originally published February 22, 2012
Talk about timely and poignant. Right in time for the annual day when thousands of people start to regret their spontaneous decision to get married on Valentine’s Day in Vegas, I get to write about true love.
My wife and I visited Las Vegas for the first time on Valentine’s Day 1999, and we quickly learned that this is one of the city’s busiest weekends. We also learned that, while some hotels offer lavish wedding packages that make Will & Kate’s wedding look like they’d gotten hitched in the back of Ted Nugent’s pickup truck, other places cater to more… pedestrian tastes.
I used to think the greatest hipster wedding would be to go to Vegas and get married by an Elvis Costello impersonator. It still might be – the other Elvis is still the big draw.
And this brings me to today’s musty closet-box-o-crap from Ms. Wiki: the Graceland Wedding Chapel. This is one of the oldest and most famous wedding chapels on the Vegas strip, and it’s the perfect spot to get joined together in matrimony, provided you both have a sense of humor, and your families won’t be appalled by the discarded leaflets for strippers and whores blowing across the pavement out front.
The Graceland Chapel opened in the 1950s, which is a pretty phenomenal statement of longevity on a street that demolishes every one of its buildings on a seemingly regular cycle. Of course it didn’t have the Graceland name back then, but it’s a callback to an era when Vegas stood for gambling, gangsters, and rapid-fire nuptials.
The chapel claims to be the home of the original Elvis wedding. Not where Elvis got married, but where an Elvis-ish (Elvish?) guy first performed a ceremony. Elvis himself allegedly gave the chapel permission to use the Graceland name. Elvis packages start at $199, and climb up to “The Famous Dueling Elvis Package” at a reasonable $799, in which two impersonators (one in a ‘young Elvis’ gold lamé outfit and the other wearing a sequined jumpsuit, and, I assume, a fat suit) sing for you. For whatever reason, every Elvis package comes complete with a copy of Elvis’ and Priscilla’s marriage certificate. I guess people want these.
There are souvenirs of course. What declaration of eternal love would be complete without a souvenir pair of Elvis side-burn glasses? At twenty bucks, you can’t help falling in love with this bargain.
You’ll want flowers. A wedding without flowers is destined to end in some kind of horrific stabbing, or perhaps arson. Avoid future entanglements with law enforcement by blessing your union with a bouquet like this one, priced at only $200.
Maybe I’m being too hard on the Graceland Chapel. Their Wikipedia page claims that several movies took place here, including Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas and the wedding chapel scene of The Hangover. A quick web-check for confirmation on the latter brings up a swift rebuttal; the wedding chapel that united Ed Helms’ character with a stripper was fictional, filmed at a building that currently houses a strip club. Could it be that I can’t believe everything I read on Wikipedia?
But the Graceland Chapel boasts some actual celebrity marriages! Jon Bon Jovi married his high school sweetheart here in 1989, one of the few showbiz marriages that has eclipsed the 20-year mark. Other names who have been behitched include Aaron Neville, Billy Ray Cyrus, Rob Zombie, and a couple of wrestlers I couldn’t care less about. Surely we can do better than this. Let’s move on.
The Little White Wedding Chapel is the other famous Vegas landmark of rushed mistakes. This one has a drive-thru!
This is the chapel you want to use if you’re looking for the famous Vegas wedding shack. Among the sure-fire success stories at the Little White, you’ve got Frank Sinatra and Mia Farrow, Bruce and Demi, and Mickey Rooney (twice). Also carved on the proverbial wall, the Chapel boasts Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Judy Garland, Joan Collins, Michael Jordan, Wayne Newton, and that magical moment when Britney Spears married childhood friend Jason Alexander for a whopping 55 hours.
If that isn’t enough, this is the chapel where Ross and Rachel got married. I mean, come on!
And in case you were concerned, you don’t have to give up the dream of being wed by an Elvis. They’ve got Elvises at the Little White Wedding Chapel. Scores of them. For a truly unforgettable time – and this might truly be worth bearing the cliché of a Vegas wedding – you can take advantage of their “Love Is In The Air” package. This includes a limo picking you up at your hotel, followed by a helicopter flight over the strip, swinging over Fremont Street downtown, then back up the strip to the airport. The minister will handle the vows in the few moments you aren’t staring out the window at the pretty lights. Only $1179.
They also have something called “The Hummer Experience”, but unfortunately this just means going through their drive-thru in their custom giant truck-limo. This is Vegas, I was expecting something else.
For some old-school celebri-vows, we head to the Little Church of the West, which opened in 1942 as part of the Hotel Last Frontier, one of the first hotels on the strip, before it was The Strip. The Little Church was bumped to the south end of the strip in 1979 where it stands today, just across from the Mandelay Bay resort.
If you’ve sat through Viva Las Vegas, then you’ve watched Elvis (the real one) pretend to marry Ann Margret inside this church. Notable names who actually tied the knot here include Billy Bob Thornton and Angelina Jolie, Richard Gere and Cindy Crawford, Betty Grable, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Redd Foxx, Robert Goulet, Telly Savalas, and Mickey Rooney, who appears to have been married at every Las Vegas chapel at least once.
Yes, Elvis can walk you down the aisle here too. I doubt you can open a chapel in Las Vegas without employing at least one fake Elvis. The Little Church of the West will indulge those who hit it really lucky at the roulette wheel, with packages climbing up to the “Forever True” at $1425, which includes photos, limos, a web-cast, DVDs, and a wedding album. Elvii may cost extra.
It strikes me that I’m coming off as somewhat cynical on the subject of Vegas weddings. I don’t mean to. In fact, I’d venture that any package at any one of these facilities makes a lot more sense than blowing $30,000 on a traditional ‘dream wedding’ that will only land you deeper in debt, and married just as officially. Plus, a Vegas wedding drops you at your honeymoon as soon as you walk out the door (unless you actually live in Vegas). And Vegas is a great place to honeymoon.
So I say go for it. If you can find an Elvis Costello impersonator to marry you in Vegas, send me pictures. Otherwise, I say go for real authenticity. Seek out this guy: