Diary of a Las Vegas Wedding
The idea for this site came about when we were in the process of planning our own Las Vegas wedding. Being a practical kind of girl, I thought you might find it useful/entertaining to see the whole process we went through. This article was updated in the run up to our wedding at the Bellagio Hotel, Las Vegas in autumn 2006.
We've decided to get married! I get a bit teary (in a good way), then we both get very excited about the wedding. We make a quick list of the people we'd like to invite and realise that we didn't know we knew this many people! Aren't we supposed to feed them on the day? The romance of the moment is tempered by a realisation that we'd better start saving towards this.
I have never particularly wanted the big white wedding, and I want it even less now I've costed it all out. I don't want anything elaborate, but I seem to have the option of a hotel or stately home with all the trimmings at one end of the scale, or my local registry office at the other. Neither one of these options appeals to me, not least because we can't afford the big wedding unless we're willing to take on around 5 years of debt to get it. We talk about going abroad to get married, but decide we'd upset too many people by doing this.
In the meantime, a girl's got to have a ring. We go to Cardiff (Robert's neck of the woods) to buy an engagement ring made of Welsh gold. We get the wedding rings while we're there too, and I find myself grinning from ear to ear. I can't stop staring at the lovely sparkly thing on my finger so at least it's not going to get lost. We go back home poorer but happier. It may be shallow, but I feel like a proper bride-to-be now.
We remember that this wedding is supposed to be about us, and decide that in an ideal world we'd go to Las Vegas to get hitched. We've been there twice before, it's fun, the weather is great, and you have a million and one options about where, when and how you get married. Well, maybe not quite a million and one, but certainly a lot more options than we can afford in the UK, and you get a holiday out of it into the bargain. 'For fun', I look up the cost of getting married in Las Vegas and realise we can have the venue, ceremony, music, flowers and photographs for less than the cost of the photographs alone in the UK. I say to Robert 'let's get married in Vegas'.
He takes around 10 seconds to agree that this is a very good idea indeed. He hastens to add that I am not allowed to have an Elvis wedding. Spoilsport.
But I forgive him.
We break it gently to our families that they can forget about a UK-based roast lunch and bad dancing at our expense, we're off to Las Vegas to get married! (if that's alright with them). To our immense surprise, within a couple of hours we have a confirmed list of 34 assorted family and friends who say they're coming out to Las Vegas with us. Talk of our wedding is quickly brushed aside as they start swapping Blackjack tips and wondering out loud how much food it's really possible to eat at an 'all you can eat' buffet. I guess the location wasn't such an issue after all, but we also decide to have a party in London when we get back for the people who couldn't make it out there. This is going to be brilliant! Can't stop Elvis singing 'Viva Las Vegas' in my head.
I discover that there is no apparent central, comprehensive source of Las Vegas chapel information on the internet, and this makes it difficult to research things properly. How do I get married? Where do I get married? How much will it cost? I realise that as I'm doing all this research for myself, there are probably a lot more people out there who are finding things equally difficult to put together. In a flash of inspiration, I think I should really share all of this information with other people. www.las-vegas-weddings.co.uk is born. It's the site I wanted when I was planning all of this.
There is so much choice! Do I want a traditional wedding, and if so, on what sort of scale - there's everything from 'budget' to 'super-deluxe'. Or do I want to get married in a drive-thru ceremony, in a helicopter,a hot air balloon, or a gondola on the Grand Canal at The Venetian Hotel? We knew about Elvis weddings (I'm not allowed to have one), but we hadn't realised we could get married in Star Trek uniforms on the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise, or on a pirate ship at Treasure Island (I've always had a thing about pirates). If I'm happy to get married at Halloweeen I can do a full Rocky Horror themed thing with Frank-n-Furter performing the service and us all getting down to The Timewarp at the end. For a touch of romance, how about a trip into the Grand Canyon or another national park for the service?
I never really expected all this choice and I feel slightly overwhelmed.
We decide against any sort of theme wedding, and then discover an absolutely marvellous book Neon Nuptials that rates every Las Vegas chapel for friendliness, cleanliness, efficiency and kitschness. With this great resource of genuine, independent Las Vegas local knowledge on our side, we find that narrowing down the best possible venue for our wedding is now an awful lot easier.
We've booked our trip to Las Vegas! OK, so it's still a year before we travel, but we need to book a date so all our friends and family can book their trips too.
We've decided we don't really want traditional wedding invitations, but something rather more in keeping with the location. A friend of ours has very kindly offered to design some invitations for us as a wedding present, so we start to put some ideas together. My Elvis theme is quickly veto-ed, but I'm promised something cool anyway.
And in the meantime I decide I should really start thinking like I'm getting married, so I go along to the National Wedding Show at Earls Court with my (very patient) sister. We partake of some of the free alcohol and wedding cake on offer, but after looking at a lot of wedding dresses I decide that the traditional white look is really not for me. And then - wouldn't you just know it - MY dress calls out to me.
I go around a corner and there's a little oasis of colour in the middle of all the white and it's the Simultane stand. Sarah Arnett designs her own dresses, and they're just beautiful. I have a quick chat and find out that I can actually afford to have one of her dresses made to measure, so I take all the details of 3 of the dresses there, and say I'll call them in the spring when (theoretically) I'll have lost some weight and collected pictures of the sort of style I'm looking for. I can't believe how happy and excited I feel now that I've seen what I want!
