9 years ago Ian and I stood in a gazebo in 90° heat and said I do. The sun was shining brightly in a picture perfect sky where there wasn’t a cloud in sight. There were 3 other people there to share the day with us: a photographer, a videographer, and a minister. As we nervously read out loud the vows we’d written, we made a promise to love each other unconditionally and always be true.
On the 2nd of October, Ian and I celebrated our 9th wedding anniversary. It was pretty low key just like our wedding, but that sums the pair of us up perfectly. We didn’t go down the traditional route as we’re anything but. Instead, the two of us headed to Las Vegas without any guests. We married at Chapel of the Flowers, then spent 14 days on mini road-trip driving across the West coast of America.
I’ve been asked many times over the years about our wedding, so I finally decided to put together a guide on how I went about planning our wedding.
Sin City AKA Las Vegas Baby!
Weddings in Las Vegas are big business and every year around 115,000 take place. With a multitude of chapels and hotels to choose from, (including drive-thrus), there’s something for everyone. If like me, you’re a bit of a control freak you can plan it through thoroughly, or if you prefer to fly by the seat of your pants, you can do that too. The choice is yours.
I’d heard many horror stories about Las Vegas weddings. Mainly about how a lot of the chapels were shit-holes with rude staff, and also how some of the larger hotels were equally as bad at customer service. This made me quite nervous, but adamant we were going to have the perfect Las Vegas wedding, I took a deep breath and started researching.
Choosing your Vegas venue
Things to consider:
There are many things to consider when choosing your venue: décor, staff friendliness, photography, videography, wedding packages, live broadcasting, themed ceremonies and either a religious or civil ceremony to name a few. The key thing here is, do your research.
Even 9 years ago, the first place to start any research was the internet. I checked out Trip Advisor, did general Google searches for Las Vegas weddings, wedding venues, wedding chapels and also looked at the websites of any hotels I (thought I) would like to get married at. I cross referenced any reviews on the venue’s website with reviews on Trip Advisor, and also anything else I could find on Google. It was easy to weed out the shit-holes with crappy staff and slowly narrow down my list of possible venues. Along with good reviews, I wanted a decent looking venue. Just because the reviews are good and the staff are friendly, it doesn’t mean the décor is up to scratch. I scrutinised every photo on every website of each venue I was considering and if the décor looked dated and run down, I struck it off my list.
At the time, Chapel of the Flowers got five-star reviews across the board. It was pretty much a no-brainer when comparing it against other venues.
Check out the photos. Most chapels have their own in-house photographers, but this doesn’t mean they’re any good. Some of the photography I came across was shocking. I realise choosing a wedding photographer in a place like Vegas is never going to match a photographer at home, but it’s still important. At home you spend time choosing your photographer carefully. You get to know them, build up a relationship and gain trust (I should know – I spent over 4 years working as a wedding photographer). But in Vegas, you get assigned a photographer, and love ‘em or loathe ‘em, in many chapels you won’t get a choice. So spend time looking at the photos on the website to make sure you’re happy with the level of photography.
I chose our chapel because of the reviews, and the photography being offered at the time was mediocre at best. But since we got married, it looks like the level of photography being offered has improved significantly. Some of our photos were a bit blurry and out of focus, yet the chapel still included every image. Rather than removing all of the unflattering ones and culling them to leave only the best, we have a selection of photos that include hideous angles and shots of us with our eyes half-closed! To be honest, there’s only a handful that I’m okay with.
Live streaming of our wedding over the internet was included in our package, as was the option to keep it available for a fortnight afterwards too. This is a good idea if there are guests who can’t make it, or like us, you haven’t invited anyone. Although it was included, I changed my mind at the last minute. We’d gone to Vegas because our wedding day was about the two of us, no-one else; we’d also written our own vows so I decided I wasn’t comfortable with friends/family/work colleagues/the neighbour’s cat hearing our private words to one another.
Let Elvis give you away
As Las Vegas is also heavily associated with Elvis ‘the Pelvis’ Presley, chances are there’ll be an option for the dead guy to either give you away or croon for you after the ceremony. For a split second I considered having Elvis give me away, but as I hadn’t invited my parents to the wedding I was concerned about how my dad would feel about someone else giving me away. I didn’t talk to him about it, but I figured it would be a bit of a kick in the balls, and after thinking about it properly, I realised if my dad wasn’t giving me away, I didn’t want a random stranger to either.
From Rocky Horror to Fairy Tales and Gangsters to Westerns, Vegas has them all! Seriously. If you can think of a theme, chances are you can make it happen.
If like us you’re not religious and require a civil ceremony, make sure your venue offers this and you request it at the time of booking. Even though we booked a civil ceremony, the minister didn’t realise and dropped the G-bomb within the first 10 seconds. After a ‘whoa – we’re having a civil ceremony’, he apologised and quickly got us back on track.
Unfortunately, like most things in life, there isn’t a one size fits all wedding package. There are many, many, many packages to choose from. Basic, traditional, deluxe; exquisite, elegant and Grand Canyon, the list goes on, and on. Each of them offering slightly different variations and nearly all of them with add-ons. These could be anything from having a driver take you for your marriage license, to hiring your photographer for a photo shoot on the strip after your ceremony (both of which we paid extra for).
There’ll be something there to suit everyone but read through each package carefully, check what comes as standard and how much it is to add something that isn’t included.
What should you pay extra for?
This is down to personal preference. You can have your wedding as low-key or as bling as you want, this is Vegas baby! What do you want for your wedding day? A quick one-two in a drive-thru or the full shebang with Elvis by your side? We paid for a driver to take us for our marriage license and then for an hour of photography on the strip after the ceremony – more on that in a couple of weeks.
Don’t just rely on the internet
The internet is the easy ‘one stop shop’ to look for information – I get that, but think about going offline too. Books, magazines, and word of mouth recommendations can go a long way.
I purchased a book called Neon Nuptials. A guide to nearly every chapel on the strip, it rated them on all the important things like kitsch factor and the fresh test. It’s probably a little out of date now, but at the time it was a gem. I cross-referenced reviews in the book with any I’d found on the internet which also helped me narrow down my list.
Tell everyone you know where you’re getting married – you’ll be surprised at how many people come out of the woodwork. Suddenly friends-of-friends and work colleagues start telling stories of someone they know who got married in Vegas. It turned out one of the girls I worked with got married at Chapel of the Flowers a few years earlier and had nothing but good things to say about it. Personal recommendations are the best you can get.
So now you’ve figured out where you want to get married, next week I’ll be looking at what happens after you’ve chosen your venue.