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5 Tips to Get a Princess-worthy Reception on a Budget

Image Gallery: Reception Venues You don't have to have royal ties to feel like a princess at your reception. See pictures of unforgettable reception venues.
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It sounds like a fairy tale: getting a reception Cinderella would envy on a commoner's budget. But as we explain in the pages to come, you don't need the wealth of the Empire to finance a memorable wedding feast. With resourcefulness, creativity, moxie and maybe a little heavy lifting, even the woodcutter's daughter and farmer's son can put on a bash that's uniquely their own.

And they don't have to do it all themselves. These ideas might make wonderful wedding gifts from friends who have the talent or the connections. Maybe dear Aunt Minnie, president of the local historical society, can track down a turn-of-the-century mansion to host your fête. Cousin Ed the florist might get you flowers at a discount.

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First up: finding a royal setting; or, Camelot on a shoestring.

Your reception is all about location, and the right one might seem absolutely regal for the right price.
Your reception is all about location, and the right one might seem absolutely regal for the right price.
Caroline Schiff/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Actually, you don't need a whole castle, just a part of one for a few hours on the weekend. Better yet, a weekday, when rental fees are usually lower.

Try starting with your park district or state parks department. Tax-supported venues generally rent for less than private businesses. You don't need to settle for picnic shelters or campgrounds for a secluded atmosphere, either. How about an arts center, nature center or restored farm? You can rent part of a mansion or historic landmark -- the courtyard instead of the carriage house, say.

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On the downside, these places may accommodate as few as 50 people. You might also have to choose a caterer from a "preferred professionals" list and purchase liability insurance.

Another option: If any family members or friends belong to a college or university club, they might be able to snag you a stylish setting at a member's rate.

Next: how to make an elegant entrance.

After you wow everyone at the ceremony, keep your royal style rolling all the way to the reception entrance.
After you wow everyone at the ceremony, keep your royal style rolling all the way to the reception entrance.
Elyse Lewin/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

A limo may be the gold standard of transportation -- in price as well as prestige. Opt for an equally classy but less costly alternative. Owners of vintage autos are proud to show off their roadsters; an antique auto club might know someone who'll give you to a ride to the reception in exchange for a trip to the buffet table. You might check with the local horse set -- farms, trainers and riding clubs -- for a hobbyist carriage or buggy driver to deliver you for a minimal fee.

If the reception site is on the river or lakeshore, consider a water landing. Gondoliers still ply the waters off New York and California, and in unexpected "ports" like Omaha, Neb., and Stillwater, Minn. Even a pontoon boat festooned with flowers has a certain Greek-goddess appeal.

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Next: creating a royal ambiance.

Go with a "Happily Ever After" theme.
Go with a "Happily Ever After" theme.
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Remember how the high school prom decorating committee turned the school gym into a seaside resort with a few fishing nets and conch shells? Take a page from their playbook. Conjure a regal setting with props borrowed from school or community theaters: velvet chairs, fake pillars and arches, coats of arms and armor, maybe crowns from the last staging of "Henry VIII." Or mine the Southeast Asian splendor of "The King and I."

Too stuffy? Consider a Mardi Gras theme, with the happy couple as King and Queen of the ball. Strew the room with beads and place a mask at each table setting. Royals are also known for being frivolous. You might declare yourselves the "King and Queen of Hearts" with a card party theme.

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What's a party without food? Next, we cook up a royal feast.

If your friends can cook meals fit for a kind and queen, have them bring something to the reception.
If your friends can cook meals fit for a kind and queen, have them bring something to the reception.
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Have your loyal subjects provide a potluck. Request dishes they deem "fit for a queen," something they would serve the Queen of England if she happened by at dinnertime. (It almost guarantees a lack of three-bean salad.) To ensure variety, ask guests to RSVP with their planned dish. Reserve the royal right to suggest a change if needed. Those who are challenged in the kitchen might help with cleanup.

If you're uneasy with amateurs, tap the pros-in-training at a culinary school's teaching restaurant. The staff is highly motivated -- everyone's grade depends on your satisfaction.

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You may want to spring for a professionally made cake. Buy a plain cake and adorn it with store-bought decorations or fresh fruit.

Another low-cost (and trendy) option: cupcakes. They can be just as stunning to eat. Figure on one per person plus a few extras and eliminate worries about expensive leftovers.

Find some jesters to keep you and the groom entertained.
Find some jesters to keep you and the groom entertained.
Jordan Reeder/Workbook Stock/Getty Images

Talented entertainers worthy of the court might be living among you. Many university schools of music have madrigal or Renaissance choirs. Some colleges host juggling clubs. Your state's arts council might have an online database of these and other hard-to-find performers.

Need a wandering troubadour? Check folk art guilds and the area chapter of the American Federation of Musicians for lute or dulcimer players.

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Consider other cultural traditions, too. Hula dancers are traditional at Hawaiian celebrations; belly dancers in the Middle East. Dance schools and cultural associations might point you to troupes in your area.

One Japanese wedding reception tradition is quaint, heart-warming, possibly humorous, affordable on any budget, and yet priceless: The guests stand and congratulate the newlyweds in either speech or song.

UP NEXT

5 Times Americans Have Become Royalty

5 Times Americans Have Become Royalty

Americans don’t have a royal family, but are fascinated by royalty. HowStuffWorks looks at five Americans who married into royalty.


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Sources

  • Chicago Park District. "Berger Park." (Jan. 20, 2011) http://www.cpdit01.com/resources/permits.special-event-venues/berger-park/Berger%20Park%20Information%20&%20Rates.pdf
  • Chicago Park District. "Columbus Park Refectory." (Jan 20, 2011) http://www.cpdit01.com/resources/permits.special-event-venues/Columbus-park-refecctory/ Columbus%20Park%20Rectory%20Information%20&%20Rates.pdf
  • Mnweddingminister.com "Comparison Matrix of Wedding Ceremony and Reception Sites in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota." (Jan 21, 2011) http://www.mnweddingminister.com/sites/bigweddings.html
  • Treasure Box. "Japanese Weddings." May 26, 2007 (Jan. 27, 2011) http://www.jpn-myabi.com/Vol. 6/wedding-e.html

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