Saying “I do” in Sin City

Toronto Star, Feb 14– Carly Iwaasa’s parents weren’t too happy about their daughter getting married in Las Vegas. “The first thing my mom said was: ‘Is Elvis going to marry you?’” she says. “They didn’t take it too well.”

But as the late-January date drew closer, Iwaasa’s parents warmed to the idea of a wedding on a rooftop terrace framed by the Las Vegas Strip. It made a lot of sense. Guests were coming from all over Canada and the U.S. and everyone could get a cheap flight and choose their own hotel. “It’s a destination for everybody not just the drunken hangover type crowd,” says Iwaasa, who grew up in Manitoba, got engaged in Toronto and lives in Calgary.

Jason and Katrina Fujinaka live on Kauai but were happy to forego Hawaii’s beaches for the chapel at the Bellagio. “I have a very, very big family and it’s cheaper to have it here than at home,” the bride says. Besides, all her friends and relatives got married on the beach. “I didn’t want to get married at the same place or have my reception at the same place. I wanted to be different.”

As a quick stroll down the strip shows, you can get a whole lot of different in Vegas. And, you can get hitched at the Mob Museum, on a helicopter ride through the Grand Canyon or in big white orb on a giant wheel high above the Strip. If you’ve got your heart set on saying “I do” standing on your head on a treadmill in a hotel gym you can likely do that too.

Mark and Emily Bold opted for a surprise wedding. “I trust him,” shrugs the bride the night before her nuptials, neon lights blinking in her white feather boa. As the crowd spills out of the Le Reve Theatre at the Wynn, the groom spills some details. There will be a scavenger hunt and a few surprise guests—porn stars in town for an adult entertainment convention. “We’re swingers,” he explains. “It’s a swinger wedding.”

Vegas, baby.

Off the strip at the Chapel of Flowers, up to 80 couples are married every day. Staggered schedules and careful flow through the three chapels (and one gazebo) ensures no bride ever sees another. Most weddings are booked four to six months ahead, but the Chapel leaves room for walk-ins too. When, occasionally, a couple stumbles in, as “a customer service,” staff suggest they come back the next day when they’ve sobered up.

At the Graceland Chapel, owner and Elvis impersonator Brendan Paul has advised a young bride, a stripper, to start investing her tips, but he’s not about to talk anyone out of getting married.  “As long as the check clears,” Brendan says with a laugh as big as his Elvis pompadour. He’ll walk any bride up the aisle—even the 75 year old marrying her friend’s grandson—and as they leave the chapel he belts out Viva Las Vegas. “Good bye and good luck!” Paul tells them. And to repeat customers: “If you come back a third time, it’s on the house.”

Paul is one of five “Elvi” performing vows at the chapel (“May you never treat him like a hound dog”) and one of hundreds of Elvis impersonators in Vegas. One of them made an appearance at Carly and Cliff Iwassa’s wedding to sing “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You” for the couple’s first dance.

And the next night, as the groom went off to watch the UFC fights with the boys, Iwaasa and the girls went to see a raunchy male revue show. “My first night as a married woman I’m out seeing strippers. See ya Cliff!”

Her mom was supposed to come along, but she chickened out.  Which is fine.  It’s Vegas and you can do anything you want.

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