Unless you live in a pop culture vacuum of perhaps enviable proportions, you probably now know that all it takes to get married in Las Vegas is an impulse—born, perhaps, of watching “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” in your expensive hotel suite, with a young man who you may or may not have been dating, and may have known since childhood—a way to get to the nearest chapel and some cash. Oh, and a wedding license. No fancy dress, just torn jeans, no forethought, not even a real desire for anything other than “taking a joke too far”.
Getting unhitched may be a bit more difficult, however. And it may, if you are Britney Spears, cause international headlines.
But as a certain increasingly erratic pop star has recently demonstrated for the whole world, getting married in Las Vegas remains about as difficult a task as brewing a cup of coffee. All it takes is (typical Vegas) cash, a few minutes of your time, and two people. Note we didn’t say “a happy couple”. You need not be either happy, or even a couple. See that drunk over there? Grab him or her, and let’s go get married. It’s that easy!
Cynicism aside, many people come to Vegas specifically to get hitched, and some even plan their special day as carefully as any other bridal pair. They may have been attracted to Vegas because of the ease—there are no blood tests nor a waiting period—or Vegas may have been a good neutral place to hold the wedding, or they may like the plethora of hotel choices for their wedding guests, restaurants for their reception, and of course, the many levels of celebratory entertainment. Others, of course, are more spontaneous, if perhaps somewhat less feckless than our model pop star. We know at least two long term couples who wanted to get married, but did not want a big show—and in one case, more time for the bride to get cold feet—and so jumped in their cars and got out at the first chapel that caught their eyes. Both report having their time of their lives—no pressure, plus an over-riding sense of silly joy, as good a way to start a marriage as any. (And, we are happy to also report, both marriages going strong over ten years on.)
Preetha Aloor, 24, and Cetin Kusku, 31, both from Bowling Brook, Illinois, are an example of the typical, more or less spontaneous, but responsible, Vegas wedding couple. They came to the city recently for business. They had discussed marriage, and wanted to do so before the end of the year (a prime Vegas quickie wedding motivator; many couples want to get married by year’s end for tax reasons, and use Vegas’ wedding ease, planning to have a larger, more traditional wedding later). After some discussion—“Vegas? Really?”—they viewed the Little Chapel of the Flowers on Wednesday, liked it, booked it, and came back on Thursday. They did it simply, without the packages offered by all chapels, no limo, no flowers. Both bride and groom wore simple, but nice, street clothes. She walked down the aisle carrying flowers, and beaming. The minister told a sweet anecdote. They engaged vows, and rings, and lit some candles. And so they were married.
As Aloor and Kusku discovered, there are dozens (if not hundreds) of chapels to choose from in Vegas; the north end of Las Vegas Blvd. South is cluttered with them, and just about every hotel has at least one. The hotel chapels are probably best for the more traditional weddings, with the bride in full flowing gown and relatives cluttering the pews. These chapels tend to be larger, calmer (because fewer weddings are booked in them during the day) and give the appearance, at least, of being fresher and better maintained. Then again, anyone who has seen a bride in full veil wandering bewildered through the clink and chank of a behemoth Vegas hotel lobby and casino might not think this a great advantage. And to be fair, as we watched a couple pose for photos at a Strip chapel, bride in her cream puff dress, groom in his tux, if you could have removed the background of the pawn shops across the street and Stratosphere Tower lurking overhead, it could’ve been a small wedding anywhere.
Going to the chapel
But let’s do this in something resembling an orderly fashion. You’ve made all the pertinent decisions: you are going to marry the love of your life/the person you just met fifteen minutes ago. You’ve decided if you want to plan this like a military operation, or if you can’t wait a second longer for the honeymoon to commence. Assuming it’s the former, you can do some research on the web (www.Vegas.com is one place to begin chapel-surfing) or you can call a Vegas wedding specialist who can help you plan the extravaganza. Again, the net offers a number of choices, but we like Las Vegas Weddings and Rooms (800-488-MATE). They can help you choose the location, but also make crucial decisions about style. After all, Vegas is all about eccentric weddings. You’ve perhaps heard you can get married by an Elvis impersonator, but why stop there? There’s nude weddings, fantasy costume weddings, sky-diving weddings, New Age Native American weddings. It’s a bit overwhelming and if you are at leaning in that direction, a specialist might be a good idea. Hotel chapels also offer wedding coordinators.
