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10 Big Trips . . . on Little Budgets

Sunday, May 21, 2006; P06

Modern Bride magazine surveyed 6,000 travel agents last year -- its ninth annual survey on the subject -- and came up with a Top 10 list of honeymoon destinations and lodgings. But what if these trips exceed your budget? We've added our own suggestions on how to bring them within bounds.

1. Hawaii came in No. 1 overall for the ninth year running, ranking first for romance and beaches. Among the resorts getting special mention were the Grand Wailea (at least $405 a night) in Maui, which garnered a top spot for its spa, and the Four Seasons Hualalai ($625 and up a night) on the Big Island, which received top marks for its over-the-top bathrooms.

CHEAP ALTERNATIVE: Stay at a bed-and-breakfast inn. GLAD (Global Adventure) Travel (888-207-6236, http://www.gladtravel.com/ ), for example, offers a $99-a- night room less than 300 feet from Maui's Kamaole beaches.

2. Italy, not surprisingly, is tops in the food and culture categories. Among the hotels singled out for special honors were the Westin Excelsior Florence ($454-plus a night) for its fine beds, and the Palazzo Sasso in Ravello for its sea-view Infinito Suite ($2,464 a night).

CHEAP ALTERNATIVE: If you're not fussy about lodging, book a package with tourist-class accommodations. Go-today.com (800-227-3235, http://www.go-today.com/ ), for example, recently offered a six-night special for $2,220 per couple, including air and hotel.

3. Tahiti's claim to fame is "sexy ambiance." Bora Bora Lagoon Resort ($419-$858 a night) and Le Taha'a Private Island & Spa ($900 and up), which both feature over-the-water bungalows, garnered special mention.

CHEAP ALTERNATIVE: Travel from January to March and book a package. Prices for a week-long deal run about $1,500 per person double including air and decent hotel; try Swain Tours (800-22-SWAIN, http://www.swaintours.com/ ) and Air Tahiti Nui (877-824-4846, http://www.airtahitinui-usa.com/ ).

4. Anguilla placed in the top 10 for seclusion, food, beaches, romance and "up-and-coming locale." Cap Juluca ($345 and up a night) was singled out for its ritzy bathrooms.

CHEAP ALTERNATIVE: Stay at a small inn (try http://www.inns.ai/ ), where a week will run about $450.

5. Fiji rated tops for seclusion. The South Pacific island also got high marks for snorkeling and diving, romance, beaches, up-and-coming locale and sexy ambiance. The all-inclusive Turtle Island resort ($1,975 per night per couple) was rated the "ultimate resort for seclusion."

CHEAP ALTERNATIVE: Opt for a package that includes lodging and air. For example, Pleasant Holidays (800-742-9244, http://www.pleasantholidays.com/ ) recently had a five-night deal with hotel and air from Los Angeles starting at about $1,300 per person double.

6. St. Lucia is another winner in the romance category. The Sandals Regency St. Lucia Golf Resort & Spa ($360 and up a night) got a nod for its private plunge pools.

CHEAP ALTERNATIVE: Track the sales. Air Jamaica Vacations (800-LOVEBIRD, http://www.airjamaicavacations.com/ ) recently offered a deal good for travel through the end of the year that included round-trip air from BWI and six nights all-inclusive hotel for $996 per person double.

7. Mexico was rated high for affordability, as well as beaches, culture, night life, and snorkeling and diving. Noteworthy resorts include Paraiso de la Bonita ($595-plus a night) and Maroma Resort & Spa ($480-plus a night) in Riviera Maya and Las Ventanas al Paraiso ($450-plus a night) in Los Cabos.

CHEAP ALTERNATIVE: Package an all-inclusive with airfare. Vacation Express (800-309-4717, http://www.vacationexpress.com/ ), for example, recently offered a deal with air from BWI and a week-long stay at a three-star all-inclusive for $1,740 per couple.

8. St. Barths, a tony French island in the Caribbean, made it into the top 10 for the first time, garnering mentions for romance, food, seclusion and sexy ambiance. Hotel Guanahani & Spa ($406-plus per night) was ranked high for its plunge pools.

CHEAP ALTERNATIVE: Instead of flying to St. Barths, which can cost upward of $1,000 round trip, fly to St. Maarten (about $580 on American) and take a ferry to St. Barths (about $110 round trip). Book a villa through a private owner: At Vacation Rentals by Owner ( http://www.vrbo.com/ ), a three-bedroom villa starts at about $1,650 a week.

9. Jamaica was voted into the top 10 for affordability and sexy ambience. Several resorts with locations in Jamaica -- Sandals (from $270 a night per couple), Couples (from $493 a night per couple) and SuperClubs (from $398 a night per couple) -- were named as top all-inclusives.

CHEAP ALTERNATIVE: Scour the all-inclusive Web sites for special deals. Couples, for example, sometimes offers a deal with air whereby it chooses which of its four resorts you'll go to in exchange for serious savings: One recent deal was about $3,000 for two with air for a week-long stay. Also, many travel agents have special deals with the major all-inclusives that are cheaper than rack rates.

10. France earned mentions for romance, food, night life, culture, sexy ambiance and winter sports. The honeymoon suite at Four Seasons George V Paris ($875 and up a night) received an "ultimate honeymoon suite" rating.

CHEAP ALTERNATIVE: Go in late fall, when round-trip airfares often drop to $500 or less per person. Rent a private apartment, with rates starting at about $120 a night; try Rentals in Paris (516-977-3318, http://www.rentals-paris.com/ ) and Venere.com (011-800-83637300, http://www.venere.com/ ).

-- Carol Sottili

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