YOUR COMPLETE GUIDE TO A
with water views and phenomenal food
If you are looking to get married at the Jersey Shore and want to take advantage of all the Long Beach Island area has to offer, look no further. I live a few minutes away and photograph weddings here often. Scroll for a complete tour, what you expect on your wedding day and endless photos from real weddings held at Bonnet Island Estate.
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Bonnet Island Estate hosts the most stunning weddings with water views of Barnegat Bay from almost every room. When you first open the doors to the estate you first see the Great Room (that hosts part of your cocktail hour and your after-hours party) and a small peak at the Veranda that allows for both indoor and open-air concepts based on the weather for your cocktail hour. You will quickly see the Chartroom which serves as an overflow bar area and a space for lunch while the daytime wedding prep happens. The grand staircase goes up to the third floor and the couple's suite has the most perfect views of the protected wetlands, tide pools, bay, Long Beach Island, and the sprawling estate grounds. Each floor has a private sitting area and library with more breathtaking views. Each of the other 11 individually decorated rooms has its own private bath. When you come back downstairs you will find the private salon for wedding day prep and the black and white stripe room where the other half of your party can relax, watch a game and get ready for the day.
Located just minutes from NJ’s premier coastal vacation destination LBI Bonnet Island Estate is located at 2400 East Bay Avenue in Manahawkin NJ. As a lifelong Manahawkin resident, I am grateful to live minutes from this wedding venue and to work here often. You will have your own private island for your wedding day when you choose Bonnet. Above you took the tour of Bonnet’s overnight accommodations here you will view the grounds. When you arrive down the long and private driveway you are greeted by a combination of stunning water views and a plethora of impeccably maintained plants and flowers. Every inch of this private wedding venue is always photo-ready and sure to wow all of your guests. As the seasons change the natural landscape ebbs and flow with the season creating the perfect backdrop regardless of the time of year you choose for your event. In this gallery you will see the grounds in every season and weather. When the grasses and bushes are shorter it is early Spring, if they are more lush and full it is Summer and as you see the green reeds turn wheat in color you are viewing Fall.
The time of day you are allowed to get into the venue for your wedding will vary based on if there was an event the night before. This will change for each couple but it is very common for some to start wedding day prep of hair and makeup if needed off-site and do the final touches in the salon on premises. You can also do all of the prep in the salon if your vendor team can accommodate you. While you are preparing I will usually start in the couples' suite and capture all of your details like the rings, gown or attire, full invitation suite, accessories, etc. My team and I will come back and forth between the details and where all the prep is happening to capture the full story of your day. While you and your loved ones are relaxing behind the doors to the reception area your vendor teams and the staff of Merrimakers will be completing all the hustle and bustle to bring the wedding you have spent months planning into a reality. Once the prep is done we usually head up to the suite to step into your wedding attire, have a cheers and get ready for the next part of the day. Some people like to do a first look with their father, mother or the wedding party. To keep logistics simple we usually do this in the suite and have them come to you.
Nearly 90% of couples choose to do a first look. The decision is made so they can get all of the formalities done and truly enjoy their day and be part of the celebration. You can choose any location at Bonnet Island Estate for your first look and you won't be disappointed. When we work together we create a full timeline of your wedding day in 15-minute increments months before your event. We always leave the first look location as TBD so that we can plan best when I arrive based on the weather. We will account for the temperature, the sun, rain, and wind and make the best decision together. Most couples choose the ceremony space so it can be private. From there we make the natural progression directly into your wedding portraits.
Depending on the time of day, season and weather I will show you all the best spots for your portraits! There are endless great locations for photos on the grounds. I like to start with the basics in the chapel just after you had your first look and where you will soon say your vows. From there we move to the back of the Boathouse to the amazing stone fireplace on the outside and along the wetlands of the nature preserve. Depending on how bright the sun is we then move into certain parts of the English Rose Garden and utilize several angles here that feature the enormous glass windows in the ballroom, perfectly maintained landscape, delicate fountain, and the different textures from the reeds and the trees. We next move around back to the small hill along the nature preserve and make our way to the cobblestone path that leads to the famous dock over Barnegat Bay. Once we have taken advantage of all the little nooks and crannies here we move onto the covered walkway filled with seasonal florals and string lights. At this point, we have utilized most of the grounds. Weather pending we then move on to the long driveway between the ballroom and marsh grasses or we save that for sunset! Once I arrive for your celebration we discuss and plan the details of your sunset photos based on the weather and cloud patterns. As a preferred Weddings of Distinction vendor, I promise I know every inch of all of their properties. I do nearly 80% of my weddings at their venues, they truly are my specialty. Living near Long Beach Island being familiar with the weather and cloud patterns to make the best sunset photos is part of my job, let me guide you for this portion of the day, I really am the expert here!
