In case you haven't made your New Year's party plans, may we suggest this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: At precisely 12 a.m. on Jan. 1, in a poinsettia-filled foyer at the county courthouse in Annapolis, you and your honey--along with 11 other couples--can pledge your love and devotion to each other and thus begin the new millennium as Mr. and Mrs. Happily Hitched.
Or, if you'd rather, you can opt for the 11:30 p.m. group wedding and make getting married the last thing you do in 1999.
A dozen couples will participate in each of the ceremonies, the brainchild of Bob Duckworth, clerk of the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court. As part of the $80 deal, the newlyweds will get their share of a three-tiered wedding cake and some bubbly--probably Dom Perignon. And for added oomph for the midnight crowd, Duckworth hopes to "bring the couples into marital bliss just as the fireworks go off" for the city's corresponding First Night celebration, an extravaganza of music, food and pyrotechnics.
The 11:30 ceremony in the foyer is half booked, and there are only two spots left for the midnight wedding. "We're going to have to regrettably turn away some couples," Duckworth said yesterday. The deadline to sign up is Dec. 29.
It's Millennium Marriage Madness in these final days before Y2K. From cheesy Elvis ceremonies in Vegas to lavish affairs in the District, couples are rushing to ring in Y2K by tying the knot. (We're choosing to ignore the purists who insist the millennium doesn't really begin until 2001. We want to party now!) And why not? There's a built-in celebratory atmosphere, and it's a fail-safe anniversary date for forgetful hubbies.
Annapolis residents Crystal Mullins, 26, and William Minor, 28, have picked the midnight marriage.
"I always thought it would be the neatest thing to get married at the turn of the millennium, right at midnight, but I never thought that anyone would be available or willing to perform the ceremony," said Mullins, a program analyst for a government contractor.
She and Minor, manager of an auto shop, got engaged in October and had planned to marry in May, but then Mullins read about the group weddings in the Annapolis paper. "I was the first one to sign up at the courthouse," she said. "It'll be so romantic."
"We can't wait to ring in the New Year as a married couple," said Kristina Serio, a Crofton mother of three who will marry 34-year-old controller Robert Morgan at the 11:30 ceremony.
Serio, a membership coordinator for a trade union, and Morgan decided to get married a month ago and called around to see whether any local churches were doing weddings on Dec. 31. They couldn't locate a church but they found the courthouse. "When I was growing up, I always knew I'd be 30 celebrating the millennium and I wondered what I'd be doing. This is the most wonderful thing I could think of," Serio said.
Angel and James Lane III, an Owings Mills couple, will renew their vows at midnight. Together for 10 years, married for one, the Lanes--who have four young children--hope to make up for the disaster that was their wedding.
"The night before our wedding, our best man--my husband's brother--got carjacked. He was stabbed four times. It was a horrible, horrible incident," said Angel Lane, a 26-year-old administrative assistant at a private school. (Her husband is a sales manager for a home builder.) "My husband's mother barely made it to the ceremony, and we couldn't go on our honeymoon. We wanted to have a fresh start over and try and go back and re-create the moment again, with just him and me."
Of course with all these altar-bound couples, clever business types are rushing to cash in. Earlier this year, the Westin Fairfax near Dupont Circle offered a $100,000 millennium wedding package that included a Vera Wang bridal gown, candlelight ceremony, reception for 100 guests, favors from Tiffany's, New Year's Day brunch for 100, private trolley tour of Washington for 100, and round-trip airfare and hotel accommodations for a week-long honeymoon in either St. John, Maui or San Francisco. But there weren't any takers. The hotel's ballroom is now booked for a New Year's Eve party.
There will be a plush wedding that night at the Westin Grand in the West End. Heather Smith and Eric McMillan, a thirty-something couple from Washington, have been planning their nuptials for nearly two years. Smith, a fitness consultant, and McMillan, who works in real-estate sales, wanted to get married over the long Memorial Day weekend, but the places they wanted were booked for both 1998 and 1999.
"It was just a fluke that we ended up with the millennium," Smith said. "It's a great way to have a party, but if I had to do this all over again, I would never do a wedding on New Year's Eve. It's so much work and it's very expensive."
Smith said early planning lightened the load on the couple's wallets somewhat, but the ceremony and reception for 130 guests--all modeled after a royal ball--will still cost around $250 per person. "We were lucky we made a lot of preparations early on so we wouldn't get stuck paying outrageous prices," she said. For example, "our deejay is charging us under $1,500. If you wanted the same package now, it'd be $2,800."
Then there are the logistical hassles. Smith had to reassure elderly relatives who are worried about potential millennium travel mishaps. And she even called banks to make sure their ATMs are Y2K-compliant, so her guests won't be left cashless.
Millennium prices are also considerably higher in Las Vegas, home to 50 wedding chapels and nearly 110,000 weddings per annum--in a regular year. The Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel on the Strip is forgoing its usual array of ceremonies starting at $189 and instead is offering a group midnight wedding for $1,999 per couple. A dozen couples have already signed up, and the chapel says Fox will broadcast it all live.
"There's nothing else like it in Vegas," said the chapel's manager, Shannon Maloney. "We're going to have entertainers. We're going to have some show girls. We're even going to have Elvis with his pink Cadillac out front."
The package also includes a buffet, wedding cake, party favors, the bride's garter and the groom's boutonniere and a video of the ceremony. A room at the nearby Thunderbird Hotel is an extra $350 per night.
Regardless of the prices, the marital demand is there. The Clark County, Nev., marriage license bureau is doubling its staff for the millennium weekend, but workers still expect long lines. On Dec. 31 last year, the bureau issued 531 licenses, followed by another 565 on the first day of 1999. This year, it won't even speculate.
Mike Domingos, 30, and Susan Wells, 31, from McKinney, Tex., will be among those braving the lines. The couple, who met in a support group for widows and widowers, will leave their five kids at home with their grandmas and venture to Vegas for the group wedding.
"It just seemed like a really fun thing to do," said Domingos, a database specialist. Added Wells, an analyst for Mary Kay Corp.: "It's the beginning of a whole new century, the beginning of our new life together and our whole new family. Plus, I can't wait to get our picture taken by Elvis's pink Cadillac."
CAPTION: Fireworks and bliss: Kristina Serio shops for a wedding dress with daughter Katelyn.
CAPTION: A marrying man: Court Clerk Bob Duckworth.