Your vows were exchanged, the bouquet was tossed, the wedding cake was shoved into your mouth and the eco-friendly bubbles were blown in place of the traditional rice throwing. Weddings are a whirlwind experience, and just making it through in one piece is an accomplishment. Planning the big event typically starts a year out, but many brides have ideas in mind before "the question" is even popped. After dealing with testy wedding planners, unreliable caterers, family members in town and trying to fit into that dress or tuxedo, a honeymoon is a welcome getaway from what's bound to be one of the most stressful events in your life.
There's really no such thing as a typical honeymoon these days. Honeymooners come in all stripes, and just because it's your first trip as a married couple doesn't mean you have to be secluded on a tropical beach with a heart-shaped bed in your suite and champagne bubble baths every night. The modern traveler craves adventure and excitement as well, so it's no surprise that three out of five honeymooners pay for extras like helicopter rides, scuba diving and other thrilling excursions, according to the popular wedding Web site, The Knot. Honeymoons aren't cheap either. The Knot says that in 2010, after plunking down an average of $27,000 for the big day, new couples spent an average of $4,466 for a trip that was about eight days long. Each year wedding planning resources like Brides magazine and The Knot poll travel agents and newlyweds to compile their lists of the most popular honeymoon destinations. We'll run down 10 of the top locales on the following pages.
Romance, culture, history -- and let's not forget about great food and wine -- can be had when you honeymoon in France. The country offers a little bit of everything. You can spend your first few days as a married couple lounging on the beaches of Normandy or strolling down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris by day and feasting on fine cuisine by night. You can marvel at historic architecture and the works of famous artists, or let the beauty of the rural countryside spark romance. And the best part is that you really can choose to do it all, since traveling around France is pretty simple. France has one of the best transportation networks in the world, so you can rent a car and find your own way from town to town, hop a train and enjoy the ride (locally or cross-country) or even rely on taxis and buses to get from place to place. More adventurous couples can rent mopeds or bicycles for zipping around town.
Because France is an international center of culture, you can even plan your visit around special events. For instance, if you time it right, you can visit the Cannes Film Festival in May, experience the grape harvests in wine country in September or root for your favorite cyclist in the Tour de France in July.
Spending a week relaxing on a beach without a care in the world is many people's idea of a good time, which is probably why beach locales are always among the most popular honeymoon destinations. But these days soft sand, sunny skies and rolling blue waters aren't the only things newlyweds seek out for a vacation.
Costa Rica is a nature lover's paradise, with dense forests and warm waters that are home to 5 percent of the world's species of plants and animals. Fully 26 percent of this nation's land is set aside by the government for conservation in order to preserve its pristine environment and stunning biological diversity. In 2011 Forbes magazine even listed Costa Rica's Manuel Antonio National Park -- with its wildlife-filled rainforest, sandy beaches and rocky cliffs -- as one of the 12 most beautiful national parks in the world. But while the country offers endless beauty, it also offers exciting ways to explore it.
For adventurous pairs, Costa Rica is a delight. Explore the rainforests looking for Capuchin monkeys and three-toed sloths. Catch the waves at some of the world's best surfing spots. Spend an afternoon kayaking through mangrove forests and swimming in the clear pool beneath the Nauyaca Waterfall. Paddle your heart out on a whitewater rafting adventure on several of the country's exciting rivers. Take a tour of the spectacular Monteverde Cloud Forest. Whiz through the dense jungle canopy on a zip line 100 feet in the air. After all that, you can take a day trip to the Arenal Volcano and sooth your sore muscles in the nearby Tabacon natural hot springs.
While most honeymooners leave the country for the big trip (70 percent, according to The Knot), many find vacation bliss without ever needing a passport. And for stateside travelers, one of the most popular spots is Orlando, Fla.
It's not hard to see what the draw is. With 15 different amusement parks in the greater Orlando area, you'll probably need a vacation from your vacation after all the fun you'll have. Popular spots for thrills, romance and magical fun include Disney's Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Universal Studios, Sea World, Discovery Cove, Islands of Adventure and Disney's Typhoon Lagoon. You'll also find theaters, golf courses, plenty of shopping and hundreds of dining options. You can even get package deals that include tickets to several parks, so if you plan ahead it's easy to get a taste of all that Orlando has to offer and save some money.
