If you are an animal fan, then the zoo is your fantasy wedding venue. But before you heed the call of the he wild, come along with me to explore Emily and Ben’s beautiful Bronx Zoo wedding and learn some valuable tips for your own big day!
Let’s start our wedding adventure with where to get ready for your big day. The Bronx Zoo is not located near any major hotels. Being situated so far north in the Bronx, your closest hotel choice is the Residence Inn by Marriott at the Metro Center Atrium. This is where Emily and her bridesmaids got ready, and it is a fabulous value. Every hotel room is a suite and includes a full kitchen. That makes this hotel a great choice for the bridal party as well as for any extended family.
By contrast, the bridal suite at the Bronx Zoo is basically a large conference room. The space is well lit and large, but there is no natural light for makeup application. So I would recommend taking care of your makeup and hair styling beforehand and then simply putting on your dress in the bridal suite at the Bronx Zoo. Also, keep in mind that you will not be able to enter the bridal suite until 2:00 p.m. This plan to get ready at the hotel and make final adjustments at the zoo is exactly what Emily did, and the plan worked flawlessly without even so much as a wrinkle in her wedding dress.
And in case you’re wondering, Ben got ready in the restroom underneath the bridal suite just minutes before the first look. We had some, shall we say, ‘issues’ with Ben’s bowtie. If you – or any member of your bridal party – will be wearing a bowtie, make sure you have practiced with the exact tie at least one day prior. While images of the bridal party using a YouTube video to try and figure out how to tie a bowtie are always wonderful, the stress may not be worth the great photos.
Next up was the ‘first look,’ which we staged behind the Zoo Center Building. As I mentioned in my previous blog, the Bronx Zoo remains open to the public until 5:00 p.m. If you will be having a first look prior to the close of the zoo, be prepared to have tourists wandering into your shots. With a little patience and a bridal party who kindly redirected traffic, I was able to keep guests out of Emily and Ben’s photos and the couple saw each other for the first time in front of their favorite rhino statues. Unlike most first looks where the bride taps the groom on the shoulder, Emily and Ben wanted to do a simultaneous first look, and I simply counted to three before they turned around and saw each other. It was a beautiful moment, made all the more lovely with the Zoo Center’s epic architecture in the background. There are lots of locations around the zoo where you might consider a first look, but the area behind the Zoo Center was largely free of guests at this time.
After the first look, we quickly hopped in a golf cart and headed into the inner part of the zoo for the bride and groom portraits. I would definitely recommend taking any animal portraits ahead of time, and using this portrait time to focus on the bride and groom alone. I concentrated our portraits on the areas most beloved by the bride and groom: the gorillas, the tigers, and the heroic front gates of the Bronx Zoo on Southern Boulevard. That said, we originally had plans to take photos in front of the historic fountain, forest area by the waterfall, and right in front of the Zoo Center. These photos never happened because there simply was not enough time. For your wedding, be prepared for crowds. This means that it will take more time than you expect to get from one location to the other. Those same crowds will obstruct your path, and make it difficult to get a clear shot of the couple at any exhibit. I recommend concentrating on three locations max, with a few other backup locations. Likewise, do not try and take photos with the bridal party or with the family in any of the animal exhibits. There is not enough space or time to accommodate large crowd photos. For family photos, the Zoo Center, front gates, or the fountain are ideal locations. Finally, note that the parking lot in front of the historic fountain will be filled with cars – making a clear shot impossible – until after the crowds have left at 5:00 p.m. Furthermore, guests will be leaving through the front gates until 5:00 p.m., so you will have cars in your shot until this time.
After photos at the front gates, we essentially made a big circle back to the Zoo Center, which was our location for the bridal party and family portraits. This is a good time to chat about the bridal party attire and how to successfully work in a sophisticated animal theme to your wedding. Emily let every bridesmaid chose her own dress, with the stipulation that the dresses all be dark green in color and floor length. Each bridesmaid gave her outfit a unique touch by wearing a different animal print shoe. The groom continued the animal print theme with zebra socks and cufflinks.
For the reception, Emily and Ben made their own escort card holders by spray praying animal magnets. The couple also made each table number holder by spray painting toy animals and inserting a card holder. The escort card area was decorated with a large antique map of the Bronx Zoo, and the postcards for guests to send well wishes to the couple were re-published retro Bronx Zoo postcards. Finally, the guest favors were Zoo Books, which you might remember from your childhood. The postcards were purchased through the zoo, and the map and Zoo Books were all found online.
That brings us to the ceremony. The weather ended up cooperating, although for a while there I was anticipating rain. Most ceremonies at the Bronx Zoo are held in front of the Zoo Center, with guest chairs pointing towards the building. The view is stunning, but of course, the ceremony is open to the elements. In the event of rain, your only option is to hold the ceremony indoors at the Zoo Center. The building is lovely, but boy does it smell thanks to the current residents, the rhinoceroses. My advice: pray for clear skies.
The cocktail hour was held inside the Madagascar exhibit, and continued to the seal exhibit outside. The seal exhibit is a great source of entertainment for guests. Again, in case of rain, the cocktail hour would be held entirely inside the Madagascar exhibit. This is a very cool space, but extremely dark.
And so we get to the reception. While the space inside the former lion’s den has very high ceilings, I found it easy to light. The dance space is large, and can accommodate a big crowd. There is an alcove where they put the bar and also where the cake cutting is held. This space photographs great, and is lit from a skylight. If you have a choice, go for the animal privacy screens to mark off the back of the space like Emily and Ben did.
Emily and Ben had a great time at their wedding, and the day went off without a hitch. One final recommendation: if you are going to be having a Bronx Zoo wedding, then consider hiring an event planner, even if just a day-of coordinator. This is my first time working with event planner Emily Lester, and she was wonderfully prepared. She has worked at the venue several times, and knows this place backwards and forwards.
So that’s it for Emily and Ben’s fantastic Bronx Zoo wedding! Their honeymoon, of course, was a safari in Kenya, and you should hop over to her Instagram at @emilycaroline to see Emily’s great photos. Also, check out my previous blog on Emily and Ben’s engagement shoot at Fort Tryon Park.
Ceremony & reception venue: Bronx Zoo
Caterer: Bronx Zoo
‘Getting ready’ location: Residence Inn at Marriott the Bronx at Metro Center Atrium
Wedding dress: Lenora dress by WToo
Hairstylist and makeup artist: MG Hair and Makeup
Groom’s attire: Zegna
Bridal party attire: Azazie
Rings: Tiffany & Co. (groom’s ring); bride’s ring is a family heirloom
Event planner: Emily Lester, EM Event Management
Cake: Baked NYC
Officiant: Larissa Martell, Weddings by Larissa
Videographer: NST Pictures
Invitations: Tankerville Press
If you would like to see more photos from my wedding portfolio, then please visit my website – www.KellyWilliamsPhotographer.com