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Budget Honeymoons: Budget Travel's Tips for Planning Your Dream Trip on the Cheap

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Laura MacNeil
Associate Editor, Budget Travel
Friday, February 20, 2009; 11:00 AM

Your honeymoon can be exciting without being expensive. The editors of Budget Travel know a thing or two about pinching your pennies on the road without sacrificing fun or comfort. Associate Editor Laura MacNeil answered questions on making the most of your post-wedding trip, for destinations near and far.

Special Section: Wedding Week 2009

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Laura MacNeil: Hi, Laura here -- Budget Travel is what I do and breathe on a regular basis, so I'll do my best to give you tips on doing the same for your honeymoon. I'll dive right into your questions now!

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Arlington, Va.: We're thinking of a combination of Aruba and Curacao to get in some relaxing beach time and a bit of history, but it seems that could be pricey. Any suggestions for how to keep it more reasonable?

Laura MacNeil: Aruba is a great choice for value in the Caribbean -- summer is the island's low season, not because the weather is less than ideal, but simply because the volume of tourists is down (a natural reaction when it's warm in the U.S) -- a lot of great hotels are creating romantic packages and giving hotel credit -- if not air credit -- to lure honeymooners into staying at their property. I just received an offer from Westin -- this is just an example of what you can find on Aruba's tourism site, on sites like Kayak.com, and on google searches for Aruba hotels:

The Westin Resort, Aruba is setting the stage for a romantic rendezvous with a Caribbean getaway chock-full of inclusions intended to turn up the heat. Love-hungry duos can enjoy champagne upon arrival, daily breakfast, and late checkout to enjoy some extra snuggle time together. The centerpiece of this love-laced getaway is a romantic dinner and champagne toast at Azull, the resort's on-the-beach, torch-lit restaurant. This three-night escape is valid through April 16, 2009, from $474 per night, based on double occupancy, of course!*

You get the idea.....

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Washington, D.C.: Is it generally cheaper to stay in a hotel? Or rent a small house where you're cooking for yourselves? Thanks!

Laura MacNeil: Renting is a great option for DIY couples -- but when it's your honeymoon, a lot of couples will splurge for the extraordinary atmosphere of having a staff doing those things like cooking and cleaning for you. That being said, you can find fantastic deals on vacation rentals right now. Check for last minute deals in particular on sites like Homeaway.com.

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DC: For a budget honeymoon, think outside of the box. When planning, we wanted a little of everything -- culture, history, adventure, beach, etc. We ended up in Honduras, spending a few days in Copan and then a week in the Bay Islands. In Copan, we visited Ruins, zip-lined, went to natural hot springs, and stayed in a wonderful eco-lodge. On the Bay Islands, we went snorkeling, relaxed on the beautiful beaches, and stayed in lovely (cheap) bungalows. Overall, we probably spent less than $2,000 and had an amazing time. The world is a big place, and not all amazing locations have a big price tag!

Laura MacNeil: This is a great suggestion for honeymooners! Honduras is off the beaten path (aka more bragging rights) beautiful, and a great value.

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Phoenix, Ariz.: We would like to honeymoon in London in July or August. Although it's the most expensive time to go there, we're still hoping to benefit from the exchange rate (less than it used to be, anyway) and maybe a few deals as a result of the recession. We're stumped on our plane tickets, though. Should we buy them now, while we know the exchange rate is relatively low, but specials are not yet available, or should we hold out for possible specials in June?

Laura MacNeil: London's currency is much lower than it used to be, so now is great time to go to get the most for your money. Airfare, however, is always a tricky question. I'd say buy now. I'd also recommend checking out Farecast.com for their predictions whether fares will rise or lower in the coming months, and to see their historical data on what airfares did in previous years around the same season and destination. Have fun!

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Charlottesville, Va.: Hi! We're getting married in early June and are thinking about a honeymoon in Canada -- maybe Montreal or Quebec City. We'd like to keep the whole thing to $2,000, any suggestions for places to go/things to do?

Laura MacNeil: I spent quite a lot of time in Quebec growing up, and I'm a huge fan of the destination. Early June can still be a little cool, so don't expect tropical weather. That being said, I'd spend a little time in both Montreal and Quebec City to get a feel for the two cities (Montreal is bigger and more cosmopolitan; Quebec City feels quaint and incredibly French-European). Splurge on restaurants (Au Pied du Cochon, Schwartz's, Toque) in Montreal and be sure to wander around the Old Port and in Quebec, check out the old quarter as well and get lost in its narrow streets. Bon voyage!

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Washington, D.C.: Hi, Laura. My fiance and I are getting married in October, and we're considering a four- or five-day trip to California's wine country. Any suggestions for a great place to look for good packages (especially interested in touring organic vineyards)?

