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Everything you need to plan your Vegas elopement
By McKenzi Taylor, founder of Cactus Collective Weddings Updated May 26, 2021Eloping in Las Vegas. The thought of it conjures up feelings of excitement. A private adventure for you and your love. And let’s be honest. Turning to your partner and saying, “We’re eloping in Vegas!” has a nostalgic charm unrivaled by any other wedding destination. Sounds perfect. And it is. But there are also the logistics, which may well raise the question: Is what you’re about to do simply crazy, rather than an act of being crazy in love? I know exactly how you’re feeling. I’ve been in your shoes (which I’ll explain in a moment), so I understand a Vegas elopement can feel intimidating. Especially if a) you’ve never come to Vegas or b) you came to Vegas but never got married here. (It happens. I’ve heard rumors that although Vegas is the wedding capital of the world, there are folks who come here just to holiday.) Anyway, after my own successful elopement — which I’ll explain in this guide — I can say with certainty that eloping in Vegas is a good call. But I realize even the most romantic adventures come with questions and concerns. Like, is it actually possible to plan an entire wedding via email? Is eloping so stressful that all the fun vanishes from your wedding planning? Will destination nuptials blow your budget (or other people’s)? And how exactly do you capture everything that’s unique and special about your elopement so it doesn’t become a stereotypical Las Vegas wedding? I get it. When I was planning my own special day, I had the same questions and fears. It’s part of the reason why I started Cactus Collective Weddings. And it’s the reason I’m pouring all my knowledge, experience, and expertise into the Ultimate Guide to Eloping in Las Vegas. Some of what you’ll read here comes from my personal experience as a bride who eloped. And the rest comes from the thousands of Vegas weddings Cactus Collective has planned and celebrated. Inside this guide you’ll find information, inspiration, and ideas to help you take another step towards your perfect Vegas elopement.
In this guide
- My Vegas wedding experience
- Wedding costs and your budget
- Pick a location
- Set a date
- Sorting the legal stuff
- Dressing up
- The ceremony
- Your wedding photographer
- Extra touches on the day
- The reception
- Where to stay
- What eloping in Vegas feels like
- Plan your ultimate elopement in Las Vegas
- Research sources
My Vegas wedding experienceA short engagement, and a wedding on our own terms. These were the two requisites my soon-to-be husband and I knew for certain. We got what we wanted. Matt proposed to me on a Thursday. We were married the following Monday. The only two people who knew beforehand were our minister and photographer who met us at Red Rock Canyon — a climbing spot my husband and I love. Thinking back, I’m a bit shocked I considered the courthouse for a quick marriage. I’m a wedding photographer surrounded by Nevada’s natural beauty! I knew we could have a meaningful ceremony and beautiful photos. Eloping with my husband in Red Rock Canyon is the best decision I’ve ever made. It was private and exciting. Even though we were in this huge expanse of desert it remained intimate. When you elope, everything is on your terms. I didn’t have to worry about anyone bitching about the heat, the walk, or the expense. To me it felt freeing. There was no pressure. Just us. We had the opportunity to be with each other and experience that moment together. Knowing how much I loved my day, I wanted to create the opportunity for other adventurous couples looking for a wedding day with a difference. And so I set up Cactus Collective Weddings. Now that you’ve seen and heard how perfect your Vegas wedding could be, let’s backtrack and tackle the mechanics. Starting with…
Wedding costs and your budgetYour first task is working out your budget and estimated costs. By researching wedding expenses and the cost of eloping, you’ll get a feel for how much money to allocate. To get the ball rolling I’ve pulled together some useful figures and findings from current wedding industry research. Spiraling costs ruin the fun and excitement of wedding planning, so use these insights to guide your budget decisions. There are some pretty big figures there. I’m not saying you’ll splash out $38k on your day, but it is important to grasp the true cost of a wedding to avoid a total budget blowout.
Cost of eloping in Las VegasSo what can you expect to pay for each part of your wedding here in Vegas? Costing a wedding is tricky. There are many variables. To try and give you an accurate picture, let’s turn to the latest Wedding Industry Report for Nevada. It’s an in-depth report that covers all sorts of wedding expenses. So I’ve narrowed it down by selecting services I consider to be on-the-day essentials and that are as similar as possible to what’s offered by Cactus Collective Weddings. Estimated average amount spent per wedding in Nevada Product and service costs are the average amount based on spending of couples getting married, not product prices or vendor prices.
|Service/Item||Nevada Avg Spend|
|Wedding photographer fee||$1,509|
|Day of coordinator||$808|
|Event food service*||$946|
|Event bar service*||$659|
- 90 minutes of wedding day photography
- a modern minister
- the bouquet and boutonnière
- on site host.
