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Luxury ranches and mini-moons: How covid has changed honeymoons

With international borders closed, couples are rethinking their post-nuptial getaway

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Since Zoie Diana and her fiance, Jake Ford, got engaged in Turin, Italy, in 2018, they had spent a year planning their May 2020 wedding and their honeymoon in Croatia and Italy. Then the pandemic gave the couple even more time to plan.

“We pushed back the wedding four times,” says Diana, a marine science and conservation PhD candidate who lives with Ford in Durham, N.C.

The wedding industry estimates it lost about a million ceremonies in the United States because of the pandemic. With many rescheduled for 2021, plus new ones on the books from pandemic proposals, this year is projected to be big for weddings — and with that, honeymoons.

But even as more than 116 million people are fully vaccinated, and with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledging vaccinated people can travel with less risk, planning honeymoon travel is far from back to normal. Some of the world’s most popular honeymoon destinations remain closed to tourism and not all have plans to reopen any time soon. That has redirected where honeymooners are traveling after tying the knot.

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“We’re seeing a huge shift to domestic travel,” travel adviser Camille Autin says. “Some honeymooners didn’t make plans to get their passport in time thinking that no trip would come to fruition; some are hesitant to travel internationally.”

Instead of Caribbean destinations, Autin has been sending honeymoon clients to the Florida Keys and Puerto Rico. She has also been sending more couples on upscale ranch honeymoons in Montana and Wyoming.

Alisa Cohen, founder of the Virtuoso travel agency Luxe Traveler Club, says the shift to domestic honeymoons is a major departure from pre-pandemic business.

“Almost always before, people were leaving the country for their honeymoon,” she says.

Cohen has been sending clients to mountain towns such as Vail and Aspen, Colo., and beach destinations in Rhode Island and Hawaii. If they are going abroad, it’s to places such as Mexico and the Caribbean, where honeymooners may have to do some extra legwork to get into but are more confident they can visit than other places where border openings aren’t as dependable.

Nora Blum, travel adviser and vice president of Travel Leaders of Maple Grove, says some clients are betting on Europe despite the unsure outlook.

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“I’ve got some people who were booking a river cruise for Europe, and they are going, crossing fingers, at the end of September, early October,” she says. “Places like Iceland are open, and that’s been very popular with honeymooners. Croatia, Greece and some of the more off-the-beaten path [European] places are open.”

Some couples are holding out until 2022 for their dream honeymoon, and are instead opting for “mini-moon” trips in the interim.

“They want to definitely do something now that still feels indulgent, still feels relaxing, then save that big Europe or Maldives or Asia honeymoon for later,” Cohen says. “With that, we’re doing a lot of Caribbean and Mexico [mini-moons] — it’s a way to get away but the entry requirements are much more clear.”

As far as her mini-moon clients go, Cohen says most are planning their “real” honeymoon in popular places like France and Italy, “but at the same time, we’re also seeing a big push [in 2022] for something that’s more remote, like a safari or Patagonia," Cohen says.

Amber Tibbitts, a therapist in San Francisco, and her husband, Dillon Losk, are one couple waiting it out. Instead of going on their three-week adventure to Kenya, Zanzibar and Seychelles immediately after their April wedding in Los Gatos, Calif., they have planned to go in November in hopes that the pandemic will be in a better place by then.

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Patrick Gunn, co-founder and chief marketing officer of the LGBTQ travel company VACAYA, says it is more common now to see couples waiting longer to go on their honeymoon after their wedding. He has seen enthusiasm remain high for Mexico and the Caribbean, as well as a renewed interest in cruises. Customers are booking honeymoons on small ships this year, or booking for 2022, when they hope cruising will be back to normal.

Even with the long lead time, Tibbitts is already running into issues of hotel availability for her November trip, and she had to act fast despite pandemic travel concerns.

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“We’ve just been asking everyone about their cancellation policy, their covid policy,” Tibbitts says.

Diana and Ford already had to deal with canceling flights and hotel rooms for their original honeymoon dates. They were able to get refunds from most of their original hotel bookings, and two properties gave them vouchers instead. They cut Italy out of their itinerary and will now spend three weeks in Croatia exploring different cities — if the trip goes according to plan.

“It’s still nerve wracking because anything could happen,” Diana says. “But it’s so exciting. I know whenever we would have gone would be the most amazing time, but I think we found the perfect schedule.”

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