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Exotic trips down the aisle

Couples get married among elephants in South Africa, underwater in Hawaii, amid a murder mystery in Indiana and in Civil War costume in Virginia.

By Judy Mandell

Special to the Los Angeles Times

June 27, 2010

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As if marriage weren't crazy enough, every year couples say "I do" in exotic, unusual and, yes, even strange places and situations. There was the couple who had elephants as attendants. There was a twosome who wanted to be married underwater. There was even the couple who wanted to take the leap while taking a leap.

Aren't weddings stressful enough? Why would you book a wacky wedding?

"There are several reasons," says Anne Chertoff, editor in chief of http://www.aisledash.com, a wedding planning website. "Some couples want their weddings to stand out. Others want the occasion to reflect their personalities and interests. The unusual settings may have sentimental meaning — they met there, had their first date there, got engaged there. Or they may be passionate about something — a hobby or a favorite film — and they want to turn that fantasy into reality. Their wedding is a great excuse to do just that."

Take Barry and Terry O'Neill. They had 12 elephants as part of their wedding party. "Because of my love of elephants, Barry decided to find a place for us to marry with them," Terry says.

The wedding took place at Relais & Châteaux's Camp Jabulani in South Africa, next to a watering hole where elephants come to play each day. Barry put on his tux and was taken down to the watering hole. Terry arrived at the ceremony in her wedding dress in an open Land Rover usually used for safaris.

She walked down an aisle lined with lanterns, the herd of elephants following. "They formed a semi-circle around us, with the sun setting behind the watering hole .... You couldn't ask for a more beautiful venue."

Kaylyn Starnes and Paul Mason didn't want a textbook wedding, so they brainstormed with Gino Filippone, founder of Ultimate USA Weddings, and tied the knot underwater in Hawaii.

"I approached this idea with the same exactness and fortitude and Post-it notes as I would with any other ceremony," says Filippone. "My first call was to the state capital, followed by e-mails to various dive shops in Maui and ordering some Jacques Cousteau DVDs."

The couple needed to be sure that these under-the-sea vows would "hold water" legally. After exhaustive explaining and out-of-the-box thinking about how they would communicate these vows below sea level, they rented dry suits with built-in walkie-talkie communication devices and rented a boat to take them to their wedding destination. Filippone even got ordained online with Universal Life Church to officiate in Hawaii.

"However nontraditional this idea may sound, everyone is entitled to their idea of a perfect wedding, and who am I or anyone else to tell them that their dreams can't come true?" he said.

Amy Fauceglio and Oliver Castillo wanted to take the leap — literally — while bungee jumping in Marble Canyon, Ariz They found a bungee company, decorated the cords with white and red fabric (the color scheme of the wedding), and brought flower arrangements to the top of the platform where the ceremony took place. As soon as they kissed as husband and wife, they held hands and jumped into their future together.

The wedding fantasy can be murder at the Inn at Aberdeen in Valparaiso, Ind. There, a professional actress creates and stages wedding mysteries, writing herself in as a waitress or maid, to keep the momentum going. Each guest has a part in the mystery.

The "actors" see only their own lines. The bride and groom are bumped off first — followed by most of the guests, who, one by one, drop out of the play (but, of course, don't go home). The bride and groom eventually come back from the dead, dressed in their wedding regalia, and then the marriage takes place.

At Pearson's Pond in Juneau, Alaska, couples can get married on a glacier, share a Champagne toast and wedding cake, have their first dance as husband and wife, and then take off to go dog sledding, ice climbing or whale watching.

If you're into history, how about a Civil War-themed wedding?

With the bride and bridesmaids in fabulous period hoop dresses, the groom and groomsmen in period costume and the 90% of guests who also dress up, it doesn't get more authentic than at the historic Mayhurst Inn in Orange, Va.

Even the music and dancing are themed. The bride walks down the aisle to "Tara's Theme" from "Gone With the Wind."

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