The Best Tips for Making the Most of Your Elopement – Washingtonian

Whether Covid’s got you postponing a grand celebration to a later date, or you’ve decided to ditch the big to-do all together, you are certainly not alone in considering a private ceremony and celebration for your nuptials this year. But you’re opting for a smaller affair–be it just the two of you, or with a couple of loved ones in tow–doesn’t mean your day should be any less special. For tips on making the most of an uber-intimate wedding, we reached out to dozens of local planners. Here’s what they suggest!

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Eat, Drink, and Be Merry

“With a micro wedding, this is the time to splurge on that bottle of wine that you would never normally go for. Choose a winery that you have a personal connection to or have always wanted to try. When serving just the two of you, you can throw caution to the wind on the price for just one bottle!”Aimee Dominick, A. Dominick Events

“Have a decadent meal at a fine dining restaurant, especially if it’s one where it’s unlikely you would ever eat at again with any frequency, like the Inn at Little Washington or Minibar.”Vicky Choy, Event Accomplished 

“Bond over a virtual mixology class together and learn to craft your own signature sips for the special day!”Alexa Lucas, Beacon and Berkeley Events

“Don’t skimp on your after-ceremony plans. Work with a planner to design an epic/over the top tablescape you might not have been able to do for a larger wedding in a romantic setting such as your own home or a suite like the Monumental Suite at the LINE Hotel with it’s own private balcony. Then enjoy a multi-course tasting menu ending with champagne and your favorite dessert to cap it off.”Julie Vieira, Vieira Events

“Hire your favorite food truck for a few hours instead of the traditional catering option. This also applies to desserts.”DeeDee, 3sixteevents

“Select a wedding day cocktail to make and enjoy together to celebrate.”Aimee Griffin, A. Griffin Events

“Order your wedding cake! Reach out to your wedding baker to see if they’d be willing to create a smaller version of your wedding cake.”Tiffany Rivera, Simply Breathe Events

“Hire a professional chef and enjoy dinner in your home over a glass of wine or rent out a private room in a restaurant just the two of you.”Shile Bello, RAE Affairs

“Order a meal from your favorite restaurant and open the expensive bottle you’ve been saving for a special occasion. This is that occasion! Don’t skimp on this meal—you deserve to have the best!”Janice Carnevale, Bellwether Events 

“Cook a meal together inspired by your wedding menu or order it from your caterer since they might be doing at-home delivery meals.”Yodit Gebreyes, Favored by Yodit Events & Design

“Get brunch delivered the next morning. You can still have a romantic breakfast in bed experience after all!”Amanda McCabe, Beacon and Berkeley Events

“Work with a local caterer who can curate a really special and memorable meal for the two of you. To compliment the meal, pair each course with a different wine or champagne, maybe select wines from significant years or locations that have special meaning in each of your lives.”Anne Kelley, Anne Kelley Events & Design

“Several DC restaurants have private—often-secret—intimate spaces that would be perfect for exchanging your vows and transitioning right into a luxurious feast. If food is your passion, you might consider asking the restaurant to set up a table for two in the kitchen for an exclusive and memorable dining experience.”Teresa Lee, Rex & Regina Events

Getting Ready & Attire

“Be sure to dress up and if possible don’t show your beloved until you are all done up. Be it in the outfit you previously planned for your rehearsal dinner or late night dress, or maybe buy something you have been eyeing but haven’t had a place to wear in quarantine.”Aimee Dominick, A. Dominick Events

“Day-of, stick (close) to your dream wedding morning scenario. Stream a yoga class and virtually “get ready” with your bridal party, or grab your favorite takeout bagel and pop some bubbles. Make time for the moments you know you’d look forward to if plans hadn’t changed.” —Alexa Lucas, Beacon and Berkeley Events

“Make time for some pamperingget your hair done or blown out, have a makeup application or conduct a virtual makeup lesson by a pro in advance.  Get your nails done and a facial if regulations allow.”Stephanie R. Sadowski, SRS Events

“Splurge on a luxury hotel suite so that you have a pretty place to get ready with hair and makeup, and take those traditional getting ready photos. It will make it feel more official than just getting your dress on at home and driving to a spot. You can then come back to the suite after your vows and photos around town and have a fancy romantic candlelit dinner en suite (provided by the hotel, which is more affordable than bringing in a caterer offsite just for two people) and you have a beautiful wedding night location, too.  After all, what makes you feel more pampered than room service?  Your planner can help elevate the experience with fine china, florals, etc.”Julie Savage Parekh, Strawberry Milk Events

