Five Places to Elope

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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.

Extras

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.

Airfare

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.

Extras

For an additional $65 plus the cost of fuel/ferry service, the registrar will venture beyond his or her office to perform your ceremony. The most popular choice, of course, is a beach. Ours was performed at sunset, with shoes off - a cliche rooted in some seriously good karma. The BVI abound with wedding planners who can help select the perfect spot. Heather Anderson at BVI Wedding Planners (284/494-5306, www.bviweddings.com) is among the friendliest of the lot. Her basic fee ($500) includes the stamps and registrar, but not costs for options such as a professional photographer, flowers, and cake.

Where to Stay

The delightfully intimate, nine-room Tamarind Club (284/495-2477, www.tamarindclub.com) in Tortola's Josiah's Bay rents garden/poolside rooms for $80 to $100 a night depending on the season, and so-called "honeymoon suites" for $110 to $150, including continental breakfast. Amenities include a locally popular restaurant, a lounge, and a pool with swim-up bar. Alternatively, the pricier Village Cay Resort Marina/Hotel (284/494-2771, www.villagecay.com) stands adjacent to a bustling marina and offers license-seekers easy access to the government building in Road Town as well as a poolside bar and waterside restaurant. Standard rooms are $125 to $165, waterfront rooms $150 to $190, depending on the season.

Airfare

All year, round-trip flights to Tortola from New York City (via San Juan) run $642 to $672, or around $552 from Miami. Off-season travel (June through November) offers fewer crowds and reduced rates but a greater risk of wayward hurricanes. We bought two tickets from New York for $1,284, a room for six nights at the Tamarind Club for $600, and the services of BVI Wedding Planners for $500. Total: $2,384.

BALI ($2,411 per couple for nine nights, including airfare)

What this Indonesian island lacks in convenience - allow for two days' air travel to and from the U.S., not to mention relatively complicated wedding laws - it more than makes up for with a deeply romantic vibe. The main source of Bali's allure isn't its fine beaches or balmy equatorial weather: It's the Balinese people, who practice their particular style of Hindu devotion in a daylong pageant of prayer. Even if you choose to play your wedding day straight - sans the expense of hiring a gamelan orchestra or wearing traditional sarongs - your time on the island will be rich in ambient pageantry. The documentation required for a wedding in Indonesia is complicated, and eloping in Bali requires the help of a coordinator. Bali Weddings International (011-62-361/287-516, www.baliweddingsinternational.com) has the island well covered; its basic $600 handling fee includes all documentation, the services of a religious representative, and also the time of a Government Registry Office observer (required by law).

Extras

Eloping in Bali is an excellent way to experience the Balinese genius for decoration in its full glory. Our wedding spot, on a patch of grass overlooking Jimbaran Bay, was a riot of palm fronds, dangling marigolds, and yellow-and-blue umbrellas. BWI's fee for decorations starts at $25, and it charges an additional $600 for those free-spending couples who decide to wear traditional costumes and have their union blessed by a Balinese Hindu priest after the legal proceedings.

Where to Stay

We liked the pool-equipped Casa Luna Honeymoon Guesthouse (011-62-361/973-283) for its spectacular rates (either $17, $24, $34, or $38 per room per night, depending on the category and view) and remarkable location within walking distance of downtown Ubud, the cultural and shopping heart of the island. Breakfast is included, with unforgettable freshly made pastries from an adjacent bakery. Also recommended is the higher-category Alam Sari Hotel (011-62-361/240-308, www.alamsari.com), perched on a hilltop about four miles north of Ubud's commercial center. Clear days offer excellent views of sacred Mount Agung. If you book on the Internet, year-round rates for a double room at Alam Sari will be $55 (and $10 more for a suite). And for a Balinese-level "splurge" (costing amazingly little for quality as high as this), consider the Sari Segara Hotel (011-62-361/703-647, www.sarisegara. com), where Internet rates run $92 to $115 per room, $104 to $138 per villa with bedroom and living room.

Airfares

Since an air-and-land package from Los Angeles sells for as low as $829 from reliable Escapes Unlimited (800/243-7227, www.escapesltd.com), there's no need to purchase a ticket costing over $1,000; buy the $829 air-and-hotel package and throw away the hotel (in favor of the ones we've recommended). Moreover, Escapes Unlimited's "add ons" from the East Coast ($30 from New York) are nominal. Multiplying $829 by two people, and adding a $17 room with breakfast at Casa Luna for nine nights ($153) and the $600 fee of Bali Weddings International, brings you an elopement to remember forever, at a total approximate cost of $2,411. That's for both of you-coming to just $1,205.50 per person.

Scotland ($2,433 per couple for five nights, including airfare)

Not only does it rain a lot in Scotland, it does so with gusto. Thankfully, "romantic" is a flexible adjective that certainly includes stormy days spent indoors beside a fire, sipping whisky and leafing through dusty volumes of vivid poetry. And when the weather does break, there's tandem horseback riding, golf, and other outdoor pursuits to restore your appetite before the next famously heavy meal. Eloping in Scotland is relatively simple, especially when compared with its more tradition-bound European neighbors. For centuries, all that formalized a marriage between two people was that they declare their bond publicly: no vows, rings, or clergy required. To this day, eloping in Scotland remains an informal affair. For civil ceremonies at a registration office, the fee is about $113. The General Register Office in Edinburgh will help locate registrars throughout Scotland. Though there's no residency requirement, the fee (and documents such as marriage notice forms and birth certificates) must be submitted to the registrar at least 15 days prior to your ceremony. Call 011-44-131/314-4447 or visit www.gro-scotland.gov.uk. Religious ceremonies are about a third the cost of civil ceremonies until you count the minister's fee and tip. The religious route is required if you wish to make your vows outside the registrar's office. Our ceremony at Stonefield Castle Hotel on the shores of Loch Fyne, southwest of Glasgow, was officiated by Reverend Montgomery, an octogenarian retiree from the nearby town of Tayvallich.

