1) The tiered cake
I would only recommend this option to the seasoned baker or pastry chef. The simple fact of the matter is you have two options: Last minute assembly before the reception, or nail-biting transport of the cake.
This is due to the fact that a tiered cake will have seams in between each of its layers, so decoration of piping, fondant strip, flowers, etc. will be needed to dress up the area where the tiers meet. If you do this all beforehand, are you really going to guard that 4-tier cake from every bump on the road on the hour car ride to your reception!? Transporting a cake with the tiers separated makes sense for transport.
However then the question is who is going to assemble the tiers once you get it safety to the venue? And who could you trust to do it right? This is why I would personally stay away from this DIY option, if you can help it.
But if you can pull it off, you have the most grand option at your wedding for a fraction of the cost! The real question here is whether all that trouble is worth it.
2) The tiered display cake
This cake would be similar to this display cake constructed by Weddingbee's own Mrs. Deviled Egg. (I thought this was an original idea of mine, just goes to show every wedding idea has been done! lol) This is a cake made of mostly Styrofoam, covered with fondant, with one cake layer for the cake cutting event.
This is a great option for a DIY bride because this can be done in advance. You and your handsome groom will be the only ones to eat this cake, so if you wanted to make it a week beforehand, go for it! This one gives the bride the most room to breathe. You can either order plain sheet cake from a bakery or you could make the sheet cakes yourself, but at least you wouldn't have to worry so much about decoration when dealing with the sheets, just (relatively) match the base color of the cake, and tada! No one will even notice.
The main issue with this option is making sure that the display cake will still look the same after it's been sitting around for an extended period of time. No one will spill anything on it, dust will not dirty up your pristine white fondant, the humid summer air will not melt your buttercream flowers, etc.
Since most of the cake is Styrofoam, you could glue the layers together (minus the cake layer!) for added stability with transport. A tiered display cake assembled in this way will have much more stability than any real cake. If your still worried about the cake layer falling off, make a partial cake layer by cutting out a portion of the Styrofoam and fill it with cake layers. Now every layer can be securely glued together! Just remember where you put the actual cake for the cutting! :)
3) The tiered cake deconstructed
This is what I am considering doing for myself. Instead of dealing with the stress of assembling/transporting a tall, tiered masterpiece, do a more modern twist of the wedding cake and do deconstructed, separate layers with varying sizes. Extremely similar to what Weddingbee's Mrs. Pencils did with her cakes.
This way, one doesn't have to worry about having a "fake" display cake, and have all the cake out there for all to see. But this wouldn't be as hard to transport with the individual layers and could be done a couple days in advance as well! The only setup with these cakes would be placing each on a cake stand, which should (hopefully) be easy enough for any helper :)
Another note: Ever heard of the budget saving tip "Don't tell your vendors it's a wedding?" Well it doesn't always work out so easily, (*cough* venue! *cough*) but with this deconstructed style, you can have your cake and at a discount!!! Say it's for a fancy birthday party, 50th anniversary, whatever. Since it's not the usual style of a wedding cake, they won't think twice about it.
4) Small tiered cake with cupcakes or sheet cakes in the back
Very similar to the previous choices, but now the fancy decorated cake is much smaller, making it easier to manage for a new-comer to baking. Smaller pieces of fondant are easier to drape over cake, less decorations are needed, less worries about the structural integrity of the cake, all equals less stress for the bride!
Similar to the display cake, the sheet cakes do not have to be lavishly decorated, and cupcakes described below will only need minimal decoration, making their execution much easier. This can also be done a couple days in advance.
5) A homestyle cake buffet
This I believe is the easiest for any bride to do because you don't even have to do anything professional looking! You're going for the homestyle, comforting, straight-from-Mom's-kitchen look, so just swirl your frosting around or smooth it a bit and be done with it! Pick a variety of different flavors to make more interesting! Very stress-free, and great for any causal daytime wedding!
6) Mini-cake favors
Probably the most time consuming option, giving all your guests their very own mini wedding cake. It doesn't seem that way at first glance, but realize that unlike cupcakes, your doing all the steps involved with one full wedding cake. So while it's a really fun idea...make sure before you start that you can handle doing something as time consuming as stacking, cutting, frosting, rolling fondant, covering, and decorating 50 times over and not go crazy. XD Which is why I would highly recommend recruiting help for this project!
If one does dare to attempt this, it would truly be a hit with your guests!
I would ask your baker if this would cost more or less than doing that tiered cake you may be considering, however it may end up costing more just due to the amount of labor. But you never know.
(This could also be a good candidate for the "don't mention it's a wedding" tip)
This can be one of the easier options if the right elements are chosen. The main goal for this is finding a way to dress them up enough so they look like "bridal" cupcakes. A fancy garnish for each one, some pretty piping, or some lacy cupcake wrappers, will all help elevate your cupcakes to fit in with your wedding.
So if the difference between making your cupcakes "bridal" and "ordinary" are these complicated tiny sugar orchids you're supposed to make yourself...yes, cupcakes will be difficult. If it's adding a small edible flower to each one, then yes, they will be easier. Remember, everything will have to be done 50+ times over!
Another option is filling your cupcakes with special tip made for filling pastries and a pastry bag with some yummy jelly or buttercream. This will help give your cupcakes a special something and make them more like regular wedding cake.
As I'm sure many of you brides know, bakery cupcakes are usually cheaper than traditional bakery wedding cakes. You could also use the "don't mention it's for a wedding" card here, although since they're becoming more popular for weddings, it may or may not be harder to pull off.
8) Dessert buffet
Not a cake person? They DIY may be perfect for you! Go crazy doing anything from pies, to cheesecakes, to a whole dessert assortment! Your only limited by your time and resources before the big day, (ask for help for multiple desserts!) so make sure you do practice runs for this option as well, and set aside time wisely!
So that's the list, I hope I was through enough to include all wedding cake options, and I hope you can find something that's a great fit for you!