Monday, July 6, 2009

Destination Wedding Locations: Walt Disney World

Did you ever dream of spending the first few moments of married life to your "Prince Charming" in Cinderella's crystal coach driving off to your reception? Or having an Alice in Wonderland bridal luncheon with the Mad Hatter and the White Rabbit as guests?

Yes, it's possible, with help from the folks at Walt Disney World in Orlando. They received so many inquires from brides and grooms about tying the knot in their theme park that they recently set up the Fairy Tale Wedding department.

Okay, let's say you don't want Goofy as your best man. You can still pick from one of Disney's numerous resorts to tie the knot, including the spectacular Grand Floridian. We visited the resort recently to get a firsthand look at Disney weddings.

Wedding Logistics
The Disney wedding is not as difficult as you might think—there is no blood test or waiting period to get a marriage license in Orlando. It takes about thirty minutes to fill out an application and another thirty minutes for processing. It ain't cheap, however: the cost of a marriage license is $63.50 in cash.

Best Time to Go
This is a tricky question. Basically, all the attractions in Florida have two peak seasons—the first runs from Christmas to Easter and the other runs from mid-June to August. Any holiday weekend (Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, etc.) finds the parks jam-packed as well. The crowds are most sparse in the fall from September to mid-December. Late spring (after Easter to mid-June) is also slower than the frenetic winter peak season.

How about the weather? Anyone who's visited Florida in the summer will attest to the brutal heat and humidity. While late fall is cooler, the weather is also slightly more rainy. If you're looking for the best combination of good weather and sparse crowds, you might want to try early December. Disney staffers told us most brides and grooms avoid summer weddings. Spring and fall are the most popular times.

Costs, Accommodations, and Getting Around
We were impressed by Disney's large variety of packages and options for all types of weddings. For example, if you're interested in an "intimate" wedding (bride and groom only), Disney offers an affordable package that includes the ceremony, flowers, four nights accommodation at one of five resorts, five days admission to the parks, breakfast every day and one dinner. Cost: $1894 per couple.

What if you want to invite fifty of your closest friends and have a big bash? Well, first the ceremony setup costs run $3 to $5 per guest, with a $100 minimum. For the reception, Disney has a $3500 minimum for food and beverage. Sample menus we previewed ranged from $13.50 per person for a cocktail hors d'oeuvre reception to $42.50 per person for a sit-down dinner. An open bar ranges from $8 to $16.50 per guest per hour, depending on the liquor served. The gratuity runs 18 percent on all food and beverage. A $500 deposit is required to hold the date and Disney can book weddings up to twelve months in advance.

Disney offers all kinds of interesting options to personalize your wedding. How about specially-designed wedding invitations with Disney characters like Cinderella or the Little Mermaid? The price runs $5 to $12.50 each—not the cheapest option but certainly unique.

Flowers, entertainment, and transportation options round out Disney's offers. Their full-service floral department can create a bridal bouquet starting at $125. You can opt for traditional music options (DJs start at $650, while a four-piece band is $1775), or have "themed" musicians such as the Toon Town Trio at $700.

How much does Cinderella's crystal coach run? Try $1200. If that's too pricey, you can have a vintage 1929 Cadillac for $350.

And what does it cost to have Goofy as your best man? Walt Disney characters are available for $395 for one character up to $775 for three.

If your guests want to extend their stay into a full-fledged vacation, Disney does offer discounted rates. Two- to ten-night plans are available, ranging from $371 to $1277 per person. Because the resorts book up quickly, Disney recommends your guests make reservations about four to six months in advance— they'll even provide reservation forms you can send out to guests early.

As for the best place to stay, our pick is the Grand Floridian Beach resort. Its Victorian-era design is highlighted by a five-story Grand Lobby, lush grounds, and gingerbread detailing. The "white and bright" decor makes it a perfect bridal setting.

One popular ceremony spot is a grassy knoll that overlooks the Cinderella Castle and a private cove. Near the Grand Floridian, a brick veranda with boat dock has a nice view of midnight fireworks. A favorite spot for intimate weddings is a bluff near the Polynesian resort. A future gazebo is planned here and Disney is considering building a nondenominational chapel at some point. If we had one complaint about Disney weddings it would have to be the ceremony sites—currently all are outdoors, although indoor backup sites are available in case of rain. The future chapel may remedy this problem.

For a large reception, we were impressed with the Grand Floridian's ballroom. Decorated in light hues, the room has an adjoining brick veranda that is a popular spot for cocktails.

What Makes it Special
If you or your fiance have children, what better place to tie the knot than the Magic Kingdom? The combination wedding and family vacation may the best way to start a new family. Even if you don't have children, Disney is still an intriguing place to get married. Besides all the attractions and parks, Disney's resorts offer service, food, and activities that rival the best destinations in the world.

Insider Travel Tips
The best advice to planning a wedding at Disney is to make at least one or two pre-wedding visits. The first visit will concentrate on site selections—touring all the possible places to tie the knot can take awhile. Especially for larger weddings, a second visit might concentrate on logistics (choosing flowers, menu planning, etc.).

The good news on airfare is that many air carriers (especially charters) offer cheap flights to Orlando. Consult your travel agent for the best deals.

As for advice on tackling all the parks and attractions, we highly recommend The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World and EPCOT (by Bob Sehlinger, published by Prentice Hall Press) as a great source book for visiting the huge Walt Disney World complex in Orlando. This book offers smart tips on how to see the parks without getting bogged down in the crowds. It also talks about accommodations and transportation. The book includes EPCOT, Disney-MGM Studios, and Universal Studios. For more reading, you can also check out the official Walt Disney-sanctioned guide: Steve Birnbaum's Official Guide to Walt Disney World. Both books are available in bookstores across, the country.

More Information, Please
Disney's Fairy Tale Weddings department can be reached at 407-363-6333.
The following attractions, shows, components, entities, and such mentioned or discussed in the above section are registered trademarks of Walt Disney Productions, Inc.: EPCOT, Walt Disney, Walt Disney World, Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Cinderella, The Littie Mermaid.

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