Luxury destination weddings and honeymoons continue to evolve in their style as the bride and groom raise the bar on their expectations.
For destination weddings, couples are planning more customized experiences for their guests, and the planning is beginning earlier and earlier.
We touched base with several top luxury honeymoon travel advisors to get their insights on this important market.
April Schmitt, CEO of Divine Destination Weddings, reports that she is seeing larger, more lavish weddings and more multi-day event planning from her clients.
Her clients are also visiting more resorts up front to compare them before making their decision, she notes. During these visits, they’re also taking their engagement and wedding announcement photos.
What’s changed in terms of what couples are selecting for their destination weddings? The cost, for one thing.
“Couples are willing to push their guests to pay a higher price point in order to ensure a better overall experience,” Schmitt tells us. “Couples have always asked for an upscale dining resort with premium labeled liquor, but they are now more willing to pay for the price tag those resorts come with.”
One key fact: Schmitt says her clients have become more protective of their guests by trying to ensure a quality experience. They’re not opting for resorts that host more than two weddings a day and they’re foregoing those properties that require guests to wear wristbands. Also on the “no” list? Those resorts that have timeshare and club sales onsite.
Trip Trotter’s Laura Freeman says couples “love converted palaces and monasteries,” especially in Italy. Pictured is the Monastero Santa Rosa luxury resort on the Amalfi Coast.
When it comes to planning a destination wedding at a luxury resort, “the planning starts earlier than for a moderate resort,” says Schmitt. In fact, she suggests sending out the invitations 16 to 20 months in advance of the wedding so that guests can begin making payments and chipping away at the total price of the trip. To defray the overall cost of the trip for guests, many couples are paying for airport transfers or for (at least part of) the group excursions, she notes.
The bride and groom are also veering away from the traditional “welcome cocktail party” or rehearsal dinner, she says. They’re replacing them with unique events over the course of a few days.
Schmitt is seeing get-togethers such as reserve tequila tastings, sunset champagne catamaran excursions, or after-dinner dessert and champagne on the beach.
“A Saturday wedding may entail a group event on Friday night, the wedding on Saturday and then a group excursion on Sunday,” says Schmitt.
Weekends are no longer the de facto time for a destination wedding, she adds. “We are booking weddings on Thursdays, Sundays and Mondays because when you’re on vacation, every day is Saturday.”
Social media continues to influence the behavior of the bride and groom, she notes. For this reason, more time and money is being allocated to photography and videography. The couple may arrange to be photographed in a variety of wedding outfits in multiple venues across the resort or destination, says Schmitt. They’re also making moves to ensure it’s all done right.
“More couples are flying in their own photography teams to record the entire two- to three-day event and to capture the more personal moments shared with friends and family.
What’s been especially exciting this year are the number of phenomenal hotel openings that are drawing luxury honeymooners in, says Schmitt. She’s keen on Six Sense Uluwatu: “Bali combines both luxury, authenticity and has an excellent location.”
She adds that One&Only Nyungwe House in Rwanda “will entice the luxury adventure couple” and that Rosewood Phnom Penh “adds a heavenly extension to any Thailand or Vietnam honeymoon.” Seeking an all-inclusive beach and spa experience? Schmitt says that Grand Velas Los Cabos is a “welcome addition to the luxury market.”
As for actual destinations, she advises that Mexico, the Caribbean and the South Pacific still rule the wedding universe. She is seeing smaller weddings in Italy, Santorini and Thailand and she does see change on the horizon for destination weddings. “I believe we’ll see more destination weddings on river cruises and in Europe,” she tells us.
Leah Kirgis, manager of leisure travel for host agency Cadence, reports that Montenegro has popped up over the last year or so for honeymoons. “Although it’s not the easiest destination to get to, the unspoiled beaches, beautiful scenery, luxurious properties with amazing spas, and the fact that Montenegro is a UNESCO Heritage Town crosses off many of the honeymoon wish list points for travelers,” she tells us.
For a honeymoon hotel, she recommends Aman Sveti Stefan in Montenegro. “It has only 58 accommodations along with an unbelievable spa,” she says.
Cadence clients are seeking a more immersive cultural experience for their honeymoons, says Kirgis.
“They’re seeking more ‘off-the-beaten path’ destinations, and even holistic lifestyle resorts,” she reports. “The overwater bungalow experience will always remain as a honeymoon staple but it’s refreshing to see these new trends for honeymoons.”
Another favorite new property? “The luxury treehouse at Punta Mita at Imanta is a truly unique experience for the nature loving, adventurous couples,” says Kirgis.
Leah Kirgis of Cadence recommends Aman Sveti Stefan in Montenegro for honeymooners.
Sue Michailidis, a leisure travel consultant with Connoisseur Travel, sells a lot of honeymoon travel to the South Pacific, Southeast Asia and Europe. She says that clients are no longer doing the traditional week-long beach vacation immediately following their wedding. Instead, they’re carving out a chunk of time that accommodates their work schedule, so that they can go on a longer, two or three week immersive trips.
“They often want to include a beach experience within their trip, but it’s no longer the focus of their entire vacation,” says Michailidis.
Carving out more time allows couples to visit multiple destinations within Southeast Asia. Tahiti and New Zealand is another combination she’s seeing.
Michailidis is in love with Le Taha’a Island Resort & Spa, a private island property off the island of Taha’a for honeymooners.
“Bora Bora can feel a bit congested with all of the overwater bungalows sharing the same lagoon but just a stone’s throw away is Le Taha’a where you’ll feel like you’ve truly ‘gotten away from it all,’” says Michailidis. “As a Relais & Chateaux property, they pride themselves in having some of the best food in Tahiti. The staff is warm, as are all locals. In Taha’a they are still teaching the Tahitian language in the elementary schools—not the case on the more-traveled islands of Tahiti.”
