True love's formula, per classic Disney princess custom: First, a storybook romance. Next, a lavish castle wedding. Then, a lifetime of "happily ever after."
According to the Walt Disney Co., mere mortals can achieve this fairy tale. That is, with their help, and for the right price.
Disney's Fairy Tale Weddings, the company's wedding branch, may not be able to set you up with Prince Charming or promise wedded bliss, but they can help you design a wedding day fit for a queen - make that a Disney princess - complete with Cinderella's horse-drawn carriage and a castle backdrop, natch.
Since September 1991, Disney has put on more than 30,000 weddings around the world, including at Disneyland in California, Walt Disney World in Florida, Disney's Aulani resort in Hawaii, on multiple Disney cruise lines, and in Disney resorts and parks abroad.
In 2013, Disney held 1,500 weddings on its properties. Last year, that number swelled to more than 4,000, with about 11 ceremonies a day globally. That trend is likely to continue, as Disney rolls out live-action updates of its classic films over the next several years, such as the recent Beauty and the Beast update starring Emma Watson.
It doesn't hurt that millennials are lapping up the princess fantasy.
"They're all about customization and engaging their wedding guests," says Korri McFann Spolar, director of marketing for Fairy Tale Weddings. "I think this generation really is fit for a destination wedding, you know, multiple days of celebrating, multiple days of gathering with family and friends."
It also helps that the park photos make for one-of-a-kind keepsakes - and easily shareable social-media content (#AndTheySelfiedHappilyEverAfter).
For Nathan Mulder, 30, and Brian Falco, 30, it was always Disney World or bust. Months before a proposal even took place, they had decided to spend what would be "the best day of their lives" at "the happiest place on Earth."
The theme park was a natural fit for the Disneyphiles, who met in Daytona Beach, Florida, in 2006 and wed in August 2016. Fans of Disney movies since childhood, Mulder and Falco visited the park frequently over their decade-long courtship and were at one point annual ticket-holders.
For their ceremony at Disney's Beach and Yacht Club Resort in Orlando, the couple envisioned something elegant and traditional, minus the gimmicks and characters - save for a few hundred "hidden Mickeys" scattered throughout the venue.
"I think that a huge misconception about Disney weddings is that . . . they are childish, or maybe even cheesy, with characters plastered everywhere," Mulder says. "We really wanted to have a wedding that was at Disney, not so much a Disney wedding."
For the reception, they splurged on some subtle hints of "Disney magic" for their 225 guests, including an appearance by Mickey and Minnie ($1,700) and a customized projection cake, which lit up with scenes from their favorite Disney films (about $3,000).
The final price tag? More than $100,000. "The entire week [and] weekend was a dream come true," Mulder says.
But not every wedding at Disney is as magical. Yasmin Uddin, a 22-year-old YouTube gamer based in Leeds, England, had a much different experience with the House of Mouse for her wedding last month. After toying with the idea of eloping in Vegas, the bride-to-be and her finance, Kyle Sinnett, 26, settled on a small ceremony for 24 guests at Disney's Wedding Pavilion in Orlando for about $25,000.
First, Uddin and Sinnett's fairy godmother - what Disney calls their wedding coordinators - was sparingly communicative. When Uddin requested a venue visit in January, she was told that the coordinator wouldn't be able to host her.
"I don't think she really took me seriously," Uddin says. "I think she just thought I was some spoiled kid who was getting it all paid for."
Despite the hiccups, things appeared to be on course the morning of the wedding, when the bride rose at 4:50 a.m. to start her bridal prep. But as the 10 a.m. ceremony grew closer, things were missing, namely a bouquet and the officiant. After waiting 30 minutes, Uddin learned that the officiant had been told that the start time was noon.
"All the guests sat there waiting, not knowing what was going on," she says. "Kyle was left there thinking, 'Did she run away? Did she leave me at the altar?' "
About an hour later, the ceremony finally began, but at the reception, the venue manager and DJ started to shut down the party an hour early, as they hadn't been informed of the timing goof. Luckily, thanks to a little bibbidi-bobbidi-boo - i.e., many calls to Disney representatives - it worked out.
"You expect, for that amount of money, you are going to have an amazing day," says Uddin, "but it was just a massive mess."
Even Cinderella's carriage was a letdown. "You feel like you are sitting in a greenhouse, like you are literally being boiled alive," she says.
After multiple complaints, the couple was told that their flower costs would be refunded and that the wedding service director would have "a stern word" with the coordinator. Uddin and Sinnett also were given a free portrait session in the park for their first anniversary. No airfare or lodging included.
Uddin's advice to Disney brides-to-be? "If you want your wedding to be perfect, just do it yourself."
What to expect
Interested in getting hitched at a Disney property? Here's more about what you can expect.
• The parks offer a range of prices. A small-scale ceremony, with up to four guests, is $2,500 to $4,500; a ceremony-only occasion for up to 18 guests is $5,000 to $9,000; and customized ceremonies for more than 18 guests start at $12,500. Options include intimate elopements in secret pockets of the parks and extravagant, 300-person, after-hours celebrations in front of the Cinderella Castle ($180,000 minimum). You may need a fairy godmother, or three, for that one.
• Early-morning and weekday ceremonies are typical. In-park ceremonies are limited because of operating hours, and can start as early as 7:30 a.m. and as late as 11 p.m.
• Want to customize your wedding? Disneyphiles can wave their magic wands and handpick an array of extras, including a white dove flyover ($250), a private fireworks display and dessert party ($2,500), and, yes, a spin in Cinderella's coach ($2,950).
• Want Captain Jack Sparrow to dab on the dance floor? That'll be $5,000 to $6,500. Had some last-minute cancellations? Disney will hire a pair of "uninvited guests" - actors posing as Disney-obsessed tourists - to "crash" your party and entertain for three hours ($1,800). Obsessed with the Little Mermaid? Throw an "Under the Sea"-themed fete in an underground aquarium, surrounded by more than 6,000 sea creatures in Epcot's Living Seas Salon ($1,500 to $4,500).
• There are nonnegotiables. Disney characters are not allowed to officiate (sorry, Mickey) or attend the ceremony (although they can come to the reception). "It's definitely an adult event, and they make it an adult event," says Anne Chertoff, a WeddingWire trend expert. "They don't want it to be like you're just playing dress-up."
That being said, you can hire a major-domo or an English butler to deliver your wedding bands in Cinderella's glass slipper or on a silver platter (about $800).
Also, all food and beverages must be provided by the park, so if you have your heart set on In-N-Out Burger, you're out of luck. And brides can't wear their gowns during theme-park hours unless they're willing to pay a pretty penny ($75,000 minimum).