Sunday, May 21, 2006
From Weddingmoons to adventure travel, couples are becoming more selective, creative and demanding about their wedding trips. We interviewed honeymoon experts, perused wedding magazines and scoured the Internet to uncover what's hot and what's not. Here's a look at the top trends.
· Destination weddings. Getting married away from home is not new, but it's becoming increasingly popular. According to a recent study of 1,619 brides conducted by the Conde Nast Bridal Group, 16 percent of couples now have a destination wedding, a 400 percent increase in the past 10 years. The trend has been fueled by the desire to save money: Because guests traditionally pay their own way to the wedding venue, fewer guests make the trip, resulting in lower reception costs. "It's a big trend, especially in Washington, where weddings are expensive," said Harvey McGarry, a "romantic destinations consultant" at MacNair Travel & Cruises/American Express in Alexandria.
Many resorts will kick in a free basic wedding package when a couple honeymoons at the resort for at least a week. Stay at a Sandals property for at least seven nights, for example, and get a wedding valued at $750 that includes wedding officiant and documentation, a small reception, wedding cake and more.
But the money-saving aspect of a destination wedding may be waning. The Conde Nast study reported that destination weddings cost an average of $26,000 -- only $2,000 less than a traditional wedding -- and that's just for the ceremony and reception; airfares and lodging are extra. Scott Ellingboe, spokesman for the Honeymoon, a Web site that offers a honeymoon gift registry, said the average destination now has 56 guests. Jim Augerinos, honeymoon travel consultant and destination wedding coordinator for Perfect Honeymoons & Holidays Travel in Vienna, said, "Every single hotel in the Caribbean now has a wedding coordinator, and they're capitalizing on the hype. The whole reason people were doing this was to save money, but now many brides are planning huge affairs."
Favorite spots for destination weddings, according to Augerinos and McGarry, include:
Jamaica -- the Ritz-Carlton Golf & Spa Resort in Montego Bay and the various Sandals and Beaches resorts.
Hawaii -- top island is Maui, especially Four Seasons Maui at Wailea, Fairmont Kea Lani and Hotel Hana-Maui.
Mexico -- Secrets Excellence Riviera Cancun.
St. Lucia -- Sandals Regency St Lucia.
Augerinos also recommends La Samanna in St. Martin, Atlantis on Paradise Island in the Bahamas, Caneel Bay on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Palms in the Turks and Caicos.
· Cruise weddings. All major lines offer wedding planners; most offer weddings while in port, either on board ship or on land. Princess Cruise Lines takes it one further by offering ceremonies at sea performed by the ship's captain. The Caribbean is a favored cruise destination for wedding/honeymoon combos, but couples can also opt for other itineraries, including Alaska and Europe. Cruise lines are less likely than all-inclusive resorts to throw in free ceremonies or honeymoon extras. For example, a wedding ceremony on the beach in Barbados arranged by Royal Caribbean will cost at least $1,895. And honeymoon packages, with such extras as chocolate-covered strawberries and champagne, are also priced separately. Some cruise lines, such as Carnival, offer slightly reduced rates when eight or more staterooms are booked together, but a good sale price is often lower.
· Action-packed trips. Lying together on a palm tree-dotted beach still has its fans, but honeymooners today are looking for more adventure. Augerinos say that most of his couples "can only do max two or three days on the beach." Then they start getting bored. "I talk to my mother and she tells me that in her day, honeymooners never left the hotel room, " he said. "Now they're out of the door at 8 a.m. looking for things to do." They also don't want to stay in places without cell phone service or Internet access. "I say, hey, it's your honeymoon. Relax. But they don't know how to unplug."
· Far-flung locales. Plenty of couples still go to Sandals, but more are asking for out-of-the-way destinations where they can engage in unique activities. "They want to go shark feeding in Belize, swimming with dolphins in Hawaii, zip-wiring in Costa Rica, zorbing [rolling around in a giant hamster ball] in New Zealand," Augerinos said. McGarry said classic destinations, such as Italy, Hawaii, Tahiti and the Caribbean, are still the norm. But he said he's also seeing more interest in less-well-known Caribbean islands, such as St. Lucia, and in less-visited areas of Mexico, such as towns in Baja. "Couples are looking for the beach experience, but in Europe," he said. "Spain's Costa del Sol is big right now." Cultural capitals, such as Budapest and Prague, have also become more popular, especially with older couples, McGarry said.
· Honeymoon registries. Forget the department store gift registries. Honeymoon registries, whereby gift-givers pay for items such as airfare, hotel, upgrades and excursions, are the rage. The registries have raised some eyebrows in the etiquette set. "I personally find it tastless to have one's honeymoon expenses paid for by one's friends. (Family is different)," said Letitia Baldrige, the author of "New Manners for New Times: A Complete Guide to Etiquette," in an e-mail. "It becomes as emotionless a gesture as paying for the bride's teeth-whitening or the groom's car insurance -- both necessary, but not wedding-like."
But most travel agents believe they are here to stay, and many traditional agencies are now partnering with Internet-based registries: Perfect Honeymoons is hooked with the Honeymoon, and MacNair will soon start linking to the site.
Each registry works differently, and couples should read the fine print before they sign. Look for the setup and monthly fee structure, whether the company forces you to use its agency to book, whether there are any fees associated with honeymoon planning, and whether gift-givers can buy increments of big-ticket items, such as airfare.
Registry sites include the Honeymoon, http://www.thehoneymoon.com/ ; Send Us Off, http://www.sendusoff.com/ ; Honey Luna, http://www.honeyluna.com/ ; Distinctive Honeymoons, http://www.distinctivehoneymoons.com/ ; Moon Rings, http://www.moonrings.com/ ; Honeymoon Outlet, http://www.honeymoonoutlet.com/ ; and TheBigDay, http://www.thebigday.com/ . WeddingChannel.com ( http://www.weddingchannel.com/ ) oper- ates a registry for Sandals and Starwood hotels and resorts. Some resort chains, such as Secrets ( http://www.secretsresorts.com/ ), operate their own honeymoon registries.
-- Carol Sottili