I first visited Bok Tower when I was in elementary school. My parents took my brother and I on vacation to Central Florida and it was one of the sightseeing trips we took. I went there again when I was in senior high school and my church youth group visited Lake Wales to see the passion play. After I moved to Central Florida, I visited the gardens every other month or so. During that time, only the gardens and belltower were open to the public. Pinewood Estate, which was built in the 1930s and acquired by Bok Sanctuary in 1970, was restored and opened about 11 years ago.
I got married in Bok Tower Gardens just over 10 years ago. The gardens at Bok Sanctuary are beautiful and serene so this was an easy decision to make. My fiancee and I had visited the gardens several times before we even realized it was open for weddings. There were several spots throughout the trails where we would have liked to get married, but our choices were limited to the White Garden (so named for all the white flowers planted there), St. Francis Garden or the Exedra. Also, we had only three choices of times when our ceremony could take place - 9 a.m., 11 a.m. or 1 p.m. We expected about 100 guests to attend and the White Garden was the only area large enough to accommodate that many people so our decision was made. Not that it was a decision we were unhappy about. The garden area is like a private room walled in by tall trees and foliage. Anything that blooms in this area produces a white flower. As part of the service, the staff decorated this garden with even more palms, green plants and white flowers. It was truly beautiful. http://www.boksanctuary.org/overview/weddings.html
At that time, we could have up to 20 chairs set up in the garden and we opted for all 20. We had quite a few elderly guests and more chairs would have been helpful. The rest of the guests had to stand.
A variety of musical selections from the carillon play on the hour and half-hour during scheduled wedding times, which is why we could only choose certain times to begin our ceremony. The bells of the carillon began to play within 5 minutes after we were pronounced man and wife. This was very beautiful and romantic. If you were having a service more than 30 minutes long, however, you would have to break for the music or it would play over your ceremony.
Admission for all guests was included in the price of renting the gardens. Everyone who visits the sanctuary has to pass through a guard gate and pay admission. Anyone who said they were with the Bennett-Miller wedding party was allowed to enter free of charge. All of our guests said they proceeded into the park without any problems and that the guard was very pleasant and friendly.
Also included in the wedding package was a one-year membership for my new husband and me. This was a surprise bonus we often took advantage of during our first year of marriage. This is still a part of the package today.
We had full access to the grounds for picture taking both before and after our ceremony. Our guests were able to enjoy all the gardens at their leisure, as well.
We found that everyone we dealt with was extremely friendly, cheerful and helped as much as they could. The one problem we found was that most of the staff is made up of volunteers and there weren't many people who could answer my questions about the wedding options. There was only one woman who could answer my questions and I had trouble reaching her at times. This never caused any big problems but caused me some anxiety once when I needed some answers by a certain time.
The biggest problem for us was that there wasn't anyplace to have a reception. There were two or three wooden picnic tables in an open area by the parking lot, but this area wasn't even pretty. A lot of the grass was dead from people walking on it so there were large patches of dirt. This was our only choice of reception areas and we were not allowed to bring in tables or chairs; we would have had to use the available picnic tables. This is fine for school groups touring the gardens or for an extremely casual wedding but we chose another venue for our reception. This might have changed now that the lecture halls and conference room are available in the 23,000 square-foot Education and Visitor Center. http://www.boksanctuary.org/overview/meetings.html None of this was open when we got married.
If you plan to have more than 100 guests (includes everyone officiating or performing at your wedding), this would not be a viable choice for you since 100 guests is the maximum number allowed.
If being married in a church or synagogue is not important to you and you're having a small wedding with 100 or fewer guests, I would highly recommend having your ceremony in Bok Tower Gardens. We never once regretted having ours there.