PALMETTO -- Michele Pugh drove about 80 miles from Holiday in Pasco County to the Bradenton Area Convention Center in Manatee County on Sunday to learn at the feet of the wedding masters.
The gurus were 150 vendors at Nuovo Bride's Fall Bridal Expo where they greeted a crowd of roughly 1,000 wedding pilgrims, according to event organizer Beth Winkle .
The fifth annual Nuovo Expo and the seventh annual Anna Maria Island Wedding Festival help make Manatee County a top destination for future brides and grooms and bring a goodly chunk of the resultant multimillion-dollar wedding business to Manatee and Sarasota counties, vendors said.
As for Pugh and her group, which included bridesmaids Stephanie Parker, Janelle Haywood and good friend Tony Dicken, each paid $5 to learn how much weddings can involve these days and how many decisions a bride and groom can make.
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Pugh, a self-described country girl for whom a perfect Saturday night out is going to the karaoke bar at Stix Billiards in Palm Harbor with her besties, said she was left in "overload" Sunday.
"It takes a lot more to get married than I thought," Pugh said.
She saw mashed potato bars where Expo guests dolloped spuds into tiny plastic martini glasses then sprinkled toppings such as cheese and chives over them.
She saw models such as Libby DeSimone of The Memory Maker of Bradenton wearing classic wedding gowns that make a bride look like a mermaid, which is the "chic" look right now.
She saw the models at Chris Waldin's Studio 64 Salon wearing elaborate and elegant wedding "do's."
She saw ornate and luscious cakes, some shaped like sand castles, like the popular one made by Ron Zammit of Cakes by Ron.
For those from the Pittsburgh area, Zammit will make whoopie pies, also known as gobs.
"You can have individual whoopie pies for your wedding," said Dawn Moody of Cakes by Ron.
Pugh saw decor and rental specialists.
"I saw how shipping pallets can be used for decor," she said. "The mashed potato bar was pretty cool."
She said she and her groom, Michael Surett have a lot of talking to do back in Holiday before their March 14 wedding.
It was also a lot to take in at one time for Bradenton's Brittney Perry and Brian Brooks, unofficially crowned "cutest couple" at the Expo by wearing matching T-shirts that read "Bride" and "Groom."
They are getting married June 27.
"We do know that we are getting married on the beach in Anna Maria but we need to get the catering and cake," said Perry, a Bradenton nanny. "We kind of like a nautical cake like that sand castle cake over there."
Perry was referring to the sand castle cake they saw in the "Cakes by Ron" booth (cakesbyron.com).
"We are probably having about 120 at the wedding," said Brooks, who is retired from the U.S. Army.
"Let's see," said Dawn Moody of Cakes by Ron, getting her calculator out to give Brooks and Perry a cost idea. "To feed about 120 with a sand castle cake you will need four tiers. It would be $690 plus delivery."
"Not bad for that size," Perry said.
The buzz of calculators made Winkle feel she had done her job.
Winkle, publisher and executive editor of Nuovo Bride Magazine and organizer of the Bridal Expo, has run this event twice a year for five straight years and says the ability of the wedding industry to come up with new products for brides and grooms has never been greater.
"Did you check out the sex cookie booth?" Winkle said referring to a booth run by two Palmetto women, which was a hit at the show.
Sex Cookie, Satisfy Your Craving, is owned by Palmetto's Cierra Quagliotti, 21, and her mom, Maria Pillion. The owners mix their ingredients at Spanky's Grill 41, 943 10th St. E., Palmetto, and send their cookie mix packages all over the world.
Among other researched ingredients, Quagliotti and Pillion put muira puama bark, yohimbe bark and horny goat weed (no joke) into the cookie mix for happier honeymoons.
The pair do not actually make the cookies because they would have to add preservatives for shipping so the buyers must make the cookies from the mix, Quagliotti said.
The pair also sell an aphrodisiac tea. To order: Call 1-844-739-2665, 941-705-2440 or 941-705-0017.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @RichardDymond.