Extras

You can - but aren't obliged to - purchase several enhancements to your wedding ceremony and reception at Stonefield Castle Hotel, built in 1837 and the site of hundreds of weddings both lavish and intimate. Its staff will help you with logistics ranging from floral arrangements to a costly but festive Ceilidh (pronounced "kay-lee") band ($426), complete with dance lessons. And it's hard to beat haggis (about $38 per person) for dinner, marched into the dining room to the thrilling strains of a Scottish bagpiper (about $125); some marching musicians hereabouts have a flair for the dramatic and will recite several stanzas of Robert Burns before drawing daggers from their socks to administer the ceremonial first cut to the haggis.

Where to Stay

At Stonefield Castle Hotel (011-44-188/082-0836, www.stonefieldcastle.co.uk), garden-view rooms are $150 to $182 in winter (November through March), $208 to $241 during promotional periods from April through October, otherwise $241 to $294 (always including breakfast and dinner). In scheduling your elopement, attempt to get these promotional rates in spring or fall, and avoid the peak season (July, August) highs. Compare the prices you're quoted to an alternative choice, the Gretna Hall Hotel (011-44-146/133-8257, www.british-trust-hotels.com/gretna) in the picturesque village of Gretna Green, just across the border from England - it's been a popular "runaway wedding" stop for centuries. Here a bridal suite with full Scottish breakfast for two is $113 in winter, $143 the rest of the year.

Airfares

We don't recommend a winter stay in Scotland, nor one in peak summer season, and you should therefore look for shoulder-season rates of about $640 round-trip from New York (add approximately $100 from Chicago or Los Angeles), although airfare discounters like www.cheaptickets.com and www.statravel.com can sometimes reduce that tab by upwards of $100. The total cost of our Scottish elopement was based on airfare of $640 times two people, plus a $208 room times five nights, plus civil ceremonies at a registration office for $113, for a total of $2,433.

The Greek Islands ($2,704 per couple for seven nights, including airfare)

The Cyclades-so named because of the way in which they encircle the island of Delos, once the capital of all of classical Greece - are some two dozen land masses rooted sturdily in the windswept Aegean. Bordering the colorless land, the blue seawater appears computer-enhanced, like a vivid product in an otherwise black-and-white advertisement.

The major hurdle to eloping in Greece is the waiting period, which varies from island to island - even from town to town on the same island. Santorini is the easiest island in the Cyclades on which to elope, by virtue of its accommodating and experienced City Hall staff. The deputy mayor himself officiated at our ceremony, on a balcony at our hotel, a mere four hours after our arrival on the island. Wedding logistics in Santorini are possible to arrange without the help of a planner. To obtain a license, couples must provide (fax is fine) copies of their birth certificates as well as a certificate of non-impediment to marriage from their local registrar. The cost of a wedding license is about $52, not including tip. All documents must be translated from English into Greek. Your local Greek consulate is the best place to have this done; if your documents are translated by someone else, they will need to be certified by the consulate anyway. Prices for the service vary; the consulate in San Francisco charged us $200. Contact Fira City Hall in Santorini at 011-30-2860/28-094. Several staffers there are conversant in both English and wedding matters.

Extras

For a small extra charge - say, $50 - the deputy mayor will venture outside his drab office to perform your ceremony. Ours took place on the balcony of our room at Dana Villas, with a view of the Aegean several hundred feet below. All of Santorini is a dormant volcano, and the town of Fira perches spectacularly at the rim of the crater. For those who wish to concentrate on lying by the pool and nibbling local salty cheese, many hotels on Santorini offer help pulling together wedding logistics - for a fee. Dana Villas charges $310, including the cost of all paperwork other than the translation.

Where to Stay

Dana Villas (011-30-2860/22-566, www.danavillas.gr), a group of kitchenette-equipped studios and apartments perched on the rim of a cliff, is conveniently close to Fira City Hall. It offers a killer view of Santorini's famous harbor, but charges a high $146 to $186 for a studio, depending on the season, including full buffet breakfast for two. More of a value is the 23-room Panorama Hotel (011-30-2860/22-481), offering honeymooners a primo view of the caldera from private verandas, in rooms costing $82 to $120, depending on the season, including full buffet breakfast for two. Or consider the blissfully quiet (despite its easy walking distance to the heart of Fira) Aressana Hotel (011-30-2860/23-900, www.aressana.gr), whose 53 rooms run from $74 to $128 (and you'll pay that $128 only in the peak month of August).

Airfare

It's best not to schedule your elopement for July or August, when round-trip fares top $1,000 and Santorini is choked with tourists. Fares from the U.S. East Coast to Greece are as low as $505 in February and March, $852 in April, May, June, and September, although consolidators (discounters) often chop $100 or more off those shoulder-season levels. Add $110 from Chicago, $120 from Los Angeles. Figuring two fares of $852 (total: $1,704), seven nights' lodging at $100 a night ($700), license and translation fees ($250), and the ceremony ($50), the total approximate cost for a couple comes to (very roughly) $2,704.

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