this time that were a little higher than last year, and I reached them. I connected with four fellow creatives that I did not really know before this conference and I had a positive conversation with them. I felt accomplished, re-energized and very educated after it was all said and done. Everyone is different - I have friends that attend this very same conference and they skip several of the events to rest and keep up with clients, and that works perfectly for them. I actually skipped a break out session to take a call with the restaurant, and then when that was over I went to the pool. I had earned an afternoon of down time before the gala.
And OMG, the GALA! This happens on the last night of the three days. I included a few photos above to give you an idea of how visual and stunning and fun these parties can get. But remember, all of that happens AFTER intense learning, sharing and discussion. So to be clear, you earn the parties, LOL. And this gala is the rock's sock'em conclusion to the three day intensive and it is visual and scintillating and fun and I let loose and danced until 3:00 am. And this year's "Jungle Disco" theme felt like my 20's back for a one night only appearance ?. Jordan Kahn sounded spectacular, and his DJ's kept people dancing late (late late late) in to the night! Emily Clarke Events was the creative force behind this Engage, and this team brought some serious style to everything they touched. Congratulations to them, because producing an event for 300 plus industry people is no small feat. Canteiro Weddings (who we have had the pleasure of working with at Andaz Mayakoba!) was the dream team behind the incredible floral and decor that came to life throughout each event. I absolutely LOVE Gabi and her talented team so it was with a full heart that I saw this beautiful team flourish and create such beauty! I also have to give a major shout out to Banga Studios because they are so freaking talented and awesome. One word, people: PORTRAITS. They are back, in vogue and so awesome, and Banga is THE WAY to do it. They are talented photographers, and have such great energy. And at the end of the day we walk away from this conference with some really incredible photographs. My hat is off to that entire photography team! Many of whom are credited throughout this blog post.
Thank GOODNESS I was smart enough to book a thermal bath morning the next morning, followed by hot stone massage. The recovery was needed after all that dancing! The spa is one of the cleanest, most serene spas I have visited. I felt so renewed and refreshed when I left. I whole heartedly recommend the experience. For a menu of their services, click here
I then spent my last afternoon at Nizuc at the beach below the adult pool and it was quiet and peaceful as could be. Our service was outstanding and we feasted on the beach, Paloma in hand and iguana sitting next to me waiting to share my salad. (and strawberries, they love strawberries!)
I cannot recommend Nizuc enough for a vacation, wedding or event. Their service is NEXT level. Let me explain in one short anecdote: As I was getting in to my green glitter disco jungle gala dress 10 minutes prior to cocktail hour, my husband started to zip me up, and just like that, they zipper fell apart. This dress was my go - to for this gala and I was so pumped about it that I did not bring an alternate outfit. My husband, who is an absolute rock star began sewing me in to my dress (I am not kidding!), and Chris called the from tdesk to ask for an assist. Within 5 minutes (legit 5 minutes), Candi, the head of housekeeping was in my room, needle + thread in hand to assist Collin and get me 100% in to the dress. It fit me better after she finished then when the zipper actually worked. She was friendly, calm, polite and FAST at sewing. This hotel was on it. And I felt great in my dress. Drama skipped entirely, how nice is that?
The morning following the gala, I had the luxury of spending two hours in the thermal baths and it was next level. I enjoyed every minute of the service, experience, relaxation and cleanliness of the spa! I cannot recommend it enough. I also had my hair and makeup done here for the gala and they did a spectacular job. I am dyinggggg to do a wedding here, so universe - and engaged couples everywhere, here us when we say we want to work at this property, our bags are packed and our bilingual team is ready to rock it! ✨✨
We learned, we celebrated, we ate and we drank and it was incredible. Mexico always is though, isn't it? I cannot wait to go back!
Our last night in Cancun we spent with a dear friend who suggested we eat at a most incredible place, Porfirio's. It was SO outstanding GOOD!
I will share more on our experience there very soon!