We did this, but I wouldn’t consider our legal marriage a traditional “wedding” – we were very intent on NOT trying to have 2 weddings that were basically the same except for scale. We felt that it would have been too self-indulgent and sort of pointless, but because of FI’s exceptionally dangerous job in the military, we knew there was the tiniest possibility that it would be our only wedding, and wanted it to be somewhat special. I have never detailed it before, but here is what we did:
The day before my birthday, we met our officiant on the beach in front of the Hotel Del Coronado, San Diego. FI wore a suit, and I wore a champagne satin wrap dress that was actually my prom dress (I apparently had wonderful taste when I was 17). Our parents originally wanted to all be there, but we said that would be too “wedding-y” and nixed that. They actually all agreed with the decision and respected. My twin brother and his girlfriend (my MOH) were our witnesses. We didn’t write anything about the ceremony, and our officiant did a standard, secular ceremony (we were saving our spiritual wedding for October as well). We exchanged rings, and within 5 minutes, we were done.
My brother and his GF brought champagne and chocolate covered strawberries as a surprise, and we all sat on the beach for a half hour and “celebrated”. After that, FI and I went and spent the night at a B&B in Julian, a mountain town outside of San Diego. We had an amazing dinner, more champagne and strawberries. We woke up and hiked and played tourist in the town and drove home that afternoon. Once we got home, we put the rings back in the boxes and went back to being engaged.
I would not change ANYTHING about what we have done. That weekend was a beautiful, quiet, intimate weekend that really focused on FI and me and our relationship with each other, and while October 29 is going to be amazing, it will be much more focused on the family and the “event” part of getting married. Even my MOH made a comment later about how special that weekend was, but that it won’t take away from the excitement and newness of the family wedding, because we didn’t do ANY of that yet. No dinner with family, no dances, no bouquet, no white dress, no big send off.
So the bottom line is: I will never try to talk anybody out of this option, because it was awesome for us, but I do think that if you are going to do it and want to make sure it doesn’t take away from the later ceremony, it’s important to not try to incorporate everything “wedding” in both events. That personally would have ruined it for me, and would have cheapened October for me. But pretty much everything will be something we haven’t done before (like I said, even the ceremony will be totally different), and that keeps it special for us.