|Service/Item||Cactus Collective Weddings Cost|
|Hair and makeup||$170-$245|
|Transport||Starts at approximately $200/hr|
|Reception dinner and drinks||$65-$120 per person*|
|Day of coordinator||Approximately $1500|
Choose your locationVegas weddings are usually imagined as wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am affairs led by Elvis on the neon-soaked Strip. That’s a shame, because if you travel just 30-90 minutes out of the city you’ll find naturally beautiful Vegas wedding venues unlike any other. Valley of Fire State Park Only a handful of wedding planners have the permits and permissions needed to secure wedding events at the Valley of Fire State Park. And we’re one of them. Peaceful and precious, this desert location is defined by its striking multi-colored sandstone. The Jurassic period soft rock has been molded into iconic formations that are the backdrop to your special day. Getting to this exclusive wedding destination takes around 90 minutes, but it’s worth the drive. Between your officiant, photographer and (if required) on-site host, we’ll make sure you get the absolute most from this naturally stunning location.
Best time to elope in VegasSeasons often play a role when choosing a date. Here’s what to expect weather-wise in Vegas, and what unique natural touches each season brings to your special day. Winter Vegas weddings Winter desert weddings are magical and charming. Sunrise ceremonies may get the added decoration of a delicate frost, morning dew, and hauntingly beautiful blue skies. Temperatures are as low as 40°F (4°C) and only reach highs of around 60°F (16°C). Stay warm by accessorizing your wedding outfit with your favorite jacket or wrap, and gents may want to wear a warmer woolen suit. Spring Vegas weddings Spring runs from March-June, and is a popular time of year to say, “I do.” The desert landscape is alive with blooming cacti and lush green trees. Chance of rain is low. Daytime temperatures are cool and comfortable, reaching 70-80°F (20-27°C). And there’s a high chance of picture-perfect clear skies. It can get a little breezy though, so bring jackets, shawls or wraps. Summer Vegas weddings Temperatures in June-August can exceed 100°F (38°C), so for the perfect summer Vegas wedding we suggest an early morning or evening ceremony. Not only is it cooler, but the sunrise and sunset can also add beautiful natural colors to your day. Although it’s hot, short, sharp showers aren’t uncommon. Fall Vegas weddings High summer temperatures drop off in September, and Vegas becomes a comfortable 80-90°F (27-32°C). By November winter chills arrive, so pack for daytime highs of around 60°F (16°C ) and evening lows hovering around 40°F (4°C). Consistent weather, crisp evenings, and autumn desert colors mean fall is our peak wedding season. So if your dream elopement falls in September-November, book as early as possible to avoid disappointment. Make it personal Rather than picking by season, you may choose a date that has personal significance, such as your first date or when you got together. If this doesn’t work, how about choosing someone’s birthday? This is a nice way to honor an individual who’s special to you both or someone who can’t be there. Similarly, you could go for a shared anniversary with parents or grandparents, making their date your date, too.
Sorting the legal stuffMake sure your Vegas wedding is legal — both here and in your country of residence — by completing all the necessary paperwork. Let’s run through marriage laws in Vegas, getting a license, and some extra points if eloping to Vegas from overseas. Las Vegas marriage laws Vegas may have the nickname ‘Sin City’, and getting married here may be quick and easy. But it’s not lawless. There are rules.
- Both you and your partner must be at least 18 years old.
- You should not be related to the person you intend to marry.
- Polygamy isn’t legal.
- LGBTIQ+ marriages are legal.
- Blood tests aren’t needed to get a marriage license.
- Las Vegas marriage licenses costs $102, which you can pay for using cash, card, cashier’s check, money order or traveler’s check.
- Fill out a pre-application online form.
- When you get to Vegas, both of you must take a legal form of ID and visit the Clark County Marriage Bureau. Accepted forms of ID include driver’s license, passport, US or foreign country ID card and military ID.
- Use the express lane (because you’ve completed the pre-application form) and have your paperwork and ID checked. Upon approval you’ll get your marriage license, which you then give to your officiant before your wedding date.
