Saturday, August 18th, 2018

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The Rise of Short-Order Weddings: Romantic Ohio Elopements

Couples love evening ceremonies at the Lakehouse Inn & Winery in Geneva-on-the-Lake for the gorgeous Lake Erie sunsets. Photograph by Michael Allen Blair



When I hear movie brides-to-be utter the phrase, “I’ve been planning this day my whole life,” I think, “Really?!” It’s so out of the realm of my experience growing up—even for the most girly-girls in the neighborhood. Sure we played in our Mom’s wedding dress, but an elegant cocktail dress was just as desirable to stomp around in with oversized high heels. And by the time of the 1970s’ social upheaval, marriage was for squares. With the national divorce rate climbing toward 50 percent, marriage licenses were just a “piece of paper” many opted to forego. Weddings were low-key and some were accomplished on the Q.T. with free-spirited friends finding out only after the fact. My husband and I tied the knot before the excesses of the ’80s set in. We followed that formula: an early ceremony followed by a champagne brunch at the Silver Grille. We were crossing the pond by 5 p.m. We did, however, plan four months ahead—a veritable nanosecond by today’s standards.

Sometimes even four months is too long. So what’s out there for couples who want to get hitched post-haste and keep it simple? Maybe they’ve walked down the aisle before; or maybe they’re on a budget but want something more memorable than a trip to City Hall. Fortunately, there are nearby romantic destinations offering elopement packages.

“We do almost as many elopements as weddings,” says Karen Fagnilli, owner of the Lakehouse Inn & Winery in Geneva-on-the Lake. The Lakehouse is a boutique property at the water’s edge with gorgeous views of Lake Erie sunsets. It also boasts a talented chef trained at the Loretta Paganini Cooking School and an on-premise spa. And while the Lakehouse hosts small weddings, they also host 20-25 elopements annually. Andrea Bushweiler is the Lakehouse’s events coordinator. She’s also an ordained, non-denominational minister; so she often officiates. Andrea created the elopement packages and says most of their clientele are young couples who don’t want to spend a lot but want a romantic setting. There’s the “Just Us” package for the bride and bridegroom only. It includes: the ceremony, a champagne toast afterwards, two nights’ lodging in a suite with a welcome basket and bottle of wine plus breakfasts. The price ranges from $846-$1,166 plus tax, depending on the day and season. The Deluxe Elopement is for couples who want a few friends or family (up to 20 guests) attending the big event. It includes:  exclusive use of the upper patio for up to one hour; a champagne toast, two nights’ lodging in a suite with a welcome basket and bottle of wine, plus breakfasts.

Another aspect supporting elopements is short lead time might reduce “bridezilla” behavior.  Not always. “I had one last year—and on my [wedding] anniversary!” Andrea notes. She sometimes needs to remind couples about the differences between elopement packages and a small wedding that might include a full-service reception and/or interfere with other guests’ enjoying the waterside terraces.

Regardless of the option selected, Andrea wants Northeast Ohioans intending to unite to know, “If you want a destination wedding but want to stay close to home, the Lakehouse Inn & Winery is ideal.


Returning to a Passionate Place

“Elopers tend to be laid back and don’t want the fuss of a big wedding. They’re picking us because they like the simplicity,” says Alicia Caton, group sales and events coordinator at The Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls in Ohio’s sylvan Hocking Hills. Alicia says the reason the Inn started serving this segment of the market was they noticed an increase in couples who don’t want a “huge, elaborate and expensive deal. We’re seeing lots of second and third go-rounds,” she added.  Experienced brides and grooms seem to want just a commitment ceremony with their grown children attending.

The Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls has numerous venues on its 75-acre property where couples can commit to each other. One of the most popular is the Hilltop Garden, which the website describes as, “beautifully landscaped with local flowers, fruit trees and benches to take in the views.” Another is the Rooftop Garden with walking paths and a gazebo.

The Inn to Eloping package is very comprehensive and includes:

Two nights in a cabin, breakfast both mornings; a four-course dinner for two on your wedding night; a bottle of wine or champagne in your cabin; a wedding official, professional photographer with 24 color photos and a photo CD for reprints; bridal bouquet and boutonniere; a heart-shaped wedding cake for two and a champagne toast plus a couples’ massage. This package is designed just for the couple and is priced at $3,999 plus tax and gratuity.

Inn & Spa Owner Ellen Grinsfelder wants readers to know the staff can customize elopements or small weddings. “You can bring in your own photographers or minister; add more spa treatments or flower arrangements.” When asked to distinguish between an elopement and a small wedding Ellen notes, “Once the event reaches 10 or more guests, we treat it as a small wedding.”

Ohio’s Hocking Hills seem to evoke the passions of its patrons. “Lots of couples come here regularly and propose in our restaurant, our gardens or the surrounding parks like Ash Cave. Then they return to get married,” Alicia explained.  So eloping there makes sense for couples who want to get married in short order; want someone else to handle the details and want to return to the scene of the sublime.

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