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Friday, September 12, 1 p.m. ET

Wedding Week: Honeymoons and Destination Weddings

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Miles Stiverson
Senior Editor, TheKnot.com
Friday, September 12, 2008; 1:00 PM

Hoping to have a perfect honeymoon after your perfect wedding? Or maybe even combine the two with a destination wedding? Miles Stiverson, senior editor for TheKnot.com, was online Friday, September 12 to offer advice on everything from trendy spots and classic romantic places to what you need to know to make your special trip both smooth and memorable.

A transcript follows.

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Miles Stiverson: Hi everyone! I'm Miles Stiverson, senior editor and travel expert at TheKnot.com, writing from our office in New York. One of the best parts of my job is hearing about the interesting places that couples are going for their honeymoons -- despite the fact that it gives me a constant case of travel envy. I look forward to your questions.

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Richmond, Va.: My fiance and I are getting married at the end of January. We want a romantic honeymoon, but do not want to got to a beach or resort location. What about Rome?

Miles Stiverson: Italy is always a top romantic honeymoon pick (52% of couples who honeymoon in Europe go to Italy), and you can't go wrong with Rome, Venice, or Florence. Paris is another great choice -- France is the second most popular European honeymoon destination, behind Italy. I was in Barcelona for the first time a few months ago and really loved it, there's a great atmosphere and so much amazing architecture. I also really like Prague, there's something about all the old buildings and windy streets that creates a really romantic mood.

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Arlington, Va.: Is it better to book honeymoons using hotel promotions or through a travel agent? I've noticed some resorts having nice deals online, but I'm unsure if I can do better through an agent. Part of my concern is that I don't currently know of any good travel agents to go to in my area.

Miles Stiverson: That's a question that comes up a lot -- with so many websites making it so easy to book airfare, accommodations, and just about every other part of your trip, it might feel old-fashioned to go through a travel agent. But the truth is that a travel agent can still be a valuable resource in planning your honeymoon. One reason is that a travel agent can take a lot the burden of booking a trip off your shoulders -- and for a couple already deep in wedding-related stress, that could be reason enough to use a travel agent.

Another benefit is that travel agents often know about deals that you won't necessarily find over the internet. If you have a general idea of the sort of trip you want to take -- if you know you want to go to the Caribbean, for example, but aren't set on a particular island -- a travel agent could quickly give you a lot of good options. If you know you want to go to a specific destination and stay in a specific hotel, you could probably do fine arranging the trip on your own.

We actually did a survey of recent honeymooners, and it turns out 38% used a travel agent for their accommodations, and 32% used a travel agent for their transportation.

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Boston: Can you recommend a nice beach location that will not be affected by hurricane season?

Miles Stiverson: September is the most popular month for weddings, and 83% of couples take their honeymoon within a week of their wedding, so hurricane season is a concern for a lot of honeymooners. Hawaii is always a great option, Maui being the most popular Hawaiian island for honeymooners. The west coast of Mexico is a safer bet than the east coast -- Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta are worth looking into -- but the Pacific coast is still susceptible to hurricanes, so it's no guarantee. In the Caribbean, Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao are considered outside of the hurricane belt because they're so far south, near the tip of South America. And then, of course, you could go WAY outside the hurricane belt to the South Pacific, to somewhere like Fiji or Bora Bora.

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L'Enfant Plaza: We are going to St. Kitts for our honeymoon in January. But unfortunately, we have a 24 hour layover in San Juan, Puerto Rico. If you only have 24 hours in San Juan, on January 5th-6th, what would you do? I was thinking about going to the Farjardo bio bay. But is it worth the effort? Thanks

Miles Stiverson: One of our editors was in Puerto Rico recently, she highly recommends a day of walking around Old San Juan. Check out El Morro fort and have dinner at Dragonfly. She also really enjoyed a tour of Casa Bacardi (you can take a ferry from Old San Juan).

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Rockville, Md.: My fiancee and I just got engaged recently. I am completely overwhelmed with the whole idea of wedding planning (and I am the girl)! Are destination weddings more or less costly than traditional ones? We've toyed with the idea of destination wedding, but don't know where to begin. Any advice welcomed!!