GuestsHow you interpret an ‘elopement wedding’ is entirely up to you. For some people, ‘eloping’ is jetting off at the last minute in secret. For others, it means keeping guest numbers at 50 or fewer so it’s a small and intimate wedding. In either case, consider the emotional and financial impact a destination wedding or secret elopement may have on you and your guests. It could mean some family and friends can’t make it. If you’re planning a secret elopement, prepare for when and how you’ll share the news with friends and family. People may feel cheated because they couldn’t celebrate with you. To heal any potential hurt feelings, consider offering a memento from your day. Sending a favorite wedding shot accompanied by a handwritten note is a nice touch. Alternatively, you could throw a reception party when you get home. This gives people a chance to pass on their congratulations and share your happiness. (As an added bonus, you get to wear your wedding outfit again. Or better still, buy a second outfit just for the occasion.) Final point on guests and destination weddings: If guests are coming with you, bear in mind they’ll be with you all. The. Time. Group holidays with family and friends are fun, but you may feel like you need to be “on” the whole trip. Especially if people have travelled a long way to be there for you. Make sure you and your partner plan some alone time to deal with this. Explain to your guests that you’d like a few days to yourselves. This way, everyone is on the same page.
Dressing upBring your individual style to your wedding day attire and wear something you find comfortable. There aren’t any strict rules. I’ve seen couples get hitched in an array of outfits — from traditional designer white gowns and fur stoles to colorful vintage dresses and Doc Martens, and from cowboy boots and denim to kilts and wool suits. Your wedding day look doesn’t end with what you wear. You may want extra pampering for your special day. For example, ladies may want a professional hair and makeup service while gents may fancy visiting a barber for a haircut and shave. We work with preferred vendors and can arrange all of this for you. These are extra touches, so remember to add these to your budget records.
RingsExchanging rings symbolizes your union as a married couple. Further meanings depend on your individual beliefs and what you want it to represent. As Cactus Collective Weddings is all about destination weddings with a difference, here are some interesting ideas to add an extra mini-story to finding your wedding rings. Pick a Vegas jeweler Buying your rings from a local jeweler gives you an extra connection to your wedding location. If you have enough lead time, you could work with a local jeweler to source precious metals from the Nevada region. (After all, Nevada is home to one of the largest sources of gold in the world.) Eco friendly and ethical wedding rings If you’re an environmentally conscious couple, search for a wedding ring supplier that works with recycled metals, lab-created stones or materials from sustainable sources. Local vintage and charity stores are also great for finding unusual jewelry. Make your own wedding rings Want something truly unique? Have a go at making your own wedding rings. While there’s only one workshop we’re aware of here in Nevada, DIY jewelry making workshops are common across America and beyond. Find somewhere local by searching ‘wedding ring workshops’ or ‘jewelry workshops near me’. Under the guidance of an experienced jeweler you’ll make your own ring, or as an added twist you can make your partner’s ring. Not into the ring thing? That’s fine. Exchanging rings isn’t an essential part of a ceremony. You might choose an alternative such as:
- Exchanging watches, necklaces, bracelets or other jewelry
- Getting tattoos together
- Exchanging coins (perhaps minted in the year of your marriage or your birth years)
- A sand ceremony
- A handfasting ceremony.
TransportTiming is everything on your wedding day. Being late is a worry you want to do without. From experience, it’s best to have a definite plan that gets you from your accommodation to your ceremony, and then onto your reception. There are several ride options. For low-key weddings with just the two of you, you could drive yourselves. (Extra tip: If you want to arrive in style without spending a fortune, take a look at Turo.com) Got some money to play with and/or love cars? Hire a chauffeured vehicle or vintage wedding car, or book a high-end sports car you get to drive. Think of it as a wedding gift to yourself. Don’t forget about guest transport. Will they need to get there under their own steam, or will you put on transport? It’s tricky if your budget is tight, but I strongly recommend hiring transport for guests. I’ve attended thousands of weddings now, and someone nearly always gets lost and delays the timeline.
The ceremonyYour ceremony: The reason you’re here, and the moment you become a married couple. Long before your arrival, our team collects your bouquets, boutonnieres and decorations. We’ll head to your wedding location and set everything up. If ordered, we’ll also prepare your cake and champagne mini-reception. Next your photographer and officiant arrives, followed by your guests and finally you and your love. With everyone gathered, your officiant begins the ceremony, which lasts 10-15minutes. Your photographer won’t miss a moment. So relax and soak up the occasion. Here’s how the ceremony is likely to run.
- The procession — This is your arrival and entrance where you and your partner take your places in front of your officiant.
- The welcome and opening remarks — Made by your officiant, this is usually a few words about what brings us all here.
- A few words to the couple — Speaking directly to you, your officiant explains the importance of the vows.
- The exchange of vows — These are the promises you make to each other as a married couple. You may choose to recite vows provided by your officiant or write your own.
- The exchange of rings — If you are choosing to swap rings or a symbol of your marriage.
