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      You don't have to get married or be married to appreciate some good wedding ideas, but if you are thinking about tying that knot, make it something special. Anyone can rent a church and a minister, but it doesn't take more money or effort to throw a little creativity into the mix to make the occasion not only memorable, but into a great story that your friends can marvel at throughout the years. Would you rather say "We got married in Jacksonville" or "we got married in a castle?" So we got together some good ideas that can help you keep the sparkle in your lovestruck eyes even years after your nuptial vows.



Out of the ordinary choices for weddings


Laterra Resort & Spa

      How can any woman resist getting married at a place that can also provide her with spa luxury? Such is the case at the PGA Tour Spa Laterra Resort. It gets bonus points for being near golf, so dads and grooms-to-be can get in a round before the happy event.

      With a beautiful lawn area and a covered patio, it's one of the prettiest semi-outdoor spots for a small wedding and/or reception. They can accommodate up to 60 people. If you and your guests book more than 10 rooms in the resort, the space is only $250.

      They can help coordinate your special day as well. Contact them for a tour or to secure reservations at 904-940-9912, option 1 and ask for the wedding coordinator, for details on various packages, pricings and wedding planning.


Fit for a Princess

      You don't have to go all the way to Disney to be married in a castle. Instead, head to Hilliard, about 20 minutes from Callahan. Less than thirty minutes away from Jacksonville, it's no more remote than the far Westside, for someone who lives in South Mandarin. It is on a short unpaved road, but real castles usually are.

      The castle in question is the Country Day Castle, also known as Lloyd's Castle. It was built about four years ago and styled after Bodiam Castle, which was built in England in 1385. If you go for the full package you can even stay in the castle for the evening. There's one room for the bride and groom and an ample sitting area for the brides and bridesmaids to ready themselves. The full package, which is a little over $2,000, includes a night's stay for the happy couple, chairs and table linens and the use of a large tent for the back patio area. The rehearsal time is also included in the package. They can accommodate anywhere from 50-150 guests. Rental of the space, without the package, is $200 for the first hour and $150 for each additional hour. There is a kitchen on the premises if you have some last minute appetizers you want to stick in the oven.

      They also have plenty of contacts as far as other vendors you might want to hire. For more info on this castle at a ranch call Sally Lloyd at (904) 879-9383 or go to countrydaycastle.com.


The Underwater Bride

      You might be able to get an underwater wedding closer to home, but in Pensacola, about a five hour drive from Jacksonville, Captain Ron Beermünder can perform wedding ceremonies for the bride and groom who want it wet.

      Even though his website gives a hefty $1200 price for an underwater wedding, when I spoke Captain Ron, he said that he would be happy to do any ceremony for the regular dive price. He's got Naval Training, is a certified diver and best of all, is a Notary Public. You must be SCUBA certified to make the plunge with Captain Ron, but he can also teach you SCUBA, for an additional cost. All of Captain Ron's ceremonies will be performed at a maximum of 70 feet, so there won't be any chance of narcosis.

      "In ceremony, each diver has a diving slate with vows writer on it. The couple exchanges slates and they each write ‘I do' on the slate…You can frame them afterwards, so you'll always have a record," said Captain Ron.

      In answering the fears about losing wedding rings to the deep blue, Captain Ron replied: "Each ring is attached by fishing line and then, once they're on, the line is cut as part of the ceremony."

      The best part, he says, is that "underwater, no one can see you cry."

      For details, call the Captain at (850) 4-DIVING / 434-8464. You can also visit his website at pensacoladivecompany.com.


Jump into Marriage

      If you want to take a more than symbolic leap of faith, and you like an awesome view, try getting hitched at high velocity as you hurtle from a plane with a lovely view of the Jacksonville skyline. Call 888-JUMP-JAX or go to skydivejacksonville.com


River Boat Bride

      One of Jacksonville's most beautiful natural resources, and certainly its most valuable, is the St. Johns River. As a bride you can take advantage of this resource by hiring one of Jacksonville's river boats to accommodate your wedding needs. They work with all kinds of brides on all kinds of budgets. Call (904) 306-2200 or call jaxrivercruises.com


The Art of Wedding

      While you can't get married at the Cummer Museum's gardens anymore, you can hold your reception at MOCA Jacksonville. At the MOCA, besides the venue where you hold the reception, they'll open the galleries for an extra fee. Most of the spaces accommodate about 50 people, seated and 100 people standing but the spaces can be combined. Café Nola, after hours can accommodate about 65 people and it's a great space for a rehearsal dinner.