The best part about an Orlando honeymoon is the plethora of places to stay. You can spend your nights right near the park at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel or villa for easy access to all of the excitement, or you can shack up at any number of luxury or budget resorts and hotels in the area.
If you've got your sights set on a Caribbean vacation, it's hard to beat the beautiful island of Jamaica. Seven percent of honeymooners made their way to Jamaica in 2010, according to The Knot, so you're in good company if you choose it as your first newlywed destination.
There's no shortage of unique adventures to be had in Jamaica -- take a ride on a bamboo raft on the Martha Brae, hike up a cascading waterfall at Dunn's River Falls, swim with dolphins at Dolphin Cove, go tubing on the Great River, take an off-road ATV adventure or enjoy a romantic horseback ride on the beach. After that, spend the evening enjoying great food and dancing to great music in the country that introduced the world to the flavor of jerk chicken and the beats of reggae, ska and rocksteady music.
For the American tourist, Jamaica's an easy place to visit. The official language is English, so communicating and finding your way around won't be a problem. Honeymooners flock to the all-inclusive resorts located around Montego Bay, Negril, and Ocho Rios where one price takes care of all your relaxing, dining and entertainment needs. And if you and your spouse want to take in the most sun possible, you may even want to check out one of the island's many nude and clothing-optional beaches and resorts.
After the hustle and bustle of planning a wedding, arriving in the Caribbean and glimpsing the clear blue waters and sandy shores of the Bahamas will be a welcome sight -- much as it was for Columbus when he stumbled upon this tropical island chain in 1492 after two months at sea. Rest assured, however, that you and your new spouse will enjoy the islands with much more luxury and comfort than Columbus ever could have dreamed of.
The Bahamian island chain is actually a series of some 700 atolls and cays, which makes for beautiful diving adventures on the island's shallow sandbars and in the crystal clear lagoons. You can even go underwater cave diving or shipwreck diving if the colorful coral reefs teeming with beautiful fish aren't exciting enough.
The mild climate of the Bahamas remains nearly ideal all year round, with an average in the low 70s degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius) during the winter and the low 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius) in the summer. The Bahamas are one of the most popular international honeymoon destinations, and since they are only about 60 miles (100 km) from the coast of Florida it makes a great trip for honeymooners who are short on time. With accommodations ranging from all-inclusive resorts on the main islands of Grand Bahama or Nassau/Paradise Island to cozy bed and breakfasts on the many smaller outlying islands, it's easy to find a romantic place to start your new life with the one you love.
Vegas isn't just for spur-of-the-moment, Elvis-officiated weddings. The city offers a little bit of everything, from exciting nightlife to all-day entertainment to relaxing days at the spa. Even if you choose to start your Vegas adventure with the wedding itself, you'll find plenty of reasons to stick around for the honeymoon.
When you vacation in Las Vegas, you'll get the celebrity treatment from the moment you arrive. You and your sweetheart can choose from more than 200 resorts and hotels that, in addition to comfortable accommodations, offer many perks like shopping, spas, pools, restaurants and, of course, their own casinos. The city boasts around 20 five-star hotels and resorts, so luxury isn't hard to find.
Vegas is always bustling with people and plenty of ways to entertain yourself. If you're feeling lucky you can play your cards at over 70 casinos up and down the Vegas Strip. But even if gambling isn't your thing, you can enjoy a host of nightclubs, lounge shows, dance clubs and theaters. There's always a good band to be heard, show to be seen and time to be had. Some of the most popular shows include Cirque du Soleil, Blue Man Group, Criss Angel, Phantom - The Las Vegas Spectacular and Tournament of Kings (???), the medieval-style dinner show at the Excalibur Hotel. Just make sure to purchase show tickets in advance, since it can be hard to find last-minute tickets to some of the most popular performances.
Mexico is a popular honeymoon spot for many Americans because of its proximity to the United States and the value it offers. Because of the location, plane flights to most destinations in Mexico can be had on the cheap with some advanced preparation. Mexico has some of the most popular resorts in Central America, so if your goal is to lie around by the pool or on the beach without lifting a finger, then it's a good option to explore.
