So you opted for the extravagant weekend wedding affair and a more budget-friendly honeymoon. Even with soaring airfare and hotel fees, you can still experience a luxurious getaway in an exotic destination.
By Marilyn Odessor-Tropey
Whether your honeymoon paradise is a beach in the Caribbean or a bustling city in Europe, our expert travel agents offer their top honey destinations—complete with posh accommodations and an array of activities—that won’t scorch your wallet.
If you think you can’t afford Europe, here’s a pleasant surprise: Posh yet budget-friendly hotels are to be found in the Eternal City, according to Angela Armitcu, owner of Jetset Travel in Dover. She offers two suggestions.
“The four-star Hotel Quirinale is situated in the heart of the city,” Armitcu says. Built in the second half of the 18th century, the hotel is furnished with antiques from that time period and accentuated with modern amenities. Surrounded by the Piazza della Repubblica, Piazza Venezia and the Trevi Fountain, it’s the city’s only hotel with direct access to the Opera House. Couples can enjoy cozy yet elegant dining and a private garden, as well as a buffet breakfast each morning.
Armitcu’s second and slightly pricier recommendation is the Grand Hotel Palace, built in 1927 and later restored to its original grandeur with marble floors, crystal chandeliers and stunning hand-painted frescoes adorning its walls. It’s a short walk from many iconic attractions, and an on-site spa offers couples a perfect way to relax after a day of zipping around the city.
Before you arrive in Rome, decide which sites you don’t want to miss seeing, Armitcu advises. Lines can be hours long at such major attractions as the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and Vatican City’s Sistine Chapel, so budgeting time is as important as budgeting expenditures. For a small fee, consider purchasing a “skip the line” pass available citywide.
What to do with that extra time you’ve saved? Experience the “real Rome” by strolling the cobblestone streets of Trastevere, a lively neighborhood dotted with medieval churches, colorful street performers, quaint cafés, boutique restaurants and artisan shops.
Armitcu describes Barcelona as “a beautiful city with a lot to offer visitors and plenty of great restaurants.” Situated on the Mediterranean Sea, this pedestrian-friendly capital of Spain’s Catalan region boasts a proud and colorful culture and a history of art, soaring architecture, dynamic neighborhoods and local cuisine that couples can experience without spending a bundle.
Much of the city’s beauty can be attributed to the talent and whimsy of architect Antoni Gaudí, whose unique structures from the late 19th and early 20th centuries attract visitors from around the world. Although it remains unfinished, his most famous work is perhaps Basilica de la Sagrada Família, a magnificent temple that has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (For $35, you can take a guided tour.)
Pack a picnic lunch and you could spend hours exploring Parc de la Ciutadella, an expansive green urban oasis with a zoological garden and museum. Opened in 1892, the conservation-conscious zoo is home to over 5,500 animals representing more than 400 species in habitats that incorporate the flora from their native lands.
Join the locals at the lively Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, whose stalls teem with local produce and native delicacies. A really fun way to hit the market is in the company of a chef with whom you will shop for the ingredients to make a traditional seafood paella, Armitcu points out. For less than $60, learn how to prepare this dish and sangria while you sample tapas.
After dinner, stroll Las Ramblas, a wide pedestrian boulevard that cuts through the heart of the city and is alive with cafés, shops and street performers. Want more performance art? Catch a flamenco show (less than $25) or other stage performances at the historic Palau de la Música.
One of Armitcu’s favorite budget accommodations in Barcelona is the Hotel Arts Barcelona, a five-star beach resort with rooms high above the landscape and the sea. Contemporary in design and ambience, the hotel has seven restaurants, including Enoteca Paco Perez, which has earned two Michelin stars for its modern Mediterranean cuisine and 700-plus bottle wine list. For Spanish or Catalan cuisine, you won’t need to walk far.
Even if you’re on a budget, you can still afford diamonds in Barcelona. The hotel’s spa features several treatments with diamond dust as a key ingredient.
