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Laura Hunt

Can I Have a Formal Portrait with A Cheetah?

Wedding Coordinator goes on Safari
Text: Jean Marks, Wedding Coordinator

When I began my business as a wedding coordinator, I knew it would be interesting work, but I had no idea it would bring me into close proximity with lemurs, giraffes, and cheetahs!

         In September of this year, Kate called, requesting help with planning her December wedding in Santa Rosa, at SAFARIWEST. I had not heard of her chosen venue, but the name alone intrigued me. Had it not been for this introduction to this animal park, I would not have known that you can have formal wedding portraits with a cheetah, that lemurs love to screech as they jump from tree to tree at sunset, or that a giraffes' eyelashes are about two inches long! I learned all of this as a part of my job as a wedding coordinator!

Kate hired me for full service coordination. She and her fianc├ę were graduate students with full teaching schedules at Stanford, and they needed help with all aspects of bringing their dream of a safari wedding to reality. I would handle everything from organizing hotel accommodations and the rehearsal dinner; to finding an officiant, a florist, a photographer, a DJ, and a caterer. Everything was up to me, except for two basic requests: they wanted a safari experience for all the guests before the wedding, and they wanted some formal photos with the cheetah. Because Kate's family had lived near a wildlife park in Oregon, throughout her childhood, she had had a Christmas photo with a cheetah... Having another cheetah portrait, as a bride, seemed the perfect cap for all that history.

My first course of action was to schedule an overnight stay at SAFARIWEST, to get to know the venue, and to find vendors for the wedding. Sheree Green, their event coordinator, was gracious in offering me a complimentary tent cabin, with a view of the giraffe enclosure. This was my introduction to these wonderful creatures.

Within 36 hours, I had secured the park's photographer and DJ for the wedding, and had identified an excellent hotel for the guests, who would be coming from as far away as Minnesota, Michigan, and Japan. I also located a beautiful winery for the rehearsal dinner, just a short drive from the hotel.

My site visit concluded with a meeting with the chef and catering manager, as well as with Sheree Green, to work out the reception plans, housing for guests staying in the tent cabins, and, of course, with scheduling the one hour "African Queen Safari" for all the wedding guests. I drove away from the wild beauty of the park, excited that I would be returning in two months for the wedding.

From my office, I was able to secure an excellent florist and officiant for Kate and Ben, using recommendations from Judith Rivers Moore, an associate who has planned weddings in the Santa Rosa area for years. With the stage set, it was time to meet regularly with Kate and Ben here at my home in Palo Alto, working out the logistics of their unique wedding, and just enjoying each other's company over tea and apple crisp, Ben's favorite, and a specialty of mine!.

My final timeline was worked out in great detail so that no one missed any of the events of the wedding weekend. It included, a 2:30 safari ride through the 400 acres back country in an authentic open air vehicle; formal portraits of the wedding party and the family with the cheetah at 4:30; just before the 5 pm ceremony; and a "Porcupine Presentation" by Sheree, also an animal enthusiast, before dinner. Other wedding details, like the rehearsal, ceremony, dinner, toasts, and dancing, were certainly included in my timeline, but it is the scheduling around the wildlife that stands out in my memory!

I think it is safe to say that most of Kate and Ben's family members and guests were a little unsure about this African theme wedding, especially those coming out from the Midwest. However, by the end of the pre-wedding safari, the visits along the way with wildebeests and zebras, the safely completed cheetah photographs, and the joy-filled wedding and reception, everyone found themselves "wild for SAFARIWEST" and extremely thankful to have been a part of Kate and Ben's celebration.

As a wedding coordinator, hired for this particular wedding, I needed to get out of my formal heels and dressy business suit to be a part of the safari atmosphere. I always have loved animals and travel, so this was a perfect "destination wedding" for me. I spent my free time marveling at the dexterity of the lemurs, the grace of the giraffes, and the comic antics of Delilah, the resident hornbill, who loves the photographer but detests the DJ. Delilah likes to hop around on the ground pecking at one person's boots and trying to flap up onto the shoulder of the another. These treats were "all in a days' work" for me and I am so thankful for the opportunity I had to work as a wedding coordinator on safari.

Now visitors to my office are greeted by a prominently displayed portrait of Kate and Ben with the cheetah. It serves as a reminder to me of the fun I had planning with Kate and Ben, and for others it shows the wild side of being a wedding coordinator!

Jean Marks, Wedding Coordinator
Palo Alto California

Sheree Green, Event Coordinator
Santa Rosa, California

Beautiful Weddings and Events
Judith Rivers Moore

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