- Pronouncement of marriage —Your officiant will pronounce you as a married couple. (Yay!)
- The kiss — If you’d like to smooch, now’s your chance.
- The recessional — You and your partner take your first steps together as a married couple and leave the ceremony area.
Your wedding photographerWedding days go quick. Ask any married couple and they’ll tell you how it is. As such, taking everything in during the event is difficult. This is why your wedding day photos are so important. They make sure you have a reminder of all those little details and moments you may otherwise forget. If you’ve never worked with a professional photographer before, it’s worth understanding a few different photography styles. Some professional photographers like to shoot documentary-style, while others enjoy getting portrait and traditional shots. Every professional has a preference. At Cactus Collective Weddings we take a timeless, clean and modern approach, with a few essential traditional posed shots in the mix if you’d like. And trust me, getting these more traditional group and family photos is much quicker at a small Vegas elopement. You won’t be kept from your celebrations or guests for long. Your wedding photographer is a fundamental part of your day. It’s why each of our elopement packages include at least 60 minutes of photography and editing services. This keeps the whole process simple for you. Ending up with crappy photos is also a real concern, but there’s no risk of that with us. We work with a range of photographers so when planning your wedding we’ll match you with the best professional for your needs. They’ll be briefed on your day. But what sets our photographers apart is they know your wedding location like the back of their hand. Being in the right place at the right time to capture all the beautiful moments during your service is second nature to Cactus Collective Weddings photographers.
Extra touches on the dayWhether your Vegas elopement is a big or small celebration, it’s your day. Wedding packages like ours give you all the essentials. But it’s the extra, personalized touches that make it really special. For example, are you having a color scheme? This is a small detail, but one we can weave into custom florals and additional decor at your wedding location or reception venue. Ceremony music is just as important to many couples. Choosing songs that mean something to you both makes the entrance and recessional parts of your ceremony a little more special. Bearing your song choice and budget in mind, we can arrange live versions of your chosen tunes. My team and I want your destination wedding to run smoothly. You shouldn’t have to worry about anything on your day. An on-site host or partial planning service delivers peace of mind. These extra touches are ideal for couples traveling to Vegas from out of town, or couples who want a hands-off wedding planning experience.
The receptionAfter the ceremony it’s time to eat, drink and be merry! Start the party right after saying “I do” with a cake and champagne mini reception at your location. I mean, eating wedding cake and sipping champers in a desert location? It’s surreal, beautiful, and brag-worthy. We’ll even give you a shake and spray bottle of faux fizz for fun photos. Want more from your wedding location? We’ll arrange an outdoor brunch or wedding breakfast for you and your guests. Or why not extend your intimate moment and have your first dance in the desert. But if you’d rather move on, there are a number of brilliant reception venues in Vegas. To save you the time and effort of trawling through Google, book with us and we’ll send you a list of great venues to pick from. Or with our Partial Planner extra touch we can handle all of this for you. Some of our choice restaurants that make the cut include:
- T-Bones Chophouse at Red Rock Casino — A classic American chophouse with an elegant private dining room for up to 30 people.
- Carson Kitchen — Hip and trendy with a garden party atmosphere. Book their rooftop patio with private bar.
- The Loft above Cabo Wabo Cantina — Overlooking the Strip and famed Bellagio fountains, The Loft is a private space with dedicated service for you and your guests.
Where to stayThere’s a range of Las Vegas accommodation styles to suit all destination wedding budgets. For first-time Vegas visitors search for accommodation on The Strip, Fremont Street and Downtown. These areas put the bright lights, shows, restaurants, bars, clubs and casinos on your doorstep. It’s worth staying on The Strip for some (if not all) of your trip because it cuts down travel time. Especially important if your elopement is doubling up as a holiday or honeymoon. Been to Vegas before, or know for sure the Strip isn’t your scene? Consider nearby areas such as Summerlin, Henderson and Spring Valley. Here you’ll find comfortable, quality hotels such as Red Rock Casino and Resort, the JW Marriott and Green Valley Ranch. These suburbs place you close to Red Rock Canyon (perfect if you prefer getting out in nature) and are residential, so they’re much quieter than the Strip. But quiet doesn’t mean dull. You’ll still find modern dining experiences, shopping, outdoor activities and local events throughout the year. My only extra tip is if you head this way consider a hire car or check public transport if you plan on visiting The Strip.
