Elvis weddings may have to leave Las Vegas, so we rushed to Sin City to renew our vows
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Earlier this month, there was news from Las Vegas that had us all shook up: Wedding chapels might no longer be allowed to perform Elvis Presley-themed weddings. A Las Vegas without Elvis seemed like something that could only happen in a bad dream, but it became a very real potential reality.
Some Las Vegas wedding chapels had received cease-and-desist letters from Authentic Brands Group, a company that had purchased the intellectual property associated with the rock ‘n’ roll icon in 2013, demanding chapels stop using Elvis’ image and likeness.
People were concerned — and rightly so.
The Las Vegas wedding industry generates $2.5 billion a year, and Elvis-themed ceremonies represent a significant portion of that number.
“We are the No. 1 wedding destination in the world,” said Lynn Marie Goya, Clark County Clerk. “We celebrated our 5 millionth wedding earlier this year. Obviously, Elvis is a part of a big portion of that draw.”
The impact of losing Elvis could extend well beyond the chapels.
“People bring their family and friends, they stay at the hotels, they eat at the restaurants, go to the shows, shop, etc.,” Goya said. “It employs thousands of people directly.”
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Elvis has an enduring connection to Las Vegas. There was his 1964 movie “Viva Las Vegas,” then, of course, his 1967 Vegas wedding to Priscilla. And in 1969, Elvis launched his live stage comeback at the Las Vegas International Hotel, playing more than 600 shows until December 1976.
“We’ve had the top entertainers of the world here for 75 years at least,” Goya said. “Out of all those entertainers, Elvis stands out and seems to be identified with Clark County and Las Vegas. I think that loss would be huge.”
In true TPG fashion, the team decided to send us — credit card writer Ryan Smith and editor Kristy Tolley — to Vegas with our spouses to investigate before Elvis could potentially be forced to leave the chapel building. Here’s what our Elvis-themed chapel ceremonies were like — and what losing them might mean to Sin City.
Ryan’s vow renewal ceremony at the Little Chapel of Hearts
My wife and I never had a proper wedding. Instead, we opted to get married at a courthouse in a flurry before moving abroad on short notice.
With all the news surrounding Elvis weddings possibly going away (or being severely altered), now seemed like a great time to renew our vows. Since the Little Chapel of Hearts was one of the parties named in several news stories covering the potential crackdown on Elvis weddings, like this one, I decided to book our vow renewal ceremony there.
Ceremony packages and prices
Much to my surprise, when I started looking into booking our ceremony on the chapel’s website, I discovered not one but five different Elvis-themed wedding packages offered by the Little Chapel of Hearts.
While prices can be as high as $777 if you select a package that includes all the bells and whistles — such as Elvis singing three songs, a bouquet and boutonniere made with fresh roses, videography and photography, limousine service to and from the chapel, Elvis-inspired sunglasses and a keepsake copy of Elvis and Priscilla’s marriage certificate — most packages are significantly less expensive, with the standard option that offers nothing more than Elvis officiating a traditional ceremony costing $149.
We decided to go with the $199 “Burning Love” package, the cheapest option available that includes Elvis singing a song. Sure, it cost an extra $50, but we couldn’t come all this way for a quintessential Elvis wedding and not have Elvis serenade us.
In true Vegas fashion, there were a few other charges to factor in, too. A $60 (cash only) payment is required for your Elvis minister’s service, and fees apply for professional photos and videos if you don’t buy a more expensive package that includes them or add them on separately. You’ll also need to pay $75 for a media pass if you wish to take your own photos or record the ceremony yourself (or have any guests do so).
Chapel location and features
The Little Chapel of Hearts sits on Las Vegas Boulevard (aka the Strip) near the Stratosphere Tower. It was easy to find, and there was ample parking on both sides of the building.
On arrival, the door was locked, which we learned was to prevent us from barging in and making noise during a ceremony happening in the time slot prior to ours.
