NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Romance is definitely in the mountain air as Cupid-inspired couples head for the Smokies for Valentine's Day vows.
Approximately 30 wedding chapels in the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge area in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park expect brisk business this weekend and Monday when excited couples repeat their vows on a romantic adventure with mountain majesty as a backdrop.
The love-struck have been descending on the East Tennessee area for years to get married, and Valentine's Day and the weekend before have turned into marriage marathons.
Gatlinburg, in fact, touts itself as "the wedding capital of the South." Hundreds of couples are projected to say "I do" over the three-day period with mist from the peaks as a witness.
"Couples romanticize about getting married on Valentine's Day," said Guy Jacob, senior coordinator for the Gatlinburg Wedding Center. Weddings are such big business in Gatlinburg that his center has diversified in the finest Wall Street tradition: It includes three wedding chapels, a reception business, a bed and breakfast and a bridal store.
"The city in general is a draw," Jacob said.
The popularity as a wedding spot has several explanations: It's fairly easy to get married in the area, it's a picturesque setting and can't-wait couples can honeymoon instantly without driving or flying off.
A blood test is not required and there is no waiting period, but couples must be 18.
"You get your license in the morning, and then get married," Jacob said.
Cupid's Chapel of Love, a white log chapel in business 15 years, says it's been the site of more than 15,000 weddings and proclaims itself "Tennessee's most photographed wedding chapel."
Its rates run as high as $1,400, but its "Just Get r Done" package costs $99.
Jacob, whose company operates the chapel, describes "Just Get r Done" as "a simple ceremony with no photos and no fanfare."
It lasts eight to 12 minutes, and is "a full Christian ceremony, with a scripture reading."
"It's the most common wedding at that chapel," Jacob said.
A marriage license costs $38.50 for out-of-state applicants and $98.50 for Tennesseans, but the extra $60 for those in-state lovers is waived if couples complete a four-hour premarital course. Licenses can be obtained any day of the week except Sunday.
Weddings in Gatlinburg's Sevier County each February have been almost double those in January. The ceremonies have kept pace with those in March when the weather moderates and even with weddings in the traditional marriage month of June.
There were 10,711 weddings last year in the county, which is within a day's drive of much of the Southeast and part of the Midwest.
"People come here 12 months a year (to get married)," Jacob said. Once they reach the county, they find blocks of motels, restaurants, T-shirt shops and miniature golf courses. Not to mention bears, mountain peaks and even an Elvis impersonator or two.
Ever resourceful, some of the chapels offer discounts for weekday weddings instead of Saturday.
The Cupid's Chapel Of Love was founded by a woman who was a Las Vegas entertainer.
"It had that (Vegas) feel for many years," Jacob said. "We took out a purple neon cross and put in new floors. But it has the appeal of being a fun, affordable place."
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