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Micro weddings can save you money as hotels and resorts trim prices

A bride and groom kiss inside a room of the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose.
Alex Shambaugh and Nancy Covarrubias were married at the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose.
(Michelle Alexandra Photography)

What happens when wedding plans collapse because of a pandemic? For better or worse, you stop crying and survey the marketplace for alternatives. If you’re smart, you can save money big time.

Alex Shambaugh and Nancy Covarrubias are a case in point. The Bay Area couple had scheduled their dream wedding at Disneyland, a place they both loved. But fate intervened in the form of COVID-19.

“Everything started to fall apart,” Shambaugh said of their planned spring nuptials. The couple scratched the wedding, moving the date to fall and crossing their fingers. It didn’t help. The Happiest Place on Earth was still shut down. They turned to an alternative fantasy site in San Jose — the Winchester Mystery House.

“We’d always been interested in it,” Shambaugh said of the tourist attraction, a California historic monument and architectural maze rumored to be haunted. “Winchester has held a special place in Nancy’s heart since she was young. But it wasn’t in our price range originally. Then, because of COVID, they added a new option for a much smaller wedding. And we could afford it.”

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Suddenly, mini-weddings are not only in style but mandatory because of pandemic-oriented health regulations. The downside is you can invite only a few BFFs and family members. The upside is you save money. Lots of money. For Covarrubias and Shambaugh, the savings were about $5,000 — enough to fund their move into new digs.

The historic — and some say haunted — Winchester Mystery House in San Jose
The historic — and some say haunted — Winchester Mystery House in San Jose offers micro-wedding packages.
(Michelle Alexandra Photography)

The pandemic has altered the $78-billion-a-year wedding industry just as it has affected many other industries. Besides creating a financial impact on florists, photographers and hoteliers, it has put a strain on engaged couples who have another decision to make — delay the big day or scale down the wedding. Last year, couples in the U.S. spent an average of $33,900 on their weddings; it’s anyone’s guess how far that number will fall this year.

Shambaugh said monetary savings were important but not the real reason he and Covarrubias went ahead with their ceremony. “We considered postponing the wedding again so people wouldn’t have to wear masks, but we’d been engaged for over three years. We wanted to start our life together. COVID or not, we were going to be hitched.”

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With large events no longer allowed, hotels and other venues are scrambling to draw business, creating discounted packages for small groups. At Winchester, for instance, it costs as much as $11,000 to book a wedding for 300. Since the pandemic, the cost has dropped to $2,000 — ceremony only — and is limited to 30 guests.

Many mini-weddings are much smaller than that. There are often 10 or fewer guests, sometimes only four or five. It might not be the dream wedding couples have been planning, but like Covarrubias and Shambaugh, some people don’t want to wait.

Mini- and micro-weddings are available in many locations, including several exotic destinations that welcome U.S. citizens — Tahiti and Cancún, Mexico, for instance, or in romantic California locales such as Laguna Beach and Carmel. If a venue you’re interested in doesn’t advertise a package, call and ask. It’s a buyer’s market.

South Bay

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 A bride and groom near a lifeguard shack on the beach in Redondo Beach
Southland couple Rachel Mendelson and Tyler Garfield were married at Portofino Hotel & Marina in Redondo Beach, Calif.
(Casey Figlewicz)

Rachel Mendelson and Tyler Garfield chose an oceanfront option. The Southland couple married Oct. 24 at Portofino Hotel & Marina in Redondo Beach, where packages start at $119 per person for a small private ceremony, followed by dinner, wedding cake, a Champagne toast and a night in an ocean-view room. Mendelson and Garfield plan to host a follow-up reception at the South Bay hotel in April.

Beverly Hills

A helipad wedding at Sofitel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills offers views of downtown L.A. and the Hollywood Hills.
(Chris J. Evans)
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Get a bird’s-eye view of Los Angeles with the helipad wedding package (from $1,999) from Sofitel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills. The panorama from the rooftop helipad includes the downtown L.A. skyline, the Hollywood sign, Griffith Observatory, Bel-Air and the Hollywood Hills. The deal includes one night in the presidential suite (or two nights in a Hollywood Hills view suite) plus wedding hair and makeup, access to the helipad for the ceremony (four people allowed for up to one hour), access to the sky lounge to use as a glam room before the ceremony and access to various areas of the hotel for a wedding photo shoot of up to five hours. All this and self-parking too.

Laguna Beach


Looking for an upscale mini-wedding in Orange County? The Ranch at Laguna Beach offers an elopement package for a group of six. The resort, tucked into the coastal canyons above Pacific Coast Highway, combines rustic ambiance with beach access. Its micro-wedding package takes guests to a remote canyon for the ceremony, with a celebratory candlelight dinner afterward on the patio at the hotel’s Harvest restaurant.

Traveling through the second busiest airport in the country isn’t usually stress free. Use these tips, including arriving extra early and going nuts with hand sanitizer, to make your trip a little easier.

The Ranch’s $3,000 package includes a suite for the night for the bride and groom. Expensive, but still a deal considering pre-pandemic prices at this hotel, two-time winner of Travel + Leisure’s world’s best award.

Carmel


If you like being the center of attention, you might want to try Quail Lodge in Carmel, which has an elopement package that includes a small garden wedding. Immediately family members watch from the comfort of their socially distanced guest-room balconies that overlook the ceremony site.

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The $2,500 package includes the ceremony, floral arrangements, an officiant, a Champagne toast and an overnight stay.

Cancún

Table set for a wedding at Grand Residences Riviera Cancun.
Table set for a wedding at Grand Residences Riviera Cancun.
(Grand Residences Riviera Cancun)

Couples looking for an inexpensive destination wedding may find what they want at Grand Residences Riviera Cancun, an all-suite beach resort that offers a wedding package that starts at $374 for a group of 10. The hotel, a member of the Leading Hotels of the World group, will help guests plan a beach ceremony. The package includes a three-course meal, wedding cake, a Champagne toast and chocolate-dipped strawberries, which will be waiting in the couple’s suite at the end of the day.

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The package can be booked through Jan. 30 for weddings through Jan. 1, 2022.

Stone Soup Farm in Oak Glen, Calif., shows visitors how to make apple butter during weekends in November.

Tahiti


If you’ve always wanted to take the plunge on a dreamy island in the South Pacific, you’ll love this InterContinental Resort wedding deal in Bora Bora, one of the Tahitian Islands.

French Polynesia has been open to U.S. travelers since July 15, with multiple direct flights each week from Los Angeles. There are entry requirements: COVID-19 tests before boarding, during the stay and prior to departure. But having a wedding there is worth the hassle. It regularly makes lists of the most beautiful places in the world — and Bora Bora often tops those lists.

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Traditional Chapel Ceremony in a overwater, glass-bottomed chapel at The InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa.
(Massujima)

You’ll pay $2,342 for a traditional Tahitian wedding, which will be held in an overwater glass-bottom chapel at InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa. A priest will welcome you to the chapel as ukuleles play Polynesian love songs and singers, dancers and musicians perform. After the ceremony, you’ll be escorted back to your suite (an additional $850 per night). Marriages at the resort are purely ceremonial and not legally binding, but the staff can arrange a legal ceremony at Bora Bora’s city hall, with advance planning.

Add to the costs your airfare from L.A., about $1,000 per person round trip. It’s not cheap, but compared with what you’d spend for a wedding with 300 guests, you may be in the black instead of the red.

And you’ll have memories — and photos — to last a lifetime.


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