A failed proposal plan turned into a perfect moment for these brides.

It wasn't her first choice of locations—a romantic weekend getaway at a cabin had fallen through—but Danielle Maludy decided the WildLights at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium would make for a good proposal story.

“It's an annual tradition for us,” says Danielle, who desperately wanted to surprise her longtime girlfriend, Ashlynn (Kavanagh) Maludy, with a proposal. “Ashlynn is the kind of person who always knows what's going on, and I really wanted to catch her off guard.”

The two, who had been dating for more than five years, had discussed marriage, but the decision about timing was left to Danielle.

“She wanted to make sure I was ready, so we'd decided I would be the one who asked,” Danielle says. “I told her I didn't want to get engaged until I finished grad school, which was [the following] May, so she had no idea it was coming.”

Even though Danielle was certain Ashlynn would say yes, she still had butterflies on that cool December evening when they arrived at the zoo.

“I was worried that it would be busy, but figured we could go somewhere secluded enough that we could find a more intimate and quiet place where people wouldn't be staring at us,” she says.

A temporarily closed bald eagle exhibit provided the perfect escape.

“She kind of set it up, actually,” Danielle says of Ashlynn. “She is more adventurous, and I'm more reserved. So when she asked if I wanted to sneak in, she was surprised I said yes.”

The two quietly stepped over the rope and into the darkened exhibit. Danielle told Ashlynn to go stand by the edge of a bridge looking out toward the holiday lights for a photo. When Ashlynn turned around, Danielle was on one knee with a ring in her hand.

“She actually started walking away,” Danielle recalls. “She didn't realize what was happening. Then she said, ‘Wait. Are you for real?' when she realized I had a ring. She had no idea what was happening.”

“It was a dream come true,” says Ashlynn. “I just zoned out, excited and totally surprised. But if I had known she was going to propose, I probably wouldn't have worn sweatpants.”

The couple married at WatersEdge in Hilliard in October 2016.

“I couldn't be happier with how the whole proposal worked out,” Danielle says. “The zoo has always been one of our favorite places in Columbus … so now it makes it a little bit more special every time we go.”