Sea Lions Made a Special Appearance at This Couple's Central Park Zoo Wedding in New York City

Animals have, in one way or another, always cropped up during pivotal points of Nicole Hawkins and Jack Metelski’s relationship. Sitting next to one a

Animals have, in one way or another, always cropped up during pivotal points of Nicole Hawkins and Jack Metelski’s relationship. Sitting next to one another in a psychology class at Colgate University, Jack’s critter-adorned socks were their very first topic of conversation. Years later, when he proposed, Jack pointed out a fictitious animal in the distance to distract his girlfriend while he got on one knee. Finally, the lovebirds chose to hold their wedding reception at the Central Park Zoo—the ultimate animal destination in the city.

“Having lived in NYC together for over five years, the city played a special role in our relationship,” Nicole says. “We were looking to host a wedding that captured both the fun elements of the venue, as well as the sophisticated, magical elements of New York.” Playing off their inspiration, the bride and groom decided on a late-spring color palette to bring their vision to life. “Our specific style could be categorized as ‘whimsically elegant,’” notes Nicole. “We chose a dusty blue as the main tone and added colorful pastels to capture the season and the garden’s hues to represent the zoo.”

Before they partied with the lions and tigers, they held a traditional Catholic ceremony at their church on the Upper West Side. Nicole wore a customized version of the “Olivie” gown by Sareh Nouri—chosen to “mirror the floral and somewhat ethereal qualities of our venue and [because it was] light enough to wear (and dance in) all night”—paired with a cathedral-length veil from the same designer. Jack decided upon a classically chic black-tie look accented with tuxedo studs and cufflinks from his father, a watch from his bride and a wedding band that belonged to his great-grandfather. “He discovered it was received in 1922—100 years prior to our wedding year!” reveals Nicole.

Carrying a nosegay of ranunculus, peonies and garden roses wrapped in a segment of her mom’s wedding dress, the bride met her beloved at the end of the aisle. The couple said their “I dos” against a backdrop of a stunning altar and intricately painted stained-glass windows. “[During the ceremony], Jack and I each collected a red rose to five to each other’s mothers—this is one of our favorite memories from the day,” Nicole recounts.

After traveling to the zoo for the reception, attendees found their way to cocktail hour with the help of a hand-painted watercolor sign, courtesy of the bride herself. The spirited hour ended with a very special demonstration: a sea lion show. “All of our guests were anticipating it—the sea lions and trainers were incredibly talented, and this entertainment started the party off on a really high note!” tells the bride.

Friends and family gathered under a transparent tent featuring strung-up café lighting and tons of greenery to enjoy dinner and revelry. “We were really inspired by the beauty of the gardens around the zoo and the gorgeous skyline in the background, so we wanted our reception to exude this sense of elegance and softness,” Nicole describes. “We selected light blue linens and classic blue-and-white-patterned chargers to add a timeless look to the tablescapes.” Light-hued floral arrangements and long candles lined the center of each table. As a nod to their venue, the newlyweds were sure to include animals in their decor: loved ones found their seats for dinner with zoo-animal figurines attached to their escort cards and each table number displayed a drawing of a different creature.

As for their sage, tried-and-true advice for other brides and grooms, Nicole and Jack stress the importance of hiring a planner or month-of coordinator, if your budget allows. “If you do hire a planner, make sure to consider your personalities and compatibility during your interviews. [Our planner] understood our vision and she was really fun, talented and easy to talk to. When our wedding weekend arrived, Jack and I could just focus on having fun with our guests and celebrating the love that we are lucky to share.”

Whimsical Invitation Suite With for Central Park Zoo Wedding in Blue
An Emerald-Cut Engagement Ring, A Multi-Diamond Band and Gold Wedding Band
Custom Welcome Bag With Watercolor Done by the Bride
Bride With Long Veil and Groom in Tuxedo Wed in Catholic Church in NYC
A custom watercolor welcome sign to a spring wedding at the Central Park Zoo in New York City with illustrated flowers in pastel colors painted by the bride.
Sea lions and their trainer perform for guests in formal attire during a whimsical, spring wedding cocktail hour at the Central Park Zoo in New York City.
Guests in Suits Take Selfie Photo With a Sea Lion at the Central Park Zoo
Sea Lions Performing at Wedding Cocktail Hour at the Central Park Zoo
Escort Cards With Gold Animal Figurines at Central Park Zoo Reception
Deviled Egg Passed Appetizers With Caviar at Spring Cocktail Hour in NYC
A rectangular wood table at a tented reception at the Central Park Zoo in New York City with low, pastel-colored centerpieces and tall candles sitting underneath hanging vines and string lights.
Animal Table Number at Spring Reception at Central Park Zoo
Round Tables With White Linens and Pastel Centerpieces Under Hanging Flowers
Three-Tier Naked Cake With Live Pastel Flowers and Penguin Cake Toppers
Singer Performs With a Live Band During a Central Park Zoo Wedding