The past several weeks have been extremely chaotic for me personally. Partly because of the market, partly due to work related issues, and partly because I've spent the better part of my free time researching honeymoon locations now that my wedding is just under 4 months away. Trip Advisor has been my best friend throughout this process, however their biggest failure is that you typically can't tell if a bad review is nothing more than an old person getting all cranky because someone forgot to bring them their coffee at 5:30 am or if the restaurant wasn't ready for dinner at 4 pm. Friends have helped along the way, but I also tend to want to experience something new and have purposefully sought to avoid visiting a place that someone just returned from. With that in mind, I've devised a short list of 5 steps to ensure that your honeymoon research goes a bit more smoothly than mine.
It is everything as they say and since clearly it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to go on a honeymoon in July if your wedding is in January, be sure to double check with your bride to be and MIL (mother in law) prior to paying thousands of dollars for something that could very well end up getting you into trouble. So tip #1 is simply, finalize the wedding date first. More importantly however, DO NOT get married before April.
Why? Because peak season ends March 31 and you'll end up spending at least $100+ more per night than you would on April 1. The rates get more exaggerated on the higher end resorts, so if you are young and want to stay at a 5-star in St. Lucia, heed this warning. Conversely, you run the risk of traveling during a hurricane if you get married in late summer so talk to your future spouse and figure out which is more important, money or hurricanes.
After you get engaged, the #1 most often repeated bit of information you receive is the importance of open and honest communication. If you or your future spouse can’t say things like “I want to lie on the beach and sip cocktails” or “I want to take a cruise through the Mediterranean” or “I want to go camping” then maybe you should re-evaluate some things. Set a clear expectation on what you want out of what will almost without a doubt be the most expensive vacation you'll take up till then.
Plus the last thing you would want is for your future wife to expect a week at a private over-water villa in Tahiti when all you can afford is a week on the Gulf Coast in Alabama. All-inclusives are great but usually restrict you to the resort and are more expensive. It is worth noting that if you do not plan on drinking a lot or eating until you're blue in the face, all-inclusives may not make sense for you. Plus by avoiding the added cost, you'll save yourself some scratch if you plan ahead and/or simply opt for the Euro-Plan. Which leads me to my next tip...
3. Stick to the Budget
If you are like me then you have the misfortune of constantly weighing the marginal cost of every purchase. This is why I drive a used car, live in an apartment, and watch a 30" TV. This is also one reason why Andrea and I are so great together; things don't really excite us very much. But we both love to travel and don't mind spending a little more to ensure that we have a great time. If you do not share this trait or are strapped for cash, then budget, budget, budget. As a CPA I cannot stress that enough. Plus the last thing you'll want to do is argue about money while you're lying on a beach or ignore the budget all together only to realize that you've maxed out your credit cards.
If you are horrible at budgeting, then I strongly recommend you head over to Mint.com and sign-up for their free service. It is a fantastic site, though you may want to avoid looking at your investment account right now. Sometimes ignorance truly is bliss.
4. The Location
Prior to booking any vacation, you have to research them on Trip Advisor. I mentioned their downside at the top of this post, but reading through a handful of reviews should give you a good idea of what to expect. If money is no object however, then you can simply stick with Conde Nast's list of the Top 100 Hotels in the world. Click on the location you desire, and book the hotel at the top of the list.
However if #3 above is an important factor for you (and these days how can it not be), then cost will ultimately drive your decision. In that case I strongly recommend checking out The All Inclusive Outlet. They have a great range of selections and are significantly cheaper than booking through the hotel directly. Right now their #1 choice is the El Dorado Royale which has come highly recommended by a few friends of mine as well (the casita suite is well worth the extra $$).
If Europe is more your cup of tea or if you are looking for a private villa instead of a crowded resort, then I'd strongly recommend checking out VRBO.com. They have the best selection of apartments for rent within every city center and typically provide the best alternatives to 5-star hotels which run upwards of 500 -1000 Euros / night.
For everyone else who simply wants the most bang for the buck, then you should check out Unforgettable Honeymoons. Whether you are considering a trip to the Caribbean, Central America, Fiji, or Bora Bora, they've got you covered. They have vacation packages ranging from $500 / person to over $5000 / person, and one of their extremely courteous staffers will walk through your budget and expectations to generate a convenient list of ideas for you to look through at your leisure.
5. Reaching Your Destination
The lion's share of the work put into honeymoon research is focused on the hotel itself, and rightfully so. However, once you've booked the perfect honeymoon at that remote eco-friendly resort in Central America, you have to consider how to get there. At this point you have to consider flight times, connections, and hotel transfers. Long flights and remote locations may be beautiful once you're there, but remember how tired you'll feel at 6am the morning after the wedding. Here's a quick story that best exemplifies the problems created by remote destinations...
The Maldives Islands are spectacular and are typically voted as the #1 honeymoon destination in the world. The only problem? The flight (and it's sinking). A former colleague of mine was recently married in San Francisco, and then set out for her honeymoon at one of the Maldives 5-star resorts. The only thing separating them from their destination were their 6 connections (San Fran - NYC, NYC - London, London-Dubai, Dubai-India, India-The Maldives, and a Ferry ride to their resort)
A couple delays on legs #2 & #3 and their Tuesday arrival was pushed to Thursday. The importance of the flight cannot be overlooked. Weigh your options carefully, and be sure to include flight times when you are setting your expectations for the trip.
5a. Relax and Have Fun
Congratulations, you've just gotten married to the person of your dreams. Don't forget that when you're sitting in an airport on 4 hours sleep, or if you're spending your honeymoon in Mexico during Spring Break. All that planning paid off, your guests had a great time, and now you get to drink a Miami Vice while sitting on the beach. So take a deep breath and realize that no matter where you end up going, the honeymoon is not about going to the best or the most exotic location, it's about spending time with the person you love... or something to do with drinking mead for a month. I'll leave that decision up to you.