I’ve never been what you’d call a girly girl. I was an athlete growing up, not a cheerleader. I started my career as a sportswriter. I own vastly more yoga pants and hoodies than cocktail dresses. My dream addition to our home is a man cave with a bar and a wall-sized television, not a walk-in shoe closet. So, as you can imagine, when it came time to plan my wedding, I was not looking to play princess for a day.
But my husband and I got married at Disney World. You know, that place with roller coasters and a rotating cast of fairy-tale royalty roaming the grounds. How did that happen?
In the 12 years since our wedding, we’ve gotten more than a handful of surprised reactions when our wedding location comes up in conversation. Some people don’t know you can get married there, and some people can’t imagine why anyone would. And everyone wants to know whether Mickey Mouse officiated (he didn’t). The biggest misconception people have about getting married at Disney World is that it’s not a choice reasonable grown-ups would make. After all, Jim and I bought our first house in the suburbs because it was a good time to buy and that was what we could afford. I bought a Volvo—because it was safe and reliable!—when I was 27. We’re not extravagant or flashy, nor do we harbor extensive fairy tale obsessions.
But like our other life decisions, getting hitched at a gigantic theme park was a measured and practical move. Jim grew up in North Dakota and went to college in New York state. I was from Ohio. We were living in Seattle. We had extended family in Pennsylvania and Florida, and friends—from childhood, college, and work—in a half-dozen other states. Say what you will about “destination weddings.” No matter where we got married, most of our guests were going to need plane tickets.
We quickly ruled out our respective hometowns, for lots of boring reasons. Seattle was expensive and crowded, and hard to find your way around for out-of-towners. And we thought about a beach wedding, but that presented its own logistical challenges.
What we needed was a location that was cheap to fly into, had hotels at various price points, and gave guests plenty of ways to entertain themselves if we couldn’t hang out with them just then. So, we landed on Disney World. I had fond memories of my few trips to Orlando while growing up, and I did love anything with a Mickey Mouse theme (yeah, even into adulthood). Sure, getting hitched at Disney comes with some stereotypes: any woman who’d want to get married there must have a princess complex the size of Cinderella’s castle; all ceremonies and receptions must have lavish fairy tale touches, like glass carriage arrivals, a menu straight out of Beauty and the Beast, or private fireworks. (This is, of course, is all available to you for a price.)
But getting married at Disney doesn’t have to be like that. You can have a lovely ceremony in a Victorian pavilion with floor-to-ceiling windows, followed by a tasteful reception at one of their resort ballrooms, or (for small weddings) an excellent French restaurant, or a gorgeous wilderness lodge. You can pretend you’re in Italy or Japan or Canada, or submerged on the ocean floor.
You can have as much or as little “Disney” in your wedding as you’d like. But there’s one aspect of Disney that you can’t escape when you get married there, and that’s customer service. No one can ever accuse Disney of not understanding hospitality. In my experience, the Disney wedding planners are models of professionalism, and are provided at no additional charge. They are well prepared to help you with big decisions and to hold your hand during the last minute freak outs. Just because I’m a tomboy doesn’t mean I didn’t care about having a tasteful wedding, and Disney handles the catering and the flowers and the cake, and—if you want them to—the photographer and the videographer and the jazz trio/band/DJ. Also, weddings there do not have to be royal extravagances. Packages start at under $3,000 for small guest lists, and I felt Disney worked to give us a lot for what we were spending. (Update, June 11, Disclosure: At one point I worked at for Infoseek, which was bought by Disney and became the Walt Disney Internet Group. My wedding planning predated the acquisition and I received no wedding discounts.)
In the end, we had 65 guests who trekked to Florida in July to watch us exchange our vows on a Friday afternoon at the wedding pavilion, which is on the grounds of the Grand Floridian hotel. We bused them to a ballroom at one of Disney’s other resorts for drinks, a four-course dinner, and an open bar, plus we sneaked out to watch the fireworks at Epcot’s nightly show. We took a limo, not a glass carriage. It was a wedding itinerary that could have been replicated almost anywhere in America, though the view might not have been so lovely or the food so good, or the attention to detail so loving. But there were a few things we could not have experienced anywhere else. We had the days before the wedding, and the weekend after, to visit with our extended families and have dinner with friends. We went to the various parks, and sat by the pool, and laughed a lot. We created a million memories and still tell stories of that trip.
I almost forgot. Our wedding wasn’t entirely without Disney theming. I met my parents in Florida a few months before the wedding to do the major planning. After looking at flowers and cakes and china patterns and flatware and tasting food for hours, my dad—who was footing the bill, mind you—made precisely one demand for a little Disney magic. We had a spotlight that graced the dance floor during our reception was in the shape of a Mickey Mouse silhouette. And it was just the right touch.
Read more from Slate’s special weddings issue:
“Stop the Scourge of Wedding Presents: They’re outdated, inefficient, unfair, and unnecessary,” by Matthew Yglesias. Posted Tuesday, June 11, 2013.
“The Long Walk to the Altar: Prudie offers wedding advice on family estrangement, inappropriate toasts, and an extravagant bride, just in time for summer,” by Emily Yoffe. Posted Tuesday, June 11, 2013.
“This is the Last Time I Will Ever See You: After every wedding, there is a dear friend who will immediately disappear from your life. And that’s OK,” by David Plotz. Posted on Wednesday, June 12, 2013.
“Click Here to RSVP: Online invites are now far better than paper. And yes, you should even use them for your wedding,” by Farhad Manjoo. Posted on Wednesday, June 12, 2013.
“How to Be a Better Best Man: Flirt with the mother of the bride, but don’t grind with her,” by Troy Patterson. Posted on Wednesday, June 12, 2013.