Going to the Chapel of Love

NEW DEAL: Discounts for weddings on Independence Day.
NEW DEAL: Discounts for weddings on Independence Day.

Whether you're after a lunchtime quickie or an all-night affair, Las Vegas can give it to you.

A wedding that is.

Nevada is known as the wedding state, and rightfully so. The city averages 333 weddings each day, and last year 92,000 people were married there.

KITCHEN KITCH: You can pick the decor to suit your special day.
KITCHEN KITCH: You can pick the decor to suit your special day.

The unique tourism industry has been helped along by celebrity marriages, including Elvis and Priscilla, John Bon Jovi and Dorothea Hurley, and Britney Spears’ shotgun wedding to childhood friend Jason Alexander - although locals seem unsure whether the pop princess' 42-hour marriage was actually a help or a hinderence for publicity.

Then there have been the hundreds of movies and TV shows that have used Las Vegas as the backdrop for spontaneous, drunken marriages - Friends, The Simpsons, Fools rush in, What happens in Vegas, The Hangover, just to name a few.

However, in reality those spur-of-the-moment weddings are highly unlikely to happen the way they do on screen.

Before a couple can go through with a marriage they have to visit the city's courthouse to pick up a marriage licence - a pretty long stumble from the Las Vegas Strip and then on to Chapel Row.

The courthouse also has the right to decline a licence to anyone drunk.

Ultimate wedding planner Joni Moss, who represents the wedding industry across Nevada, said she was often disappointed by the media representation of Las Vegas weddings.

Film crews were generally looking to push the idea of tacky, trashy, and unplanned ceremonies, she said.

"We're more than that. We have traditional, we have beautiful, we have fun."

While some might question whether a wedding performed by Elvis, or held at a drive-through window, has quite the same meaning as a more traditional ceremony, Moss disagreed.

"The vows - they're still the same words. Just because a minister's in a drive up, it doesn't change the meaning."
While the cost of a ceremony can be as low as $US25, courtesy of one drive-up chapel, Moss said the average price tended to be between $US400 and $US500.

For that, a couple can get a venue, a minister, flowers, and hire the suit and dress.

A good example of the services on offer is displayed at the A Special Memory Wedding Chapel drive up window, which provides a “menu” for the costs of additional wedding items.

A drive through might seem like a less-than-romantic way to mark such an occasion, but it is far from unpopular - the chapel gets more than 75 drive-ups each month.

Another venue, Viva Las Vegas, is set up to host the more colourful weddings - with a 1950s-themed chapel, an on-site costume shop, and two Elvis impersonating ministers ready to step up and help people tie the knot. The chapel has pre-set wedding packages for a range of bizarre themes, including beach party, disco, gangster, western, intergalactic, and fairy tale, but is more than willing to take on new requests.

Among the more unusual requests Moss said she had received was one couple who wanted to wed in a cemetery, and another who wanted the ceremony in a parking garage.

"But those requests always have some meaning. The couple in the cemetery wanted to be close to people they knew buried there, and the garage one was to do with one they had opened together," she said.

Economics tended to be the main reason people chose to get married in Vegas, Moss said, with a wedding that would cost $2500 elsewhere often being at least half the price.

The city’s ability to host the entire shebang was also an attraction - with the location also serving well for bachelor and hens’ nights, as well as honeymoons.

Las Vegas faces a continuing battle with Turkey’s Istanbul to hold the number one spot for city with the most marriages each year - both having hosted 92,000 last year.

“But we have the reputation - I think we’ve earned the wedding capital title,” Moss said.

You want to know more about Las Vegas weddings? lvweddingconnection.com