One of the biggest fears from any of my brides and grooms is always related to the weather and what we do if it rains on your wedding day. The most honest answer is that we can't truly make a plan until the hourly forecast comes out that morning. Dealing with the weather is one important reason that you want to hire a wedding photographer that is local and truly knows how to handle LBI weather. From full sun to west winds to hurricane season and flooding you want someone who knows what to do in these situations. The positive about Long Beach Island weather is that it's often changing and moving. It's extremely rare we get a day that is all rain, every hour. Often there are breaks in the rain and chances for us to change up the schedule and make do! Certain times of the year west winds can bring some troubles but hiring an experienced vendor who knows the best workarounds will save your wedding photos. If it does rain on your wedding day we will work together to revise the schedule and know that we will need to make quick and efficient decisions all day to utilize the grounds as mother nature allows. We will also do the majority of your photos in the ceremony space and around the grounds of the estate itself. This photo gallery shows weddings that had different levels of undesirable weather from overcast skies to rain. Some had periods of blue skies and rainbows also so rain does not mean all hope is lost. Overcast skies make beautiful soft and filtered light. We will also do the majority of your photos in the ceremony space and around the grounds of the estate itself.
Earlier I talked about the timeline we create together for your wedding day. Long in advance during your wedding planning process, we have already decided when to tell everyone to be ready and to meet us in the Boathouse chapel. Depending on the weather of the day and the size of your wedding party we will begin with group portraits. We will either use inside the chapel or outdoors if there is some cloud cover so we can avoid the harsh sun causing everyone to squint. I love to use the backdrop of the reeds, the English garden and the string light walkway when possible. I will often do my best to give you some variety and use both indoors and outdoors when creating these portraits. In the attached photo gallery you will see wedding party pictures that include all seasons, types of weather and size of party.
Since you have had the ceremony space decorated during family photos I like to utilize this space. It also allows us to have options for elderly family members that may not be able to move around easily. Here they can sit and watch while still being a part of your day. There are times we use other parts of the grounds also as you can see in the photo gallery. Often there are larger group images that are desired but not everyone is available before the ceremony. I do not advise we use the cocktail hour for those photos. If it is very large groups I find that it is very hard to locate everyone and you waste most of your cocktail hour standing around and waiting. For these types of photos, I usually suggest having the DJ announce and doing them during your reception when we have a momentary lull between course servings. If your family is organized and follows directions well we can also use the time you are hidden away as guests arrive in the reception room. This is one part of the logistics we work through together when we do your timeline based on your groups’ needs.
All of your planning has finally come to the moment. You are about to commit to each other forever. You can use a priest, minister, ordained officiant, or local government official. Whomever you choose to perform your ceremony has an important job. While all eyes are on you take a deep breath and soak it all in. The staff of Merrimakers is behind the scene creating phenomenal food for your party, your photographers are here capturing all the big and small moments and all of your loved ones are here and ready to support you. The chapel at Bonnet Island is the perfect spot for your vows. If you have more of a princess-style gown I do suggest that during family portraits we practice during family formals if you have more than one person walking you down the aisle. The intimate space is perfect but the beams in the center can require some slight navigation with a larger gown and three people linked arm in arm. This gallery pf photos show ceremonies from all different times of day and seasons to give you a true feeling of what you can expect on your wedding day.
After your commitment ceremony, the staff will tuck you away for a few private moments and bring you a sample of all your cocktail hour has to offer. I know you want to go and enjoy time with your guests but with all the talking and congratulations about to come your way this private time is the only time you will get to eat. Bonnet Island Estate cocktail hour does not disappoint. There are so many menu items to choose from and customize. The weather may dictate how much of this part of your special day is outdoors or inside but the food and drinks will always be consistent and delicious. Use the slide show to see what your signature drinks and options look like to envision your full guest experience! While you and your guests are enjoying my team and I are behind the scenes coordinating with your entertainment and venue while making sure we capture all the beautiful details of the reception you planned.
