Before exchanging vows with her businessman beau on July 4 in his hometown of Buffalo, New York, the former Ugly Betty star kicked off her wedding weekend with a “Welcome to Buffalo” bash for the couple’s family and friends.
Held at Pearl Street Grill & Brewery, Williams and Skrip served their guests chicken wings, hot dogs with “slime sauce,” stuffed banana peppers and fried fish that “all the out-of-towners might not have tried before,” the actress tells PEOPLE exclusively.
The next day, the couple had a mass of thanksgiving at St. Stanislaus church, where Skrip’s parents wed decades ago. “The church that my parents got married in burned to the ground in the ’80s, but they saved the angel from the church and put it in St. Stanislaus,” says Williams. “We thought, ‘Oh my God, that’s a fantastic symbol.’ His parents were married forever and my parents were married until my dad passed.”
At the special mass, Carmen Ruby Floyd sang “Ave Maria,” bringing many of the 390 guests to tears. “When I saw Vanessa walk down the aisle, I didn’t even notice her dress,” says Skrip of his bride’s two-piece silk crepe skirt and top with gold trim. “We locked eyes, and I got caught up in the moment, full of happiness and joy. When I finally noticed the dress, it was perfect for Vanessa … sleek, simple and sexy.”
Slipping into her second Carmen Marc Valvo gown (made with ivory organza and gold leather petals) for the vows ceremony and reception at The Statler City banquet venue, Williams (whose longtime glamsquad Sam Fine, Chuck Amos and Deborah Medeiros-Baker perfected her look for the day) says she felt “magnificent like an Egyptian goddess, which was exactly the theme I was going for.”
Williams and Skrip, both 52, met in Egypt three years ago, and their nuptials were a reflection of their international love story and ties to Buffalo (Williams’ mother is originally from the city).
With the help of local wedding planner Carla Measer-Costamagna, the event space was transformed into “a piece of Egypt” with gold and ivory tents, Moroccan lanterns and colorful flowers.
The couple’s favorite moment of the night came when Williams surprised her new husband with a parody of Show Boat‘s “Bill,” which the actress rewrote into a song called “My Jim.”
“It nailed his personality,” says Williams. “I think the biggest laugh was when I said he still has a flip phone. I talked about the Bills, how organized he is, how he loves Buffalo.” Adds Skrip, “It was truly a surprise!”
With her former Ugly Betty and Desperate Housewives co-stars Ana Ortiz, Tony Plana, Christopher Gorham, Teri Hatcher and longtime pals Condola Rashad and Darius de Haas in attendance, the couple cut into their wedding cake by local bakery Muscareil’s and stayed on the dance floor until 2 a.m. “We had a polka band and ended up doing shots of Krupnik with everybody,” says Williams. “Then after that it was a dance party!”
The couple’s guests took home gift bags by Diptyque Paris, which included Williams’ favorite items: a candle and rose fragrance, red velvet treats from The Cake-Pop Company, Ultimat Vodka and personalized M&M’s in their wedding colors of maroon, ivory and gold.
The next morning, the festivities continued with a “hangover brunch” at Hotel Lafayette.
“Vanessa is a very strong, down-to-earth person, full of love, who values family and friends, practices her faith and is a great mom,” says Skrip. “Her beauty inside matches her external beauty.”
Adds Williams, “Jim is a real man. You want somebody in your life who has integrity, who is solid, who knows who he is. He’s romantic and he’s a great guy.”
For all the photos and even more details from Williams’ perfect day, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday