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Dream Weddings 

Extraordinary Marks the Spot

One of the first decisions engaged couples must make in planning their wedding day is where to hold the ceremony and the party afterward. Couples who plan to marry in the New Orleans area have a wealth of alternatives to churches and nondescript rental halls, whether your heart is set on a plantation wedding or a ceremony in a castle.

Take your vows amid the flowering beauty of New Orleans Botanical Garden, followed by a reception in the beautiful Pavilion of the Two Sisters, which has arched windows that look out onto terraces, verdant gardens and sculptures. Also in the botanical garden is the restored English Cottage-style brick potting shed, now the Garden Study Center, near a lily pond. The adjacent Lath House provides a great space for a band to set up and plenty of room for dancing amid the flora.

Couples planning Southern-style weddings or those seeking an intimate location for a ceremony and reception can choose among several nearby plantations, including Ormond, Destrehan and Southern Oaks plantations. Couples on a limited budget should check out the all-inclusive packages at Southern Oaks Plantation, coordinated and graciously hosted by the owners.

Other historic buildings also are available for weddings and receptions, including the graceful Gallier Hall on St. Charles Avenue, the Edgar Degas House, the Napoleon House restaurant in the French Quarter, the Columns Hotel and many others.

Not everyone seeks conventional tradition when planning their weddings. Lisa Wilson, head of catering for W Hotel on Poydras Street, says her staff coordinates receptions for lots of couples; interestingly, she says most are second marriages. Mardi Gras World on the West Bank puts wedding guests in the mood to celebrate with party facilities for all sizes of functions, all set amid the colors and images of Mardi Gras. Reflecting a different side of the city is a wedding and reception on the New Orleans Steamboat Company's Steamboat Natchez, complete with Southern cuisine from on-board chefs and enough space for a band and dancing. Landlubbers might prefer the hip, folk-art surroundings of the House of Blues and its upstairs Parish Club, large enough for a band, dance floor and lots of dancing guests.

If you have your heart set on a fairy-tale wedding day to complement your courtship, you may want to settle for nothing less than a castle to stage your big day. The Castle just outside Franklinton is a replica of an English castle with a 10-acre estate that's large enough for parties with several hundred guests. Whether you want an intimate ceremony with an overnight stay or an extravaganza with all your friends, the turrets are the limit. Champagne Palace in Jefferson sits on an acre and is surrounded by botanical gardens, making it a beautiful spot for ceremonies and parties. The establishment offers wedding packages with choices that include an open bar, a dozen hot entrees, more than 80 hot and cold hors d'oeuvres, wedding and groom's cakes, and a DJ to spin the music of love.

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