Sam has done us proud with the wedding invitations - a funky Rat Pack inspired design in pinks and yellows. They look absolutely amazing, and I get very excited when I find some shocking pink envelopes in my local newsagents that they fit into perfectly. So, the invitations get sent out. It's starting to feel very real now!
We realise we need to at least start looking at reception venues, so I start to look around at places that I know that we can also afford for 30+ people. We've been to Vegas before, so we start with a few places we've eaten at already. First up is Taqueria Canonita - a quirky Mexican restaurant canalside at the Venetian. The food is good, and not overly spicy which is important for some of our party. I speak to a very helpful events manager there, and the large party menu looks tasty and affordable. We also think it would be quite cool if we dashed out after the meal and waved at the wedding party from a gondola - we are in Vegas, after all.
Our second option is Quarks Bar at the Star Trek Experience. We are both Trekkies on the quiet and I'm tempted by the fun food and bad puns (Wrap of Khan and Hamborger to name but two) and by the fact they're set up for wedding receptions - their set reception packages are flagged up clearly on their website, which is more than can be said for almost every other venue in Vegas. Anyway, rant over - I am also very tempted by the prospect of a Federation wedding cake and the fact we'll probably see the odd Klingon and Ferengi while we celebrate. We could even have a Chateau du Trek champagne toast (their own vintage).
The other option is the Voodoo Café at the Rio - it is set on the 51st floor of the hotel, has amazing views over Vegas, and the food is good as well as being fun for large groups. We are already talking about their giant steaming cocktails that can be shared - they'll look great in the photographs too. I get one of the friendliest responses of all from their events team who couldn't be more helpful about menus (all available on their website), wedding cakes and bringing along children to the restaurant.
We collect together some initial ideas, but decide to wait until January to make any decisions. I feel so hungry after looking at all the menus I have to send out for pizza. Research certainly gives you a healthy appetite.
Well, the day has come and gone for our RSVPs, and we are still a full complement. Now that we have numbers, we start looking at venues a bit more seriously. It all seemed so simple in theory for the reception, but the reality is starting to look rather different. We've already been asked not book anywhere with 'unusual or spicy' food, so sadly we have to veto the Taqueria Canonita. We'll definitely try to visit them while we're out there anyway.
We think we'd now like a view while we eat, so we decide we'll book the Voodoo Café instead - everyone will enjoy the food and there's plenty of choice. Having taken over an hour to discuss it, and finally decided which menu we want to go for, I make the call and - disaster! - the entire venue is already booked out that night for a corporate function and they can't fit us in.
I make a frantic call to the Star Trek Experience, and provisionally book a reception with them, but we're told it has to be a strict 2 hour slot as it's the last one of the evening. Maybe this organising a wedding thing is going to be more tricksy than we thought.
In the circumstances we start to look around elsewhere - and find the Eiffel Tower restaurant. The virtual tour on their website looks stunning, the only issue might be is that their set menu is really set - no substitutions. That and the fact that it's really at the top end of our price range. We provisionally book that too and ring around for advice/reassurance from some family members.
And at least we get the steer we're looking for:
'Smoked salmon? Is that raw fish? I don't want raw fish' from one person (my dad, actually, bless him). And then:
'Smoked salmon? I'd have melon' from another venerable elder relative, where melon isn't actually an option.
Ah well - we tried. We drop our sights to the base of the Eiffel Tower and - lo and behold - Mon Ami Gabi at the Paris gets great write-ups. I call them and their menu is affordable, and full of choice. And they'll give us a semi-private room for our party. And I happily book them, properly rather than provisionally, and breathe a contented sigh of relief. We're sorted! We crack open a bottle of wine to celebrate.
I cancel our provisional booking with the Eiffel Tower and the (very nice) lady at the Star Trek Experience, but we'll try and get all the family there anyway because it's such good fun. We'll be getting a wedding cake at Mon Ami Gabi, but there's a still a little part of me wishing it could be a Star Trek cake. 99.99% perfect is still good enough for me.
I read the marvellous book Neon Nuptials which rates all the chapels, and start to narrow the field down in terms of chapels choice. I also check out other people's experiences of getting married in various venues by asking the question in Google Groups, and looking at other people's postings. It's quite an eye-opener. I find reviews that suggest one of our preferred chapels has taken its eye off the ball with regards to customer service recently. Eye off the ball in terms of sub-standard photographs and rushed weddings. As I don't want to be treated like a blurry inconvenience on my wedding day, and our other preferred choice gets nothing but praise, we give them a call.
Despite having checked out their website, we find we still have a fair number of questions to ask, like what sort of ceremony will it REALLY be? What flowers will I get? What about the photographs? And not that I'm neurotic, but it's a marble floor - won't I slip and break my break my neck when I'm trying to look like a princess in big heels?
The questions are all dealt with patiently in turn (neck breaking doesn't look like it's on the cards - that's a relief), and the date we want is available - we choose an 'after dark' timeslot to make the most of the neon for our wedding photographs. We're getting married at The Bellagio! We're very excited.
We check out the choice of music for the fountains and find that amongst other things, we can have one of two Frank Sinatra songs, but there's no Dean Martin. No Dean Martin?! And yet there's a Catherine Zeta Jones song on there! Has the world gone quite mad? I'm sure I hear the ghosts of old Vegas spinning in their graves, and quite right too.
