More Couples Are Saying "I Do" at the Zoo

Photo by Markus Rae Photography, courtesy of the Indianapolis Zoo
A couple opts for an aquatic backdrop for their Indianapolis Zoo nuptials.

As you’re creating your guest seating chart for your nuptials this summer, here’s a curious question you may have to ponder if you’re jumping on the latest wedding bandwagon: Should we put great aunt Judy next to the 18-foot python or the penguins?

According to wedding experts across the country, more couples are ditching the typical church and hotel ballroom affair to get hitched in more unusual locales — like their local zoo.

Chicago wedding planner Ali Phillips has seen a major increase in the demand for zoo weddings in the past year.

“Brides and grooms really want to do something unique from what their friends and family have done,” she says. “And zoos are certainly unique.”

They may also be more affordable, says Richard O’Malley, an event producer in New York City. “The big zoos charge rates that are on par with other event rental spaces, but standard or smaller zoos can have very reasonable rental prices, and more personality than your regular wedding venue,” he says.

Another enticement: Zoos also offer naturally lush settings for beautiful wedding photos — and most let guests get up close and personal with some of their exotic inhabitants.

Here are three zoos where you can tie the knot with four-legged, furry or feathered friends in attendance.

The Indianapolis Zoo, Indianapolis, Ind.

When the Indianapolis Zoo opened its Efroymson Wedding Garden in 1999, they had no idea just how popular it would become. “In the past decade, we’ve hosted more than 500 wedding-related events, and we already have 43 on the books for 2012,” says Jackie Sabrosky, the wedding and events sales manager for the zoo.

Couples can also exchange their vows in the Knot Gardens, The Hulman Riverhouse (it showcases the downtown skyline through its floor-to-ceiling windows) or the Dolphin Gallery, with its underwater viewing dome. “Where else can you say that you shared your first dance with dolphins?” says Sabrosky.

Photo Ops: At this zoo, brides and grooms have access to the zoo grounds for their big-day photos. Some standout spots:

Willow Tree in DeHaan Tiergarten. “We’ve had many clients book the zoo for their wedding location because they were engaged under that willow tree,” says Sabrosky.

Sea Lions. As the couple stands in front of the exhibit, trainers can position the animals in such a way that they get great pictures every time.

Tigers. Only inches of glass separate you and your bride or groom from one of the world’s most dangerous and beautiful cats.

Animal Ambassadors: If you crave even more animal interaction on your wedding day, you can feed the giraffes with your new husband or wife. And guests can reach into the large touch pool in the Oceans Building, which is home to stingrays — and sharks!

Details: Weddings packages start at $1,300; 317/630-2001.

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