Irish author and playwright George Bernard Shaw once observed, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” It should be noted that Shaw lived to the ripe ol’ age of 94 and was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature along the way. In other words, listen to the man.
Nowhere is it written that a wedding need be a formal occasion. It can be, and if that’s the day you dream of, more power to you. There is indeed a lot to be said for pomp and circumstance, ceremony and tradition. If, however, you’re looking to travel a more laid-back route on your big day, one that involves whimsy, creativity and, yes, plenty of opportunities to play, our fair state offers some pretty spectacular options to consider. Herewith are 10 of our favorites. Take a look and see which best fits your vision. More importantly: Have fun!
Give it a whirl
Weddings at Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport revolve around a turn-of-the-century-style carousel pavilion that’s home to not only a whirling, twirling fiberglass carousel from the 1940s, but 69 magnificent painted ponies from Bridgeport’s Pleasure Beach amusement park, which opened in 1892. Created during the golden age of the carousel by master carvers Charles Carmel and Marcus Illions, the noble wooden steeds that once presided over the cotton-candy-and-popcorn world of Pleasure Beach have since been restored and mounted on brass poles and encircle three-quarters of the pavilion, which can accommodate up to 180 for a seated reception.
And then there’s the 52-acre zoo itself, home to more than 300 animals, including endangered and threatened species such as Amur tigers (including cubs Reka and Zeya), Andean condors, giant anteaters and golden lion tamarins — so cute!
Rent the entire zoo, which allows your guests to explore all exhibits, have someone from the zoo’s education department present an animal or two for a meet-and-greet during cocktail hour (perhaps a gator, chinchilla or owl) or arrange for a special bride-and-groom photo opp and help zookeepers feed animals such as the otters or maybe even the red pandas, suggests Lindsay Durkee, rentals and events manager for Beardsley Zoo. Let your imagination run, well, wild!
The 465,000-square-foot, sports-and-recreation complex that is Chelsea Piers Connecticut in Stamford features (are you ready?): two NHL regulation-size ice rinks, an Olympic pool and water park, a gymnastics center, squash courts, tennis courts, a baseball/softball training facility and a 12,000-square-foot adventure center — and that’s just to start! The folks here obviously know how to have fun, and when it comes to weddings, The Loft at Chelsea Piers is where they do it.
This 4,000-square-foot, industrial-style venue, which can seat up to 180, provides what Event Coordinator Charlotte Boutarel calls a “modern and raw” space whose chic white walls, soaring ceilings and lofted mezzanine add a high-end appeal.
And, yes, The Loft has you covered when (and if) you’re ready to incorporate the energy of Chelsea Piers into your day. Imagine cocktail hour on the pier’s indoor turf field with games such as giant Jenga, cornhole and ping-pong, or the chance to take your turn at batting cages adjacent to the field. Guests can even head over to the adventure center for some trampoline dodgeball.
The Wedding Crasher(s)
You might have a few extra guests should you decide to marry at Mystic Aquarium. Weddings at this Connecticut landmark are generally held in front of a 20-foot, underwater viewing window at the 750,000-gallon Arctic coast exhibit that’s home to beluga whales Kela and Juno — and these smiling giants never miss a wedding. “As soon as we get a bride and groom set up out there Kela and Juno are always right behind them,” laughs David Hunter, manager of events for Ocean Blue Catering. The playful pair also happens to be excellent at photobombs.
Cocktails can be enjoyed overlooking the belugas, which also allows guests time to explore the rocky shores of the Pacific Northwest exhibit or maybe even meet a few dapper African penguins that trainers have brought to waddle on by. Seated receptions for 250 take place indoors in the main gallery, where tables are interspersed among exhibits and a dance floor set up in front of a massive coral reef. You can even add on a private sea lion show for guests in the Marine Theater with stars Cali, Sakari and Maia.
“It’s generally people who love animals who are drawn to a wedding at the aquarium,” Hunter says. The “best part” of that is since Ocean Blue Catering is owned by Mystic Aquarium, all proceeds from your day go toward helping care for the animals you’ve grown to love.
