The Bronx Zoo is one of the most unique wedding venues in New York City. Where else can you commune with the animals, say ‘I do,’ and throw a party that lasts until the wolves howl at the moon? This Saturday I had the pleasure of photographing my second Bronx Zoo wedding, and here are all the details, including a special appearance by the New Jersey Devil mascot.
Bronx Zoo Wedding: Getting Ready
The day started out perfectly. Not only was rain finally not in the forecast, but the sun made an appearance. Most importantly, however, everyone at the wedding was on time and our schedule for the day was humming, thanks in part to our day-of coordinator, Joanna Solazzo. I met her at the Residence Inn by Marriott — the closest hotel to the Bronx Zoo — where we got some quick getting ready shots of her and her bridesmaids. The Bronx Zoo has a spacious bridal suite within the reception space, so most brides end up getting ready in two locations. It’s a shrewd set up, and Stephanie took full advantage.
Selfishly, I am also a plan of brides zipping into their wedding dress at the Bronx Zoo because there are many more creative places to hang the wedding dress at the zoo than there or at the hotel. My two favorite places for hanging the wedding dress are on the ear of the stone lion outside the reception space and as a reflection in the door of the bridal suite upstairs. (Thank you to Joanna, the maid of honor, who bravely climbed the lion with the wedding dress!)
I’ll end this section on the getting ready photos by giving a huge shout out to the brides beautiful shoes! They were gorgeous, though painful, and it should be noted that Stephanie chose to wear glitter-covered tennis shoes underneath her wedding dress for all of our bride and groom portraits. Smart girl!
Bronx Zoo Wedding: Portraits
Speaking of portraits, I had originally planned to do the ‘first look’ at the Bird House. As luck would have it, the sun was too bright, and so we simply used the front of the Lion House — where the reception is held — for the first look. I used sun flare to my advantage. Fitz was so happy about seeing Stephanie for the first time; you can feel the excitement in the photo as Fitz waits for Stephanie to emerge in her beautiful dress. In case you were curious, Stephanie and Fitz met in 2009 while working at Yankee Stadium together. What started with an occasional ‘hi!’ at the copier, blossomed into a beautiful romance in 2016 when Stephanie moved to a different office. Last year Fitz asked Stephanie to marry him on Valentine’s Day after a fantastic dinner of BBQ. Yum.
After a few individual photos of Stephanie and Fitz, we moved on to tackle photos of the couple with their favorite animals: the giraffes. The giraffes were out loud and proud, and seemed to be waiting for their close up. The light was great, and after a few photos and many congratulations from passers by, we moved on to the bears where Stephanie and Fitz showed off their dance moves.
One word of caution to future Bronx Zoo wedding couples, the golf cart driver provided to us by the zoo did not know where the animals were located. Thank God I had been to the zoo several times and had a map with me. The ‘scenic route’ we took through the zoo took up quite a bit of time and as a result, we only had time for two animals. Compounding the problem of getting lost in the zoo was the number of visitors that day. The crowds were thick, and people simply did not pay attention to the danger of getting run over by the golf cart. It’s frowned upon for the golf cart drivers to use the horn, so there’s no way to make it quickly through the crowds. The only benefit to the golf cart is that you’re not walking. Luckily, Stephanie and Fitz still have an engagement session to shoot, and right now the plan is to return to the zoo for photos with their favorite animals. Who knows? Maybe I can even get Stephanie and Fitz to wear their wedding outfits again…
For those of you planning a Bronx Zoo wedding in the future, heed my warnings from this wedding and from Emily and Ben‘s wedding: the time crunch is real. The animal exhibits close at 5:00 p.m., and it takes a long time to get from one exhibit to the other mainly due to crowds, but also because of sheer distance. Prioritize the animals you want to visit, and only plan on 2 to 3 stops for your portrait session. If you want to include more animals in your portrait session, then pack those photos into an engagement shoot, like Jane and Matt did.