Now that I know where I'm getting married, there's the small question of a dress - something Vegas, baby. I book my appointment at Simultane and after an hour and a half of trying on styles and colours, Sarah comes up with a beautiful dress design that I absolutely love. It's a little bit Vegas, but a little bit traditional too - a perfect mix.
Wedding lingerie. I'd had a vague picture of something floaty and feminine in my head, but it looks like I'm going to get something closer to industrial scaffolding - awfully sensible, all-in-one, and not particularly sexy. There'll be no breathing for me on the day, but more importantly there'll be no bursting out and ruining the line of THE DRESS. If I can only learn to walk in my new gold sandals I may even look like a lady.
My wedding lingerie arrives by post, and it doesn't look very promising. It stands up of its own accord, for one thing. And then I try it on - it contracts round my neck in an alarming way, and I'm left with one arm left sticking up in the air uselessly. Once Robert has stopped laughing he helps me escape from the potentially lethal lingerie contraption thing and I decide, rather huffily, it will be going straight back in the next post. I order some far more practical (and less dangerous) big knickers instead and I feel that some semblance of order has been restored to the proceedings.
I'm back for my second dress appointment, and I'd forgotten quite how much I love the dress. The bad news is that my shoes don't match, so they'll have to go back. But wouldn't you know it, the dress designer has shoes that match JUST PERFECTLY, and what the hell they're 4 times the price of the original pair I bought. You only do this once, right?! Just as well, really.
Funnily enough, the other thing I've noticed is that the excess weight doesn't seem to be shifting itself - apparently it needs some help. Who'd have thought it? So, needs must, I grit my teeth and re-join the gym. It's so long since I've been that when I go for my first gym session and get out my padlock for the locker one of the members of staff says 'oh look - you've got one of the old-fashioned ones!' as if I'd just unearthed some ancient Roman relic. I keep telling myself I'm sure it's not SO long since I've taken exercise, until I take to the rowing machine for an impressive 2 minutes before I turn the colour of beetroot and feel like collapsing. Luckily I don't, but make a note in my diary that I'm going to need a fair amount of practice even to reach an 'unfit' ranking.
It's all going to be ok - this weight thing is sorted. Paul McKenna is going to make me thin! I've bought the book with the free CD, and I'm sure he wouldn't lie to me. I still smuggled it home like I had something shameful in my bag, but the world will laugh on the other side of it's face when I've lost a stone or two. Just you wait (or should that be weight?).
Now it's too early to tell (I'm under strict instructions from Paul in the book NOT to weigh myself for 2 weeks and, as he's controlling my mind, who am I to argue?) but at the Italian restaurant we go to for my birthday I only manage half the pasta before I say 'I'm full'. Now this is unusual for me, so assuming I'm not coming down with flu or something, there might just be something in this.
On a gripier note, we thought we'd start looking around for somewhere for a wedding list. We ended up in Habitat - you know, the funky home store for a modern lifestyle. And they don't have a wedding list service. I found this weird - they sell towels, kitchenware, all the basics - and no wedding list. Apparently 'a gift list will be coming at some point'. When? 'Dunno'. Their website is next to unusable too - they're almost prehistoric!
But then we went into Heal's and the world was a brighter place. Wedding list service, nice website, friendly staff - that's more like it. We'll be putting it all together soon.
I emailed our wedding chapel to clear up a few questions I have such as 'do guests buttonholes need to come from the hotel?', and who do we tip and how much. Well yes the guests buttonholes need to come from the hotel (they'll have to buy their own, then, at $20 each), but the suggested list of people to receive tips is:
- the Minister ($50)
- the limo driver ($20)
- the photographer ($50)
- the Wedding Coordinator (suggested tip amount omitted)
I know that Las Vegas has a real tip culture, but this seems a little extreme to me. The photographer??? Surely he gets his 'tip' from sales of pictures to the happy couple and their families? What's he going to do if we don't tip him? - cut our heads out of the pictures? And the wedding coordinator? I chose the package from the website, asked some questions and she arranged paperwork - isn't this pretty similar to buying any other product or service in a shop? And then I'm not expected to tip the shop assistant.
I've been told these tips are 'not expected but very welcome'. They're not insignificant amounts, but I suppose the weak dollar means everything else will be coming in cheaper than budgeted. Swings and roundabouts.
So how come you start off with the best of intentions to do this in a cost-conscious and non-blingy way, and as the time comes closer it all just goes out of the window? I chose a sensible level of wedding package, nice flowers and photographs etc, and I was happy with that. But now that we've had to pay for the trip itself (ouch) and we're finalising details with the wedding chapel so we can settle up with them in the next 4 weeks, it seems that a big, weird part of my brain is screaming at me 'you're not spending enough money!'.
I knew I was going to upgrade my flowers slightly - but paying an extra $35 to get the flowers I wanted didn't seem too bad. But then I started to wonder if the photography package was going to give us enough options - we only get 30 poses and 10 prints out of it. That said, I've lived happily for many, many years (ever since my secondary school) without a single formal photograph being taken and I don't feel I've missed out in any way. Even so, my brain is telling me, wouldn't it be worth paying just a couple of hundred dollars more and just making sure? And why not throw in a couple of column floral displays for $400 each because wouldn't they just make the photographs perfect?! I shall be talking sternly to myself over the next few days to see if common sense can prevail.