Now, who’s going to be the one who tells the whales that only the bride is supposed to wear white to a wedding?
Park it right here
Once upon a time there were more than 1,000 “trolley” parks in the U.S. that were owned and operated by electrified rail lines. Middlebury’s Quassy Amusement & Waterpark, once the most popular summer stop on the Connecticut Trolley Co. line, is one of only 11 that remain.
This is not to say that the 20-acre lakeside park, which is celebrating its 110th season, has not kept up with the times. Sure, it still has that quaint old-time feel and many of the rides you remember as a kid (hello, Quassy Express Train and Sky Fighter jets), but also plenty of new ones, such as the Wooden Warrior roller coaster (hello, awesome photo opp), Free Fall ’N’ Drop Tower and Splash Away Bay Waterpark, which includes dozens of ways to get drenched — and just keeps growing. In fact, three new water-raft rides with a combined length of more than 1,000 feet have been added for 2018.
As for weddings, Quassy’s open-air pavilion on Lake Quassapaug can seat up to 300, while a second pavilion next to a two-acre field can accommodate up to a whopping 1,200. Set up some bocce or horseshoes, plan for s’mores around a fire pit on the beach or arrange for all-day ride and waterpark passes for guests. Co-owner George Frantzis II, whose family has owned Quassy for more than 78 seasons, promises, “We do whatever it takes to make each bride’s day special.”
203-758-2913, ext. 108, quassy.com
Down to a science
A 30-foot, 3D model of a Sikorsky helicopter flies toward visitors entering Science Alley at the Connecticut Science Center in Hartford. The dazzling atrium space with its wall of glass overlooking downtown also boasts a massive sperm whale and an 83-foot model of a Mercury-Redstone rocket. The idea, says Director of Marketing Tracy Shirer, is to “showcase the range of scientific exploration from the deep sea to outer space” as well as give visitors a sneak peek at some of the elements of science featured at the center itself. Science Alley also happens to host weddings for up to 120 seated guests — who will probably not want to be seated for long once they get a load of some of the 165 (!) hands-on exhibits spread throughout the science center’s 10 galleries, any of which can be rented for guests to explore.
To consider: Invention Dimension, where you can race a robot and build a Lego masterpiece; Planet Earth, where you can dig for dinosaur fossils and experience gale-force winds in a hurricane simulator (watch the hair); or Forces in Motion, where you can design and test a heli-flyer and compete to move objects using wind power. There’s even a new Butterfly Encounter, where your guests can mingle with up to 50 different species of free-flying flutterbies!
Say, say, oh playmate
Play is serious business at Stepping Stones Museum for Children in Norwalk. The folks here understand that children “learn best by doing” and have devoted their 35,000 square feet of whimsical galleries, gardens and exhibit space to making sure they get to do just that — and we get to come along for the ride.
The Energy Lab is an immersive, wet-and-windy environment where kids learn about the science of energy. Express Yourself uses art, music and cooperative games (including a giant Lite-Brite — squeal!) to encourage social-emotional learning. Build It explores architectural design and construction from the ground up. Even the museum’s signature 27-foot kinetic sculpture known as the ColorCoaster is as much a giant mechanical toy as it is a piece of art.
Rent the entire museum for receptions of up to 200 seated guests or choose specific spaces you’d like to share with guests. An open-air courtyard can seat up to 125 under its twin-peaked tent, while a favorite of events manager Lauren Bonenfant is the cutting-edge Multimedia Gallery, which features a 35-foot-by-12-foot immersive screen, cutting-edge camera, lighting and sound systems, and a way-cool interactive projection floor.
203-899-0606, ext. 227, steppingstones museum.org
The Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, which can accommodate up to 300 seated guests, is the state’s only aquarium focused almost exclusively on Long Island Sound. As such, its exhibits includes sharks, stingrays, harbor seals, sea turtles, game fish, jellies and crabs as well as tropical travelers who follow the Gulf Stream north to our waters.
