Michael Cottam, one of the founders of TheBigDay, offers advice on how to go about choosing where to go on your honeymoon.
So you’re engaged…congratulations! One of the most fun parts about getting married is planning that honeymoon trip of a lifetime. And if you haven’t even narrowed it down to a country, much less an island or a resort, don’t worry-many (if not most!) honeymoon couples are in the same boat.
Some couples start by leafing through travel or bridal magazines and looking for pictures that are appealing and romantic-you can do this, but you’re more likely to settle on the best-MARKETED destination rather than the best destination for your wants, needs, and style.
The following are questions you should ask yourself-it’ll help you figure out what your options are, and help you ask better questions of your travel agent…which will help you plan that perfect honeymoon.
When are you going?
Every destination has its high and low seasons-and this is typically a combination of weather and the times of the year that their tourists typically take vacations. Some destinations, such as Hawaii, have very little variance in their weather year-round; others, like the Caribbean have a definite hurricane season. Yet it’s important to know that the Caribbean is a very big place-and different parts have different hurricane seasons, and some parts of the western Caribbean really aren’t hurricane prone at all. Other destinations–such as Central America and Southeast Asia-have rainy or monsoon seasons. You really need to know the specific destination in order to have a feel for whether or not their “green” season is too “green” (rainy!) for you.
Also, ask yourself if you’re willing to delay the start of your honeymoon a couple of weeks or months. Summer months are very popular for weddings, as it tends to be easier for family and friends to get to the wedding; plus, if you’re having an outdoor wedding, the odds of good weather are more in your favor. However, this also tends to be the expensive (and sometimes more crowded) season for many honeymoon destinations. Giving yourself a month off after the wedding before leaving on your honeymoon can give you time to relax and wind down from the wedding, write your thank-you notes, and take advantage of the lower prices of what’s known as the “shoulder season” (between high and low season).
Travel time/vacation time
How much time off work are you going to take? And how much of it are you willing to spend on an airplane?
If you’re going on an African safari, you’re going to consume about a day and a half traveling each way from the U.S. This is fine if you’re going to be there a couple of weeks, but if those days are coming off your total of 7 days on vacation, you might consider someplace closer. And distance isn’t the only factor: how many stopovers is it going to take to get where you’re going? If you’ve got to land on a main island, then wait around for 4 to 6 hours for the “island hopper” flight to take you out to your remote private island retreat, that’s going to consume your vacation time too.
A great option, if it’s available, is a red-eye flight, where you sleep on the plane and wake up at your destination, saving a day of vacation time.
This is less of a problem than you might think. Unless you’re backpacking around some exotic country, you’re going to find people in restaurants, hotels, and the activity vendors all speak English. One bit of advice: try to learn a few words and phrases in the local language, as you’ll find you’re treated differently if you begin conversations with “hello” in their language, and show you’re willing to make the effort to get along in their country.
The big question! First, some statistics: the average U.S. couple spends about $3700 for their honeymoon package…and this doesn’t included expenditures once they’re at their destination. When considering a resort that’s NOT all-inclusive, take some time to research the area and find out what meals cost, what a snorkel trip costs, what taxis cost, etc. Tourist bureau sites are a good place to start.
Costs of excursions and meals can easily add up to much more than your airfare and hotel, and you need to be realistic and prepared for this. Consider staying at multiple hotels on your honeymoon-perhaps one or two nights at someplace really nice to start, then a more moderate property with perhaps less of a view for the remainder.
People, people, people
There are a number of important considerations here. First off, who else is going to be at your resort? Are most of the guests at the resort in your age group? Are they young and adventurous, or older and mostly interested in golf? Does the resort market to families-are you going to find a ton of kids splashing around in the pool when you’re trying to have a romantic, relaxing time? Is the bar going to be lively, with your kind of music? Are you going to feel right at home, or a bit out of place?
Next, let’s talk about density: do you prefer to be in the middle of the action, with lots of other happy honeymooners all around, or quieter and more secluded? Think about whether you want to be in a hotel with 400 rooms, or a resort with 40 private villas…the experience will be very different. And do you want to be waited on hand and foot, or left alone to explore by yourselves? Do you want to shop, maybe pick up souvenirs or local style clothes, or maybe some artwork? Maybe you want a mix: in Hawaii, popular combinations would include a few nights in the heart of Waikiki combined with a few nights on the North Shore…on Maui, perhaps a split between the Lahaina/Kaanapali area and the secluded Hana coast.
Finally, how much do you want to learn about the locals, their language, food, and culture? Generally, at the all-inclusive resorts, you’ll find yourselves with other tourists, separated from the local style. If you want to immerse yourselves in the local environment, perhaps consider a smaller hotel, farther from the main tourist areas.