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Bob Older, founder and owner of Creative Travel Inc. in Newark, favors all-inclusive resorts for honeymooners on a budget. “With an all-inclusive, you know what you’re paying on the front end without extra expenses on the back end,” he says.
If it is just some sparkling H2O and immaculate sand you’re after, Older recommends the Vista Sole Punta Cana Beach Resort & Spa on the shore of Playa Brava, chosen by UNESCO as one of the top 10 most beautiful beaches in the world. Bright and airy in design, the hotel boasts three swimming pools and a private beach with bar service.
The property’s five restaurants offer complimentary meals with an overnight stay. At the spa, find a menu with a range of massages to help couples unwind.
If your ideal all-inclusive also offers activities, Older points to the adults-only Catalonia Bavaro Beach. Guests can choose from host of recreational activities, including snorkeling, scuba lessons at the pool, tennis, archery, a golf-introduction class, nonmotorized water sports, Latin dance lessons and more.
Off property but nearby, find horseback rides on the beach, zip line adventures and a three-hour rough-and-tumble ATV ride, each for less than $80 per person. History buffs gravitate to the National Park of the East, where they can learn about the early island settlers, the Taino Indians.
Playa Del Carmen, Mexico
A calmer alternative to nearby Cancún, Playa del Carmen on Mexico’s Riviera Maya has everything you could want in a tropical honeymoon destination, Older says. Discover white-sand beaches that slip into turquoise waters, colorful coral reefs and rainforests filled with exotic flora and fauna.
To get into the swing of things, walk downtown to Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue), a busy pedestrian thoroughfare lined with shops, clubs and restaurants.
Close by, a major draw for tourists and locals alike is Xcaret Eco Park, a combination water, theme and eco-archaeological park that features more than 50 natural and cultural attractions tracing the rich history of Mexico’s traditions and ecology.
Another “don’t miss” is Chichen Itza’s painstakingly preserved monuments from a large city built by the Mayan people from A.D. 600 to A.D. 1200. It has been named one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.
For overnighting, Older suggests one of two all-inclusive accommodations in Playa del Carmen. The Allegro Playacar, nestled in the sand, offers four restaurants with unlimited meals and snacks, as well as a range of outdoor and water activities.
The other, BlueBay Grand Esmeralda, is a five-star property surrounded by lush jungle. Step out onto the private beach or lounge around any of the three swimming pools. All meals, snacks and beverages at the property’s five restaurants and six bar areas are included, as are nonmotorized sports such as canoeing, kayaking, sailing, snorkeling and windsurfing.
Unlike many of its Caribbean neighbors, Aruba has no lush landscapes or tropical jungles in its mere 70 square miles, but its stunning beaches and sparkling waters invite visitors to partake in a wide range of outdoor activities. They can also bask in the bright lights of the casino and sample local and gourmet culinary delights.
Gretchen Bowker, owner of Chester County Travel Agency Inc. in Exton, refers honeymooners to the Renaissance Wind Creek Aruba or its sister property, the adults-only Renaissance Marina.
Renaissance offers guests a unique amenity: a 40-acre private island with cabanas and free-roaming flamingos, only reachable via the hotel’s complimentary water taxi. Newlyweds can also sip frosty tropical libations from the Mangrove Beach Bar or indulge in a secluded outdoor massage for two at the Spa Cove. At Wind Creek, the Crystal Casino features an array of slots and table games that never close. (Tip: Learn how to play Caribbean poker.)
Bowker’s favorite place to dine like a local is at the Flying Fishbone. “The food is exceptional, and if you make your reservation early enough, you can get a table right on the beach and dine with your feet in the water,” she notes.
Another delicious way to get a taste of the multicultural cuisines and history of Aruba is a 2.5-hour tasting tour of its capital, Oranjestad. You might be surprised by the diversity of foods you will sample: Jamaican, Cuban, Dutch, Italian and, of course, traditional Aruban.