Ceremony? The aquarium, which is set in a refurbished 1860s factory, offers the Cascade Café, an airy, modern, industrial loft space with an urban feel. Cocktail hour? Consider the Sharks and Rays Gallery, whose centerpiece is a 40-foot long, 6,000-gallon shark and ray touch pool, or set up some cushy seating for those who prefer to lounge by the sand tiger sharks, lemon sharks, sea bass and other schooling fish that call the 110,000-gallon tank of the Ocean Beyond the Sound exhibit home.
As for dinner and dancing, Newman’s Own Hall, which has recently been redesigned, is the place to be. A vibrant palette of blues and greens and exposed wooden beams give it a nautical feel — as do the wide-eyed resident harbor seals situated off to its side. (Hi, Ariel!) It also boasts a video wall that can be set to run slideshows or video montages of the happy couple.
Follow that goat
A hashtag used by the state’s newest minor league baseball club, the Hartford Yard Goats, reads #NoGoatsNoGlory. The good news, dear brides-to-be, is that when the Goats, the Double-A Eastern League affiliate of the Colorado Rockies, are not at home at Dunkin’ Donuts Parkin Hartford chasing their own glory, you just might find yours via a wedding at the stadium’s exclusive YG Club.
The handsome, 7,000-square-foot, climate-controlled club (used by suite holders and season-ticket holders on game days) can seat up to 300 for receptions and offers panoramic views of the stadium voted the Best Double-A Ballpark in America in 2017 by the readers of Ballpark Digest.
Sure, it helps if you like peanuts and Cracker Jacks, because director of event services Conor Geary has some way-cool touches for the tables (ceramic baseballs to hold table numbers and a patch of “turf” to go under each centerpiece), but YG weddings are what Geary calls “fully customizable” and can be whatever you want them to be. Now, back to baseball: You can also rent the field itself for photo opps or guests who want to run the bases, the batting cages for those looking to get in some swings, and expect to see your name in lights on the 80-foot video board in left-center field — grand slam!
On a roll
High Rollers Luxury Lanes & Sports Lounge is not your grandpa’s bowling alley. Nope, not a rubbery hot dog or broken-down vending machine in sight. Instead, this “boutique” bowling facility and lounge at Foxwoods Resort Casino blends a nostalgic Vegas vibe with cutting-edge technology and plenty of polish. Think tailored furniture and dark wood floors, lush carpeting and sleek marble, avant-garde chandeliers and flocked wallpaper. Seating areas at the top of each lane boast plush, oversize banquettes as well as full menu and bar service.
Rental options include the Grand Room, which can seat up to 80 guests and has glass doors that lead to 14 lanes where the bride and groom can throw their first ball (you can rent just a few lanes or all 14), or six swanky VIP lanes which can be rented in conjunction with the two-level Sports Lounge, which can seat up to 250 for a cocktail-style reception. Heck, on select days you can even buy out the entire 35,000-square-foot facility.
Casual. Fun. “We’re all about people looking to really loosen things up,” says Brooke Veal, director of sales. We say, set ’em up.
We are the dinosaurs
The Great Hall at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven can accommodate up to 125 guests for a seated reception — and that doesn’t even include the dinosaurs. The two-story hall was in fact specifically designed to accommodate the world-renowned dinosaur-fossil collection of O.C. Marsh, the first professor of paleontology at Yale University and one of the circa-1866 museum’s first curators.
Those on display include the first Brontosaurus, Stegosaurus and Triceratops ever discovered, a Camarasaurus, a Camptosaurus, a Deinonychus … and the list goes on. The museum’s celebrated Age of Reptiles mural, painted in the Renaissance fresco secco technique by Rudolph Zallinger over the course of more than four years, showcases a panorama of the evolutionary history of the earth — from the Devonian Period 362 million years ago to the Cretaceous Period 65 million years ago — and spans the entire length of the hall’s east wall. Spectacular!