Americans also get a good value for their dollar in Mexico. There are expensive resorts in areas like Cabo San Lucas and Cancun, but you can also get off the beaten path in Tulum and stay in an eco-resort. Some of these eco-villages house honeymooners in small thatch huts with electricity only available during certain hours of the day. That may sound like roughing it for some, but in return, you get secluded lodgings with the ocean's waves practically lapping at your screen door. Many of these eco-resorts also offer beach massages and excursions to swim in the warm springs or snorkel in some of Mexico's amazing cenotes -- underwater sinkholes popular with divers. Mexico is a varied country, so you can hit the beach, visit the interior jungles and mountains or if you want some nightlife, venture into Mexico City. The country's capital city has five-star luxury accommodations, some of the best food on Earth and plenty of history to take in.
Nothing says luxury and relaxation quite like French Polynesia. During the dry season, which runs from April to September, you'll encounter temperatures between 68 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit (20 and 28 Celsius), and it's unlikely you'll see much rain. This makes Tahiti an ideal spot for honeymooners who want to enjoy maximum beach time. And there are many surrounding islands if you want to plan an overnight boating trip. Bora Bora's famous lagoon is home to some of the best snorkeling in the world.
One reason Tahiti is such a great destination for honeymooners is that it's just far enough off the beaten path to make it less crowded than some of its island counterparts. Consider this -- roughly 7 million tourists flock to the Hawaiian Islands each year, compared to a scant 200,000 in French Polynesia. Tahitians are French citizens, with both French and Tahitian being spoken on the islands. Don't worry, though. Tourism accounts for about one-quarter of the country's gross domestic product (GDP), so you can bet you'll hear plenty of English.
As the popular Dean Martin song goes, "When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that's amore." Honeymooners eager to take in some of Europe's finest offerings need not look further than Italy. It's got a little something for everyone -- great food, wine, culture, nightlife, romance and history. Italy has enough cities of interest to merit a full few weeks to travel around, if time and your budget permits. You can start in Rome, site of the Coliseum, Spanish Steps, the Vatican and the Trevi Fountain. What's more romantic for a newly-wedded couple than casting a coin and wish into the same fountain that Audrey Hepburn did in the classic film "Roman Holiday"? But that's just one of nearly 300 fountains in Rome.
If you really want romance, head up to Venice and take a canal ride in a gondola or tour the cobblestone streets and take in the architecture. If you or your bride is a fashionista, you may want to check out the shopping in Milan. If you want to get off the road most traveled, take the time to head south to the island of Sicily where you can stay in converted farmhouses and eat food that went from garden to table in a matter of hours. Tuscany is another good bet for honeymooners looking for some privacy in a stay at a secluded mountain villa. Art lovers can't beat the museums of Florence, and you're guaranteed to get great food and wine anywhere you travel across Italy. The people of Italy are warm and welcoming -- just one of the many reasons it stands as one of the top honeymoon spots.
Even before Hawaii was voted in as the 50th U.S. state in 1959, it was a popular vacation spot for regular folks and honeymooners alike. There are hundreds of islands that make up Hawaii over a 1,500-mile (2,400-kilometer) span in the Pacific Ocean, but the most popular three islands are Hawaii (The Big Island), Oahu and Maui. Hawaii is home to a diverse ecosystem of jungles, mountains and beaches. Like many of its island counterparts, you can have whatever kind of honeymoon you want in Hawaii. Luxurious resorts and beach villas can ensure five-star lodging and dining, or you can get off the tourist trail and rough it in an eco-resort.
Hawaii is also a great place to try out your more adventuresome side. Mountain biking, hiking, sea kayaking, snorkeling and scuba diving, parasailing and volcano tours are just a few of the more popular excursions you can take part in on all of the islands. Hawaii is also home to some of the more scenic golf courses in the world, so both husband and wife can hit the links. And no honeymoon in Hawaii would be complete without attending a luau, a traditional Polynesian feast consisting of dance, Polynesian music and plenty of pork, poi and sweet potatoes --to name just a few traditional Hawaiian dishes.
More than one couple has felt the urge to run off and elope. See whether elopement should be your first choice or only your last resort.
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