“Spend some time apart from one another before the ceremony.  This will help create a “special moment” of seeing one another for the first time right before you get married.  It will create some build up, excitement, and give you a few minutes alone to think about the significance of this special day and gratitude for your partner.”Carin Lomax, Events Extraordinaire 

Location, Location, Location

“Use this opportunity to get married with an extraordinary backdrop where you wouldn’t necessarily be able to trek to with 150 guests. Whether it be a cliff overlooking the Shenandoah Mountains, a secluded creek in the woods, or a small private garden, getting married with just you and your partner can allow you to sneak off to your own private corner of the world together to exchange vows.”Jazmin Portnow, Anyvent Event Planning

“Consider the location you had your first date.”J. Avery, Events by J. Avery

“Host your elopement at either sunrise or during “golden hour” to add a fairytale quality to the wedding. You’ll be thankful you woke up early, or pushed it until later in the evening, once you see the dreamy photos of your ceremony!”Laura Held, Ida Rose Events

“Nature-loving couples could consider picking an outdoor location overlooking a beautiful waterfall or river to exchange vows and then follow the nuptials with an upscale catered-picnic for two. Ask your favorite restaurant to create a “chic, luxury picnic” and have someone set it up in advance in a special outdoor location. Once your private nuptials conclude, you can enjoy a celebratory outdoor feast together.”Teresa Lee, Rex & Regina Events

“Pick a location that is unique and very personal to the two of you. Given it would just be the couple and an officiant, you can literally get married anywhere. A favorite willow tree at sunset on the Potomac River’s edge, on top of the rocks at Great Falls in the early morning mist, or even ask the restaurant you met at if you can use their patio privately for 20 minutes and do it there. Create a sensory memory of that day in your most favorite location that you can treasure forever.”Tabitha Roberts, Roberts & Co. Events

“Charter a sailboat. The sun setting behind you on the water, the two of you on the deck of the boat vowing your forevers, a sweet little sail to shore taking in the weight of the moment and the wonder of the future. Does it get anymore romantic than that? As a bonus, many boat captains are ordained so you may not have to bring anyone else on board.”Kari Rider, Kari Rider Events

Dreamy Decor Tips

I don’t think a couple needs a lot for an intimate wedding, but I would suggest at a minimum a beautiful bouquet for the bride. Depending on the location: Is there a natural backdrop for the ceremony to happen? If not, I’d also work with a florist for a statement ceremony backdrop. It will make the space feel more like a wedding and make for stunning photos you’ll have for years to come.”Margo Fischer, Bright Occasions

“Don’t forget the lighting! Candles, cafe lights, luminaries make for an amazing ambiance.”Laura Ritchie, Grit & Grace

Make It A Minimooon

“Escape by the water. Rent a luxury waterfront home for just the two of you for a long weekend. Say your “I dos” on the shoreline, hand in hand, eyes locked, the water glistening in the background, the soft waves lapping against the shore. Follow that up with a catered dinner for two outside on the patio, a splurge bottle or two of wine, and a midnight swim in the pool—a simple and intimate leisure-filled weekend with just the right amount of indulgence. If you want to stay close, the Eastern Shore has a wide selection of gorgeous luxury rental properties that would make for the perfect elopement.”Kari Rider, Kari Rider Events

“Take a little road trip. If you feel comfortable staying in a hotel and you’re located in the DMV, there are several great spots 1-2 hours away to escape to for a night. The DMV also offers the most amazing hotel properties and several are offering safe elopement packages. The Four Seasons in Baltimore has a package created just for the couple including an overnight stay.”Lemon and Lime Event Design

Meaningful Moments

“Splurge on the details! Have the photographer get photos of the two of you taking off in your dream luxury getaway car, or hire a musical ensemble to play your first dance.”Kristin McCormick and Ashlee Dunn, Elle Nicole Events

“Consider writing your own heartfelt vows and then have a local calligrapher or artist turn it into a special piece of art that you can display in your home for years to come.”Anne Kelley, Anne Kelley Events & Design

“Focus on something special or significant to the two of you and your love story. How did you meet? One couple I worked with met on the dating app Bumble, so the bride found these cute bumblebee socks that she got for the groom to wear under his suit, and a sweet bumblebee pin to pin into her bouquet.  Small sweet touches sentimental to the two of them.”Carin Lomax, Events Extraordinaire 