Miles Stiverson: Destination weddings can actually be less expensive than a reception in your hometown. The larger your guest list, the more you're going to spend on catering -- a destination wedding is a great opportunity to keep your guest list small. Casual acquaintances who might be offended if they weren't invited to a hometown wedding would completely understand if you're asking a small group of friends and family members to travel for your wedding.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi! My fiance and I are planning a honeymoon to Belize in April. We want to spend a week on a caye or two, and a week doing more exploratory stuff like hiking, ruins, rain forests, etc. What cities and/or resorts would you recommend for a two-part Belize trip? Thanks!

Miles Stiverson: I took a trip to Belize a few years ago, and that was a great trip for both relaxation and plenty of activities. I started the trip in the jungle, staying a Blancaneaux Lodge (which is owned by Francis Ford Coppola). The highlight of the first few days was touring the Mayan ruins at Caracol -- that was amazing. Then I went to the coast to stay on the beach at Placencia (Ambergris Caye is another popular place to unwind in Belize).

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St. Louis, Mo.: A random and interesting honeymoon idea: have it be a surprise for one person. My now husband planned our honeymoon without me (I told him I wanted some place warm) and it was fantastic. Everyone at our wedding got into the surprise, he loved planning it without my help, and I loved not having to stress about it during wedding plans! I would totally recommend it to anyone.

Miles Stiverson: We're hearing about "surprise honeymoons" a lot lately, and I think it's a great idea. I've heard from a lot of brides who had no idea where they were going until they arrived at the airport (they had a heads up about the type of attire to pack, of course). Interesting stat: 46% of couples plan their honeymoon together.

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Advice for Honeymooners: My husband and I married in May 2006. The day after the ceremony, we left for an 11-day trip to Italy. It was a fantastic vacation, and we got a great price! Here's what we did:

(1) We researched Italy on the Internet to develop a list of the geographies and major sites we wanted to visit. (Our list included Rome and Florence in general, the Colosseum, the Vatican, the Pitti Palace, the Ponte Vecchio, Tuscan wineries, and several small towns in the countryside. We also decided that we wanted to attend a concert at least once.)

(2) Based on this list, we decided how long we wanted to stay in each place. (We stayed in Rome for 4 days, in Chianti for 3 days, and in Florence for 3 days.)

(3) We discussed options for getting from place to place while in Italy. (We didn't want to experience the hassle of driving in unfamiliar territory, so rental cars were out. We also learned that trains wouldn't offer us the flexibility we needed to get around in the countryside. As newlyweds, we weren't thrilled with the prospect of sharing a tour group. So we chose a private car and driver.)

(4) We discussed what kind and class of hotel we wanted to stay in.

(5) We established a budget.

(6) We sent our budget and desired itinerary to 12 tour groups and travel agencies over email and asked them to respond with proposals. We got some duds (of course) and also some really spectacular offers. Armed with the offers, we were able to negotiate the price of our favorite trip. The final price included hotel stays, taxes, a private car and driver (who was GREAT), all the wine tastings we wanted, private tours of little towns, etc. It was wonderful to just be able to just hand in our vouchers and not have to fuss with credit cards.

And, on top of all of this, I have to mention that we didn't start our planning until March, two months before we left!

Anyway, the point is that if you figure out what you want and write it down, you can get the experts to compete for your business!

Miles Stiverson: Here's a response from a reader -- this is a good step-by-step breakdown of the honeymoon planning process.

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Centreville, Va.: Hi Miles! Thanks for taking my question. I'm getting married next June and my fiance and I are trying to plan the honeymoon now to get a better price. We would really like to go on a tour of Croatia, but we have a limited budget; we would prefer not to spend more than $3,500. Are we doomed to settle for a Caribbean vacation because it's cheaper, or can you suggest some way we can get to Europe? He also hates cruises so that option is off the table too. Thanks!

Miles Stiverson: With the euro so strong compared to the dollar, Europe is tough to do these days on a budget. Croatia is a good idea, as well as Portugal (more about that below). South America is a better bet to travel relatively inexpensively. A coworker of mine was in Buenos Aires a few months ago and loved it, it's a city that feels like Europe but much less expensive (and, again, lots of nice local wine). A friend of mine recently went to Cartagena, Colombia and had a great time on a reasonable budget. There are parts of Asia, like Thailand and Vietnam, where you'll pay more for airfare but once you're over there can have a really upscale honeymoon at a fraction what it would cost you in Europe.

Another option is to stay in the states -- 26% of couples honeymoon in the continental U.S. Florida, California, and Nevada are the three most popular U.S. honeymoon spots, or you could get a great deal on a rent house for a week in the Outer Banks.