      If art is your theme, even if you don't decide to go with a gallery for the reception, you can always hold an "art shower" at the MOCA, wherein they hold a hands-on art party where you and guests create artwork. If you're particularly resourceful or have artistically inclined friends, you can use this to create decorations or favors for your wedding.



Cutting Wedding Costs

      As a bride, whether you're paying for the whole deal yourself, or if you're getting help from the folks, cutting down the cost of the ceremony, reception and all the accoutrements that go with it will be a top priority.


Ceremony

      Have your ceremony and reception in a place that is special to you. Maybe there is a public park that you and your betrothed met in or enjoyed during your courtship. Think of a landmark that has sentimental value to you, or a beach that reminds you of your first fling. A place that is not usually a popular location for weddings can be cheaper (or free) to rent and by having your reception in the same space you can save the cost of the limo from ceremony to reception and you save your guests the hassle of a lengthy and obnoxious commute.


Reception; Making Potluck Cool

      Another way to cut costs is to enlist the help of friends and relatives instead of hiring a caterer. It doesn't have to seem cheap. Everyone has favorite recipes and you can make your potluck wedding part of the theme.

      Favors can be pretty, printed index cards of the featured recipes at the potluck. For an indie-cool twist you can buy some funky or old fashioned mismatched dishes at the Goodwill for your guests to dine upon. (Retro, mismatched finger bowls can double as favors.)


Make Your Centerpieces do Double Duty

      Your centerpieces can double as the guest's food. Chocolate dipped strawberries are embarrassingly simple to make. Pile them up pyramid style and decorate them with flowers. Desserts tend to be the prettiest part of most meals, so they work well as centerpieces and you'll save on the cost of flowers. You can even have a beautiful specialty cake made for each table and still spend less on what you would have for a florist, because the centerpiece doubles as food.

      If you can find an inventive chef who can make appetizers pretty, have them create your centerpiece. Because you'll save money on centerpieces, you'll be able to afford to hire an excellent chef, even if you or your family members don't have the skills to pull it off.

      Centerpieces can also double as favors. Instead of having one central centerpiece, simply provide one item per person at the table and group them in the center. If it's a garden party, don't use cut flowers; put them in ribboned pots decorated in your wedding colors. The pots can do triple-duty as place cards if you also decorate them with the names of the people who will be attending. Candles can also double as a centerpiece and favors.


How Sweet It Is

      Depending on what time you hold your reception, you might not have to provide an entrée item. If you hold your evening wedding late enough, you can make it an entirely dessert affair. Make sure your guests know ahead of time and be very clear on the invites.

      The beauty of desserts is that most of them can be served straight from the fridge and can be made up ahead of time. You can serve some truly decadent innovative desserts without breaking the bank. By concentrating on the desserts rather than spreading your money over appetizers, entrées and desserts you can make sure that the food is memorable rather than mediocre.

      You will want to make sure that you have some sugar-free alternatives, because there will always be at least one person who is either diabetic or on the Adkins Diet. A fruit platter is also handy for strict vegans.


Other Cost-Busting Tips

-Do you have a friend that is in a band? What about the pianist at church? A good iPod selection is like a DJ that only plays the music you and your new spouse enjoy. Rent some good speakers with an iPod hook-up and you don't have to worry about the DJ playing C&C Music Factory.

-Use fiftyflowers.com or let the flower girls use a selection of your flowers to create cute and sentimental centerpieces or chair decorations.

-If you don't have a family member with a gorgeous gown that they've preserved for the next little lady to tie the knot, check out some thrift stores or consignment shop for a wedding gown. Gowns are only worn once, so there are some good options in places you might not think to look.

-Put disposable cameras on every table and enlist guests as your team of photographers. Ask them to send you downloadable pictures via email or just share an album online.

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