Once we went in, we were warmly greeted by name. The staff explained how things would work and pointed us to the bathrooms and dressing rooms, in case we needed to change or wanted to borrow any of their items. Since we arrived dressed for the event, we politely declined the offer.
The room for ceremonies was neither large nor extravagant, but with approximately 20 folding chairs for guests and sliding doors that opened easily when it was time to walk down the aisle, the room served its purpose well. A silk flower bouquet was also on hand for couples who book packages that don’t include fresh flowers.
Given how many weddings the Little Chapel of Hearts hosts annually, it’s unsurprising how streamlined and smooth our experience was. The chapel made the whole process really simple to understand, and our photographer clearly knew what he was doing to get the best pictures.
Our Elvis minister was fantastic, too. He was really personable and tailored the ceremony to us so it focused on renewing vows instead of getting married.
Because he made himself available to us before our ceremony, we were able to discuss any specific requests and help him learn more about us in advance, which showed during the ceremony. It felt incredibly authentic and personalized, featuring both some serious moments and fun touches.
After we exchanged more traditional vows, we recited Elvis-inspired versions to each other. These included my wife promising to have no other hound dog but me and to not step on my blue suede shoes. I committed to being her loving teddy bear and not leaving her at the heartbreak hotel.
Following a few laughs and giggles as our officiant shook his hips and really hammed it up as the King, we were asked what advice we would share with couples getting married and starting their journey together.
Then, he sang. And, oh boy, did he sing.
Before my wife came in, when we were alone in the chapel, I asked what song he would sing. “I don’t know yet,” was the answer, and he asked if we wanted a song for a nice slow dance. I told him my wife laughs when nervous or being watched by strangers, so he went for “Viva Las Vegas,” a more lively song that felt like a perfect nod to the time and place.
Once we wrapped up dancing and he sang the song’s final words, he immediately announced us as a married couple to the world “once again.” Then, the doors opened, and we strolled out arm in arm, feeling like we were ready to take on the world.
We concluded the experience with a photo op holding our vow renewal certificate beneath the city’s iconic “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign. It was the perfect way to capture the memory.
Kristy’s vow renewal ceremony at the Elvis Chapel
My husband Joe and I had a traditional wedding … almost 30 years ago. While it was perfect at the time, we’ve long wondered what it’d be like to renew our vows in a Vegas chapel with Elvis.
With the real possibility of these ceremonies going away soon, we decided now was the time to act on this wild idea. So, we did our research and ultimately settled on the Elvis Chapel, a chapel that had solid Google reviews and a slew of favorable testimonials. Spoiler alert: It did not disappoint.
Ceremony packages and prices
The chapel offers six different Elvis packages that cost anywhere from $195 to $1,599. The priciest “Viva Las Vegas” package includes a number of extras, such as photography and videography, Elvis singing three songs, a bouquet and boutonniere, Elvis-inspired glasses and permission for guests to film and take photos, but my husband and I decided the basic “Elvis Memories” package was more than sufficient for us.
Our package came with two songs sung by Elvis, 10 candid photos taken during the ceremony, a loaner silk bridal bouquet and boutonniere, special Elvis vows and our renewal certificate. It also included the option to let Elvis walk me down the aisle, which I gladly opted to do.
Like Ryan, I quickly realized that there were some additional fees to factor into my vow renewal experience. While a minister fee is not required for vow renewal packages, according to the Elvis Chapel website, we paid the suggested $50 tip (in cash) for Elvis and a second $50 tip (also in cash) for our photographer. If you wish to bring guests, know that there’s a $50 fee per guest, too.
Unlike Ryan’s venue, we didn’t have the option to purchase a media pass for personal photography. No cameras, flash photography or recordings of any kind were allowed inside the chapel unless you paid for the “Hound Dog” package ($325) or the “Burning Love” package ($415).
While our standard package only included 10 photos, we liked our photos so much that we decided to pay an extra $375 to add on more photos. We hadn’t had professional photos taken since our wedding almost 30 years ago, so it was easy to rationalize.
