Want a fabulous wedding that doesn’t cost tens of thousands of dollars or involve 100-plus guests? Let’s talk elopement!

Small is beautiful! You can have everything you want, including a stunningly-beautiful wedding venue, professional photography, beautiful flowers, live music, and of course, a gorgeous outfit, without the fuss and expense of lots of guests.

Traditionally, “elopement” refers to a wedding ceremony in which only the couple to be married and the wedding officiant, who conducts the ceremony, are present. Today, elopement is a term of art used in the wedding world to describe a wedding ceremony with as many as 40 or 50 guests, all the way down to the traditional form, with no guests.

The ceremony itself can vary from the short, sweet, formulaic variety of the traditional elopement, with no customization save for inserting the couple’s names in the blanks, to a fully customized, contemporary ceremony.

Venues for elopement ceremonies tend to fall into – and sometimes overlap – four categories: destination venues (think Las Vegas or Mexico), courthouses, dedicated wedding chapels (think Las Vegas, again), and “regular” wedding venues that also host larger weddings.

An elopement doesn’t have to be a bare-bones experience. Sure, you can go to the local courthouse and be in and out in a few minutes, fully married. If look and feel aren’t especially important to you and all you want from your marriage ceremony is to be legally married, then that’s the way to go. It’s simple, fast, and inexpensive.

Dedicated wedding chapels add some cost and a certain look while offering an in-and-out type of experience similar to that of the courthouse.

Want to be married somewhere more elegant than the halls of justice? Your choices are many and varied! If you want an exotic location, there are lots of destination wedding locations from which to choose, from the aforementioned Las Vegas and Mexico to the Caribbean or Europe. Plus, you’re already in a great honeymoon destination!

The downside to destination weddings is cost. Getting and staying there can be expensive. Family and friends are sometimes excluded per force because they simply cannot afford to go. Planning a long-distance wedding can also be a challenge, especially if you’re looking for more than a very basic wedding experience.

The third alternative is to use a local “regular” wedding venue that also offers elopement ceremonies. Local venues vary in look and feel, from basic to fancy, and in style from traditional to contemporary.

Some venues offer elopement packages, some are à la carte, and some, like my own, combine the two. You can choose to have a fully-customized ceremony, flowers, photography, the music of your choice, and more, even – gasp! – guests! The venue typically takes care of all of the details, so there’s very little, if any, planning for you to do.

Elopement packages are often stratified by the guest count and the services that are included. For instance, the packages at Chase Court are structured for eight, 30, or up to 45 guests. You can have an officiant, photography, flowers, live music, and more, depending on which package and options you choose. Other venues sometimes also include lodging and meals.

Your wedding is a spiritual, emotional, and physical experience. The shape of that experience is entirely up to you. Big or small, simple or complex, plain or fancy, all are perfectly okay. What matters is that you create an experience with meaning for you, one that honors and supports your new marriage.

So if the thought of wedding planning makes you want to run and hide, an elopement might be just the thing for you. It’s entirely possible to have a small wedding that looks and feels for all the world like a big wedding, but for much less money and effort.

Next time: How to prepare for venue tours.

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David Egan
David Egan
David L. Egan is the proprietor and steward of Chase Court, a wedding and event venue in downtown Baltimore. Visit Chasecourt.com, and follow ChaseCourtWeddingVenue on Instagram and Facebook.
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