From celebrity entertainers to speed boat rides: the rise of the expensive pandemic wedding

Couple, bride and groom at wedding
After a long quarantine, couples are opting for showier weddings. @mr.jerry/Getty Images
  • Couples are going all-out on extravagance and luxury after enduring long pandemic lockdowns.
  • Wedding planners have seen revenues soar with the swell of bookings and more expensive requests.
  • Ultra-luxury wedding planners say couples now invite fewer guests, but offer even ritzier experiences.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

From llamas, exotic cars, and speed boat rides to flower arrangements that cost more than a year’s college tuition dangling from ceilings, a wave of unusually lavish nuptials is giving the wedding industry a cash windfall that was badly missed during COVID-19 lockdowns.

“It’s the roaring 20s for weddings,” Alicia Fritz, the owner and a wedding planner at A Day In May said. “In 2020, we were taken away from gathering and celebrating happy moments, and weddings are one of those crucial times where people are truly present, filled with love.”

More couples are getting married in 2021 than in any year since 1984, and the post-vaccine wedding rush is boomeranging professionals in the wedding industry from simply surviving the coronavirus pandemic to raking in skyrocketing inquiries, bookings, and profits from increasingly expensive ceremonies.

“They’re going all out,” Marisa Guerrero, the vice president of Debbie’s Bloomers, said. “They want unique touches and a special wedding different from what they’ve seen in other places.”

Couples are paying a premium on statement-making structures like flower arches and chandeliers, taking photos on llamas, driving away in exotic sportscars, and splurging on unusual wedding buffets like doughnut walls and mac and cheese bars.

With clients on average spending about $US5,000 ($AU6,884) on flower arrangements, almost double the amount compared to 2019, Guerrero said she’s working seven days a week and often up to 12 hours a day to keep up with the torrent of requests. The trend is echoed among other wedding vendors, who told Insider their revenues surged 40% to 50% compared to 2019.

However, those who plan weddings for millionaire and billionaire clients with seemingly bottomless budgets say they haven’t seen costs increases per wedding, which often cost millions of dollars each. Instead, couples often invite fewer guests but give a more lavish and bespoke experience for those who make the cut.

“We’re looking for a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Alison Laesser-Keck, the creative director of the wedding planning company Alison Bryan Destinations, said.

Some of the big-ticket items weddings have included meals cooked by Michelin-starred chefs, speed boat rides through picturesque slot canyons in Utah, paid-for guest accommodations, and performances by celebrities like Miguel and Janelle Monae. Her clients usually work in finance or entertainment, and some are household names.

“They do well, and they want to treat their guests,” Laesser-Keck said. “It’s about how can we take care of our family and friends, and give them an experience they could never have on their own.”

Sarah Crowell, the lead planner of Mavinhouse Events, said she’s seen an uptick in multi-day weddings, where activities traditionally reserved for only the bridal party – like sunset sailboat rides, brunches, and seaside hikes – are opened up to the entire guest list.

This thriving wedding season is a result of weddings being rescheduled from 2020 and people looking to splurge money they’ve saved on celebrations with family after over a year of quarantining, wedding professionals said.

The deluge of bookings has also allowed some vendors to change their businesses and personal lives.

Angela Lauren, the owner of Angela Lauren Photography, went from struggling to keep her business alive during the pandemic to looking for a house, and Teresa Eoff, the owner of Figure Eight Events, said the extra revenue may launch her company out of her garage studio and into a warehouse space.

Demand can far outpace what companies can handle. Over 90 inquiries per month have rolled into Laesser-Keck’s every month since January.

“We opened up inquiries and within a week we got enough business to last the next two years,” Laesser-Keck said. “The demand for all companies is through the roof.”