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Want to stray from tradition on your wedding day? We found couples who did just that. An out-of-the-ordinary venue or one that offers something surprising for your guests may better suit your vision and will definitely provide an unforgettable experience—and photos. Can you imagine taking a wedding portrait near sharks at an aquarium? How about treating your guests to a gondola ride to a mountaintop ceremony at a ski resort? Or smooching your spouse next to a larger-than-life work of art in a sculpture garden? There are many unconventional places to hold your New Jersey wedding.
Get inspired by these five bold couples who stepped outside the box.
Couple: Carli & Mark Collins
Photographer: Anthony Ziccardi Studios
More info: Mountain Creek Resort, 973-827-2000
To many, Mountain Creek Resort is known as a water park in the summer and a skiing and snowboarding hotspot in the winter. But it also features the Red Tail Lodge, a rustic wedding venue with a 250-guest capacity, vaulted ceilings, exposed beams and lodge-style decor. There’s also a bridal suite for getting ready and groom suite featuring a balcony with cornhole. The show-stopping feature is the mountaintop ceremony space. That’s where Carli and Mark got married on June 10, 2023—their 10-year dating anniversary.
“We wanted something really different,” says Carli. Aside from the stunning views, the couple’s favorite unique element was the gondolas that carried their guests to the ceremony site. “We thought it would be such a fun and unique experience that the guests would really enjoy,” says Carli. And their guests agreed—the thrilling ride was worth it. “They thought it was incredible,” says Carli. “Everyone kept saying what amazing views it was. We had a few people who were afraid of heights, but they said they wanted to do it for the views.” When a Mountain Creek couple chooses the mountaintop ceremony spot, all guests must ride in a gondola to get there. There is no walking or driving option. (They also offer a lawn ceremony at the base of the mountain and an indoor ceremony in Red Tail Lodge.)
After the breathtaking ceremony, guests hopped back into the gondolas and headed to Red Tail Lodge. “The reception area looks like a ski lodge—very open,” says Carli. “Tea light candles and fabric make the whole atmosphere very romantic. It’s rustic and charming. You wouldn’t think that you’re at a water park at all.”
Couple: Natasha & Brandon Blattner
Photographer: Philip Gabriel Photography
More info: Grounds for Sculpture, 609-249-0212
Nature and art enthusiasts will fall in love with Grounds for Sculpture, a 42-acre museum, sculpture garden and arboretum. Brandon and Natasha’s big day on October 1, 2022, was a little rainy but that didn’t stop the couple from soaking in the beauty of the place. “For us, it was a combination of the elegance of the venue, the uniqueness that the grounds provided, as well as the mutability of the venue, which allowed our wedding to be exactly as we envisioned it,” says Brandon. They had their first look at the Damascus Gate sculpture and took some portraits on the Monet Bridge, which overlooks a koi pond.
Their ceremony was in an area called the Nine Muses. “[It] includes an elevated platform surrounded by a moat and manages to feel both grand and intimate at the same time,” says Brandon. “We’ll never forget walking down that aisle.” Such an expansive property means there are several places to hold a ceremony and reception. Some couples opt for the on-site French-inspired Rat’s Restaurant, but Brandon and Natasha held their party at the East Gallery, a 350-guest capacity space with an industrial vibe.
“The uniqueness of the venue really speaks for itself,” says Brandon. “Being able to take photos on and around the incredible sculptures of the venue was something special. Our favorite photo incorporated a triangular-shaped sculpture, [named Dorion], and our reflection in a fountain.” With nearly 300 sculptures, many of them larger than life, the photo ops are endless.
[RELATED: Looking for more wedding venues? Check out our “Ultimate Guide to Wedding Venues in New Jersey“]
Couple: Laura Jennings Pitt & Roger Pitt
Photographer: Jack Stalk Photo
More info: Turtle Back Zoo, 973-731-5800 x 101
Laura and Roger’s zoo love story begins with their engagement. “Every year, the Turtle Back Zoo has a really wonderful holiday lights exhibit,” says Laura. That’s where Roger got down on one knee. “It was perfect,” she says. The couple also decided to have their wedding at the zoo, on May 21, 2022. “Having a wedding at the zoo comes with many unique features like guests visiting with Jelly and Jam, the resident black bears, and the chance to pet a shark in an evening gown,” says Laura. “Best of all was our photo shoot with the giraffes, who thought my bouquet was a special treat.”