Mini-moonSticking around in Vegas for your mini-moon or honeymoon? While it’s a safe bet you’ll head to the casinos at least once, here are some offbeat attractions in and around Vegas in case your luck runs out. Arts District The 18b Arts District is a collection of galleries, street art, bars and theaters that stretch more than 18 blocks (hence its name). The defining feature is The Arts Factory. This converted warehouse is home to more than 20 galleries and art studios, along with small gift stores and spaces for poetry and music readings. Visit 18b.org to see what fairs, markets, shows and events are on during your visit. Downtown Container Park Shop, relax and grab a bite to eat at this open-air shopping center created using renovated shipping containers. Regular featured events and entertainment means there’s always something on. Or simply rock up to enjoy some al fresco dining. Museums – Vegas style Vegas is home to weird and wonderful museums such as the Mob Museum — the only museum in America dedicated to the history of organized crime. You’ll also find The Neon Museum in Vegas (where retired Vegas Strip neon signs RIP), Zak Bagans’ The Haunted Museum, and the Erotic Heritage Museum. This last one is home to the world’s largest sex bike. Only in Vegas, right? State and National Parks You may have just been hitched in one of the Nevada state and national parks. But exploring the various trails isn’t ideal when dressed and prepped for your wedding day. Both Red Rock Canyon and the Valley of Fire have hiking trails varying in length and difficulty. Walking not your thing? Then enjoy the parks on a bike tour, head to the picnic areas for lunch and a stroll, or camp there for a few nights. For boating, swimming or fishing try Cave Rock or Echo Canyon. Or get a glimpse of pioneer life at Buckland Station, Ward Charcoal, Ovens and Spring Mountain Ranch state parks. You’re also close to Zion National Park in Utah (around 2.5 hour’s drive). And you must see The Grand Canyon while you’re here. Extra tip: To get a real sense of how huge the canyon is, considering booking a helicopter tour from Vegas over the Grand Canyon.
What eloping in Las Vegas feels likeFrom my own experience, I’d describe a Vegas elopement as a combination of nostalgia, excitement, and adventure. But don’t just take my word for it. Happily hitched couples who have used our services describe eloping in Vegas like this:
“I just told them what I wanted and showed up at the location. The minister, florals and photographer were already there with everything we needed.” — Serena McKnight, married April, 2019.
“Everything was truly perfect. My elopement ceremony was the best I could have imagined and, most importantly, I could relax and enjoy the day with my friends, family, and husband.” — Jessica, married January 2019.
“From start to finish, we couldn’t have been happier! Our photos are incredible! They made it so easy and stress free!” — Beth Briner, married December 2018.
“We knew we wanted a quick planned wedding that wasn’t the cookie-cutter typical Vegas style wedding. I found Cactus Collective. They were very responsive and easy to work with! We loved our ceremony and all of our pictures.” — Keigan, married July 2018.
“She really made us all feel at ease and it was just perfect. We organized out Las Vegas wedding from home in Scotland via email (call was offered) and it honestly couldn’t have been better. If you want a unique wedding in a beautiful location with some awesome vendors, don’t bother looking anywhere else. Use Cactus Collective.” — Gail, married May 2018.
Plan your ultimate elopement in Las VegasPhew! That was a lot of information. But like I said at the start, we’ve booked, planned and celebrated thousands of Vegas destination weddings. To get the best experience I wanted to share as much as possible so you could start to picture your perfect elopement. That way, when we chat you can tell me exactly what you do (and what you definitely don’t) want. No request is too small, and few are ever too big. Whether you’ve got a year, a few months, or less than a week until your wedding, my team and I will do everything in our power to bring your ideal elopement to life. Right now, you may only be committed to eloping in Vegas, but you’re not sure of the finer details. That’s fine. We’re on hand and ready to help answer your questions and discuss your wedding day ideas. Or if you are a little further along in your planning we’re happy to start firming up your arrangements.*
Research sourcesTheWeddingReport.com: Wedding Industry Report for Nevada Statista.com: Overnight accommodation costs in Las Vegas from 2013-2019, by month Weddingwire: Newlywed Report 2019 Story Book Events Wedding Planner: Estimated reception dinner and drinks Vegas.com, USNews.com, Goingtovegas.com: Weather reports and averages Gov.uk: Getting married abroad Clarkcountynv.gov: How to get a marriage license
McKenzi Taylor is America’s go-to elopement and micro wedding expert, often featured in small and major media outlets, such as the New York Times. With over 15 years of wedding photography experience, it was after planning her own Las Vegas elopement in 2016 that McKenzi felt her purpose shift into elopement coordination. She started Cactus Collective Weddings soon after in 2017. Since then, she’s become a WIPA board member, and has helped well over 1000 couples get hitched in style around Las Vegas, San Diego and Black Hills.