Laura MacNeil: Think outside the Napa box is my first suggestion -- there are a lot of wine areas in California and you can find some fantastic winery experiences (and low prices) by venturing away from the Napa name. Mendocino County, just north of San Francisco has great burgeoning wineries and cute hotels in Anderson Valley and Russian Valley -- Temecula, just southeast of L.A. is another great option -- I just looked at South Coast Winery and Resort and found that villas during the week (looking directly onto vineyards) are as low as $149 a night.

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Alexandria/Honolulu: We are getting married in Honolulu, Hawaii this July -- not as a destination wedding, but because I grew up there and the majority of my family is still there (i.e. we don't want to spend our honeymoon at home!). Where would you suggest we take a honeymoon if Honolulu is the starting point? We were thinking Thailand, but good food and an advantageous exchange rate are top priorities! Thanks!

Laura MacNeil: Congratulations! With a starting point of Hawaii you've got a lot of great options in front of you. You can find a lot of great hotels on beautiful islands (that aren't named Phuket) such as Koh Ya Noi, where a colleague just returned from -- and couldn't stop raving about. I personally rave about Vietnamese food and think you can find some great values there, too -- Phu Quoc is a great island to look into. I'd also look into some islands in Malaysia -- Langkawi has come up several times as a lovely destination. And of course, Bali is beautiful!

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Boston, Mass.: Do you have any suggestions for a reasonably priced but still relatively luxurious safari in South Africa? Everything I've found is at least $1,000 per person per day! Thanks!

Laura MacNeil: South Africa's currency exchange is quite favorable right now -- and I think you can find some great safari experiences for less than that! I know of two companies in particular that create great value safari experience (with airfare): Foreign Independent Tours (fittours.com) and 2 Afrika (2afrika.com) I'd recommend looking at their sites, checking out the hotels they partner with, and perhaps working with them to create a custom itinerary from there!

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Washington, D.C.: We are thinking about going to Costa Rica in late April. We wanted to spend a few days on the beach and then go see the Arenal Volcano and Cloud Forests. Any recommendations on the best way to get around the country? Should we rent a car?

Laura MacNeil: Renting a car around Costa Rica is a standard way of getting around the country -- that being said, it's an adventure in and of itself. I'd do some soul-searching (how much road-thrills do you really want on your honeymoon?) and price comparison before deciding on renting a car vs. hiring private transfers.

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Philly: How can I use miles for my South American honeymoon if I have multiple destinations? Do I have to fly in and out of the same place? Any tips for finding cheap airfares for flights within countries?

Laura MacNeil: I would recommend looking into LAN Airlines to see if you can't book a South America pass (Similar to what Qantas does in Australia -- you pay for a voucher for x number of flights and you create the route from there). The airline has a lot of hubs so you won't have to double back to get from one destination to another. At the very least you'll concentrate your miles in one airline (which is part of an alliance so you can transfer them to other continents down the road). Another airline to look into is Delta (they're increasing their S.A. coverage)

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Bethesda, Md.: I want to go to Argentina and/or Chile for my honeymoon in late October. Are there any beach or other types of resorts that we can start out at before hitting the cities?

Laura MacNeil: If you're heading to Chile, I'd recommend looking into resorts in the Vina del Mar area -- the beach resort has been a favorite seaside escape for years and has a lovely ambiance, architecture to back it up. If you're heading to Buenos Aires, I'd look into coastal towns just across the border in Uruguay -- beautiful, colonial towns next to gorgeous beaches!

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D.C.: We are getting married mid November. We want to do a beach honeymoon, but can't afford the likes of Fiji or Bali and don't want to end up in a hurricane in the Caribbean. Any ideas on affordable beach honeymoons for late November? Thanks!!

Laura MacNeil: Not all of the Caribbean is in the hurricane zone -- Aruba, for one, is not -- but since everyone avoids the Caribbean during that season, prices will be low anyway.

The western coast of Mexico (Puerto Vallarta, etc.) is another beachy option out of the main danger zone.

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Northern Virginia: My fiance and I would love to do a budget-friendly honeymoon in the United States this July, while saving money and holiday time for a trip to Europe in the future. We've talked about Colorado or Maine (we prefer mountains to beaches). If we do Maine, we'd like to rent a car and do some driving, since I've not seen much of New England. Any suggestions for how to do New England & Maine in July "smartly"?

Laura MacNeil: A colleague of mine ventures to Maine every summer and passed along these tips: avoid driving north on a Friday if at all possible (to avoid the inevitable traffic); book your accommodations early! hotels don't have a lot of rooms in general, and book up fast; give yourself plenty of time to drive along Route 1 -- the views are incredibly scenic, but the road is windy and you won't get anywhere fast (but it's worth it, she says!)

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Quebec: We took our honeymoon in Quebec two summers ago and it was wonderful and quite reasonable. Try finding a nice auberge rather than a big hotel(they are reasonably priced and usually include a nice breakfast -- Bonaparte in Montreal is fantastic).