History and culture
Do you enjoy visiting ancient ruins…centuries-old cathedrals…seeing native villages? The beauty of the art, architecture, and history of Greece, Italy, Scotland and Ireland, or Mayan civilizations can make for a fabulous honeymoon experience.
Europe is an obvious destination, but think also about the Mayans and Aztecs in Latin America…Buddhist temples in Bali and Thailand… Angkor Wat in Cambodia…Buddhist and Hindu temples in India. China is becoming a much more popular destination as well: consider visiting the Great Wall and seeing the Terracotta Warriors.
How sensitive are you to humidity and temperature? This can determine not only the destination, but also the choice of resort, as not all A/C systems are created equal. How close do you want to be to nature? I’ve stayed at fabulous safari lodges in Africa that didn’t even have complete walls…just mosquito nets to protect you at night. For some, this is a dream come true-for others it might be a nightmare.
How important is your living space in your hotel room? Do you feel claustrophobic easily? Do you like to lounge around in the morning, have breakfast in bed, or do you like to get up and out there exploring the island? Is a spa on-property important to you? Is a view of the ocean from your room important to you…enough to justify the higher price?
Also think about how you typically spend your day on vacation. If you go back and forth from the room to the beach, the pool, the restaurant, you might want a place with ground-level villas rather than have to get on and off elevators all the time. If you’re going to spend most of your days out exploring the island, this might not matter so much.
Are you going to want to go out dancing/clubbing? Or maybe see some native dances or performances? If you’re going to Hawaii, and you ARE looking for nightlife, you’ll probably want to think about Oahu or maybe Maui.
For Mexico, you should be thinking about Cancun or Cabo, rather than some of the more isolated resort areas. If you’re considering the Caribbean, the answer to this question might affect the island or region you choose as well. Music: what do you want to hear on your honeymoon? Mariachi bands, steel drums, reggae, or Hawaiian hula…what appeals to you?
How adventurous of an eater are you? How about your fiancé? Do you like to try the local food, try many different restaurants? Often resorts will have very good American and European menus, but for authentic local cuisine you’ll have to venture outside the resort.
All-inclusives and cruises often make fabulous food very affordable; if you’re not at an all-inclusive resort, the on-property restaurants are often pretty pricey compared to outside restaurants, and tend to be less authentic with respect to local/native cuisine. If your chosen resort is in or near a reasonably large town or tourist area, you may have lots of choice for dinner; if you’re secluded and isolated, it’s possible that you have no choice but to dine at the resort (and pay their prices, if it’s not included!).
In areas like Fiji and Tahiti, you’ll often find that while the resort isn’t officially all-inclusive, they do have a “meal plan” which covers food and sometimes drinks. Sometimes these plans cover just breakfast and dinner, which leaves you the option of trying the local cuisine and eating relatively inexpensively for lunch.
How about a safari in Kenya or Botswana? Or hiking in the Andes…maybe a trip to Macchu Pichu? Or a week on a rented sailboat in the Caribbean? How about touring Australia on a Harley? Maybe trek through the jungles of Costa Rica, observing monkeys and exotic birds? If these appeal to you, first thing you need to do is make sure they also appeal to your spouse! These kinds of trips create memories of a lifetime, and can be very affordable as well. Often, couples will want to combine an “adventure” trip with a few days relaxing at a beach resort-these kinds of combination packages can be put together for you by a knowledgeable travel agent, and give you the best of both worlds.
Do you and your fiancé scuba dive (or do you want to learn)? You’ll find that pretty much every tropical destination has diving and snorkeling available. Some will have scuba courses offered by the resorts, while other resorts will have partnered with local dive companies. If you love to snorkel, make sure your travel agent knows, so they can recommend resorts where the wave conditions tend to be good and there are good snorkeling reefs nearby so that there’s something besides just sand to look at. In general, a great surfing beach won’t be a great snorkeling beach!
Are you interested in going deep-sea fishing? It’s important to know what the fishing is like where you’re going. For instance, while you can take a guided fishing trip from any one of the Hawaiian islands, your chances of actually doing some CATCHING as well as fishing are substantially better on the Big Island!
Additionally, it’s important to talk to your travel agent about what kinds of watersports you want to enjoy. If you’re interested in jetskiing and parasailing, you’ll want to be in one place; if you want to kayak with the turtles, snorkel around the reef, you’ll want to be elsewhere. It’s also useful to know how far it is from your hotel to the best spots for your activities-you won’t want to spend two hours a day roundtripping from your hotel to your activities.
Here’s a quick look at some of the more popular destinations, and what they’re known for.
Fiji– great scuba and snorkeling, very friendly people, mostly villa-style beach bungalow accommodations in widely-separated resorts. Moderately expensive to very expensive. About 9 hours flying time from Los Angeles.
