|Interview with Geri Bain|
|Insights from a former travel editor of Modern Bride|
By Susan Breslow Sardone
A honeymoon expert, Geri Bain was travel editor of the magazine for 12 years and is also the author of Modern Bride: Honeymoons and Weddings Away. Recently Ms. Bain gave this exclusive interview to Honeymoons at About, and here's what she had to say:
What are the major trends in honeymoons?
One is destination weddings, where a couple gets married at their honeymoon destination. The top reason couples cite is the romance of exchanging their vows in an exotic locate. With men and women marrying at a later age and often paying for the wedding and honeymoon themselves, cost also comes into play. Some couples get married on their own. For others, with friends and families are scattered all over the place, it can make sense to choose a place everyone will be excited about traveling to. It's a good alternative for couples who get unhinged in terms of family, since a destination wedding eliminates all the expectations people have about weddings. And since someone else almost always handles all the details, couples say the best part is that they can focus totally on each other.
Isn't it expensive to transport a wedding to a resort location?
A destination wedding is often a scaled-down version of a wedding, with 20-40 guests rather than 200-400 -- and that saves money. Some resorts arrange a wedding at minimal, or in some cases, no cost for their guests. Also, most couples don't pay for their guests' trip.
What are the top honeymoon destinations?
Couples are getting much more adventurous, both in where they're going and what they're doing when they get there. The top spots continue to be Caribbean, Florida, Hawaii, and Mexico. But even when a couple picks one of these popular areas, they're likely to participate in adventurous activities.
What kinds of adventures do honeymooners want?
In Hawaii, they're doing things like sea kayaking, mountain biking, taking a helicopter flight-seeing tour, and having a picnic atop the Haleakala volcano.
In Cancún, a couple can safari through the mangroves on 2-seater jet-skis. It's an incredible experience, where you get to see the natural ecology and monkeys up close. People who honeymoon in Cancún get out there and do everything- para-sailing, visiting the Mayan ruins.
The focus is much more outward than just hiding away with one another, which explains why a place like Orlando is so interesting to honeymooners.
Where's the next great spot?
The South Pacific -- Tahiti, Fiji, Australia, New Zealand, and the Cook Islands -- is the fastest growing area, especially for honeymooners from the West Coast. In Tahiti, Fiji, and Queensland the accommodations for honeymooners are what sell. While the Cook Islands don't have the same kind of fantasy resorts as the others, the Polynesian ambiance and the pricing is incredible.
Pampered adventures such as African safaris and bicycle tours, where all the details are handled for your and accommodations are top notch, are also becoming more popular with honeymooners.
How long is the average honeymoon?
What do today's brides want in a honeymoon?
Three out of four want warm weather and beautiful, natural scenery. Since the average engagement lasts about 14 months, they already know each other-so the honeymoon focus becomes discovering new things together, more than getting to know one other for the first time.
How much does the average couple spend on a honeymoon?
Close to $3,300. To maximize their budgets, more couples are opting for packages. Today 55 percent of Modern Bride's readers travel on a honeymoon package. Almost one third choose an all-inclusive resort. It's reassuring for a couple to know that after the expense of a wedding they can have a honeymoon where one amount covers all lodging, meals, sports, and entertainment.
All-inclusive resorts? Really?
(LOL). Everybody thinks an all-inclusive means buffet lines and someone blowing a whistle and shouting, "Everyone into the pool!" Those days are mostly gone, except for the low-end places. All-inclusives come in all styles these days. Some are basically full-service resort spas where everything you do is individualized. It can be just like staying at a deluxe resort-but you don't have to think about tipping. The service is good and the value incredible.
Rooms are also much improved from years ago; now you can get suites, and some rooms even come with a private pool. Many resorts now offer waiter service, a choice of restaurants, dine-around plans so you needn't eat at your resort every night, and tons of sports activities. The kayaks and the wind-surfers are lined up at the beach, and you rarely have to wait to use them.
Returnees from all-inclusive honeymoons say they did more than they would have if they'd made the arrangements themselves. They didn't have to worry about what something would cost; as part of the package, it costs nothing. You put your wallet away unless you leave the resort to go downtown shopping.
It's also very relaxing. And after a wedding, when you've make tons of decisions, it's great not to have to decide a thing. So if you can match your personality with the right all-inclusive, it's wonderful.
Cruising is another trend that fits in with the draw of the all-inclusive. Just remember when you're budgeting that charges ashore, drinks, and tips aren't included.
If money were no object for them, where would you direct honeymooners?
I would want to spend two hours with them to find out what their interests are and what kind of traveling they've done. There is no perfect one-size-fits-all honeymoon. Sometimes people don't know what they're interested in. They may think beach because they're conditioned to do so - but that might not be right for every couple. You need to spend time with each other talking about your interests and what your fantasies are.