The zoo can accommodate requests to incorporate certain animals into a wedding. Aramark Corporation is their on-site concessioner and can provide reception catering at the Savanna Café. Renting the facility for your wedding includes the entire grounds and unlimited carousel rides throughout the event.
Laura and Roger took wedding portraits at South Mountain Reservation and held their ceremony at the Clipper Pavilion, which is on the waterfront at the reservation, before hosting 140 guests at the Savanna Café in the zoo. (The zoo, reservation and waterfront are all part of South Mountain Recreation Complex). In between the ceremony and reception, there was time to explore the zoo. Their guests rode the train, got to pet some animals in the touch tank and took photos near the majestic lions. One of the most unique moments for Laura was riding the carousel in her wedding dress. “I love the zoo and, to this day, my guests are still talking about how cool it was,” she says.
Couple: Stephanie Amalfe & William Rogers
Photographer: Reena Rose Photography
More info: Liberty Science Center, firstname.lastname@example.org; 201-253-1378
For Stephanie and William, academia and research are a huge part of their identities. So, the Liberty Science Center was the perfect fit for their April 9, 2022, wedding. “We both have a love for science…[and] Will is a self-declared ‘huge nerd,’” says Stephanie. Stephanie and Will earned doctoral degrees in clinical psychology and biology, respectively.
“Our wedding spanned three floors, with each floor offering a unique experience,” says Stephanie. They got married under the Hoberman Sphere. “We planned for the Hoberman Sphere to open when we said, ‘I do,’ which made for a great photo opportunity and a unique centerpiece to our ceremony,” says Stephanie. Their cocktail hour overlooked the New York City skyline and guests took that time to have some fun. “By far, the most special moment was seeing our loved ones playfully interact with the exhibits,” she says. Guests of all ages explored the aquariums, participated in a hand-cranked race car exhibit and watched a robot solve a Rubik’s Cube.
Another special moment was taking pictures in the planetarium as a newly married couple. “The Jennifer Chalsty Planetarium is the largest planetarium in America, so it was surreal to be in this large dark dome with various celestial bodies as our backdrop,” says Stephanie.
Leaning into the science theme, Stephanie’s signature drink was the Freudian Sip and Will’s was the Gene and Tonic. “The event staff were very receptive to our ideas and how we could personalize our day,” adds Stephanie. For example, the couple used scientific glassware as centerpieces with dry ice fog coming out of them.
“We honestly never looked at other venues,” says Stephanie, “as we were so excited at the possibility of being married in such an exceptional location.”
Couple: Mary Gomez & Chris Holzschuh
Photographer: Serena Star Photography
More info: Adventure Aquarium, 844-474-3474
If you’re getting married at an aquarium, you probably have a love for sea life. For Mary and Chris’s big day at Adventure Aquarium on October 9, 2022, they had their first look outdoors on the Camden waterfront overlooking the Philadelphia skyline with the Ben Franklin Bridge in the background. But what this couple was really excited about was their ceremony in front of a 750,000-gallon tank; an array of exhibits for their guests to explore with colorful fish, sea turtles, little blue penguins, sharks and stingrays; and a dance floor below a rotating 1,000-fish mobile.
They opted for the South Seas area of the aquarium, but there is also a Currents Ballroom option. Couples can also choose to have animals, such as an African penguin, present during their cocktail hour. Mary and Chris took playful photos in the shark tunnel and silly shots in which they pretended to be scared next to a shark mural.
One of Chris’s favorite moments was during their ceremony in the Ocean Realm Theater. A stingray swam up to the glass behind the couple. “He looked like he had a little smile on his face,” says Chris. Adds Mary, “Who gets married in front of a tank with a stingray? It’s fun because it’s nontraditional.” At their reception in the rotunda, guests had fun when the song “Rock the Boat” played. They sat on the dance floor and rowed an imaginary boat. Mary and Chris’s signature drink was called a Shark Bite. Their white and orange cake was displayed in front of a porthole. “We wanted it to be an outside-the-box day,” says Mary. “Our guests say it was one of the best weddings.”