How wide are we talking here? Big tables that need to be dead flat or the occasional board a little wider than 6 inches? For the former I'd look into a router thicknessing sled. Takes less fitness and skill than ground with hand planes. For the occasional board, I'd go with hand planes. As far as brands for a hand plane go, I'm useless. All of mine are old craigslist finds that I've fixed up.
If you do go with the hand plane route, I'd recommending starting off with a jack plane. Properly tuned, they can do the functions of most other planes, though not quite as well. Again, flattening put wider panels takes some skill, but it is doable. I know wood whisperer has a video technique, you might try to find that.
Last thing to mention, depending on what you uses are, e.g final finishing step or dimension rough lumber, you might look into a power planer. Not quite a finish grade tool, but they do take a little elbow grease out of the equation