As you will see in this gallery full of Bonnet Island Estate receptions the weather and time of year will slightly dictate what things look like as you enter your reception. If it’s spring the sun may be setting through the wetlands-facing windows to give your first dance a golden glow. If it’s fall or winter the entire room may be illuminated with candles and low lights. Couples, their families, and their parties are introduced and most couples go right into their first dance under the massive arched ceilings that replicate the bottom of a boat to enhance the coastal feel of the estate. Your guests will enjoy an open bar and delicious dinner while dancing the night away overlooking the water views. The speeches and cake cutting will take place at times you coordinate with the staff and your entertainment long before the wedding day. Each detail will be ironed out in advance and executed to perfection by Merrimakers.
The timeline for each wedding day is different but we will always work together to do our best for sunset photos. The time of year you get married will dictate the time and for the specific location with the best views of the glowing sun. Summer weddings allow for more images through the doorway of the chapel and fall weddings give a golden glow that can’t be duplicated over the reeds. Sunset images are greatly dictated on the day of your wedding based on the weather. Smaller and more spaced out clouds will often help reflect color and make the ideal time during and after while clear skies often lead to the peak time being before the sun sets. I will work with the staff at Bonnet to accommodate the best time and location for your sunset photo session. Night photos are always a great opportunity for you to step away from everything and take a moment with your spouse to enjoy and cool off in the fresh, salty air from all of the dancing. Night photos are a great way to round out the full story of your day for your gallery. This gallery will show you an array of images from different times of year for sunset and night photo ideas at Bonnet! You can find the exact time of sunset for your wedding date here.
A quick search of Long Beach Island hotels will give you many options. I understand that sometimes we want to skip google and have someone who knows the area give you directions. My suggestions will vary based on the time of year you are getting married. If you are getting married in July or August traffic will be heavy and accommodations harder to find so it’s best you get your guests’ options as early as possible. Since COVID the chowder fest in October has changed but it may go back to its original form. That first weekend in October can also be difficult for guests to find accommodations so notify them early also!
350 W 8th St, Ship Bottom, NJ 08008 Great for all ages and has a pool!
151 NJ-72, Manahawkin, NJ 08050 Great for all ages and close!
119 E 9th St, Ship Bottom, NJ 08008. A more budget-friendly option.
Surf City Hotel
800 Long Beach Blvd, Surf City, NJ 08008 A more budget-friendly option.
Sea Shell Resort
10 S Atlantic Ave, Beach Haven, NJ 08008 A great spot! Beach views, awesome food, and locally owned!
From shopping to dining to days at the beach there is so much to love about visiting the LBI region. Here, in no specific order, are a list of my favorite spots and what I love about each!
For shopping, Reynolds is always my favorite. The outside can seem small and deceiving. You walk in and it just seems to keep going on forever. If you are looking for anything from home decor to clothes, plants, coffee, and treats, or wedding flowers Reynolds has a little bit of something for everyone.
Food. This is a long list!
You have read all the reviews of the bigger names so I will skip those. Below are some of the places I frequent and my favorites from each spot
Scojos - there are many local breakfast spots but for ten years strong this has been the favorite for my husband and me.
Old Causeway - their wings and chop salad are always crowd-pleasers. People talk about the Chegg having the best wings, they clearly haven’t been to the OC.
The Local- the Caprese sandwich or brie and fig sandwich are always a win in my book. And the giant cookie sandwich with salted Carmel inside is phenomenal. I only let myself get it once a year because anything that good can’t be healthy!
The Porthole - this hole-in-the-wall dive bar is a local’s delight. Fun fact: this is where I met my husband.
Blue Water Cafe - this underrated gem has one of my favorite dinners, vodka seafood. They have outdoor dining and BYOB.
The Sea Shell - everything here is my favorite. Their indoor dining DOES NOT get enough credit. It’s a sit-down dinner menu and their higher-end dining food is some of the best on the island. Try the duck key chicken! If you are hanging outside listening to live music a tea bag is my go-to drink.
Dock and Claw - BEST FISH TACOS ON THE ISLAND. Seriously, they are the best. I do have to say my brother-in-law Kevin is one of the owners. This isn’t me giving him a shameless shout-out, if the food wasn’t amazing I would be embarrassed to list him here.