I went down to Brighton on Saturday with my sister for my last fitting before I actually pick up the dress. It was quite a strange feeling to see it in the flesh after so many months of talking about it theoretically. I had to be helped into it - I've never had clothes that I needed help to get into before - but it looks amazing! It's a fantastic feeling to know that a) I was right to trust Sarah with the design, b) the colour may be unusual but it looks great, and c) I love it! It has a great vintage look about it due to the antique lace, but the peacock blue satin just screams 'Vegas, baby'. And it's made to measure so, naturally, it fits absolutely perfectly. I really must get more of my clothes made this way...
I'm excited, but also extremely relieved about it all - in the back of my mind was a niggle I might not like it when I finally saw it. There's still a few tweaks to make, but then I go back in 3 weeks and the dress will be mine to keep. They couldn't get hold of the shoes in my size, and unfortunately the designer - Gwendolyn Carrie - seems to be out of stock. Am currently debating whether to buy a slighter larger size in the hope that they'll fit, or going shopping to see if I can find something else instead.
And Paul McKenna is definitely controlling my mind as I've inexplicably lost 2 pounds. Maybe he can stop me spending unnecessary money on flower arrangements too?
25th July 2006
Reception menu stress! We have to start finalising details of the menu, which we thought would be simple. Choose one first course out of 3, 2 starters out of 4, 3 main courses out of 6, and 2 sweets out of 4. And it's really difficult! After several days of scribbling on menus and changing our minds a lot we've decided to choose what we want, throw in some non-controversial choices to make up the numbers, and hope for the best. That said, we still haven't got down to our final choice - we really must decide that at some point...
So when I asked to see some wedding cake designs and they sent me through 100 suggestions 'to start with' I just gave up. I find I'm much better if I have almost no choice at all - too much choice renders me incapable. Though I would quite like a design incorporating flamingoes...
And I'm allowed to have all of the above as I'm now officially a size 12. Not an intermittent, weekday-only size 12, but a proper, genuine size 12. So I really hope my dress still fits when I go to pick it up on Saturday.
I'm getting really excited now!
30th July 2006
I now have the wedding dress! I went down to Brighton with my sister on Saturday and it was waiting for me - all finished, and beautiful, and fitting absolutely perfectly. I'd taken the underwear, the shoes (I finally got them delivered direct from the designer and they fit!), and so it was the first time I'd seen myself in the whole ensemble. I was looking a little windswept, but the rest of the outfit looked great! It's definitely benefitted from the fake tan I got sprayed with on Thursday - I looked all sun-kissed and healthy for a change.
The whole process of having the dress made has been a pleasure, and I was a little sorry it had to end. But I've paid my money and the dress is now back at home, tucked away in my wardrobe until September. It is a huge relief. I've also bought some roses to test the colours against the dress - I've become such a stickler for detail!
We also finally decided on our menu for the reception dinner, and we've finally got some ideas together for the cake (flamingoes, we think). Just waiting for the quotes to come back, and then that's another thing finalised.
Not long to go now...
24th August 2006
Sorting out final details with the chapel was easier than we thought. We upgraded our photography package so now 45 shots are taken, and we choose 30 from there. We also bought some floral arrangements for the terrace which look great in the videos on the Bellagio Hotel website, and we've arranged to donate them to a local hospital after the ceremony so other people get some enjoyment out of them too.
So the only things left are finalising the cake (flamingoes, 1960s, lemon flavour - who knows what will turn up?!) and choosing music for the ceremony. You wouldn't believe how difficult it is to choose 3 songs! We've been discussing this for over 6 months now and we're still not 100% sure. We've given ourselves until this weekend to choose and then we'll just have to go for it. It's Elvis or the Pink Panther - never an easy decision to make.
We're also keeping an eye on security arrangements. A friend at work told me her sister was able to take her wedding dress as hand luggage on a plane last week, but she was flying to Spain. Am keeping everything crossed this might be able to apply to the USA soon. Either that or I'll just have to tell everyone my dressed is supposed to look that creased...
1st September 2006
No matter how naturally gorgeous a girl is, a little bit of help goes a long way for your wedding day. Which is why, in my quest to look natural, I have so far booked: a leg wax, pedicure, eyebrow shape and tint, eyelash tint, spray tan, and haircut and highlights before we even get on the plane. I've also had a make-up lesson with a well known high street brand to try and figure out my make-up, but the excess of blue eyeshadow (ok, so I said I wanted to pick up the colour of my dress...) made me look like I'd joined an ABBA tribute band.
So I've booked a little more help on the day itself. At the Bellagio I've booked a manicure, blowdry and make-up. I phoned to ask if I needed to bring anything along for the make-up session (thinking lipstick, maybe?), but she just said 'just bring your face'. Which I think I can manage, even on a bad day. That said, I'm also considering the benefits of a company called Glam Squad who would come to my room and beautify me there. (Actually - I had to go back and correct that last bit since I'd typed in 'Glam Squid' - which is quite an image once it's in your head). Decisions, decisions.
But it's not ALL about me. Robert (the lovely groom-to-be) has had to buy a suit. Unfortunately, all the shops decided in July that it's now winter, so instead of the nicely coloured summer-weight suits we'd seen earlier in the year, a lot of black, grey and sludgy brown was in evidence. We found quite a nice-looking suit in Selfridges (I have to say - the service was amazing in there) but the fabric was just a bit too heavy to stand out in the Las Vegas heat for an hour to get married. So, off we went to Paul Smith where after a lot of deliberation we came away with a chocolate brown suit and loud shirt. Which 2 days later we decided was completely inappropriate and had to be taken back and changed last night. In case his mum reads this I won't give too much away except to say it's a great suit, and is probably more 'wedding appropriate'. He's going to look great.