Chapel location and features
The Elvis Chapel is on South Casino Center Boulevard a few blocks away from the Arts District, a lively neighborhood featuring indie art galleries and performance venues in converted warehouses.
I really loved the chapel building’s minimalist midcentury modern vibe — it was a perfect canvas for the striking turquoise Elvis Chapel marquee and replica of the entrance gates at Graceland. A large bubbling water fountain within a small stone courtyard provided another nice backdrop for outdoor photos.
When we arrived, a “do not disturb” sign indicated that another ceremony was taking place inside, so we passed the time taking selfies.
Within a few minutes, the photographer came and led us into the chapel. It was all Elvis. Movie posters and photos of the King graced the walls. Two huge black-and-white prints, one of Elvis and one of Elvis and Priscilla on their wedding day, were created using diamond dust. The lobby also held a true-to-life replica of Elvis and Priscilla’s wedding cake.
Our package included both a silk bouquet and boutonniere, so we chose to use those for our pre-ceremony photo shoot. The photographer also provided Elvis-style sunglasses for some of our photos.
The ceremony space itself was sparse yet somehow dramatic all at once. It came equipped with 50 gold chairs and a red carpet down the center aisle. Additionally, there was an altar area backed by a voluminous gold theater curtain and flanked by palms.
Prior to the ceremony, Elvis spent some time chatting with us to learn more about our background, including how long we’ve been married and where we were from. We found him to be super nice and very engaging. Of all the Elvis impersonators I’ve encountered in my life — and yes, there are quite a few — he was by far one of the best I’ve met.
As I made my way to the altar, Elvis sang “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” He added little nuances to make the ceremony more personal to us, then he asked us to exchange vows with traditional verbiage. I surprised myself by becoming a little emotional as I read my vows. My husband, meanwhile, denied getting emotional, but I know I saw his eyes get a little teary.
Similar to Ryan’s ceremony, our Elvis minister followed up the traditional vows with an Elvis-centric version. My husband promised to love me tender and never leave me at the heartbreak hotel, and I promised to love him tender and never return him to sender. We then closed out our ceremony by singing and dancing to “Viva Las Vegas” with Elvis.
It was the perfect reminder of what’s made our almost 30 years of marriage so special: We always have fun, whether at home or in Vegas with Elvis.
The ‘Elvis in the room’: The pending litigation
While the Elvis Chapel staff was unable to speak about the current legal situation due to having back-to-back weddings booked that day, the Little Chapel of Hearts’ Elvis minister and chapel manager did answer a few questions about it.
When booking the ceremony, the manager mentioned that the chapel had not yet received one of the cease-and-desist letters but decided to go ahead and consult a lawyer. Based on that discussion, the chapel determined that it would keep offering Elvis-themed weddings until a court forced it to stop.
Citing a significant impact for the chapel if it had to stop hosting Elvis-themed weddings, as these ceremonies represent approximately half of the chapel’s business, our Elvis minister said that the chapel would need to make major adjustments to the business should a court rule in favor of Authentic Brands Group. That said, he doubts anything will actually change outside a potential licensing fee that chapels will need to pay.
ABG seems to mostly agree, citing a desire to come to an amicable solution with the chapels.
“We are sorry that recent communication with a small number of Las Vegas-based chapels caused confusion and concern,” the company said in a prepared statement. “That was never our intention. We are working with the chapels to ensure that the usage of Elvis’ name, image and likeness are in keeping with his legacy. Elvis is embedded into the fabric of Las Vegas, and … these groups help to keep Elvis relevant for new generations of fans.”
There’s no doubt that Elvis-themed weddings and renewals in Las Vegas are not only a ton of fun but are also big business for Sin City.
Even though there’s a possibility that Elvis-themed weddings may have to leave Las Vegas, right this second, it seems like they will stick around, though it may come down to the “money, honey,” as Elvis would say. If some reports are true, chapels may need to pay an annual fee to ABG to keep the Elvis party rolling.
Regardless of what ends up happening, one thing is certain: There’s no time like the present to tie the knot or renew your vows with Elvis.
Featured photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images.
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