For Atlanta resident Caroline Johnson, there was never any question of where she would get married.
When Johnson called Pawleys Island Realty, (800) 937-7352, to book the chapel on this small barrier island between Myrtle Beach and Georgetown, she realized the very special date was available even though her grandmother was no longer with her.
"I actually booked the chapel before my husband proposed to me," she says.
Caroline and Robert "C.J." Johnson are just one of thousands of couples who come to South Carolina each year, not just for the sun or the sand and surf, but to get married.
Whether you are looking for a traditional church wedding, nuptials by the sea or a "pretty place" in the mountains, South Carolina is just right for weddings.
Because weddings are a once-in-a-lifetime event (at least, they are supposed to be), you want to make sure you do it right.
Retired minister Harold Mitchell and his wife, Gloria, run the Together Forever Wedding Chapel, (800) 930-0104, 1912 U.S. 17, North Myrtle Beach. Mitchell officiates most ceremonies they book. Their facilities have a chapel and a reception hall, but most folks want to get married on the beach with the waves in the background. (That's $40 extra.)
Although Mitchell was a Southern Baptist minister, he says he has learned to do all types of ceremonies, including one where a Wiccan officiant faced the four compass points and called out the elements of air, fire, water and earth.
The Mitchells also have adapted the traditional unity candle portion of many marriage ceremonies to work on the beach - a unity bottle into which the bride and groom pour sand from their individual bottles.
"Beach wind makes candles difficult," Mitchell said.
Their chapel is truly a family affair with their son, also a minister, and his wife joining as wedding photographer/videographer. Harold and Gloria Mitchell even offer "premarital conversations" if a couple wants it.
Prices range from about $250 for the couple and up to 10 guests to about $900 for up to 70 guests, including attendants, photo CDs and DVD of the ceremony. Receptions are priced separately and can be a full sit-down dinner or just cake and punch.
While South Carolina is best known for its beaches, many wedding parties seek out the backdrop of mountains for their big day.
One of the most popular locations in South Carolina for a wedding is Symmes Chapel, also known as "Pretty Place," (864) 836-3291, YMCA Camp Road, Marietta.
One look at the breathtaking view from Standing Stone Mountain and you will know why the chapel books months in advance. Built so that the altar fronts a stunning array of peaks in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Symmes Chapel built in 1941 and was given to the YMCA Camp Greenville by Fred W. Symmes. The chapel is used by the camp on Sunday and Monday mornings for worship services, but is open to the public when it has not be reserved for an event.
You can request information about booking the chapel online. The rental fee, $925 for two hours, is for use of the chapel only and does not include any other services.
While the chapel can hold more than 100 people, the road leading up to it is very narrow and steep and there is limited parking.
To avoid high-traffic times and waiting for a long time for Saturday availability, you may want to consider a weekday wedding.
There are dozens of wedding chapels scattered throughout the state. Here are just a few options:
* The Dillon Marriage Chapel, (843) 774-2671, N. Martin Luther King Boulevard, Dillon, claims to be part of the reason Dillon is known as the "Wedding Capital of the East." Located just a few miles from the North Carolina-South Carolina state line and near Interstate 95, the chapel is open seven days a week and even will file your wedding license for you. The chapel offers couple-only services or can accommodate up to 200 people in its banquet hall.
* The Victorian Wedding Chapel & Gazebo, (803) 641-2345, in Aiken offers a variety of options, including a honeymoon suite. Prices range from $150 for the basic ceremony with just a bride and groom to $1,900 for a wedding with 60 guests and a buffet dinner reception. That includes the cake and 100-150 digital pictures that you can take with you when you leave (a bargain really when you consider that wedding photography alone often costs more than $1,900.) The honeymoon suite is $150 a night.
* The Lowcountry Wedding Chapel, (843) 763-3296, sits among live oaks on James Island just outside Charleston. The chapel lets you choose as little or as much service as you want. Like most chapels, Lowcountry Wedding Chapel offers photography and reception services, but it also offers flower and tuxedo service for the wedding party. The banquet hall can accommodate up to 550 guests or you can choose a space built for two. Prices range from $500-$1,600. There is an option for a small outdoor ceremony at the waterside chapel.
* If you are looking for someplace that will be easy for your out-of-town guests to get to, check out the Corley Mill House and Garden (803) 957-1818, 221 Corley Mill Road in Lexington. It can handle large crowds and gives you that old South feeling with its large antebellum-style house with a pecan-tree lined circular drive and gardens and statuary. There is a white gazebo, waterwheel and covered patios for wedding and reception locations. The Corley Mill House provides all the services you could need to pull off a traditional wedding.
These are just a few of the many options available for a picture-perfect South Carolina wedding.
A few details: South Carolina requires folks getting married to get a license. The licenses are available at every county courthouse and costs vary from county to county, but are about $70. There is a 24-hour waiting period after you apply before the license is issued, but to be on the safe side, apply for the license about a week in advance if possible. No blood test is required. Both parties must be older than 18 to marry without parental consent.