But for those with a do-it-yourself attitude, it’s not that hard, even with all the options. All chapels offer no-frills weddings, which will cost around $100, perhaps less. Add on anything—bouquet, limo to the courthouse and your hotel, dress, cake, flowers—adds on cost. But it’s all there on site—they will even provide the required witnesses. As we mentioned, with a few exceptions, the chapels are largely interchangeable. We’ve viewed many a hotel chapel and only the color scheme (rarely does it stray, alas, from a member of the peach family) varies. The chapels on the Strip all seem just a bit worn around the edges, with the spiffiest operation currently the Little Chapel of the Flowers (1717 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 800-843-2410). The place looks prettier than most, and the staff seems especially friendly, especially in contrast to the ever popular Little White Chapel, now famous for the lightening fast Spears nuptials, where the busy staff always seems just this side of harried and brusque.
Though many do hold traditional, full-blown weddings in Strip chapels, our gut feeling is that those locations are better for those who want that special Vegas touch, i.e., spontaneity, deep silliness and fast service. If you are looking for a more classic wedding, you are better off with a generic hotel chapel, or an off-Strip location like A Special Memory Chapel (800 S. 4th St, 800-962-7798). Despite its icky name, the interior here doesn’t look that much different than any small Presbyterian church, and you won’t feel at all tacky employing their services.
Those seeking a fantasy wedding would do well at the Chapel of Love (1431 Las Vegas Blvd. S. 800-922-5683) which took over the massive costume collection of the former Divine Madness chapel, and which offers everything from Tarzan and Jane to gangster themed weddings. If you want a bit Scarlett O’Hara antebellum or other Victorian whimsy, head to San Francisco Sally’s Victorian Chapel (1304 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 800-658-8677) where a bunch of self-proclaimed “mother hens” will fuss over you, dress you up from their extensive costume collection and get you safely married off in their “Olde Tyme Parlor Wedding” style (though your guests must be minimal; they only fit about six in their chapel).
Of course, freewheeling bridal couples may want to utilize that only-in-Vegas classic, the drive-up window. Yes, people do. Some of them are serious, though it’s up for debate as to what that means. Coordinators have told us that many drive-up couples are taking advantage of the prices; it’s a bit cheaper than using the actual chapel. And yes, some of the windows are open twenty-four hours. And yes again, Elvis himself (or a reasonable facsimile of him) can be had, either at the window or at the altar. Many chapels have their own Elvis (or Elvii) on call, but you can contact Jesse Garon, definitive local impersonator, directly at 877-ELVIS-35. But if you do want a more solemn and sacred ceremony, all chapels have a religious minister or rabbi on call for a religious ceremony. (But you should call ahead to ensure this.)
A touch of advanced preparation
While you can be spontaneous about your Vegas wedding, you may have to give up a few things if you do this on the spur of the moment. Luckily, there are last minute gown rentals (try Bridal de Paris; 866-380-0909, www.bridaldeparis.com) and Freed’s Bakery (www.freedsbakery.com, 866-933-5253), maker of some of our favorite local sugary baked goods, can do same-day wedding cakes.
Remember that getting married in Vegas is a popular activity, and so there are times when some forethought is required, or else you could be facing booked chapels or a few hours wait to get that ring on your finger. Valentine’s Day brings in hordes of betrothed couples, and then there’s that end of the year, let’s-get-married-for-tax-purposes time. Book ahead, or be prepared to wait a bit, and then possibly feel like you are part of an assembly line.
Right, so you’ve gotten who/what/where/how sorted out. Now comes the one thing the city does demand: legalities. Those of you going though vow renewal (very popular in Vegas) or commitment ceremonies (all chapels will do them, though not all official ministers will) need not worry, but those wanting legal weddings must make a stop at the Marriage License Bureau at the Clark County Courthouse. The courthouse, like the chapels, keeps ridiculously long hours, for those middle-of-the-night desperate romantics. Unless there is a line, a few brief forms, $55 dollars and about ten minutes will give you the paperwork required for a legal marriage. If you were married before, you do need to bring proof of divorce. No, they don’t hand out information on how to get said marriage annulled when you wake up the next morning thinking “What, what have I done?!”
Here’s hoping that your day is exactly what you want, and that you never need find out what it takes to undo a Vegas marriage.