Hawaii- beautiful weather all year round, close to mainland U.S., amazing array of watersports and adventure activities. Not as much of a cultural transition for mainland Americans as many other destinations. Most hotels have 200-400 rooms; hotel density along beaches can be high. Excellent choice for a destination wedding, as prices are very reasonable for high quality and service. Inexpensive to moderately expensive.
Tahiti– great scuba and snorkeling, famous for overwater bungalows and phenomenal views. Resorts tend to be fairly far apart; very secluded and private. Expensive to very expensive; food, drinks, and activities can be very expensive as well. About 8 hours flying time from Los Angeles.
Mexico- Cancun/Cozumel nearly fully recovered from the past summer’s hurricanes, and much rebuilding has resulted in many upgraded resorts. High density of resorts on beaches in places like Cancun and Cabo. Great diving, watersports; some areas close to Mayan ruins. Recently, all-inclusive resorts have become common, and there are some terrific bargains to be had, especially at the moderate to more expensive resorts. A new trend we’re seeing is combining the traditional beach vacation with a few days inland at one of Mexico’s colonial cities, exploring the history and culture of old Mexico. Easy access from the U.S. Inexpensive to moderately expensive.
Caribbean- known for prevalence of all-inclusive resorts, especially in Jamaica. Huge range of cultures, styles, food, music. Great watersports and scenery, and not too long in the air from major U.S. cities. Cruises are a very popular way to explore multiple islands and countries in the Caribbean at a modest cost. Inexpensive to very expensive.
Europe – history, architecture, and great food and wine are big draws here. Airfare is less than you might expect, often sub-$500 per person roundtrip. Less of a beach resort destination, although areas of Italy, France, and Greece on the Mediterranean can provide the sun & surf element. Castles in Ireland and self-drive B&B vacations throughout the UK are popular, as are villa stays in France and Italy. In Greece, the Cyclades islands are very popular: Santorini with its submerged volcano, black sandy beach, and breathtaking sunsets…Mykonos with its blue-domed churches, whitewashed houses and beaches…and Naxos, the largest island with golden sandy beaches, clear turquoise waters, and the medieval capital of Hora. Honeymooners often combine stays on these islands with a visit to Athens. Many cruise options are available, allowing easy exploration of a number of Mediterranean ports in one vacation. Moderately expensive to very expensive.
Costa Rica & Belize – becoming very popular as eco-tourism destinations, these countries offer terrific beach resorts, watersports, diving and snorkeling, combined with jungle exploration and eco-adventures. Treetop resorts becoming popular here as well; and like Mexico, there are a number of Mayan ruins accessible in Belize. Belize also is famous for its barrier reef, and the scuba diving hotspot known as The Blue Hole. Relatively short flight from mainland U.S., combined with great value for the dollar at many resorts makes these two countries very hot for honeymooners.
Australia & New Zealand – enormous variety of things to do for the adventurous types, from Ayers Rock to the Great Barrier reef, Sydney and its renowned Opera House, Surfers Paradise. New Zealand has everything from geysers in Rotorua to jet-boating; hiking and skiing amongst tremendous scenery, and of course the famous Maori hospitality. We often suggest combining a trip to either of these countries with a stopover in Fiji or Tahiti as well. Long flight times (15 hours+ from Los Angeles) mean you’ll probably want to stay 2 weeks at the very least. Moderately expensive to expensive.
The Seychelles, Maldives, and Mauritius are all fabulous honeymoon destinations, although because of the flying time from the U.S. (around 30 hours), they’re more commonly visited by Europeans. Truly spectacular diving and scenery, great food and culture, and very friendly people. Hotels are much more spread out than Hawaii or Mexico-more like Fiji or Tahiti. Private island resorts are common, as in Fiji and Tahiti. Seychelles and Mauritius trips are commonly combined with a week or so in Africa on safari. Expensive to very expensive, even without the airfare (roughly $1500 to $2000 per person roundtrip from the U.S.).
Southeast Asia – combines terrific beach resorts with extraordinary culture and historical sites to explore. A relatively long flight from the U.S. (up to 20 hours depending on routing), but a tremendous value once you’re there. Thailand, Bali, China, Vietnam and Cambodia are all becoming very popular. Very inexpensive without the airfare; inexpensive to moderate with airfare.
Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Chile are becoming more popular, and offer a great opportunity to experience culture, wilderness and traditional beach resorts all in one vacation. The Amazon is a huge draw, of course, but also the culture and experiences to be had in Rio and Buenos Aires make for a very memorable and exotic honeymoon. The Inca city of Machu Picchu is certainly one of the most beautiful and enigmatic ancient sites in the world, perched in the Andes at over 9,000 feet in elevantion. Moderately expensive to very expensive.