You can take a very nice train ride between Montreal and Quebec City -- there are also cruises but only on certain days. Most people fly to Burlington and drive. If you're going to do that, spend some time in the Eastern Townships.

In Quebec City, many of the restaurants are tourist traps so ask around or do research and make reservations.

Laura MacNeil: These are some excellent tips for Quebec honeymoon travel --- I agree with them all. Thanks!

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Hurricane season?: We are getting married in October. How risky is it of us to plan a Caribbean honeymoon in the middle of hurricane season? Are there certain areas that are less risky than others?

Laura MacNeil: Well, the Caribbean in October is a bit of a crap shoot. It could be a fantastic, amazing time for incredibly cheap --- or it could be a disaster. If you're will to take a chance, I'd hedge my bets by going to islands outside of the hurricane belt, getting a deal deal, and then buying travel insurance (it's a must!).

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D.C.: With airfares so high, don't forget the option of a "close to home" honeymoon if budget is an issue. My husband and I were married in NYC and stayed there for our honeymoon (told no one but my father where we were staying.) We went to theater, tried out good restaurants, did touristy things I hadn't done growing up in the city, had a great few days! It was mid-September, so weather was good. I wouldn't recommend this with a winter wedding.

Laura MacNeil: Also a great tip!

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Arlington, Va.: Hi. My fiancee and I are marrying in October, and she really wants to do a woodsy lodge type of honeymoon. I've been looking at western Canada for ideas on lodges, but are there good bargains to be had in fall in the U.S., too?

Laura MacNeil: Montana, Wyoming -- even areas near North Cascades National Park in Washington -- all have western lodges comparable to Canada. I'd definitely do some price comparing before booking one in Canada.

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Dallas, Texas: We are considering going to the Red Rock in Las Vegas, for our honeymoon. I haven't seen any airfare/hotel deals featuring this resort. Are they out there? Also, where can we find information on excursions leaving from Vegas?

Laura MacNeil: I don't have any leads for Red Rock off the top of my head but I would say that Vegas.com is a great resource for hotel deals and tours outside the city. And Vegas itself is a great place to score some amaaazing deals right now (ie. five-star hotels for $99 a night)!

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CP, DC: We're getting married in June, but since we're traveling to my hometown for the wedding we're waiting until Sep/Oct for the honeymoon. We're thinking about Paris. I'm hoping that will be in the "shoulder" season. Any general budgeting suggestions for Paris? What about buying plane tickets? We'd like to get business class if possible; is there any way to get discount business class airfares?

Laura MacNeil: Air France has been holding some business class fare-sales of late -- I'd go straight to their site or call one of their agents to see if one of their promotions might apply to your dates/situation. As for budgeting suggestion in Paris itself, I'd recommend scouring our website for tips from our on-the-ground Parisian blogger --she's got some great round ups of upscale restaurants that have fabulous pre-fixe deals for lunch, for example. As for accommodations, one new reasonably priced hotel that has caught my eye of late is Mama Shelter -- we list bunches more on our website, too! Paris has a very user friendly visitor website that lists free cultural events and affordable tourist suggestions: Look here and here.

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Washington, D.C.: Laura, do you mean go2africa.com? I used them for a trip to Kenya a few years back and am now using them to plan my South African honeymoon on a budget -- they are absolutely wonderful, reliable, and will work with whatever budget you have. My experience in Kenya was fabulous so I trust them, which is unusual for me when doing business over the Internet.

Laura MacNeil: I'm not familiar with the one you mention, but thanks for the recommendation!

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Philadelphia, Pa.: People should consider Alaska more. We took a 7-day Alaskan cruise for our honeymoon several years ago and cannot wait to go back. Don't let the cold scare you away. It's romantic, luxurious, and this year it's VERY affordable.

Laura MacNeil: Good suggestion -- I will say that I recently spoke with the Dan Hanrahan, CEO of Celebrity Cruises, this year is the best ever for Alaska cruises. This summer you'll be able to find the best deals for Alaska cruises as far as he can remember.

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Laura MacNeil: Good question about whether a package or booking the components is a better deal -- there's a new website out that will do the price comparison for you: dealbase.com

Good luck!

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For the couple renting a car in Costa Rica: Just be aware that April is rainy season in Costa Rica. Some roads will be washed out (and some involve fording rivers even in the dry season). I think it would be super fun to drive there in the dry season, but not so sure about wet...

Laura MacNeil: Another good thing to take into consideration -- thanks!

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Laura MacNeil: I think I'm out of time! Thanks so much for all your questions. Budget Travel publishes airfare sales and deals every weekday on our website BudgetTravel.com (look for our Real Deals section) so feel free to use us as a resource in your honeymoon planning. Good luck and congratulations!

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