Five Places to Elope
Save thousands of dollars by merging your wedding with your honeymoon
The cost - and aggravation - of planning a wedding is enough to send some couples off the deep end. Or on the road. Eloping, while not for everyone, has several advantages over full-blown weddings. First among them is savings. The average U.S. couple spends $19,104 on their "conventional" wedding, according to a Bride's magazine survey published in 2000. We eloped. In fact, we tied the knot ten times while researching our book Beyond Vegas: 25 Exotic Wedding and Elopement Destinations Around the World. We've concluded that a large number of destinations are not only wedding-and-elopement-friendly (few bureaucratic hurdles) but also tasteful, exotic, and inexpensive.
Here are five of our favorites, ranging from cheapest to most expensive, with contact information and some legal details to get you started down the same road. The estimated cost of each elopement (the basic expense of getting there, paying for a license and officiant, and lodging) is less than $3,000 for two - cheaper than the catering bill for a conventional wedding reception. All prices, to repeat, include round-trip air for two people, the cost of the ceremony, and lodging for a short honeymoon.
Nevada ($1,045 per couple for five nights, including airfare)
The mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe (airport: Reno, NV) are prime eloping terrain. Their eastern edge spills from California into Nevada, where marriage laws are famously elopement-friendly. A driver's license and $50 are all that's required to get a license at the Washoe County Clerk's Office (775/328-3260). Once you have that, there is no waiting period. Though you're on your own in finding a minister to perform the ceremony - the Marriage License Office is zero help - local roads are lined with chapels charging as little as $50.
One option is to range afield and pay more to have your ceremony performed outdoors. In sharp contrast to the kitschy wedding chapels that populate Las Vegas, the Sierras are one of Mother Nature's greatest cathedrals. We chose to get married outdoors by Jay Pearson, a local nondenominational minister whose anti-establishment views (broadcast on TV) place him distinctly outside the local religious community. Our wedding took place halfway up the mountain at Diamond Peak Ski Resort on a sunny winter day following a major dumping of snow. After slipping on each other's rings, we donned ski gloves and spent an afternoon on the slopes. Pastor Pearson's fee (donation) for weddings in the field varies by location; we paid $200 to lure him up the mountain. Ceremonies performed in his Wedding Well Ministries' Office (888/871-3161, www.bchapel.com) are $50-the standard fee for the area.
Where to Stay
Rooms with queen- and king-size beds (including breakfast for two) are $69 to $99 (weekends are more crowded and expensive) year-round at the Tahoe Biltmore Lodge and Casino (800/245-8667, www.tahoebiltmore.com), its prices kept down by big casino action. That's in Crystal Bay, Nevada, near several interesting places for your ceremony. Or you might upgrade to the Inn at Incline (775/831-1052, www.innatincline.com), in Incline Village, Nevada, alongside the Incline Village golf course, where amenities include an indoor pool, spa, sauna, and cozy lounge with fireplace. Queen rooms are $89 in low season (October-April), $119 May-September, and an extra $10 gets you a deluxe king.
Though periodic sales to Reno/Lake Tahoe break out throughout the year, and round-trip fares from some nearby departure cities (such as Los Angeles) are well under $200, you'll usually pay $300 to $350 from U.S. cities that are at least three hours away. We calculated our total elopement cost of $1,045 by assuming two airfares of $300 apiece, $50 for a license, $50 for the ceremony, and five nights at $69 a room.
British Virgin Islands ($2,384 per couple for six nights, including airfare)
Here is heavenly hammock country, a sun-and-humidity-saturated network of volcanic islands with a magical ability to loosen joints and empty cluttered minds. It's wonderfully accessible to the U.S. The BVI comprise 60 islands (18 are inhabited) in the heart of the Caribbean, yet are only 60 miles east of Puerto Rico; it's possible to eat breakfast at your home, lunch in Miami, and toast your arrival in the BVI that night over champagne. What makes it so suitable for elopement is the simplicity of its marital laws. Getting married in the BVI requires only a visit to the post office in Road Town, Tortola, to purchase appropriate stamps (the B stands for "British," remember), a trip to the nearby Attorney General's office for passport verification, and an appointment with the registrar (284/494-3701), who will do the deed in no less than three working days thence. Total paperwork cost: $145, and eminently doable by yourself.