YOUR CARRIAGE AWAITS
Book a classic limo for a stylish departure
By Frank Wagner
Copley News Service
It won't be a stylish marriage
I can't afford a carriage.
- "Daisy Bell" (1892)
Even at the turn of the last century, the bridal couple's ride helped define the luxury of the day. By 1921, New York entrepreneur James P. Carey was pioneering the rental chauffeured motorcar. This allowed a burgeoning middle class to rent a taste of lifestyles of the rich and famous (presumably sparing them Daisy's bicycle built for two) and launched what has become a multibillion-dollar a year industry.
More than 100 years later, the wheels seem to many to be essential. If a limo is a part of your wedding, then:
- Plan ahead. If you're planning a June wedding, you may have to get reservations far in advance, at least in some areas.
"If you're having a wedding in May or June - when there are a lot of weddings or proms - we need at least six months," said Harriett Ellis of Ellis Limousines in Morris, Conn., which has five limos plus horse-drawn rolling stock. "During fall (September and October), we probably need about six months, too."
However 2 1/2 hours away in New York City, "we want about two weeks," according to Mitchell Kirschner of NYLimos.com, which has a fleet of 15.
On the other coast, Carey Limousine Chauffeur and Guide Service, with 30 vehicles, can respond in a "couple of days," according to San Diego franchise owner Ramon White, although he cautions that his particular firm is geared toward corporate clients.
- What type of limousine is required? Do you want an exotic (Hummer), stretch or some other specialized model? Remember that a 14-passenger stretch limo may not gracefully 14 people once they're in their formal wedding finery.
- Consider costs. Renting a limo isn't cheap - you're paying for the vehicle, driver, insurance, etc. Even though the bridal party may not spend that much time in the car, it can't be dispatched elsewhere, so you're paying for time it may not seem like you're using. Weekends are usually not negotiable, but a weekday rental can sometimes be negotiated.
The cost will depend on the type of ride you want, where you are, how far you're driving and the time of year you want it. If you need more than one vehicle, ask if a discount applies. Pricing can be somewhat confusing. Many operators have straightforward charges; others will add in secondary costs such as gratuities or fuel surcharges.
Many firms expect a deposit; find out if it is refundable, and if so, under what conditions.
Almost all firms have a minimum rental; three hours is the industry norm, although some, such as San Diego's Carey, have shorter ones. During prom season, some firms can demand an eight-hour minimum. The three-hour minimum rate at Connecticut's Ellis Limousines is $495; in San Diego, a two-hour minimum from Carey would cost approximately $170.
In many places, the late spring surge of proms and weddings creates a crunch and ensuing rental hikes of up to 30 percent, according to www.limos.com, a national registry of limousine firms. Over the longer haul, Kirchner, a 10-year veteran in the company founded by his father, worries that rates may climb "between 5 percent and 10 percent" as oil prices increase.
- Inspect the carrier. Ask to see the company's limos and make sure the company doesn't farm work out to third parties. If you have special requests or needs (a TV or phone or handicap access), this is a good time find out if they'll be met. Ask about how the driver will be dressed. Will the operator be in a tux or uniform, or casual? Ask to see evidence of insurance and permits.
- Get a signed contract. This spells out what the carrier will provide, its cost, cancellation options and what happens if the limo firm fails to deliver as promised.
Add some horsepower to your getaway
By Frank Wagner
Copley News Service
The fairy-tale princess took off in a coach to live happily ever after, why not you? Horse-drawn carriages, ranging from the classic vis-a-vis ("face-to-face") coach to replicas of Cinderella's coach are still available for hire.
As a practical matter, the distance probably shouldn't be much more than three miles says Harriett Ellis of Ellis Limousines in Morris, Conn., which offers carriages as well. "You don't want to spend an hour or an hour and a half going to the reception."
Because of the preparation and transport, coaches are pricier than their motorized counterparts. Ellis' vis-a-vis goes for $700 for a three-hour minimum; the stagecoach, which takes two trucks to haul, is priced at $900. With grooming, assembly, cleaning and so on, "There's a lot of prep, whether we go for 10 minutes or three hours."
Maze Martin, office manager of Cinderella Carriages in San Diego, agrees. "You have to drive the trailer, find a location, disassemble the carriage. And pulling a 24-foot trailer, you get maybe five miles to a gallon."
Cinderella Carriages keeps its focus close to its home base in downtown San Diego, and usually won't venture more than 25 miles.
Other operators are more adventurous. Ellis' 18-passenger, 19th century stagecoach has traveled as far as New Hampshire - two states away.
If you have a special theme, sometimes a horse-drawn carriage can help, says Ellis. A while back, a couple had a country-themed marriage; the bridal party made good its exit aboard an Ellis-provided hay wagon.
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