In December of 2022, The Junior League of Greater Lakeland and the City of Lakeland hosted their 41st Annual Christmas Parade for its residents. This year it featured something extra special–a wedding was gifted to a deserving, local couple and hosted right on a float in the middle of the parade with roughly 40,000 onlookers making it Lakeland’s Largest Wedding!
Wedding Officiant, and trusted vendor, Pastor Crystal Porter of Ceremony by Crystal, shares details about Lakeland’s Largest Wedding and her involvement throughout the couple’s big day.
How did you get involved in Lakeland’s Largest Wedding?
During the 2021 Lakeland Christmas Parade, some fateful Facebook messages began flying back and forth. It started as a thought by planner/coordinator Lora Gardner, of Perfect Day Productions. She was attending the parade with her family and feeling inspired.
Lora posted a message to our Polk County Wedding and Event Pros group Facebook page asking, “Should our group have a float in next year’s parade?” The response was fast, positive, and enthusiastic from members. “Yes!” “Let’s do it!” “100%”
The minute I proposed, “How about we do a contest or drawing and literally MARRY a couple on the float during the parade!” That’s when the ideas really flooded in!
We realized that within this group of wedding professionals, we could provide everything needed for a wedding on a float and a reception.
We all had experience with weddings. None of us, however, had experience with a wedding that was MOVING. None of us had experience with a wedding that would be attended by 40,000 guests. And none of us had experience with a wedding with so much interest from the press. There were multiple TV and newspaper interviews!
But, we gave it our best, learned as we went along, pulled together as a team, and pulled off a history-making wedding! Lakeland’s Largest Wedding!
Tell us about the couple who was chosen.
Disappointing factors and scheduling conflicts interfered with Plan A for Joy and Eric’s wedding. They had wanted to get married in the scenic mountains of North Carolina.
Plan B soon began to develop. They reasoned, “Let’s take the stress out of planning a big destination wedding and elope right here in our hometown of Lakeland, Florida. Something private, sweet, and simple suits us perfectly.” Ha!
On November 8 (T minus 23 days until the parade) they Googled ‘Wedding Officiant Lakeland’ and had no idea what was about to happen when they contacted me at Ceremony by Crystal!
I responded right away asking if they had a moment for a question that very evening. Happily, they did, and that phone call changed everything.
I asked a few questions about their love story and listened to their vision for the day.
“That is something we most certainly can make happen, and I know some lovely elopement locations,” I told them. “However, I do have another option for you to think about. Are you sitting down? It is an opportunity of a lifetime, and you do not have to answer right away.”
I presented the option of them entering a competition to win a free wedding at a $20,000 value! I described some of what that would include–a planner, coordinator, flowers, the romantic décor and detail, free photos and videos, the hair, make-up, catering, etc.
That was the good news. I then needed to let them know that there was just one little catch.
The wedding ceremony was to be held on December 1st . . .
in the Lakeland Christmas Parade . . .
on a moving float . . .
in front of about 40,000 guests . . .
After a few moments of stunned silence, Eric suggested, “Well, we said we wanted a memorable wedding.” Though typically very shy and private, Joy agreed to this crazy idea.
They submitted an application and were chosen to be the first-ever couple to get married on a float in Lakeland’s Largest Wedding!
It was an easy choice for the Polk County Wedding and Event Pros board, since it was decided early on to select a deserving couple serving in the military, education, as a first responder, or in health care.
Joy is an RN and Eric is a former deputy and currently a middle school teacher; it was a quick vote!
Let the whirlwind begin!
What was the planning process like for Lakeland’s Largest Wedding?
It was a wonder to work with this sweet couple from start to finish of this unique wedding experience.
They began scheduling meetings with each of their vendor teams–communication was flying back and forth! They learned about getting their marriage license and gave input on the cake, food, hair, makeup, flowers, and a song list for the DJ.
They went shopping for a wedding gown, a tux, and outfits for the children. They customized their ceremony and quickly invited guests.
While there were many decisions to make in such a short time, Polk County Wedding and Event Professionals happily walked our couple through each step.
What an unforgettable wedding!
My system for writing and planning a ceremony very much involves a couple’s participation. Just like any wedding, we met multiple times to create the ceremony that was perfect for them, and prepare for the big day. This included over 40 tutorial videos and assistance with acquiring their marriage license.
It was my goal to make sure we kept “the main thing the main thing”. I didn’t want them to feel like props in a show.
Weddings are meaningful, and to the best of my ability, I wanted to preserve the tenderness of the moment and keep the focus on their love story during this wild ride!
Joy and Eric share a strong faith, and despite the cheering crowd, we were even able to have a blessing over their marriage.
It did prove to be challenging to stay focused, especially when right in the middle of their vows we were suddenly pelted with RICE along the route!
Got Desserts contributed a cake truly fit for Lakeland’s Largest Wedding. Lea Williams, with Got Desserts, tells us a bit about her experience and inspiration participating in this unique event,
“Got Desserts wanted to participate and the only thing we could offer on the float was a BIG cake! When I think of weddings I think white and sparkly. So my cake decorator Amanda Young and I came up with a 7 tiered cake.
Since the theme was ‘Christmas Past, Present and Future’ we decided to do lace as past, pleated fondant as the present and the embellishments as future.
This service would have had a price tag of $3,200 and can serve 305 people. It took approximately 40 hours to shop, mix, roll, and decorate. We were more than happy to put in all that love!
Being able to bring a group of vendors together to create a beautiful wedding on a moving float in Lakeland’s Largest Wedding parade is pretty unique and special experience.”
Wedding Chris Gillyard, adds, “My favorite moment happened when the float entered the heart of downtown Lakeland for the ceremony; the crowds were cheering and the local news channel was streaming live.”
Gillyard shares that he usually provides a 48-hour sneak peak for couples but for this event he provided it that same night since. “There was so much media presence and general excitement surrounding Lakeland’s Largest Wedding.”
Crystal, what was your favorite moment from the big day?
That’s easy! With our planner/coordinator’s expert help, we timed the ceremony to have the grand finale right in front of the judges’ stand.
I pronounced them “husband and wife!” and the crowd erupted in applause and cheering! When Eric kissed his bride I had a chance to glance up at the judges’ stand. They were on their feet, faces radiant with genuine joy, applauding furiously. I thought my heart might explode.
It was the cherry on top that those same judges voted our Polk County Wedding and Event Pros float The 2022 Judges Choice Award! The top honor of the annual parade!
Complete List of Participating Vendors in Lakeland’s Largest Wedding
💚 Ceremony & Officiant by: Ceremony by Crystal
💚 Photography by: Chris Gillyard Photography
💚 Planning & Design by: Perfect Day Productions
Cake and Desserts by: Got Desserts
Flowers by: The Twisted Tulip, Florida
Catering by: Terrie Lobb Catering
Videography by: Storybook Weddings
Hair and Makeup by: Sara Ray
DJ, Cool Sparklers and “cloud” by: DJ Mini C
Balloon and banner décor by: Party People Events
Rentals by: Any Event Linen & Chair Rental
Venue by: Springhill Suites by Marriott
Furniture & Dance Floor Rentals: Premier Parties
President of PCWEP: Under One Tent
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