Am getting very excited indeed now. This weekend I plan to send out final invitations to our London party, and send maps and instructions to everyone coming out to Las Vegas. Only 3 weeks to go!!!
15th September 2006
I've spent the last week trying to make sense of how we're going to get my wedding dress and Robert's suit to and from Las Vegas without screwing them into a ball to meet restricted hand-luggage regulations or having baggage handlers treat them as a large football. We've finally admitted defeat on the second bit and we're going to have to stow them as hold luggage, but it's been surprisingly and frustratingly difficult to get to the bottom of insurance implications (maybe I should have warned you this isn't one of the 'fun' posts).
I made 3 calls to my home insurance company (because belongings should be covered away from home on your home insurance policy). The first 2 calls it was just talking details, but on the third call I was told we weren't covered abroad at all and the first 2 people were talking complete rubbish. I'd like to say something stronger about the idiots, but I'm trying to be nice. So we had to extend our travel insurance to cover our belongings.
The additional difficulty came about because our luggage restriction is less when we fly on to Hawaii than it is when we fly in to Vegas. Our solution was we were going to send the dress and suit back with one of our family. Problem is, you can't get insurance cover for this - to be insured, you have to carry the stuff yourself (which seems a bit ridiculous to me as you have to hand bags over to the airline in transit, and we were only trying to get cover in case they were damaged or got lost). Which means that we either send our stuff back uninsured, or pay £100+ for Fedex to ship it all back for us.
I must think more about this fascinating subject over the weekend and make a decision...
Thursday 21st September - 6 days to go!
I finished work on Wednesday after being treated to champagne and presents at work - thanks, everyone! - and spent a leisurely day on Thursday being beautified. Eyebrow shape and tint, eyelash tint, pedicure, leg waxing. All went well apart from the new-to-me leg waxing which left me with bruises in a 6 inch patch below my knees. Just what you want for your wedding photographs. I've never used concealer on my legs before, but there's a first time for everything... Looking on the bright side, from the knees up and ankles down, I'm looking rather glossy and high maintenance now.
Friday 22nd September - 5 days to go!
Spray tan this morning which has left me looking healthy and has helped to take the obviousness out of my leg bruises for yesterday. Then after a frantic and panic-stricken day trying to pack and not forget anything major like passports, money or wedding rings, we travelled down to Gatwick. The holiday has officially started - we fly tomorrow! Virgin Atlantic are currently offering a very handy 'Twilight Check-in' service that lets you check in your hold luggage the night before you fly. It's not being widely advertised, so there were only 2 people in front of us in the queue to check in - what a result! We were checked in within 10 minutes and off to our hotel for the night.
The hand luggage restrictions had been lifted (to a certain extent) which meant that we could take the bag I'd bought as hand luggage, but my wedding dress and Robert's suit still had to be checked in as hold luggage. However, they did let us label it as 'fragile' which meant it went through a different handling process and was more visible. [It obviously worked as it arrived intact and on cue at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas - just as it should have done. All that worrying for nothing - thankfully].
Saturday 23rd September - 4 days to go!
We're finally here! After 18 months of planning and saving we're finally in Las Vegas. We're staying in the Mirage Hotel - large rooms, view of the Strip and of the pools - we can see dolphins from our room, which isn't necessarily what you expect from a hotel in the middle of the desert. We've taken it easy knowing we have quite a hectic schedule for the next few days, though we will be meeting up with Robert's family for dinner at the Aladdin Hotel later.
The Aladdin is a long way into its transformation process into becoming Planet Hollywood, and we were surprised to see just how disruptive the work is. Getting a taxi to the hotel meant you had to find your way through corridors of plywood scribbled with directions to find your way into the casino, while a lot of casino areas were cordoned off. It's quite difficult finding your way around, which meant it was half an hour before everyone turned up in the same place.
We chose the Zanzibar Café for its huge range of options - easier to deal with when there's 20 of you to eat - and the food was good and reasonably priced. There was also a huge amount of it - we'd forgotten how enormous the food portions can be out here - you won't need starters or sides until your stomach has acclimatised for a few days. As we were all exhausted we all headed off to our respective hotels for a good nights sleep.
Sunday 24th September - 3 days to go!
One of the air stewards we'd been chatting to on the flight over had recommended the Wynn breakfast buffet, and as the Wynn Hotel wasn't built when we were last in Las Vegas 5 years ago, we wanted to see what a multi-billion dollar hotel looked like. Expensive and nicely decorated is the answer - and the buffet was fantastic. It's definitely not the cheapest - $30-odd dollars per person (you can add in champagne for a few extra dollars) - but the food is very high quality with lots of variety. Carvery, Italian, Asian, seafood, as well as all the usual breakfast suspects and a dessert station. I heard one man asking 'do you serve ice-cream at breakfast' and sound absolutely delighted to find they did. This is a playground for grown-ups - and if grown-ups want dessert for breakfast before 10am, that's what they get. What a place!
