Your Guide To Getting Married At Disney World

A realm of wild fantasy that has delighted generations since opening in 1971, Walt Disney World is a bucket-list destination for kids, and adults, all over the globe. There are so many reasons why day after day, year after year, the Florida park welcomes waves and waves of excited fans, people that never seem to tire of the magic in this fairy-tale kingdom. Some come for the entertainment — from irresistible characters in the streets to perfectly choreographed performances — while others can't get enough of the rides. The park is also hugely appealing for its sense of escape, a way to remove oneself from the drudgery and routine of daily life, and for many, it's also a way to revisit happy, sun-kissed memories from their childhood, maybe with children of their own. 

It's clearly a place where happiness courses through its DNA, exactly the kind of location that seems suited to a wedding. Thousands of people agree, with nuptials performed here throughout the year, and a dedicated department at the park taking care of all of the minutiae. Getting married at the home of Mickey and Minnie is easier than you think, as long as you are suitably prepared for what this entails. Read on, and you will be ready to say "I do" in no time. 

Why Disney?

Since a wedding is supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime occasion, why not hold it in a destination that is really one of a kind? And better yet, how about in a place that has travel connections that are hard to beat? Orlando, the city right by Disney World, sits a short distance west of I-95, the snaking highway that serves the eastern United States from top to tail, and it is east of I-75, which climbs up through Florida and into Georgia and Tennessee. This area is also accessible by I-4, which slices through the state connecting Tampa to Daytona Beach. 

For travelers arriving by plane, the city has enviable air connections, with direct flights from all over the United States, and also from tons of cities overseas (Bogota, Dubai, Frankfurt, Manchester, and Sao Paulo are just a handful of examples). The bottom line is getting here from anywhere is a breeze. And as anyone who's held a wedding before knows, getting the guests there is half the battle.

The lowdown

For a typical wedding, couples book a space and then work with their own caterers, florists, entertainers, and videographers to fill out the experience, to piece together the various parts of the puzzle until they finally resemble one unified product. It's a complicated endeavor, one that inevitably pulls prospective newlyweds in many different directions, even while they try to keep their focus on the big day ahead. Unlike this common scenario, Disney tasks itself with coordinating everything in-house, a one-stop shop if you like, and has its own weddings team, which falls under the Disney's Fairy Tale Weddings & Honeymoons umbrella. 

Initial consultations with a wedding planner will then branch out to questions — and answers — on choices of venue, the finer points of the floral arrangements, whether the wedding will be indoors or outside, and at what time of the year, the expected number of guests, and what photographic and video options the couple might be interested in for the special occasion.

The logistics

Weddings are monumental productions, requiring the choreographed precision of a theater production, the culinary planning and judicious politicking of a giant dinner party, and the complex travel arrangements that make the event similar in scope to a convention. No wonder the preparations take time and considerable effort, and Disney understands the need for plenty of time when mapping out the big day. That's why the company lets couples begin the planning process 16 months before their wedding date (or the day that a married couple plans to renew their vows), assuming that the event includes a ceremony and a formal reception with catering. 

For weddings or renewals that are simpler, without the functions afterward, that window shrinks to 10 months. The initial stages of the planning process will aim to get a grip on the scale of the wedding, factoring in considerations like preferred venue and size of the guest list; actual bookings of venues for the wedding and reception can only be made one year in advance of the date that they will eventually take place.

Space, the many frontiers

A wedding at Disney World doesn't just happen in one set location, like an assembly point on a conveyor belt. The reality is that couples are spoiled for choice with the number of venues available for the ceremony, and may find themselves torn between the numerous attractive options. While the event may physically take place in Florida, the venue chosen can play a part in transporting guests far, far away. 

The China Courtyard in EPCOT consists of architecture that reflects the vernacular of that Asian giant — footbridges, ponds filled with lotus plants, gates modeled on those in Beijing's Summer Palace, and gardens where plum and pomegranate trees weave a world grounded in East Asia. Closer to the main attraction of the park, the East Plaza Garden sits in front of the park's iconic Cinderella Castle, and ceremonies here typically take place when the park is open to visitors. The above spots are just two of the more than 40 venues available for weddings, so the (Disney) world really is your oyster.

Making a meal of it

While the setting, the flowers, the vows, and the general ambiance of a wedding stay are in guests' memories, the food is always a major talking point. The team at Disney offers a couple of options for food, and prices usually depend on the meal served during the reception. The first choice is the set-up that's typical at many weddings, where guests sit and are served courses that are pre-plated, the food brought to their tables. This selection ensures a full, staggered meal with an appetizer, some greens, as well as a main dish, dessert, and a drink for guests to toast the happy couple. In place of this, the meal can be presented as a buffet, with food such as fish, pasta, vegetables, and salads arrayed in trays that guests select from. 

Meals, depending on what time of day they are served, range from $140-$210 per person, and menu tastings in advance let those that want to sample the wares do so before making a decision. Drinks can be unlimited for a set period, or added on to a running cash total, and desserts can be custom-made to suit your event. The most inventive part of the meal might be the cake, with a recreation of Cinderella's Castle as one of the multifold options.

Flower power

A key part of the wedding decor, flowers will help to enhance the specialness of the setting, adding delicate color and shapes to the pageantry. The floral arrangements here take into account all the disparate components of the wedding that require such designs, and these can be from the small displays atop each table to the bouquets carried by the bride and her bridesmaids, or small button flowers worn by the male contingent. 

The flower schemes can be achingly simple or wildly intricate — giant fountains of petals on either side of the wedding party during a ceremony, or controlled, clipped balls of colors that add a splash of fun to the reception. While roses are the most popular choice for a wedding, they aren't the only option, and the Disney crew can use orchids, jasmine, marigolds, lilies, hydrangeas, and carnations among other flowers, and even scatter petals on the floor to inject a dose of romanticism into the ceremony itself.

