More Couples Are Saying “I Do” at the Zoo
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.
The Maryland Zoo, Baltimore, Md.
With recent renovations to the Mansion House — where most brides yearn to exchange their vows, thanks to the wraparound porch that overlooks Druid Hill Park — the Maryland Zoo has weddings booked every weekend for the rest of this year.
“We anticipate next year will be even bigger,” says Jane Scheffsky, assistant director of group sales for the zoo, which also offers the stunning Lakeside Pavilion for ceremonies.
Photo Ops: Just-wed couples get a personalized tour of the zoo in a 1960s-style golf cart. Some favorite spots to capture quiet moments together:
Lions. You're royalty for the day, so why not get your picture snapped with the king and queen of the jungle: a male lion named Tsavo and a lioness known as Cuma.
Flamingos. You already have something blue, so why not something pink too?
Champion Tree. A huge Osage orange tree near the Lakeside Pavilion is a favorite for bridal party and family group shots.
Animal Ambassadors: Although the zoo does have an 18-foot python who can attend your cocktail hour, the snake isn't the most popular choice. More requested animals: penguins and ravens (for the Baltimore Ravens fans, of course). Volunteers bring the animals to the cocktail hour to interact with guests, as well as get some one-on-one time with the bride and groom.
Details: Wedding packages start at $2,200, while elopement packages (booked 60 days in advance) are $1,995; 410/396-7102.
CuriOdyssey Zoo and Science Center, San Mateo, Calif.
For the past two years, the hands-on CuriOdyssey Zoo and Science Center has been offering weddings in their animal habitats and Redwood Hall, an event space built from repurposed wood.
“We have about two weddings booked per month for the next year or so,” says Laura Ellison, manager of guest services and events.
At any time during the festivities, guests can meander through the park and visit the wild-critter habitats, including a walk-through aviary that's home to nearly two dozen native birds, such as herons, coots and green-winged teals.
Photo Ops: The butterfly and hummingbird gardens are popular picture sites, but brides and grooms also like to have their photos snapped with other “couples” at the zoo, including North American river otters Gunner and Belle, bobcats Frankie and Caro, and the zoo’s most unconventional couple — a North American porcupine named Peanut and her roommate, Diego, a Channel Island fox.
Animal Ambassadors: Zookeepers can bring one or more critters out to visit guests for up to 30 minutes at a time, including tortoises, lizards, owls, raptors, hedgehogs and ferrets.
Details: Event pricing for Redwood Hall starts at $450 per hour; 650/340-7565.