Having eaten more than my own body weight in buffet, we managed to do some shopping in the Fashion Show Mall (which is a huge place now - it's grown a lot in 5 years), and wandered round the Venetian before heading off to meet my family who'd just flown in and were staying at the Luxor. The evening didn't start off brilliantly when we got stuck in the 'inclinators' (lifts in the pyramid in English) for half an hour, but we finally got them moving and with abject apologies and free buffet passes from the desk staff, we went off to have a so-so pizza in a restaurant in the passage between Luxor and Mandalay Bay.
Monday 25th September - 2 days to go!
Monday was our first real wedding-related day. Our wedding package included a limo to the courthouse from the Bellagio to pick up our marriage licence, so we weren't going to pass up the opportunity to do that. The limo was booked for 2pm, so we had lunch at 12.15. The menu at Olives at the Bellagio may be quite limited at lunchtime but the food was good and it was a nice place to while away some time. My highlight of the meal was 4 miniature ice-cream cones that I had to assemble for myself using chocolate sauce and pistachio nuts. Messy and great fun.
The limo took us straight downtown to the courthouse/marriage licence bureau. It's a really unassuming looking building - and inside it's very much a local council office. It's not the prettiest of places, but they had made something of an effort with an artificial flower arrangement. As you go into the courthouse you each need to fill in a simple form with your name, address and nationality details, and also the name and nationality of your parents. You state whether or not you're single (you shouldn't really be in the line if you're not!), if you've been married before, and that's it. You queue up with your completed form, your passports and $55 and wait in line to have your licence issued.
Even though it was early Monday afternoon it was busy in there, with around 30 couples waiting for licences. 3 couples were already dressed up in wedding dresses and tuxes, waiting to be whisked off to get married. No-one likes queues, but as you might expect it was a nice atmosphere in there - preparing to get married really brings out the best in people. In line, we got talking to a cowboy from Montana (with his wife-to-be, of course) who told us a great story about the Stained Glass Wedding Chapel - that it was built by a sheriff who let his prisoners out of their cells to build the chapel. I don't know if this is true, but I'd really like to believe it is.
After a 45 minute wait we got to the front of the queue and had our licence processed. Although the staff must see hundreds of people every day, they were polite, friendly and smiling - something that was really good to see. We were there for a couple of minutes, were asked to check all our details were correct, and off we went back to the Bellagio - all ready with our licence.
As we had some time to kill, we decided to finalise our wedding reception details with Mon Ami Gabi at the Paris Hotel - and this was the one sour note of the day. We'd been asked to turn up between 2 and 4pm to finalise details such as numbers, the wines we wanted etc. So we did, and were asked to take a seat in entrance to the restaurant. After waiting 10 minutes I asked if we'd have to wait much longer, and were told the manager knew we were waiting. After 20 minutes I said we'd have to leave or we'd be late for our wedding rehearsal, and could we arrange a firm time for the following day to come back. We were then told that we wouldn't be able to book an appointment - we'd just have to turn up and wait again.
I said that wasn't convenient as we were organising our wedding, and was there nothing we could do to fix a time? She then told me 'we're a very busy restaurant you know' at which point I felt myself getting very angry. I just about managed to control my temper and said we were also very busy as we were in the middle of organising our wedding and I'd be back to drop off written instructions for what I wanted to happen the following day. [As we found out the following day, this girl was a-typical of other Mon Ami Gabi staff, but you just don't put someone in a customer-facing job who treats customers - particularly those paying a lot of money for a large event - as an inconvenience]. We were determined not to let this spoil our day though and went off for our rehearsal.
We'd arranged to meet our wedding co-ordinator Araceli at the Terraza di Sogno in the Bellagio. It was the first time we'd seen our wedding location properly and it's a really pretty little spot. A marble, two-tiered balcony, it is surrounded by trees which gives it shade during the day and also keeps it feeling very private. You have a wonderful view across the lake and of the fountains - which had been one of the main reasons we chose it as our place to get married. She ran through what to expect from the service, where and when we should meet on the day, and we were set. It was a fantastic feeling to know everything was in hand, and that we loved the Terrace itself - a lovely place for our wedding. Everything was right with the world again.
That night, we met up with all our family and friends who were finally all assembled in Las Vegas and went to the Aladdin buffet. Here's a tip - if you're turning up anywhere with 25 people, book in advance (even possible at a buffet we found out). We didn't, but they managed to accommodate us with a table on a balcony overlooking the Strip. For most of our party this was their first experience of a Vegas buffet, so everyone acted like a kid in a sweet shop and a good time was had by all.
After dinner we walked en masse across the road to watch the Bellagio fountains, before heading down to Treasure Island to watch the new Sirens pirate show. The fountains were wonderful, the Sirens show was terrible - we spent 20 minutes squashed onto a walkway with hundreds of other people to catch glimpses of a few scantily clad women singing terrible sub-1980s soft rock songs. We couldn't even see the pirates! They need to kick the sirens to the kerb and bring back the pirate ship battle from a few years back.
Tuesday 26th September - 1 day to go!
Trip to the Liberace Museum today. For some reason Robert wasn't interested in coming along, but I found the bad taste and extravagance completely irresistible. If you haven't visited before, it's a collection of his cars, pianos, antiques, costumes and jewellery spanning his career. The place houses the world's largest rhinestone - what's not to love?! He had a collection of some of the most unpleasant looking jewellery I've ever seen - but since most pieces would be worth more than my house, what do I know? The costumes are fantastic - everyone needs a little showbiz.