Picture perfect

The day is sure to be unforgettable, but to ensure those memories really last a lifetime, couples will want to get photos and videos taken of the entire production. The photo team at Disney can certainly take the standard wedding photos, but they can also recreate shots from Disney scenes, and take pictures in iconic settings around the park. Whilst the photo team is in-house at Disney, the video services are done by outside companies, and Disney lists preferred vendors on its website. 

Couples might also want to book a session for special portraits, pictures that really play to the park's strengths and highlights — you can get stills of the two of you with the Cinderella Castle or Beast's Castle behind you, pose in a different part of the world at the EPCOT center, or among the creatures of the Animal Kingdom, or even laugh, giggle, and stare into each other's eyes while the photographer follows you around the grounds of one of the park's luxe resorts.

The procession

If it's important for the stars of the wedding to make a dramatic entrance, then couples that plan to tie the knot at Disney World have made a wise choice. There are a number of ways to arrive at the venue, each steeped in glamor and pomp — worthy of a royal coronation — and each guaranteed to make heads turn. The vehicle that has the most obvious sense of place, and perhaps the most glamorous of all the options, is Cinderella's Coach, a full-size version of the carriage that brought her to that fateful ball. Opt for this, and ponies will pull the coach to the ceremony, a white-liveried driver guiding the reins, while a pair of footmen are on hand to add a touch of regality to the proceedings. 

Equally magnificent, if not quintessentially Disney, the Landau coach makes a big impression as a white coach with large spoked wheels and a driver in a formal coat at the helm. For some old-school class, guests can also choose a vintage Rolls-Royce or Ford Model A for transfers to the ceremony.

Cute cameos

Cinderella's Coach sure is a way to add a bit of local flavor to the wedding, but how about spicing things up even more with some interaction from a Disney icon? Couples that book a wedding at the park will have the chance to get all the Disney-accented food and amenities lined up for the special day, but folding in some actual Disney characters into the affair takes the whole concept up a notch or two. 

The team lets guests book up to two Disney characters to appear at the wedding reception; they'll wander around, mingle with guests, and of course, insert themselves into as many photos as you can take, and there is a wide cast of characters to choose from. This is another reason to choose this wonderland for a wedding, especially for any couple who has a deep appreciation of all things Disney. And, down the road, imagine telling your kids that Mickey and Minnie Mouse were at your wedding, and confidently making a pinky promise that it's the truth.

Checking the fine print

The wedding department can line up all the nuts and bolts of the event, which includes shuffling into place the big ticket items like the food, decor, entertainment, photo options, and of course the venue, as well as providing an individual that ensures that the day itself runs smoothly. But there are still certain responsibilities that fall wholly upon the couple. The person presiding over the ceremony has to be organized by the couple, and the duo will also need to have a marriage license issued by the state of Florida on hand. 

The park's team also doesn't handle the external preparations for the big day, such as announcements so that attendees can save the date for the wedding, any invitations that need to be sent out, or putting together a website for the event or the gift registry. Clothing and any hair and make-up needs are to be set up independently, and while the coordinator might compliment you on your choice of wedding dress and suit, the team won't assist in the selection of those outfits, though Disney does have its own range of bridal gowns.

The price of a Disney wedding

There are different pricing options, and the calculations are made to spit out a final tally that takes into account the venue chosen, the day that the wedding is held, and even the time of day, churning out event minimums based on those variables. The basic fees include seating for the ceremony, musical performances, sound, and a backup location if the event is planned for outdoors but rain is likely. From here on, the choices start to unravel like a never-ending ball of yarn, and events can hold anywhere from two guests to 300. 

The prices of venues vary, with their popularity and location in the park playing key factors in whether they cost more or less than each other. The cheapest options are places like the Croquet Lawn at Disney's BoardWalk Inn, or Destino Plaza at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort, while the steepest bills materialize when couples choose venues like the whitewashed, ethereally beautiful Wedding Pavilion, or the Magic Kingdom After Hours, one of the rare occasions when an event can take place while the park is closed to the general public.

More than weddings?

As mentioned earlier, vow renewals are also big business at Disney World, and these events are treated no differently than planning for a wedding. The park is also a popular spot for honeymoons and engagement celebrations. When proposing, guests can make use of a service called Enchanting Extras, a kind of add-on coordinator that can inject special little moments, items, and services into the engagement journey. This includes access to a photographer that can snap up those precious moments when the two of you formalize your relationship into something more permanent, special dining perches in places like Cinderella's Royal Table, or floral and gift basket arrangements that set the stage for that time-honored question. 

And for something loaded with Disney character, guests can order a ring with Disney touches on it and place it in a holder with a miniature Cinderella Castle on top. Honeymooners can also hold their wedding at the park, and then let the fun continue with a stay at one of Disney's resorts, just steps away, where staff are sure to pull out the red carpet for the happily ever after duo.

What to do first

Some of the more popular venues can be seen with a simple visit to the park — which travelers haven't snapped photos of Cinderella Castle from the East Plaza Garden in the Magic Kingdom, one of the most famous, and heavily trafficked, parts of the park complex? For the Wedding Pavilion, there are self-guided tours throughout the year, sometimes available twice a month, and this will give couples and their families a better sense of whether the venue is the right choice for them. 

For venues in resorts, this might require consultation with a member of the wedding team, who can arrange a date and time to stop by and get the lay of the land. For reasons of practicality, it makes sense to plan your wedding at a time when the park is less busy, especially if you want to hold it at one of the marquee spots — so avoid school breaks and public holidays. And if you want a summer wedding that is held outdoors, remember that Florida at that time of year is hot, hot, hot.