Mykerlie Lachapelle, a senior at Jones High School,
checks out a prom dress, March 27, 2009, while
visiting the "Tiger's Den/Chelsea's Boutique," in
Orlando, Florida. The boutique, on site at the school,
is an affordable option for formal wear for school
special events, like proms and homecoming dances.
(Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/MCT)
By Jean Patteson
The Orlando Sentinel (MCT)
ORLANDO, Fla. — Forget dresses, ballrooms and music.
When it came to planning the prom at Mount Dora High School this year, "the first thing I thought about was the recession," said Marilyn Orr, the junior-class sponsor.
"I thought, we need to make this prom affordable."
Holding down costs is the focus of many prom organizers this year. Starting months ago, sponsors and their committees spent long hours researching the best deals on venues, menus and disc jockeys. Now, with prom season under way, students are organizing car pools instead of renting limos. Parents are planning pre-prom dinners at home for their kids to save on dining-out costs. Hairstylists and makeup artists are offering free services. And drives to collect donated prom attire are in full swing.
At Lyman High School in Longwood, Fla., "We're hearing a lot of hardship stories this year," said Lonni Hillis, senior-class sponsor. "Parents are calling and giving us details of their costs, how they're struggling to pay their mortgage. I've put the word out that we'll sell prom tickets up to the last minute to give them time to come up with the money."
Lyman's prom will be held next weekend at Orlando's Gaylord Palms Resort, a decidedly upscale venue. But every effort has been made to keep expenses in check, Hillis said. The $75 ticket price is the same as last year. The resort's $12 parking fee has been negotiated down to $9. And seniors have opted to forgo the traditional farewell gift, a savings of about $10 per student.
Even the "normally fancy dinner that nobody eats" has been replaced with hearty teen favorites such as cheeseburgers and quesadillas — which means students won't have to go out to eat, said Hillis.
Keeping prom affordable is a concern even at schools in more-affluent neighborhoods. At Winter Park High, the $55 tickets are the same price as last year, but now include extras such as a free photo and dinner — not just hors d'oeuvres. And instead of an upscale hotel, the April 18 prom will be held in a more budget-friendly venue: the Harley-Davidson Historic Factory in Orlando.
"I know it's different," said Meg Pietkiewicz, junior-class sponsor. "But I took the junior-class officers out there, and they were very excited. Even the orange-and-black Harley colors are the same as our school colors, so we'll also be able to save on decorations.
"Change is always hard," she said. "At first the seniors were, like, 'What? Where?' But ticket sales are going very well. They're excited because so much is included. I think it will be more memorable than a prom in the usual hotel."
For the first time, the ticket price for the Mount Dora High prom — which will be at the Mission Inn Resort in Howey-in-the-Hills on May 8 — will include a three-course dinner, eliminating the traditional trek into Orlando for a costly meal before the dance, Orr said. Even so, the $65 ticket price is $10 less than last year.
"This is a price the kids can live with," Orr said. "The kids are very cost-conscious. Nobody's grumbling. They look at the menu and go, 'Oh, this is great.'"
Of course, all the student belt-tightening is hurting restaurants, limousine companies and retailers.
"The girls are much more conscious of money this year. They're doing a lot of shopping around before buying," said Karol Salazar at Minerva's Prom in Orlando. And at Absolutely Fitting, a tuxedo-rental shop in Winter Park, Fla., "Our biggest fear is that guys will skip the tux, just wear a black suit and be done with it," said manager Eric Ago.
Things are "totally different from last year" at Sunshine Limousine in Orlando, said owner Waseem Khan. "They're not renting at all for the prom. We're getting inquiries, but they don't want to book, not even our lowest package."
At Jones High School in Orlando, "The economy is really hurting us," said Principal Bridget Williams. The school's prom will be May 2.
"We did talk about having the prom at the school, but this is once-in-a-lifetime event. It should be somewhere special," she said. "The Rosen Plaza has really worked with us to hold tickets to $50."
The community is also helping, Williams said. Stylists have volunteered to do hair, makeup and manicures for free. Civic groups and sororities at the University of Central Florida have donated tuxedos, suits and hundreds of prom dresses _ which are free to students at all area high schools.
Karen Cruz, a senior at Oak Ridge High School, picked out a sparkling, wine-colored gown from the collection at Jones for her April 18 prom.
(c) 2009, The Orlando Sentinel (Fla.).
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