If you ever go along to the Liberace Museum, make sure you leave room for coffee and a cake. Only $3 - and the cakes have a picture of Liberace in the icing. I took pictures. There's even a free shuttle back to various hotels on the Strip afterwards.
I stopped off at the Paris Hotel to drop a note off for Mon Ami Gabi with final instructions for the following evening. This time it couldn't have been any more different to the previous day. Rather than just taking the note to pass on, the girl on the reception desk asked if I could wait a few moments to see the large party organiser. I asked how long I'd have to wait, but she said he'd be up immediately - and he was. Within 5 minutes we'd finalised numbers, finalised wording on the menus, decided on champagne and wine, and more importantly I had the reassurance I needed that everything was being taken care of for us. Not so much to ask, really. I left very happy, and when I got back to the hotel Robert said I'd been left 2 messages that morning asking me to contact Mon Ami Gabi to finalise arrangements. So apart from a single member of staff that I was unlucky enough to run into on Monday, the staff at Mon Ami Gabi are great.
That evening we met up with a friend in Stack at the Mirage for drinks and dinner. It's a fantastic looking place with wooden interiors that look a little like the rock formations of the Grand Canyon. Food was good too. Then we bumped into my sister and her boyfriend in their bar - they were off to see Cirque du Soleil's 'Love' (based on The Beatles music. They said the following day the show was wonderful - but as it was sold out we couldn't get tickets). Quite an odd experience to bump into people you know when you're away from home - but very pleasant too.
Wednesday 27th September - the day of the wedding!
After all the planning, the day is finally here.
10am: we're feeling remarkably calm about all of this. Anyone would think this was just a normal day. This is going to be a breeze.
11am: I'm having an enormous panic attack. What were we thinking? Why didn't we just elope?? And then I realise Robert is also having an enormous panic attack. At least we've shared the moment together... Despite everything we need to get ourselves across to the Bellagio Hotel. Panic!
11.30am: we'd booked into a suite at the Bellagio (our treat to ourselves for the day) and having entered our room we realise we've been upgraded to the penthouse suite. Thank you Mr Bellagio! Panic attacks completely forgotten we are running in and out of the rooms and laughing at how ridiculously large it is - this place is bigger than where we live back in London! We have a living room, dining room, bedroom, his and hers bathrooms - his with steam room, mine with whirlpool bath - separate powder room (I didn't know what a powder room was until this moment) and a bar. And there are floor to ceiling windows which look out over the fountains, we have an amazing view of the Strip and we're so far up we can see way out to the mountains. We use the automatic buttons to open the curtains (people in suites like this don't like to open their curtains manually, apparently) and take lots and lots of pictures.
12.00pm: I start to unpack the suit carrier and case that we've had to bring with us. There's a lot of stuff.
12.30pm: Although we have our own bar, I don't want to pay $5 for a small bottle of water so I go to the shop downstairs. A large bottle of water here is $5 - $1.50 more than it is at the Mirage. Still, there's not much of a choice so I buy it.
1pm: 5 hours and counting. We open the wedding cards we've brought with us from home. This is a really nice thing to do as we can spend some time in a sense with each of the people who've sent the cards to us. We put them on display on the sideboard so we can keep enjoying them. At this point, someone from the belldesk arrives to pick up Robert's boots for polishing and his shirt for ironing. 'We must have these back by 5pm' I say. 'No problem' he says 'they only need 4 hours'. Famous last words...
1.30pm: I have booked myself in for an afternoon of beautification at the Bellagio beauty salon. First a pearlised manicure - they use some sort of pearl cream so your hands shimmer in your wedding pictures. Easy sell - and I choose a nice simple pearl polish to finish it all off. My hands have never looked this good. Next my hair - it's fairly short so I just say I need some volume in it and I don't want it to move during the wedding. After several bottles of product and some vicious backcombing my hair is BIG, it's solid, and it's going nowhere.
Finally it's make-up. I don't wear make-up usually so I say I want something quite natural. She gets out what looks like a paintbrush and proceeds to plaster me with foundation, and I think that possibly this won't be the 'barely there' look I had imagined in my head. In fact, when she's finished, I really don't recognise the person in the mirror. I obviously don't hide my shock too well as she says comfortingly - 'it'll look great in the pictures - I promise'.
Figuring she knows better than I do I make my way back to my room with my sister who's come along to meet me, feeling very self-conscious in my jeans, t-shirt and ridiculously overmade-up head. Robert meets me at the door and says 'And you are?...' but quickly reassures me with a hug and telling me I look very glamorous.
4.45pm: I don my impressively sturdy undergarments which, from my sisters reactions, are hilarious. Then it's on with the dress and shoes, and suddenly the look makes sense. I still barely recognise myself, but I suddenly feel very confident and can't wait to get on with the wedding itself. My sister and I raid the bar while Robert starts to beautify himself.
5.15pm The boots have arrived back but there's no sign of the shirt. Robert calls the bell desk and they tell him their pressing is done off-site and hasn't come back yet. He underlines the fact this is a problem as he's due to be wearing the shirt to his own wedding. In half an hour. And maybe they'd like to sort it out?? We're sure this won't be a problem.
5.30pm: Still no sign of the shirt. I call the bell desk and am told that the shirt 'should be back in the building shortly'. I explain that this isn't helpful - we need the shirt NOW. Otherwise my husband-to-be will be topless under his suit at his own wedding. After some muttering at the other end of the phone, they tell me (sounding relieved) that the shirt has arrived and is on its way up. The carrier had better be running very, very fast.