“One of our favorite things is when our couples give each other tiny gifts during their wedding ceremonies that symbolize things they love about each other. We’ve seen serious, sentimental and funny gifts; we love them all as they symbolize your relationship thus far and hopes for what is to come.”Sara Bauleke, Bella Notte

“Make every detail personal and unique so that it is a true reflection of the both of you. You have the liberty to do what you want since it is just the two of you; make it count!”Lola Akingbade, MasterPlan Events

“Don’t forget to have something created with your names and wedding date. On personal vow books, on a handkerchief or on his and her masks.”Pam Barefoot, Pamela Barefoot Events + Design 

“Whether you are traveling to the mountains or celebrating in your backyard, incorporate an element from your dating life into the day. Get takeout from your favorite restaurant, play the game that you love to play together, dance and sing to your favorite song just for the two of you.”Dana, Kelsey, & Christine, Jade & Joy Events

“Take a limo ride around the city at night to enjoy the monuments in the moonlight. Pack some cupcakes, pop some bubbly, and toast each other!”Laura, Engaging Affairs

“Include your pets in your special day.”J. Avery, Events by J. Avery

“Step outside of the norm and include an element of symbolism into your ceremony. Something like hand-fasting where you can keep the cord or ribbon as a keepsake is a beautiful reminder of your elopement.”Andrew Roby, Andrew Roby Events

“Create a new normal without the input of others. If you visited the Capital Wheel at National Harbor during your first date and want to get married on the Ferris wheel, do it! Traditions are good to follow but new traditions are made daily.”Kristy and Krista, Stunning Soirees

“Ride in Style: have a car [even better: a vintage car] to take you to and from the courthouse or ceremony, skip driving yourself or hopping in an Uber!”Kaitlin Przezdziecki, Cheers Darling Events

“Focus on highlighting your personalities and their vibe. Being able to go small means going big on style in a way that is the truest reflection of the couple. So, say you love the beach and beautiful summer wildflowers, work with your wedding planner and floral designer to curate and infuse into your day a whimsical, summer feel experience that highlights some of your personal travels together as a couple—you can add in photos from your beach trips and travels. It will make the day so much more memorable / special, and you will feel like you are living your dreamiest day, but it is your wedding day and that makes it so much more special!”Glory Barbaris, Always Creating Studio Weddings & Events

 “Practice your first dance song or create a choreographic dance on Tiki Tok and share it on social media for your friends to try it too. Don’t forget to use your wedding hashtag to keep track of all the fun shared and check out the #firstdancechallenge to get inspired from other people’s wedding first dances.”Yodit Gebreyes, Favored by Yodit Events & Design

“Exchange letters, gifts or favorite memories.”Aimee Griffin, A. Griffin Events

Music Matters

“Make a fun playlist for the travel time before and after your elopement. These songs will be forever associated with this big moment, choose wisely!”Janice Carnevale, Bellwether Events 

“Find time in the day to gaze into each other’s eyes and enjoy the first dance together to your special song. Even though no one is watching you both can still have a special moment together as you celebrate your milestone of marriage.”Shile Bello, RAE Affairs

“Have a musician record a first dance song for the two of you, whether you dance in a park with your headphones in or blast it out loud in your living room, you can keep that recording forever.”—Amanda McCabe, Beacon and Berkeley Events

“Consider hiring a solo guitarist or string musician to perform those special songs.”Sarah Kazemburg, Sarah Kazemburg Events + Styling

Include Loved Ones

“While technology makes accessibility an easy choice, it isn’t always the most thoughtful or personal one. Give some strong consideration to how you want to remember your day. Is it plugged in with everyone watching virtually and then mini chats? Or perhaps a private ceremony with a series of smaller virtual or in person celebratory dinners that you can engage in?”Danielle Couick, Magnolia Bluebird Design & Events

“If your parents or closest loved ones cannot be there for the wedding, consider sending boutonnieres or small bouquets to those VIPs, so they can feel connected to the wedding.”Anne Kelley, Anne Kelley Events & Design

“We love when couples incorporate personal items into their ceremonies. Family heirlooms, such as a mother’s veil, a piece of jewelry, or grandfather’s watch, bring your family to your wedding, even when they aren’t joining you in person.”Sara Bauleke, Bella Notte

“Have your parents or a few friends meet you for the dinner portion, even if you wish to keep the actual vows private with just the 2 of you.  Being able to celebrate by having a few of your nearest and dearest join you afterwards for a toast and celebratory meal will make it even more exciting and merry.”Julie Savage Parekh, Strawberry Milk Events

