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Disney Knows How to Put Fantasy and Enchantment Into Tying the Knot

TIMES STAFF WRITER

‘Weddings are back in style and style is back in weddings. . Love is recession-proof.’

--Germaine Cumby of Something Borrowed wedding arrangements store

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When future brides stroll down the aisle at the Disneyland Hotel this spring, they can begin their grand entrance from the flower-bedecked Cinderella’s carriage.

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It will be drawn by a couple of miniature horses, rather than the white mice of fairy tale fame. The mice, instead, will show up at the reception--Mickey, dressed in a tuxedo and tails, or in this case, a tail, and girlfriend Minnie.

A trumpet fanfare will announce the arrival of the newlyweds at dinner. Their guests can ogle the elaborate mock-up of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle that fills the room. Servers can be dressed to fit the theme.

Such extravagances are all part of Disneyland Hotel’s new “Fairy Tale Wedding” program, which allows couples the chance to apply a little of that old Disney hokum to matrimony.

In starting the program at the hotel, Disneyland joins other area theme parks in tapping into the lucrative wedding business. For instance, both Knott’s Berry Farm and Universal Studios Hollywood have played host to weddings for years.

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For the parks, sentiment takes a back seat to profits. Fantasy weddings run from $3,500 and up at the Disneyland Hotel, or $6,000 at Universal, both without any catering costs included. Knott’s Berry Farm is a relative bargain with packages that include food starting at $2,200.

Costs aside, fantasy weddings at theme parks are popular because of their unusualness.

“Change is what brides and grooms are looking for. They want it to be a memorable event,” said Lisa Simpson, the Disneyland Hotel’s catering manager.

Disneyland Hotel decided to go ahead with its fantasy weddings after watching how popular the idea became at Walt Disney World in Florida, which has been offering fantasy wedding packages outside the gates of its Magic Kingdom for two years. In Florida, couples can tie the knot in tropical fashion at the Polynesian Resort or frontier-style at Fort Wilderness.

The Disneyland Hotel’s plans are a tad simpler. The weddings themselves will continue to be serious, usually taking place in a gazebo. The glitz is being saved for the reception. There, the hotel plans to start offering packages themed around a tropical “Carnivale” or a “Disney Fantasy.”

So far, a few couples have expressed an interest but no one has made a firm commitment, Simpson said. The Disneyland Hotel is promoting the program with advertisements in bridal magazines and other wedding publications.

“We will create whatever the bride and groom are looking for,” she said. That might mean anything from jesters to keep guests entertained while the bridal party poses for snapshots to dressing the servers in themed costumes.

Anthony Peluso, the hotel’s entertainment manager, said that the goal is put more of Disneyland’s props and creativity to use in a new way.

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That’s what they have been doing for more than a year at Universal Studios Hollywood, where couples can make use of the movie studio’s extensive back lot for wedding pictures or parties.

A couple can show up in a horse-drawn carriage or a sleigh on a blanket of fake snow. Or a European village might be a perfect setting for a Greco-Roman reception party. The park has already booked eight weddings this year, said Gretchen Par-Silver , the director of special events and sales.

Tracey Edmonds, a Beverly Hills real estate broker, said she chose Universal Studios Hollywood for her wedding reception last September because “we wanted to do something real fun.”

She and husband Kenneth Edmonds, a record producer and performer, decided that the Hollywood Terrace area of the park was perfect for the cocktail reception, followed by dinner under a tent for 500.

“When you pull up and see these waterfalls and ponds, it reminds you of a Garden of Eden,” she said. Guests were brought to the area aboard the Universal Tram trimmed in wedding flowers.

Couples who want to make a grand entrance at Knott’s Berry Farm have occasionally chosen to be ferried in the stagecoach or on horseback, or at least those who chose to marry in Western attire. Knott’s hosts more than 150 weddings a year.

Founder Walter Knott moved an old Buena Park church to his famous Ghost Town more than 20 years ago. But it was only eight years ago that the park became involved in the wedding business, according to Catering Manager Barbara Krantz.

Knott’s has been keeping a close eye on the Disneyland Hotel fantasy wedding program to see if they should adopt similar touches, such as having the Peanuts characters show up at receptions. But because theme parks have to strive to maintain the savory images of their character, such appearances can be more complicated than they might sound.

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“We don’t like our characters to be around alcoholic beverages,” Krantz said.

Fantasy weddings do not have to involve theme parks. Weddings can be on ski slopes or Venetian gondolas. “Fantasy weddings can be everything from getting married in a back yard to a Western wedding,” said Pam Anderson, a wedding consultant for Fancy Affairs in Cypress.

With a few props, just about any wedding site can be transformed. Some Western-themed weddings are held in country music bars, or a tearoom can become the perfect site for an English wedding. But such fantasy weddings, whether at a theme park or other exotic locale, come at a higher price than a traditional wedding.

“When they have a bigger budget, they have bigger dreams,” said wedding coordinator Faro Davis-Nail, a bridal consultant who operates Les Mariee in Mission Viejo. “It’s sometimes a shock for brides when they come to a wedding coordinator, because we know what all the costs are.”

Germaine Cumby, who operates the Something Borrowed wedding arrangement store in Orange, said she knows of requests as nutty as having a St. Bernard deliver a can of beer to the groom during the reception.

“Weddings are back in style and style is back in weddings,” Cumby said. Sure, fantasy weddings cost more, she said there never is a shortage of altar-bound couples who are interested in them.

“Love,” she said. “is recession-proof.”


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