5.35pm: We have a shirt!
5.40pm: Robert gets ready in around 4 minutes flat and he looks amazing (he brushes up very nicely). We're out of the door and off to our wedding, but there's only so much rushing can be done in heels like this. All this excitement has left me feeling a little bit giddy.
5.50pm: We reach the Terrace only 5 minutes after we were due to be there and can see all our family and friends assembled. I get a rush of pure happiness about it all. The flowers are absolutely beautiful - I have a bouquet of 20 deep pink roses and I think to myself that I made the right decision (it must have been worth the 2 weeks of indecision!). Araceli tells us that our minister is running a little late - so the shirt delay wasn't a problem after all! Our official photographer introduces herself, as does the videographer, and they explain how things will work.
We go out to talk to our wedding party - who all reach for their cameras and snap away. I see my mum who immediately bursts into tears. In fact a lot of people I try to talk to start crying but I try not to take this personally. 4 of our friends have only arrived today so it's lovely to see them there (and a relief they made it in time!) and we start catching up.
5.55pm: Our minister arrives. He apologies for being late (not a problem - the wedding isn't due to start until 6) and asks whether we have any specific vows? We don't, so he tells us to relax and enjoy it. He then asks for our witness, and our friend John comes over to sign the wedding certificate.
6.00pm: Our minister then takes up position on the lower balcony, our music starts (Dean Martin - Amore) and suddenly our wedding has begun.
We walk down the stairs towards the lower level of the balcony, past the flowers and over to stand in front of the minister. He tells us we can keep holding hands if we want, and as I can feel Robert shaking (and I may be too) I'm grateful for this. He then proceeds with the most wonderful, heartfelt service that, despite my best intentions, I feel myself starting to cry. Robert almost puts the ring on the wrong finger which makes me laugh, and then I'm back to crying again as I say my vows. And then it's over. We're married, we're kissing, and the fountains are playing Frank Sinatra's 'Fly Me To the Moon'. It's wonderful.
As the song comes to an end and we turn round for photographs, the photographer discreetly says, smiling 'You may want to sort out your eyes, honey' and she's not wrong. I dry myself off and we have our photographs taken alone - my favourite being as we're showered with rose petal confetti - and in various groups. My mum and dad have brought the silver bell they were given for their wedding which is a lovely thought, so I wear that around my wrist too.
It's getting dark, so the lights of Las Vegas are coming into their own, and we take lots more pictures looking out over the lake as Elvis's 'Viva Las Vegas' plays. It's a perfect end to the wedding, though we are in no hurry to leave. We spend more time talking to people, enjoying the view, and generally enjoying the feeling. It's magical.
7.10pm: Eventually we have to leave for our reception dinner. We have a limo booked to take ourselves and our parents over to Mon Ami Gabi while everyone else is walking - it's an easy 5 minute walk from the Bellagio. By the time we arrive, everyone else is seated and we're given a round of applause as we walk in. We're immediately served champagne, accompanied by a brief toast from our dads. It is just perfect and we can start to relax. The restaurant is cosy, there's a lovely atmosphere, and the menu looks great (it should do since we chose it!). Within a couple of minutes we've ordered.
After a course of salad, and one of baked shrimp (perfect), the main courses are served. The food is huge - I think that they're bringing the chicken on serving platters, but these turn out to be individual plates - but the quality hasn't been compromised. I have a steak which is perfectly cooked and tender. Desserts are equally good, and equally large, and we've also ordered wedding cake. People are visibly flagging but we refuse to be beaten - we cut the cake (decorated with the most fantastic icing flamingos and white chocolate shells), have more pictures taken, and settle down to the business of trying to eat that too.
It's a great cake, but our eyes have been bigger than our bellies and despite generous portions served out to everyone, we're only quarter of a way through our 30 portion cake. The restaurant offer to put it in their fridge until the following day when we tell them we'll come to collect it. Mon Ami Gabi have done a fantastic job for us - the food was great, the service was perfect. It was worth all the effort.
11pm: After a wonderful day, a few people start to say their goodbyes. It has made the wedding extra special having everyone come out with us and share the day. However, there is a small group of die-hards left, and we decide to find a bar at the Bellagio.
11.10pm: I realise that my shoes are killing me now, and that I've lost the confident walk of earlier - it's been replaced by an arthritic gait designed to reduce the impact on my poor feet. Luckily a friend is also having the same problem so we hang onto each other like a couple of old ladies and talk wistfully of trainers and other such comfortable shoes. Sadly, they wouldn't look as fabulous as the shoes we're both wearing, even if they do really hurt.
11.30pm: We've found a lounge bar at the Bellagio and found seats. We're sat with drinks, but we've realised too late that they have the worst cover band we've ever heard. They've murdered Bohemian Rhapsody. It's followed by a random 10 minute rock guitar solo (this is no exaggeration), a drum and bass dance number, another long guitar solo. And then they break into an Eminem cover. We are out of there.
Midnight: we've found a nice relaxed lounge bar with a jazz band. The tune they're playing sounds vaguely familiar and then I place it - Michael Jackson's 'Bad' played in a laid back jazz style. I have a drink, I'm no longer offended by the music (at least it's got kitsch appeal here) and I'm surrounded by friends. The perfect end to the perfect day.
Las Vegas Weddings
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