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A Shedd Aquarium wedding for 300 to only 5

Shawn and Jamie loved the idea of The Shedd Aquarium as the ultimate Chicago location for their ceremony and reception spot. The city’s iconic skyline would be the backdrop from their 300 person blowout party on September 12th, while the colors of the sun’s set were to paint the sky behind them as they exchanged their vows. The Shedd Aquarium wedding reception would be around the stunning Caribbean Reef tank that is the crowning jewel of the museum. After dinner, dancing would fill the Main Foyer as guests enjoyed their evening in this beautiful culture venue.


Only one thing…COVID highjacked their wedding. I received a call from Jamie, the groom, five weeks into the pandemic in mid-April with the museum closed indefinably; he calmly but with complete certainly “All I know is that Shawn and I are getting married on September 12th!”

So with this decision firmly planted into the universe, Jamie was advised to hold tight, and let’s see what happens. This is a conversation, as a wedding planner, I have become familiar with as all gathering of 10 or more people were not allowed in the state. At this point, a fun-spirited postponement announcement went out to the guests.


A month later, Illinois moved to Phase 4, now allowing 50 guests to gather, still far from the original 300 guests, so a new plan had to be created, but the museum was still closed. By July, the museum was opened to the public on limited bases, but events were not being held. So now that the museum was open, what would a covid wedding look like? Who “makes the cut” for the ceremony? Jamie & Shawn decided that only the most important should be there, her 2 parents, his mother, brother, and sister.

The venue was concerned about hosting an event during the pandemic, so a few conditions were put into play, such as masks had to be worn while employees were present, and food will not be served, but they would have a champagne toast to mark the moment.


Other considerations had to be made, such as making a space large enough to accommodate 300 guests feel not empty for an intimate wedding. This challenge was met by bringing a florist to create a sweeping hedge of greenery and floral to create a 10-foot wide circular opening for the couple to stand within for their vows. The bride and her father walked down a pathway defined by organic garland and potted foliage displays with bridal floral accents to arrive at the ceremony area.

About a month before the wedding, I received a call from the groom telling me that the officiant, his friend, was in quarantine in Michigan also, wondering how to have him perform the ceremony virtually. A reliable production team was tapped to bring in not only a zoom feed on a freestanding plasma, but also a camera was mounted so that the officiant could converse with the couple in real-time. Besides securing the virtual element, the production company also provided a soundscape for the ceremony. This is a key vendor for and Shedd Aquarium wedding that many couples overlook.


So at this point, the venue is open, and their wedding will be the first event, masks on, a chilled bottle of bubbly is in the plan, too. The couple has a well-renowned photographer slated to capture their day with the post-ceremony activities, including a few city shots with dinner arrangements at one of their favorite restaurant to end the night.


Despite the 55% forecast for light showers to start an hour after the expected end time, the decision was final to move forward with an outdoor ceremony. The event space was set, the groom, his mother, and two siblings arrived, as did the shifting grey skies that evolved to ominous steel-grey clouds promising that rain is on its way, but the bride was running late! This is when as the wedding planner, I am doing a rain dance to hold of the weather while calling the driver to see if she is close!

Fortunately, she arrived with her parents with just enough time left for the ceremony to take place under rolling darkness, which had a promise of a substantial rain shower on its way that could be seen from a distance by anyone looking to the West. The wedding party of 7 plus the photographer hurried onto a waiting mini-coach to snatch as many city shots as possible in the night before their dinner.

Like so many newly married couples in 2020, they did not have the wedding they pictured, but I must say that with a good team of vendors and an appreciation of what’s really important, your wedding cannot be highjacked by a pandemic. Because at the end of the day, even if it’s your wedding day, the most important thing to have your life-partner holding your hand, your closest family nearby, and maybe a wedding planner who knows how to do a rain dance!


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