Do you recommend a couple use a travel agent or do the honeymoon planning themselves?
I advise couples to find a knowledgeable, responsive travel agent who will take the time to get to know them and to be open about their budget. It's the best way to learn all the options available to you, and it can become a relationship you'll have for life.
For example, one of the things that's kept people from going to Europe is that they think it's too expensive. A travel agent can show how it's possible. If you do it on your own, you look at rack rates -- which are full retail. A travel agent will put together a package so you pay less for airfare, hotels, car rental, etc. He or she will find a package to pull it together. With a good package, you stay where you want to stay and do what you want to do at a better price. So you get better value but you don't lessen your experience.
Even with a travel agent, a trip to Europe may be out of range for some.
If you can't afford to go to Europe but that's the experience you're looking for, perhaps Québec City or Martinique will be a satisfactory alternative. By listening to you, a travel agent will be able to make suggestions that you may not have though of.
If a couple has next to nothing to spend, what should they consider?
Go for a shorter amount of time, take advantage of off-season prices, don't ignore the packages, pick at a place you can drive to. Also, take advantage of the advice of a travel agent who may know about special deals and discounts, and do some research on your own. Some travel agencies have access to special discounts for hotels, cruise lines, and even international airline tickets. You can also call travel suppliers directly and ask if there are any special rates or discounts available that would be applicable to you.
Should you let travel providers know you're on your honeymoon -- or is it better to travel incognito?
While it may not save you money directly, don't be bashful about letting people know that you're honeymooners...especially with hotels, cruise lines, restaurants. Tell them when you make your reservations and you're likely to enjoy special treatment...maybe complimentary champagne in flight, a gift basked in your room, a better room at no additional charge. You may even receive a special gift or certificates to be used for an anniversary trip.
Any suggestions for winter honeymoons? It's high season in both snow and sun country.
1. Be specific about what you want to do -- lots of sports, or just lie on a beach -- but be flexible about your destination. That way, your travel agent can seek out the best values. Note: While December prices are highest because of the holidays, there's a bit of a drop in January.
2. Check Sunday newspaper travel sections to get a sense of where the bargains are.
3. Use a travel agent who's familiar with the type of travel or destinations you're looking into.
Departing from the East Coast: Base your decision on airfare when considering the Caribbean. Puerto Rico has some very nice upscale places, and because it's a hub airfares tend to be lower. Jamaica is also filled with hotels and since it's a hub for Air Jamaica, airfare is lower.
Departing from the West Coast: Mexico happens to be really good value these days, thanks to the strength of the dollar versus the peso. Since so many airlines fly there, fares are competitive. Pick one of the less populous resorts, since prices tend to be lower and more negotiable.
What's your best advice for saving money on a honeymoon?
You can save if you're willing to give up certain things -- like room service availability. Condos, a popular option in Hawaii, are a good choice for some couples. You make your own breakfast, and you get more space for the money.
But don't go for just a bargain: It's only a good deal if it's what you want. The trade-off has to be acceptable to you. If you're not looking for location, if you don't mind walking across the street to the beach instead of being right on it, you'll pay less.
What's worth splurging on -- and what isn't?
Accommodations. Book a nice room with a view; you'll spend more time there than you think.
An incredible experience. If you're in Hawaii, take that helicopter ride. Don't let $100 or $200 stop you from doing something you will remember for the rest of your life.
One or two great meals. But you can also save money and have a wonderful time eating a picnic lunch made from local items. In Tahiti, for example, the fruit and the French bread and cheeses are incredible, and you can pull it together for next to nothing.
What's important to pack?
Basics like sunscreen can be expensive at destinations. In your carry-on, pack an extra pair of prescription glasses if your wear them and any medicines you need. And birth control. It also pays to bring along a sense of humor. Things never go 100 percent as you think they will, and flexibility goes a long way.
Do you find that the Web is playing a larger part in brides' honeymoon planning?
For some, yes.
Do you recommend booking a honeymoon online? Why or why not?
Most people are using the Web for information, and it's wonderful for that. If you book online, know whom you're dealing with. There are scams on the Web. The danger is that you'll pay money and the vendor will disappear. Your credit card is some protection, but you're still not 100 percent protected.
Is there anything you'd like to add?
Travel agents vary quite a bit in expertise, so it's important to find one you have confidence in. If one pushes something you don't want, go elsewhere. It helps to work with someone who has lots of experience and comes recommended. Failing that, look for credentials like CTC (certified travel consultant) and DS (destination specialist who's been through training in a particular area).
It's also a good idea to plan a honeymoon as a couple. It's fun to do together. And you discover yourselves in the process.