Once upon a time, a bride didn’t have much worry (or much choice) about where her wedding took place: weddings were held in the bride’s family’s house of worship. It was a familiar place, where the bride had whiled away the duller portions of sermons since childhood by mentally decorating the place for her Big Day. The bride would have known since the age of six exactly where she wanted the floral arrangements and that the church’s own stock candelabra just wouldn’t do.
Times change. Even faithful churchgoers feel comfortable taking their wedding ceremony outside church walls these days. So relax – the tangerine color scheme you’ve always dreamed of doesn’t have to clash with your church’s maroon carpet!
Previous generations had just three basic options for wedding sites – a church, a hotel or a civic office like a judge’s chambers or a Justice of the Peace’s office. Those options still abound, of course, but have been expanded to a much wider universe of choices – including the Great Outdoors.
In Savannah, we’ve got plenty of the great outdoors, and the city is willing to roll out the green carpet for bridal parties. An average year sees as many as 300 weddings in the City of Savannah’s historic squares, and this year, the bookings have set a pace that may come closer to 400 before 2009 draws to a close.
A mere $175 gets you the square you reserve for three hours (one to set up, one for the service, and one to dismantle), said Pearson Deloach, who has been with the city’s Leisure Services Department for the past 40 years. If you’re from out of town (and lots of brides are) expect to pay an additional $100. The only catch is when several brides want the same park on the same day. When that happens, it’s usually over Forsyth Park, the biggest and arguably the prettiest of Savannah’s historic outdoor spaces. The first week of both May and June are particularly popular, and there have been cases where folks have had to draw numbers for their chosen spot and time.
There’s plenty of options with all the squares Gen. James Oglethorpe set up for us— probably more public, tree-canopied “outdoor cathedrals” than anyplace in the country (although we will concede to New York’s Central Park on the grounds of acreage.)
Savannah’s squares are surrounded with a thriving bed and breakfast industry, where most innkeepers have carved out some corner of the wedding industry. Take Presidents Quarters, for example, a B&B contained in two connected historic mansions, along with a courtyard and a gazebo.
“We do a ton of weddings,” said Jane Sales, innkeeper there. “ What we do are elopement packages and we do as many as two or three a week. We do a lot of second marriages, a lot of military from Hunter (Army Airfield in Savannah) and Fort Stewart (in nearby Hinesville). They work well for young people who don’t want to spend a lot of money.”
The point here is not to tout the wedding virtues of Savannah’s squares – that’s just not practical unless you live here (in which case you know this stuff already) or if you are planning a “destination” wedding (in which case we welcome you and your wedding budget with open arms). The point is to look at the public open spaces available around you. If where you live collects property taxes, it probably offers something in the way of a town square, a riverfront park, a public garden or landscaping around a bandstand. Maybe there isn’t a tradition of renting these out for weddings in your area – but one advantage of a down economy is that everyone, governments included, is probably willing to think positively about a little additional revenue.
A whopping percentage of Americans live within striking distance of a beach, even if it is a manufactured beach on a lakeshore. Why squander the opportunity for a waterfront wedding? It makes for great wedding pictures – which, aside from the marriage itself and the bills, are about the most tangible long-term result of a wedding.
As an innkeeper at a bed and breakfast on Tybee Island just outside Savannah, Ann Last quickly learned what people want from an outdoor wedding. Her Romantic Weddings of Savannah firm sells wedding packages that capitalize on the interest in being outdoors and the desire for good wedding pictures. Her latest unexpected venue? The Tybee Light, the massive historic lighthouse that dominates the north end of the island. If your wedding party is small enough, say a dozen or less, you can even get married at the top of the lighthouse, provided everyone’s got the breath to master the 178 spiraling steps. It makes for a perfect spot to toss the bridal bouquet.
Last is always on the lookout for additional special touches that are grounded in the wedding settings she uses. One day, out on the beach, she noticed a local man making elaborate sandcastles. “I found him out there, and he was just doing it for fun,” she remembers, “so I hired him to do it for us for a fee. He makes big ones and little ones, and they last really well and they get in a lot of the pictures.”
In Savannah, when Paula Deen married Michael Groover in 2004, the bride opted for the beautiful and intimate chapel at Bethesda Home for Boys. Brides in most cities in the country could find a similar site by thinking of the private schools and similar facilities in their area. Most have an ecumenical chapel, just as Bethesda does. And if at least one half of the happy couple works or practices at a hospital, most come with beautiful (if small) chapels. These chapels without specific denominational ties are well suited to couples of different faiths, or for those who want a religious atmosphere for their wedding but don’t have a particular church home.
Thinking creatively about where to hold your wedding opens up a whole new world of choices in wedding planning. You can escape those worrisome covenants that link the place you want with a caterer you don’t. More importantly, you can seek out and share with your guests some of the special aspects of the city or town you call home.
Betty Darby is a writer/editor based in Savannah. She is the co-author of The Insiders Guide to Savannah and Hilton Head, now in its seventh edition. Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
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Join Paula and family for a Party at Sea aboard Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas to Labadee, Jamaica, and Cozumel (roundtrip from Ft. Lauderdale) presented by Alice Travel. We will be having special, separate events for kids on this one with Jack Deen hosting the kids program! Click here for more information, and please note that the Paula Deen cruise is only available by booking directly with Alice Travel Book now before the prices start going up on the cruise and air!