$250 weddings with bells and whistles? Elope in Austin makes big days smaller
She looked stunning in her champagne-hued lace wedding gown, and he was dapper in a fitted black tuxedo.
After professional photographer Sherie Sadlier snapped pictures of the couple in romantic poses on the grounds of Star Hill Ranch, a Bee Cave event venue so scenic it frequently doubles as a movie set, she followed them into the on-site historic chapel, where their fingers intertwined and their voices cracked as they committed to a life together.
Once it was official, they shared a kiss and rang the 110-year-old wedding bell three times: one chime for the past, one chime for the present and one chime for the future.
For Renae Wilkinson, 33, and Tyler Dahl, 25, it was their dream wedding. And it only cost them $350.
Elopements and scaled-down weddings have been on the rise in recent years, particularly among millennials — a recent survey by Helzberg Diamonds found that 91 percent of people ages 23 to 38 would consider eloping to “save money, avoid having to plan a ceremony and keep their ceremonies more intimate.”
If the word elopement brings to mind quickie Vegas drive-thrus or jaunts to the courthouse, think again. According to Merriam-Webster, the usage of the word has shifted in recent years — it increasingly refers to a small, more private wedding, no longer just running away to wed in secret. These days, companies are offering elopement and microwedding packages that are romantic, personal, affordable and highly Instagrammable.
For their ceremony, Wilkinson and Dahl hired Elope in Austin, a local company that has been offering elopements and microweddings since 2015 and averages 30-35 weddings a month. Elope in Austin packages start at $250 for a service with an officiant and photos taken on the couple’s cellphones and go up to $3,995 for a microwedding for up to 30 guests that includes an officiant, three hours of venue time, 125 professional photos, flowers, music, cake, sparkling wine, planning and coordination. Elopements and microweddings are held at Star Hill Ranch’s Little Star Chapel in Bee Cave or Victoria’s House and Garden in Round Rock.
“Our goal is to serve the demographic that wants to have something personal that speaks to who they are,” said Elope in Austin owner Lorelei Starbuck. “They can have a small, intimate group of people that are the most important people to them. They can have all the bells and whistles they would have at a large wedding. They just don’t spend $30,000 doing it.”
Elope in Austin also offers “pop-up weddings” where they send an officiant and photographer to a venue of a couple’s choice and handle the permitting, too, if needed. Popular local pop-up venues include Hamilton Pool and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center; many couples also choose to use the service to get married at home. Elope in Austin also has packages that will allow couples to get married on a pontoon boat on Lake Travis, on the tarmac prior to a helicopter ride or during a limousine tour of Austin.
For Starbuck, a minister who has been in the wedding industry since 1996 and who previously owned a Las Vegas wedding chapel, this business is personal. Her own wedding 43 years ago was a 500-person affair that was more for her parents than for her and her husband.
“I look at those photos and I know maybe 50 people. My dad was on city council and he was a bigwig in the community, so it was important that he had all those people at my wedding,” she said. “It really was my mother’s wedding. It wasn’t how I would have gotten married. I would have gotten married like this.”
Starbuck said that while the majority of her clients are millennials, she gets inquiries from all ages. She told the story of a couple in their 90s who, after 60 years, five children and 22 grandchildren together, decided to make it official.
“They were just so cute,” she said. “It was just me, the photographer and the two of them, and he literally got down on one knee and told her she was the love of his life and he’d marry her again and again and again. I’m over here blubbering like a baby. He affirmed everything that’s beautiful and wonderful in life.”
For Wilkinson, who has been a bridesmaid six times and a maid of honor twice, the idea of hosting a big wedding was overwhelming.
“We’ve never really been center-of-attention kind of people,” she said. “It’s too stressful. I just wanted it to be us.”
The couple, who live in Tyler and met at work — he’s a paramedic and she’s an emergency room nurse — have dated for over two years and got engaged on Mount Bonnell during a visit to Austin in October. They knew they wanted a small wedding, but they also wanted traditional elements such as a wedding dress and tuxedo, a minister and professional photography. After they couldn’t find anything in the Tyler area, they expanded their search and discovered Elope in Austin.
“We were very close to just going to the local courthouse, but we wanted to dress nice. We have a lot of friends who don’t want to go do a big wedding and spend tens of thousands of dollars, either. They want to do something smaller,” Dahl said. “This was the perfect in-between.”
Wilkinson said one of the biggest reliefs for her was not having to juggle multiple vendors.
“You know that moment where you sit down and you have everything in front of you and you get that overwhelming feeling. You didn’t get it with this,” she said, adding that she and Dahl planned to stay for the weekend in Austin after the wedding and had rented an Airbnb with a private hot tub. “Everything was in the package.”
“Easy peasy,” Dahl added.
Instead of stressing over the details of the wedding, the couple focused on the words they exchanged during the 20-minute ceremony Jan. 15.
“I fell in love with you on the very first date we had, and honestly, every time I see you, I fall in love with you all over again,” Dahl told Wilkerson during the tear-filled ceremony. “I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with you.”
“You are the most smart, level-headed and kindhearted person I know,” Wilkinson said back. “I am so in love with you, and I’m honored to call you mine. I can’t wait to see what life has in store for us.”
At the end of the ceremony, Starbuck instructed the couple to join hands, close their eyes and embrace this moment — the moment when the two of them, and only the two of them, became one.
“I want you to place this moment on your mind’s eye, on your heart, because this is your soft place to land,” she said. “If things get tough, and sometimes they do, I want you to come together, close your eyes, and come back to this moment.”
Learn more about Elope in Austin at elopeinaustin.com.