Many brides say they crave a fairytale wedding, but some women are taking their princess fantasy to the extreme: They're getting married at one of Disney's resorts in Florida, California, France,Tokyo, Hong Kong, or Shanghai. In 2013 the trade publication Hotel F&B reported Disney's Fairy Tale Weddings married 1,500 couples a year. The trend has grown so popular, podcasts, message boards, and wedding planners have popped up to serve the women who call themselves Disney Brides.
Who represents the "typical" Disney bride? Michelle Baumann, a representative of Walt Disney World and Disney Weddings, believes no such thing exists. "What makes Disney's Fairy Tale Weddings so amazing is that we get to plan weddings with couples from all over the globe and through all stages of life," she explains in a phone call. "We host so many couples at each of our four destinations that there is no 'typical' bride or groom." According to Baumann, many brides come to Disney because they have followed Disney weddings on social media before they got engaged. A single Disney weddings Pinterest board can yield over 623,000 followers. (Full disclosure: Disney is an investor in VICE Media.) As Carlye Wisel reported in an extensive Racked feature, getting married at a Disney resort ushers a woman into a sisterhood of fellow former Disney Brides. They regularly communicate on DisBoards, a popular Disney message board.
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According to Hotel F&B, the first Disney wedding took place in 1991. In the late 1980s, the magazine reports that then CEO Michael Eisner had gone to a friend's wedding in Japan. He noticed how many people flew to the wedding and thought people would get marred at his theme parks too. When he returned to California, he began plotting Disney's Fairy Tale Weddings endeavor.
Eisner was more than right, and today a diverse subculture has emerged. Former Disney Bride Carrie Hayward now hosts the unofficial "Disney Weddings Podcast" beloved by fellow Disney wedding veterans. (She also wrote PassPorter's Disney Weddings and Honeymoons, which is considered the Bible of Disney weddings according to Racked.) The podcast has shown a variety of themes amongst Disney marital ceremonies. Hayward has interviewed everyone from a bride who threw an affair that could have been shown on the Style Me Pretty wedding blog to a woman who hosted a "Beauty and the Beast Meets Haunted Mansion" themed nuptial that also included a visit from the Star Wars villains Boba Fett and Kylo Ren. (Disney purchased Lucasfilm, the company that owns the rights to Star Wars, in 2012.) Hayward believes " [what unites Disney Brides] is definitely a love of Disney magic."
"There's this idea of Disney having world class service," she says. "Whether they want the princesses or not, they know they're going to get a day that's like anything else. It's not gonna be a hotel wedding. It's not gonna be their friend's wedding in a church basement. It's something that you can only get at Disney. And if you're already a Disney fan, then this is just an even more amazing way to celebrate that."
Hayward got the idea for her Disney wedding after her husband proposed at one of the parks. At first she was reticent to have her wedding at the parks, thinking that only Mickey obsessives got married at Disney resorts. "I had stumbled upon the DisBoards," she recalls. "At first I was sort of horrified, but then I started to actually read the trip reports that girls would post of their weddings, and you realized that these people are normal people. They're big Disney fans, but I started to realize that you could have a beautiful, traditional looking wedding at Disney."
After researching prices of various types of weddings, Hayward discovered weddings at Walt Disney World in Florida could cost a third of what they would in Los Angeles. Disney weddings come in a variety of formats. A couple could pay $650 to arrive in a Model A Ford or $13,000 to say "I do" in a Cinderella-themed ballroom, according to Racked. Hayward estimates that the average customized Disney wedding starts at around $13,000, but elopements can cost as little as $2,500.
A dedicated team of Disney-employed planners organize each wedding. Hayward cites the ease of planning events, rather than a love of cartoons, as the biggest draw of a Disney wedding. "I started to realize that Disney was like this full service, one-stop shop where you could have a gorgeous wedding with as much or as little Disney theming as you wanted, but you could have everything done for you," she says. "They handle all the boring stuff, like cutlery and heat lamps, and you just pick out the fun stuff like the colors." Baumann echoes the ease of working with a dedicated team that exclusivelyplans events within Disney properties: "We call it our 'Be Our Guest' strategy that allows a couple to be a guest at their own wedding."
The price and depend on what the bride chooses to include at her wedding. Hayward decided to throw a tasteful ceremony at Disney World. "On our wedding night, we had a dessert party at a private location in Epcot to watch the fireworks," she reminisces. "Our guests were just blown away. They thought, 'Oh, this is going to be a real cheesy wedding. Is Mickey going to marry you?' All of the cliches. When they came, we didn't have any characters. We had a wedding where people who saw our photos asked if we had been married in Italy."
Of course, if a bride does want a strongly Disney themed wedding, there are plenty of options. "[Disney] have Cinderella's royal coach, or a Fairy Godmother come to your wedding, or all the Fab Five (Mickey, Donald, Pluto, Minnie, and Goofy) come," Hayward says. "I've interviewed people who got married in front of Cinderella's Castle and spent $200,000. One woman I interviewed had 37 Disney characters at her wedding." There is a line, however, that Disney refuses to cross: "Mickey Mouse is not allowed to officiate, nor can he be there if alcohol is being served," Hayward says. "They actually stop alcohol service if you have characters come to your wedding." Celebrities are even getting in on the Disney wedding action: author and former Girls Next Door star Holly Madison rode a glass coach into her 2013 wedding hosted at Disneyland after hours. She married outside Sleeping Beauty's castle and then guests rode Pirates of the Caribbean.
What makes Disney weddings so special is that no wedding is the same. "[Everyone] has said their guests are still raving about their wedding, and they say that it's the most unusual wedding they've ever been to," Hayward says. "I think the main misconceptions are that if you get married at Disney, it's going to be childish, or it has to be 'princess-y,' and sort of backward, and anti-feminist. You can actually have any kind of wedding you want at Disney!"