How to choose a wedding ceremony site
While many reception venues have optional space to hold your ceremony, for a number of reasons you may still want to opt for a different ceremony site. In this article, we list some of the most popular ceremony sites, as well as to talk about some pros and cons of class of sites.
Courthouses are generally a good option for couples seeking a fast, easy and fairly affordable (provided the couple is married at the courthouse on a weekday during business hours) ceremony. In this case, the total cost of the ceremony would be around $60 and would likely not take longer than 20-30 minutes from start to finish. Note that the cost does rise to $250+ for the ceremonies held on weekends.
Benefits of getting married at the courthouse
One benefit of being married at a courthouse is that, compared to other options, you can be assured that all the paperwork is completed correctly, and your officiant is far less likely to forget to mail the paperwork in before the deadline. In addition, since the judge or justice most likely has a lot of experience with performing marriage ceremonies, there is less likelihood that something may go wrong (such as the officiant forgetting the script or mixing something up).
Also, because the judge followings the standard script, the bride and groom do not need to spend time helping create the script or writing their own vows (as is generally the case if the couple's officiant is their newly ordained friend performing the ceremony for the first time in their life).
Disadvantages of having a wedding at the courthouse
First, having your wedding ceremony at a courthouse can be a less than romantic experience. For one, courthouses are rarely decorated with flowers and aisle runners or equipped with audio systems to play Mendelssohn's wedding march.
Secondly, as you arrive, aside from your wedding party, the courthouse will be filled with lawyers, courthouse workers, people submitting claims, individuals disputing tickets and other shady personalities who will be lining the hallways and bustling around as you make your way to the courtroom where your ceremony is to be held.
Finally, it's possible that the judge performing the ceremony will ask the bride and groom and their witnesses to step out into a different room (judge's chambers) to sign the legal paperwork while the rest of the wedding party and guests silently await for their return.
Summary: weddings in a courthouse
Pros: easy, no planning required, fast, cheap for ceremonies performed on weekends, experienced officiant
Cons: not very romantic atmosphere, standard boring script, expensive for weekend ceremonies
Churches and other places of worship are a good option for couples seeking a more traditional wedding ceremony. We at WeddingVenture.com are not going to speak for all the religions, but from our experience seeing our friends getting married in several churches of different denomination, wedding ceremonies are generally performed free of charge by the minister, priest, rabbi, etc. (a small donation to the church is expected, however).
Benefits of getting married in a church
One unique benefit of being married in a church is that the couple who gets married in a church is more likely to take the ceremony and the future union much more seriously than they would otherwise. This is not surprising, since the vows the couple gives here are the vows they give in the presence of their God. Overall, during the ceremony the couple feels a deeper spiritual connection as they would otherwise.
Another benefit is that the couple's officiant is likely to be very experienced at performing marriage ceremonies and had "practiced" with the script before :) That means that, again, the couple will not need to spend time creating the ceremony script or their own vows.
Finally, unlike the courtroom, the church in most cases can be decorated before the ceremony begins and at least some wedding procession music is welcome throughout.
Disadvantages of getting married in a church
On the other hand, having your wedding ceremony at a church or a place of worship may require time-intensive preparations. For example, before the wedding ceremony can take place, the couple may need to spend time with the minister getting to know him and discussing the sacred duties of marriage, the bride and groom may need to each go to a confession, etc. The exact time and effort needed depend on the religion.
In addition, again depending on the religion, a religious wedding ceremony may be very long, slow and even uncomfortable for the guests (in some religions, the ceremony could last 1-2 hours, during which time the entire wedding party and guests must remain standing).
On a final note, due to religious events and holidays, it may not be possible to perform a wedding ceremony on certain blackout dates. :) Thus, the couple that wants to hold their ceremony at a church could be constrained by the calendar or religious holidays.
In summary: weddings in a church
Pros: "free" (donation expected), no need to create own script and vows, experienced officiant, deeper religious connection between newlyweds
Cons: potentially long process, slow pace, "blackout" dates apply, time-intensive preparations may be required
Outdoor weddings: waterfronts, forests, country fields, cliffs, river banks, ocean views
Outdoor ceremonies are a great option for romantics, nature lovers (especially when they take place on a beautiful summer day), and those who would like to make their ceremony more creative than a traditional ceremony. For example, we at WeddingVenture.com have been to a few outdoor ceremonies where the groom, the bride or in some cases both would ride in on a horse and/or, once the ceremony was over, ride into the sunset (literally) in a carriage.
Places like Kirkland, WA are famous for their waterfront weddings. Imagine the ceremony taking place on a lake shore with the bride and groom getting into a motor boat parked by the ceremony site and riding away in it after the reception ends at the end of the night. Outdoors is definitely a great place to get creative and have a memorable, unique wedding ceremony. In addition, outdoor ceremonies make for some great wedding photos.