One other problem we ran into was taking photos at the bug carousel. The original plan was to take all of the bridal party portraits on the bug carousel. I could just picture each bridesmaid and groomsmen riding their own separate bug, and I knew the photos would have been epic. Unfortunately, the event coordinator and I were notified of a time change just as I was finishing up the bride and groom portraits. Apparently, the bug carousel closes to visitors at 5:30 p.m. and is not available for portraits before then. Since the ceremony began at 6:00 p.m., this simply would not have given us enough time to take photos and get back in time to walk down the aisle. We basically would have had 15 minutes for photos of an 18 member bridal party before we would need to hop back on the golf cart and get back to the Zoo Building. These crazy kids deserve more time.
My back up plan was to take photos behind the Zoo Building with the rhino statues. Again, this wasn’t a great option because there were so many visitors in the background of the photos, but everything worked out and we captured some fantastic memories. Furthermore, this location could not have been a more perfect spot for bridal party photos since all we had to do was walk through to the ceremony space on the other side.
Bronx Zoo Wedding: Ceremony
Which leads me to Stephanie and Fitz saying ‘I do.’ Officiating at their wedding was none other than Daniela VillaRamos, otherwise known on Instagram as @OnceUponAVow. She and I had the pleasure of doing a wedding together at the William Vale, and it was a fantastic event even though it only lasted one hour. Daniela officiated the ceremony in both English and Spanish, and she has a wonderful presence. The ceremony was personalized, and it was far from your boring nuptials.
During the ceremony the couple performed a wine unity ritual. Instead of the usual box of wine that the couple stows in a box for their five-year anniversary, Stephanie and Fitz had a bottle of Hennessy put into the box along with love letters to each other. Their anniversary can’t get here soon enough! By the way, the Bronx Zoo has displaced the rhinos who used to reside inside the Zoo Building. They now live elsewhere, and while I am sad that they had to move, the upside is that the Zoo Building no longer smells so bad. The Zoo Building is the ceremony rain backup location, so now it is not such a bad option if the weather isn’t great.
Bronx Zoo Wedding: Cocktail Hour
The temperature outside was glorious, and all of the guests seemed to enjoy cocktail hour in front of the seal pool. There were multiple bars and food stations, along with passed hors d’oeuvres. Guests roamed all around the immediate area. As opposed to my last wedding at the Bronx Zoo, the Madagascar exhibit was not used for the cocktail hour.
Bronx Zoo Wedding: Reception
The reception was in the Lion House, and this time it was a served dinner, not a buffet. The staff was on their game, and the food was quite good. Dinner was steak and a crab cake. While there was no bouquet or garter toss, the couple did do a traditional cake cutting. Check out the precious cake toppers! (You can find anything on Etsy.)
The highlight of the reception was an appearance by the New Jersey Devils mascot. The New Jersey Devil was a surprise gift from Stephanie to Fitz, and let me tell you, he was so damn entertaining. He danced, he flirted, and best of all, he made fun of people sitting at the table on their cell phones. He danced with little Elyse, the five-year-old flower girl, and she had a ball. The energy level went through the roof with the mascot there, and he was such a great addition to the party. It was wonderful to see the New Jersey Devil room interact with the bride and groom, and he had some terrific moves on the dance floor.
This group was hot and heavy on the dance floor up until the last song of the night. It’s clear that everyone had a great time with each other — which is the most important factor for any party. As I said my goodbyes to the bride and groom, I asked Stephanie her impressions of the evening. She said that she had a wonderful time and thoroughly enjoyed her wedding day. That, my friends, is the best note on which you could ever end a wedding blog.
Venue and caterer: Bronx Zoo
Day-Of Coordinator: Joanna Solazzo, The Day Of Company
Wedding Cake: Butterfly Bakeshop
Videographer: Jon Waldman, By Design Films
Officiant: Daniela Villa Ramos, Once Upon a Vow
NJ Devil Mascot: New Jersey Devils
Flowers: Pine and Petal Weddings, Etsy
Stuffed animal guest favors: Steven Smith Stuffed Animals
Hair and makeup: Renee, Pin It Up Bridal
Wedding dress: David’s Bridal
Bride’s shoes: Betsey Johnson Izzy Glitter Strappy Dress Sandals
Bridesmaids dresses: David’s Bridal
Groom and groomsmen attire: Men’s Warehouse
Men’s ties: Knotty Tie
Invitations: The Design Brewery, Etsy
If you would like to see more images from my wedding photojournalism portfolio, then please visit my website — www.KellyWilliamsPhotographer.com