Also, here's a response from a reader about their budget-friendly trip:

Silver Spring, Md.: Admittedly it was a long time ago, (23 years in October) but my wife and I had a fantastic honeymoon, romantic, wonderful people, great food and wine, etc. in Portugal. We managed to spend time in some great hotels (including a castle at Bucasso) visit a beautiful city in Lisbon, and tour some wonderful wine country around Oporto. Of course now that they are part of the EU it won't be as dirt cheap as it was then, but it is still cheaper than going to Paris or Rome.

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Ridge Lake, Va.: Any advice or resources for small party destination weddings! We are trying to keep it eco-friendly too. Thanks!

Miles Stiverson: We actually launched a site last year specifically for couples planning destination weddings -- it's http://www.destinationweddingsbytheknot.com. There are photos from real weddings, plus a really active message board of other couples planning destination weddings. Earlier this year RockResorts announced a "green weddings" program, so that's one place to start if you're looking for an eco-friendly destination.

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To Arlington (Belize): You have got to do zip lining and cave tubing in Belize. We went with NCQ Adventures and had a blast. I have recommended it to a few other people now and everyone has loved it!

Miles Stiverson: Here's a tip from a reader for fun to-dos in Belize.

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Honeymooning in Hawaii: For the reader with the questions about beaches. September is a wonderful time to go to Hawaii. We were married in July several years ago and took our honeymoon in Hawaii September 1-15. Everywhere we went the place was loosely populated and we kept hearing, "you're lucky...the place was mobbed last week (or two weeks ago)". The place is still set up for summer crowds, but the crowds are not there. The weather is still summer weather and it was so much more romantic. Also, all the prices dip from "in season" to "off season" rates. We paid less for those two weeks than we would have paid for one week at the end of August when all the rate changes were taken into effect.

Miles Stiverson: This reader recommends Hawaii if you're honeymooning in September.

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Rockville, Md.: Any thoughts on Argentina? Unfortunately we won't be able to go until November (wedding is next August), which is during their winter.

Miles Stiverson: I asked my coworker who was recently in Argentina to field this one, and here's what she had to say:

I was in Buenos Aires last April and loved it! There are a ton of different neighborhoods to check out. We stayed in Palermo for most of the time that we were there, which has a very laid-back feel. Tons of artists, musicians, and trendy restaurants to check out there.

All the food was good -- it's not just the steak -- I had the best thai food ever while there. And if you like wine, there's nothing better than red Malbec wine, served in just about every restaurant in the city.

There's also the beautiful San Telmo neighborhood in Buenos Aires, with a more upscale vibe. We stayed there on our last night and also enjoyed a tango show - a little touristy but totally worth it. Getting around is easy too. Hop a bus for about a nickel or take a cab anywhere in the city for less than $7.

It was so much fun just walking around and exploring the city. A tip: If you don't know Spanish, make sure you learn a few basic phrases before you go!

We didn't have the time to travel around Argentina, but just flying into the country, it's apparent that the countryside is gorgeous. I was told by many travelers while there that the Iguazu National Park in Posadas (a couple hours northeast of Buenos Aires) is jaw-dropping.

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The big honeymoon: About ten years ago, a friend of mine got married and went to Italy for her honeymoon. This was her dream trip and she was really looking forward to it. When she got back, however, she told me that she would have picked somewhere local and really low key for her honeymoon if she could do it over again.

She said that the stress of planning and being in the wedding didn't make for being a good tourist afterwards -- she was too exhausted. She wished they'd gone low key for the honeymoon and saved the big trip for her one year anniversary.

With that in mind, we had our honeymoon at my parents' cabin in rural Quebec (which is where my husband proposed to me) and went to Scotland on our 1-year anniversary. Had a fabulous time.

Everyone's different, of course, but that's just my two cents.

Miles Stiverson: Here's an interesting post from a reader. With all of the energy exerted on the wedding day, a lot of couples wait a day or two (or more) to take their honeymoon.

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Matt (D.C.): What would you consider the best honeymoon spots in the Caribbean? I heard that Grenada and St. Lucia have some great hotels.

Miles Stiverson: St. Lucia has a lot of natural beauty as well as luxurious hotels, which makes it a popular Caribbean island for honeymooners. Other top destinations for honeymooners are the Bahamas, St. Thomas, Aruba, and the Cayman Islands.

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Miles Stiverson: That's all the time we have today -- thanks everyone for your questions. For more honeymoon tips, trends, and ideas check out TheKnot.com/honeymoon. Have a good afternoon!

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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