It took a mother's suggestion and a trip on a charter bus to get a Stockton couple to tie the knot at the Fantasy Inn on Sunday. It was one of many ceremonies planned at the last minute at Tahoe wedding chapels.
The Rev. Robert McIntyre said he was lucky enough to field the call to the Fantasy Inn Wedding Chapel last Friday because he's convinced the couple would have quickly moved on to the next chapel if he hadn't.
Victor Velazquez, 25, proposed to Maricela Maldonado, 19, at John's Incredible Pizza Company in the couple's hometown two years ago - two weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. They met long before, dancing together as the last song played at a family member's birthday party.
Their families have been involved ever since.
They didn't have a wedding date planned until her mother mentioned her scheduled trip to Tahoe and recommended the couple hop on the bus. They had planned to get back on the bus that afternoon after a quick excursion to the Stateline casinos.
This impromptu-style wedding has become the norm at chapels around the lake, despite a decrease in the number of licenses issued here, wedding planners say.
McIntyre has booked 23 weddings in the last two-week period at the Fantasy Inn. Of the nine weddings carried out Saturday, seven were reserved last week.
"It's a trend we've had throughout the year," the minister said, adding the simple wedding is the order of the day. "We're learning people aren't spending. The economy has taken its toll and they're not having expensive weddings. They want simple weddings. For chapels, that's what we're seeing."
McIntyre has even been asked to perform a wedding in the spa, but he declined.
On the ski slopes, in a hot air balloon and riding a snowmobile - couples visiting or living at Lake Tahoe are tying the knot in a multitude of places.
"The chapel business is a different market," said Teri Sweeney, Lake Tahoe Wedding Association president.
Sweeney, who works as the director of sales and marketing at The Ridge Tahoe, has noticed the same trend McIntyre spoke of with an added twist. Those who select unusual or unconventional sites tend to plan far in advance - between six to 18 months.
Many couples scheduling weddings of 50 people or more try to make the ceremony coincide with family reunions that last for at least a week. Planners started receiving glimpses of the trend after 9/11, when home and hearth became the focus for many Americans.
The trends also show a large number of couples who want to get married securing their wedding license near home, too. Sweeney said this may explain a drop in wedding licenses issued from year to year.
In El Dorado County, licenses issued in 2003 through August have decreased by almost 10 percent in comparison to the prior year. Douglas County has experienced a 5 percent drop in the same period. In both counties, the numbers have steadily declined since 1995.
Wedding planners don't necessarily point to El Dorado's prices going up from $42 to $50 as a reason the license numbers are down. They do believe there's a reason the numbers don't reflect all the licenses issued. Private notaries don't record their licenses with the counties. Some people have gone on the Internet to get their wedding licenses.
"From what I'm hearing, we're continuing to do well," Sweeney said of the Lake Tahoe wedding market. She further characterized the area as one of the fastest growing wedding destination resort areas.
-Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org