Business: North Fork is perfect for unconventional weddings

PHOTO COURTESY OF LONG ISLAND AQUARIUM | A bride and groom in one of the gardens at the Long Island Aquarium.

After finding your mate, buying the ring, getting down on one knee and convincing her to say yes, all that can seem like a piece of cake compared with planning a memorable wedding.

Today, it’s not that unusual for couples to shy away from the church ceremony and catering hall reception that have dominated the wedding industry for decades.

For brides and grooms looking to make a big splash, the North Fork offers many alternative nuptial venues that range from fun and casual to ultra-elegant.

At Salt Air Farm on New Suffolk Road in Cutchogue, guests can pick fruit, take a hayride or enjoy an after-wedding bonfire. Instead of an altar, the bride and groom (or, after Friday’s landmark legislation legalizing gay marriage in New York, a groom and groom or bride and bride) can also say “I do” under the farm’s towering willow trees.

“[Couples] automatically get all the cut flowers for the event,” said the farm’s owner Prudence Heston. The flowers come from the farm’s fields, which are currently home to wildflowers, sunflowers, hydrangeas and dahlias. Other flowers can be grown upon request.

“Each time we do a wedding it allows us to put in more flowers,” said Ms. Heston, who runs the farm along with her husband, Dan.

Salt Air Farm can also provide flower and fruit arrangements for centerpieces and homegrown honey from its beehive, tended by Ms. Heston’s daughter, as favors.

“The bride may choose to give each guest an empty picking basket as the favor,” Ms. Heston said.

Salt Air’s first bride (one of only two so far), Maggie Carrera-Bly of Greenport, said she chose the spot because traditional venues seemed “overdone and over the top.” Guests at her wedding last summer received fresh fruit as a favor and instead of a multi-tiered cake, they enjoyed pie from Briermere Farms for dessert.

“It was the best experience,” she said. “The wedding planning to me was really easy. It was about both of us sharing our love with our family.”

One thing to keep in mind for outdoor events like those held at Salt Air Farm: Portable bathrooms are a necessity.

But a la carte weddings held at venues like Salt Air that are not all-inclusive and can be more difficult to organize. That’s where people like wedding planner Ashley O’Neil of Southold come in.

“When you’re doing something that is more labor intensive you do need to have quite a bit of organization,” she said. “People get part way through their plans, then they call me.”

Ms. O’Neil can go on appointments with vendors, create a timeline for the big day and even pack a bride survival kit.

She offers one word of caution to couples who want an outdoor wedding: Get a tent, if only for an emergency.

“As much as people don’t want to have a tent, they are necessary,” said Ms. O’Neil. “If the forecast calls for sunny skies then you can cancel.”

The couple who’s looking for something different, but still chic, might want to check out Brecknock Hall in Greenport. Peconic Landing, which owns the property, has been hosting events t the restored historic mansion since 2010. Many couples opt to have the cocktail hour inside the building, and hold the reception under a tent on the back lawn.

“Brecknock is a magnificent manor hall that offers that old world feel,” said Brecknock spokesperson Diane Radigan, “It certainly has started to make its mark and opened the eyes of people to venues that are different.”

But be sure to make arrangements early; Brecknock is completely booked for 2011 and 2012 dates are going fast.

For the ocean-loving couple, the Long Island Aquarium and Exhibition Center (formerly Atlantis Marine World) on East Main Street in Riverhead has been hosting under-the-sea-style weddings for the past 11 years.

Among the options offered there, couples can host the reception inside the aquarium, have the cocktail hour around the outdoor koi pond or even says their vows inside a shark tank.

“We don’t have chandeliers or mirrors; we have live walls,” said Bob Lanieri, the aquarium’s director of food services Bob Lanieri. “You’re sitting right next to the biggest coral reef in the northeast.”

The one-of-a-kind wedding option has only gained in popularity over the years and the venue now books about 100 weddings a year, he said.

“You can see monkeys, sea lions, seals, all types of fish,” Mr. Lanieri said. “There’s just so much to do. It’s a different atmosphere.”

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