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Exchanging Vows, Disney Style (Disney Vow Renewals)

By Kimberly LaPaglia, Contributing Writer and Walt Disney World "Bride"

While honeymooning at the Grand Floridian (GF) in January 1992, my husband Michael and I dreamt about renewing our vows in Walt Disney World. Ten years later, we decided to celebrate with a vow renewal. Our plans began small, thinking we would quietly exchange vows on our first family trip with our son.

In 1991, Walt Disney World created the Fairy Tale Weddings Department offering wedding and honeymoon planning. Their options for making dreams come true were quite enticing. Our small trip turned in to a once in a lifetime vacation for our extended family of 14 guests.

Intimate and Custom Weddings
Disney offers Intimate and Custom Wedding packages. Intimate weddings are for up to eight guests at a small ceremony followed by a cake and champagne toast. These packages, starting at $3,000, typically include park passes and lodging. Custom weddings are more personalized but require a $7,500 minimum expenditure for Mondays through Thursdays and $10,000 for Friday, Saturday and Sunday events. These prices exclude tax, gratuities, lodging and tickets. There are also food, beverage, and hotel night minimums. Note that holiday seasons may require higher minimums.

We began planning a small Intimate vow renewal and by the time our 10th anniversary vow renewal took place we had switched to a Custom event with special (and some costly) trimmings.

Planning a Destination wedding or vow renewal is challenging. Many couples visit Orlando to meet with their event manager and oversee details in person. We decided to do everything from home (via phone and e-mail).

Minimums can be met with reception food and beverage, floral and other decorations, music, entertainment, photography services, video, transportation, spa services, and ceremony site fees.

Decision-Making
Begin with choosing a ceremony location. Disney offers many different sites at varying rates. Your choices begin with Cinderella Castle, Sunset Pointe at the Polynesian, the Wedding Pavilion located on a private island with a picturesque view of Cinderella's Castle, Sunrise Terrace at the Wilderness Lodge, Grand Floridian's Marina, Sea Breeze Point at the Boardwalk, and the Wedding Gazebo at the Yacht Club. You can even exchange vows in Epcot's World Showcase. We chose the Wedding Pavilion for its Cinderella Castle view without the steep after-hours fee for having it inside the Magic Kingdom.

The Victorian splendor of the pavilion was echoed in our choice for our reception, the Grand Floridian's Whitehall Room and Terrace. It was our dream to have a family portrait taken on the stairs of the GF. The Whitehall Room and Terrace was perfect for our small gathering. It was delightful watching the monorail go by and having people wave to us. Reception locations are numerous and are only limited by your dreams and your budget. They include hotel reception rooms, California Grill at the Contemporary, and even the Haunted Mansion, Cinderella's Castle or Great Movie Ride.

You may want to begin the day with hair and makeup courtesy of Disney Cosmetology. Then, make a grand entrance. Transportation choices include Cinderella's Coach, vintage cars, boats, buses, and a horse-drawn carriage. You can follow tradition or really personalize your plans. In keeping with our family theme, we had our guests greet the arrival of the bride, groom, "prince" and "princesses" in Cinderella's Coach before being seated in the Wedding Pavilion.

We had 1.5 years to save and so our budget and dreams were trimmed accordingly. Even dressed as Cinderella, a realistic budget had to be managed. One of the last things we added was Cinderella's Coach. The chapel was my husband's dream and the coach was mine. And we compromised by trimming out other extras.

For entertainment, the offerings can include character greetings, caricature artist, majordomo, fireworks and more. Our choice to have Mickey Mouse was well worth it. Mickey marched in and danced with the adults and children. Mickey helped us cut our cake. Our favorite photo is of our son interacting with Mickey.

The idea of our vow renewal/family reunion was to celebrate the people that had helped us when our son was born three months premature. Our son had just celebrated his second birthday, so we sang Happy Birthday to Nicolas with Mickey by his side. We toasted our guests for organizing their budgets and vacations to be with us.

For music you can hire a deejay, violinist, harpist and more. We went with the pavilion's organist as it was already included in the pavilion fee.

Disney Floral creates magic even on limited budgets. I love flowers but my selections were kept simple with a few elegant hydrangea arrangements and a hydrangea bouquet. We had a beautiful Roman Table decorated with floral, ivy, and candlelight where we sat with our guests.

The Disney chefs create masterpieces and offer a wide selection of menus to choose from. We had a display of pastries and fruit, along with coffee and juice for the cocktail hour held at 11 a.m. Our luncheon was splendid, ending with a white chocolate Cinderella slipper dessert with a chocolate silk-screened castle on the serving plate. An open bar offered soda, wine, beer, and strawberry daiquiris.

Disney can help coordinate your favors or you can create your own. For favors, we made our own CDs with a song from each year of our ten-year marriage, and added a CD with Disney music to remind everyone of their week-long trip. We also had chocolate in the shape of castles, storybooks, and characters. To thank your guests, consider having gift baskets put in their rooms. We made up our own and our event manager delivered them to the hotels.

Your special day doesn't have to end quietly. Consider a dessert party at IllumiNations or Fantasmic. We held a private IllumiNations dessert party at the United Kingdom Terrace in Epcot.

There are many extras to consider such as officiant, photos, video, gown, tuxes, and ceremony programs. The wedding department at Franck's Studio can guide you along the way.

The Wedding Department
Contact Disney's Fairy Tale Weddings at http://disney.go.com/vacations/disneyweddings. Cast Members at Fairy Tale Weddings make dreams come true every day of the year. They are organized and creative. The staff wears headsets to communicate with each other, and after the ceremony we were asked, "What beverages would you like awaiting your arrival?" We gave them our order and thought nothing of it. Cinderella's Coach pulled up to the GF Convention Center, and we entered the elegant foyer where we found sitting atop a beautiful tray, our requested beverages. It was moments like this that put us in awe.

The Planning Stages
How can you plan a destination Disney wedding or vow renewal? Start with the official Disney Fairy Tale Weddings department. Then make a bee-line for the Disney Weddings and Honeymoons forum over at DISBoards.com.

Don't forget to send out "save the date" cards to your guests. This will provide a heads-up about your destination event and allow time to plan accordingly. Sending a monthly newsletter will keep them informed on lodging, transportation, ticket options and what to pack.

Despite the challenges of a destination Disney wedding or vow renewal, you can plan a special occasion that you and your guests will always remember.

This article appeared in our July 24, 2003 newsletter -- subscribe to our popular newsletter today for free!

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Updated 04/06/07 



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