Her honeymooners are seeking active and cultural experiences and tours that enable that are way up, she says.
“Lounging on the beach works for a few days, but that’s it,” says Michailidis.
Jim Augerinos, president and luxury travel consultant for Perfect Honeymoons, says that 45 percent of his couples are combining two or even three countries for their honeymoon.
Pairings that he is seeing include Tanzania and the Seychelles, Dubai and the Maldives, Thailand and Cambodia, Australia and New Zealand, Costa Rica and Panama, Greece and Italy, Chile and Argentina, and South Africa and Botswana.
His honeymooners are also seeking active vacations, rather than laying on the beach for two weeks, he says. “Hands down, they are seeking adventure mixed with culture and capped off with good authentic local food experiences,” says Augerinos, who recently planned honeymoons that included sky diving over the Great Barrier Reef, bungee jumping over Victoria Falls, shark cage diving in South Africa, and heli-skiing in New Zealand.
Couples also want to be more independent with their sightseeing, he adds. That means going out with a private local guide or exploring a city on their own as opposed to a large organized tour with a lot of people.
“I’ve also been doing cooking classes for pretty much every destination; couples are visiting the market with the chef and then coming back to his or her home or restaurant to prepare the meal rather than a formal cooking school / classroom type of scenario,” Augerinos tells us.
As for destinations, he is getting requests for perennial favorites as well as some new places, such as The Azores, Sardinia, Japan, Montenegro, Panama, and Namibia.
“But for the most part, Greece, Italy, Hawaii, Tahiti, the Maldives, Bali, Thailand, Fiji, etc. are still the prominent places people are enquiring about,” he adds.
Kara Bebell and Harlan deBell, aka The Travel Siblings, a Tzell Travel affiliate, serve as the official travel partner for the 24 bridal registry locations at Bloomingdale’s, which provides them with a keen insight as to what newly engaged couples are seeking.
“Active experiences are now the norm,” say the Travel Siblings. “Elephant rides, ziplines, mountain climbing, surfing, shark cage diving, Ferrari racing — you name it, these experiences are dictating the destination choices.
Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, which has 379 guestrooms, 26 suites and 38 Royal Residences, is an ode to the Ottoman era.
“Another trend is what we like to call the ‘mix and match’ honeymoon when couples desperately try to maximize their vacation time with as much activity and as many destinations as possible. We’ve had clients request Maldives and Thailand for one honeymoon and even pairing Bora Bora with Tokyo. It’s a puzzle trying to coordinate these types of trips and it’s often a process of us talking the couple into focusing on one destination to relax…stop and smell the romance rather than increasing their passport stamps.”
They also report that Egypt has made a comeback, thanks to the U.S. State Department’s lowered travel warning.
“In the Middle East, couples are requesting Abu Dhabi over Dubai thanks to the newly opened Louvre Museum and the gorgeous Rosewood,” they report, adding that Bhutan has become a demanded bucket list destination.
Marisa DeSalvio, an affiliate of Brownell Travel, also sees the Middle East as a great honeymoon destination. “I’m currently in Dubai and I would love honeymooners to experience the luxury and romance of the Middle East. There is a culture here of sensuality, love, poetry, and beauty that you can’t find anywhere else. Jumeirah Zabeel Saray embodies this with its replication of an Ottoman palace and spa. The bathroom is fit for a princess, even with the detail of a freshly cut rose, and honeymooners will love the huge tub in every room with sea views.”
The reason why newlyweds are seeking more active honeymoons is simple, she says. “They want once-in-a-lifetime experiences that they can tell everyone about. Most honeymooners have time consuming, stressful jobs that keep them stuck inside. Their honeymoon is really their chance to get out of their routine and experience new things with amazing natural beauty.”
Food and drink are becoming more and more important to honeymooners, Laura Freeman, of Trip Trotter, tells us.
“Couples want to incorporate their love of food and drinks into their itinerary in ways other than just eating at nice restaurants. Couples are taking food crawls and tours, visiting breweries and wineries, visiting food production facilities, and taking cooking classes,” Freeman says.
They’re also gravitating more to boutique or historical hotels, especially when traveling in the city. “They love converted palaces or monasteries,” says Freeman, noting that Italy is still her most popular destination, but that more and more couples want to travel to Asia (specifically Thailand or Bali). Iceland is also becoming more popular, she says.
She warns that couples don’t typically want every single moment of their trip to be scheduled. “Typically, couples want a combination of full- and half-day experiences, with one or two free days. Full-day tours are reserved for day trips outside the city, while half-day tours are requested for sightseeing or activities within the city, like a cooking class.”
Shameeron Paur of Travel Edge in Santa Ana, CA is also seeing honeymooners gravitate toward smaller hotels. “Couples want to experience luxury, but not every stay is at the highest level,” she says. “On the longer honeymoons, couples might spend five days in a high-end hotel and then do three or four days in a boutique property.”
Italy is also her most popular destination for its cultural immersion and authentic experiences, she says. “Food and wine is a key focus. Couples are requesting more than the standard tourist stops in Rome, Florence and Venice. Croatia has also been requested more, and recently I have planned a beautiful stay in San Sebastián, Spain,” she adds.
No one wants to rush through Italy, so that may be the reason Paur is seeing couples taking their trips over an extended period of time at a slower pace.
“Many of these honeymoons are taking place a month or longer after the actual wedding whereas the average length is two weeks,” she says.