“With the current pandemic, intimate ceremonies have been very common at outdoor venues where you can invite a few of your close family and friends and still host a customized ceremony. In addition to inviting your close family and friends, you can invite your extended guests to watch your ceremony, first dance and enjoy champagne and cake via live stream.”Melissa Williams, B Astonished Events

“Live stream or record your ceremony! We recommend working with a videographer or AV company to help you capture your ceremony for your guests and loved ones (and yourselves), whether it be streamed or recorded so they can view it later!”Laura Held, Ida Rose Events

“Ask your friends and family to record a toast that you can watch together over some cake and champagne!”—Amanda McCabe, Beacon and Berkeley Events 

“After you say I do privately, invite loved ones to drive by, honk their horns and toss confetti to celebrate your big day!”Shalyce Tyson, Sensational Soirees

Hire a Professional

“If you aren’t sure where to start, hire a planner. Some planners are offering elopement packages that are all-inclusive, meaning they can help with the location as well as any vendor needed. Or they may be open to customizing a plan that’s tailored for the couple.”Margo Fischer, Bright Occasions

“Engage a designer or a rental company to send over special linens, chairs and place settings to play up your intimate dinner table. It’s not so expensive but it does make an impression!”Laura Ritchie, Grit & Grace

“Include two very important vendors: a photographer and a videographer. I’ve had three micro weddings during the pandemic thus far. Two plan to celebrate again in 2021, but all three had their photographers capture their big day. And two of the three had the videographer live stream the big day for family and friends that couldn’t attend. They all shared the same sentiments; having the photographer and in two cases, videographer there was paramount.”Michele Hodges, Michele Hodges Events 

Picture Perfect

“Get polaroid photos of your special day!”Jeannette Tavares, Evoke Design & Creative

“Turn the day into a mini-shoot. Taking lots of photos in your wedding dress and tux, followed by photos either at sunset or under the stars in a reception dress, or attire that’s representative of your culture.”Feyisola Ogunfemi, Statuesque Events 

“Take advantage of low crowds to get stunning images around the city in your wedding attire. Have a videographer join in on the day and create a short movie to send friends and family.”Laura, Engaging Affairs

Don’t Downplay The Day

“Treat yourselfeven if you have a quest list of two, this doesn’t mean you don’t need to pamper yourself for the big day. Splurge on hair, makeup artists and spa services, stay at a nice hotel, book a live musician and work with a vendor team that makes you feel taken care of!”Laura Held, Ida Rose Events

“If it’s an option, try sticking with the ultimate tradition and sleep in separate places or spend time away from one another the day before your wedding. Plan an evening of sleepover-style pampering for yourself. Send flowers, or leave your fiance a heartfelt note to read.”—Alexa Lucas, Beacon and Berkeley Events

“Find a city rooftop and have a caterer deliver a luxurious, multi-course dinner that you would never normally serve to a large crowd (think lobster, oysters, caviar, etc.) or get an assortment of your favorite dishes from various restaurants via delivery and indulge. Order a wedding cake for one (or two small cakes in each of your favorite flavors). Drink expensive Champagne and amazing wine, and savor the fact that the evening is all about you (and not about having to please a crowd).”Laura, Engaging Affairs

“You can self-officiate in DC, so go all out with fantastic wedding outfits, a gorgeous DC venue, great décor set-up and a photographer! Dumbarton House offers 2 hour rentals for $600 (for example) so having an amazing space can end up being the most unforgettable day of your life!”Katie Martin, Elegance & Simplicity, Inc.

“Planning the perfect intimate wedding celebration doesn’t mean that you have to forget about all of the luxurious details. An intimate celebration gives you the opportunity to elevate your design and personalize your celebration for your special guests. Personalizations can be embodied throughout every element of the event design.  A smaller guest list provides the opportunity to get creative and splurge a little bit more on your VIP attendees!”Jamésa S. Adams, Jayne Heir Weddings & Events

“Just because you don’t have an audience, doesn’t mean that you can’t go all out! Pamper yourselves with a wedding day makeover, get those slightly unreasonably priced shoes, and toast afterwards with a bottle of fancy vintage champagne.”Jazmin Portnow, Anyvent Event Planning

Editor, Washingtonian Weddings

Amy leads Washingtonian Weddings and writes Style Setters for Washingtonian. Prior to joining Washingtonian in March 2016, she was the editor of Capitol File magazine in DC and before that, editor of What’s Up? Weddings in Annapolis.