The cost of an outdoor wedding depends on several factors:
An officiant performing the ceremony
If your officiant is a judge/justice that needs to travel to your ceremony site and, if your wedding is held on a weekend, then you are looking at an officiant fee of $250+ (the exact amount would depend on where and when the ceremony is held). If your officiant is a priest/minister from your local church, you would be expected to provide a donation to the church. Also, depending on the religion and the church, the priest/minister may refuse to perform the ceremony outdoors (in some religions, wedding ceremonies may only performed in churches).
Finally, if one of your friends is an ordained minister or can become one to perform your wedding ceremony (see WeddingVenture.com article on how to get your friend ordained and have a friend be an officiant at your wedding), your officiant fee may drop to zero.
Ceremony site ownership
If the place you have chosen for your outdoor ceremony is a private property, the price would depend on how well you negotiate with the property owner (see WeddingVenture.com article on How to negotiate with wedding vendors for tips and tricks) and what other than the use of the location is included in your rental fee.
In our experience here at WeddingVenture.com, the ceremony site's rental fees vary wildly between $50 and $6,000. The $50 fee was paid to the owner for the use of the location only for one hour. $6,000 got some couples everything they needed.
However, a few lucky brides, were able to pay a $500 (!) fee for the use of the location, arbor, chairs and tables rental, extensive decorations (flowers, ribbons, etc. provided by the owner) and the use of the owner's horses (the bride and groom both chose to ride in on horses), plus the carriage to take them away after the ceremony. See our article about negotiations to be able to negotiate so well with wedding vendors as they did!
If the place you have chosen for your outdoor ceremony is a public property, you would generally need to apply for a permit to use the place and the fees would be non-negotiable and vary depending on the location.
One other thing to be aware of when planning to have an outdoor ceremony is that outdoor ceremonies generally require more logistics and planning than other types of ceremonies. The more creative and unique you make your ceremony, the more planning and practice would be needed. After all, this is why these ceremonies are so unique and memorable: they do not follow a standard script of traditional ceremonies.
Summary: outdoor weddings
Pros: romantic, creative and memorable ceremonies, fits large numbers of people, great photos.
Cons: logistics, religious ceremony may not be possible.
Outdoor wedding in a park
Public parks may be a good option for those who want to hold their ceremony outdoors but want to remain close to the city, especially if the reception venue is located nearby (after all, most privately owned nature spots are generally located outside the city limits and would add to travel time on your wedding day).
Also, if you are not comfortable with the entire negotiation process, this is a good option as the fees are non-negotiable. Most other pros and cons listed under the previous point apply here as well. Few things to note, however:
- Public parks generally have more stringent rules and policies than private properties. For instance, alcohol use on-premises is prohibited, public attendant during the ceremony is required (you would be required to pay an additional fee to this person), amplified sound may not be allowed, etc.
- Public park use fees are generally higher than those negotiated (starting at $100 per hour with a 2 or 3 hour required minimum).
- Parks remain open to the general public at all times, so you may end up with unwanted audience looking in on your ceremony from the sidelines.
Summary: outdoor weddings in a park
Pros: romantic and creative ceremony (some restrictions apply :) ), beautiful surroundings, large audience capacities (depending on the park)
Cons: religious ceremony may not be possible, park remains open to public, alcohol use prohibited, may be expensive
Indoor weddings: museums, mansions, castles, country clubs, hotels, reception halls, restaurants, wineries
Generally, this is a good option for couples that have already decided to hold the reception at the above-mentioned museum, hotel, winery, etc. and either do not want to deal with the logistics involved in moving between a different ceremony site and the reception venue or want to take advantage of one of the packages provided by the reception venue (for example, some reception venues may waive any associated ceremony fees if the couple chose to have the reception at the same place).
Most of the above venues would have an on-site wedding coordinator that will make the entire planning process easier too. On the other hand, because the wedding coordinator will follow the same predetermined script for the ceremony, there will be few options (decorations, food choices, drinks, colors) to choose from to make the ceremony stand out against similar ceremonies held here in the past or in the future - including those held by your friends.
Summary: indoor weddings
Pros: easy planning (on-site wedding coordinator), most services/options included
Cons: not much room for creativity, may be expensive, little choice provided
This option is great for a couple that is looking for an all-inclusive yet affordable option and does not want to do a lot (or any!) planning. Wedding cruises are a "one stop shop" (packages include the ceremony, the food, the flowers, drinks, music, etc.).
Depending on the package you choose (generally there are 2-3 standard packages provided), your entire wedding cost could be easily under $10,000. Of course, no planning also means that your entire wedding day program is not customizable: there is usually only one menu to select from; one set of silverware, dinnerware, glassware; and one standard ceremony for every single wedding that takes place on the boat.
Summary: weddings on a ship
Pros: easy planning, "one-stop shop" (all-inclusive package), often cheap
Cons: little choice provided, no customization of the "day program"