You wouldn't buy an engagement ring knowing that your buddy bought the same one for his fiancée, and you wouldn't buy the same bridal gown as your best friend -- so why would you plan a run-of-the-mill honeymoon? We've come up with a few suggestions to help you transform this special trip from ordinary to extraordinary.
[See a photo recap of One-of-a-Kind Honeymoons]
It's easy to see why the Caribbean cruise became a honeymoon staple: Great surroundings, great eats, great service and great entertainment. Add palm trees, Mai Tais and endless azure waters to the equation and you've got yourself the ultimate getaway for two. When the idea of sailing the world was first romanticized in the early 20th century, ships were designed with the ultimate luxury experience in mind. Today, however, they're designed to fit the whole family, catering to passengers of all ages with all-you-can-eat buffets and water slides. Nothing says "romantic" like gluttonous tourists and screaming sunburned children, right?
If you're still dead set on sailing off into the sunset with your new first mate, we suggest you steer clear of the Caribbean and take to less traveled waters. For a more memorable voyage, consider hopping a boat down the Amazon River. According to Fodor's, the main reason to cruise this South American waterway is to "Experience the largest tropical forest in the world and one of the wildest places on the planet." The world’s second-largest river -- bested only by the Nile -- is inhabited by more species of fish than the entire Atlantic Ocean. Cruises are available through Brazil, Peru and other countries, and the ships dock at a different site each day, allowing you and your beau to explore the exotic terrain on your own time. You're sure to catch a glimpse of colorful birds, graceful Amazon River dolphins and even ancient Inca ruins.
The beach: Yet another ingredient in the so-called "perfect honeymoon." Sure, digging your toes into the warm, soft sands while watching the waves roll in is romance at its finest… until you uncover some trash left behind by a previous beachcomber, or you get stuck lathering your dearly beloved with aloe following a severe sunburn. Let's face it: The beach is an excellent place for a daytrip, but are you really willing to let the first few weeks of your marriage get swept away by the tide?
Save the beach for the following summer (and every summer after that) and set out on the stroll of a lifetime. This massive barrier offers visitors more than 5,500 miles of stunning views of the surrounding Chinese and Mongolian countryside. Now we're not saying that you trace the wall from start to finish (unless you have legs of steel); instead choose a section that best suits your interests. To remain close to civilization, head to the Badaling section just north of Beijing; for a more authentic (read: less touristy) experience, check out the Huanghua section (also north of Beijing). Either way, you and your new spouse are sure to have an unforgettable time.
It's true: The Mediterranean is pretty beautiful. And watching the sun set from the shores of Sicily or Crete can be authentically romantic. However, it can also be pricey and over-crowded. Tourists from across the globe flock to these sands in search of fresh fish, warm sand and gorgeous views. But bear this in mind: These things only exist in harmony during the summer months, which also mark the region’s high season. Sure, book a July honeymoon, but you'll find that your intimate getaway-for-two is much more expensive (not to mention, congested) than you had planned.
While the term "dead" doesn't normally appear in most honeymoon brochures, a trip to this small body of water will put the stereotypical Mediterranean visit to shame. Sure, you'll have to get up early (around 4 a.m.), but as the sun explodes over the mountaintops of neighboring Jordan in bursts of blinding orange light, you'll be happy you left the bed. For the best view, consider hiking to the top of Masada in Southern Israel where you'll find the remains of a Jewish settlement destroyed by Romans in 73 AD. As the sun continues to rise, don your swimsuits and wade out into the sea; the saline-heavy composition will allow you to float effortlessly as it also gently exfoliates your skin. After your swim, consider exploring the nearby Ein Gedi oasis. According to Fodor's, "Swimming in the Dudim Cave, also known as Lover's Cave, is a romantic experience."
The rustle of swaying palm trees, the rumble of incoming waves: All of these are perks to staying in an oceanside tropical resort. And those perks can be yours all for the low, low price of $400 a night! But let's be honest, how much time are you actually going to spend looking out the window? When it comes to lodging, it's important that you aren't emptying your bank account on pool views and kitschy décor. If the hotel is a key component of your perfect honeymoon, you should make sure to choose a property that is truly unique.
If you're willing to cough up a fortune for a hotel, you may as well make it one worth talking about. And when it comes to a conversation starter, the ICEHOTEL immediately comes to mind. Made completely out of ice and snow, this stunning hotel in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden is a vacation destination unto itself, offering a wide variety of activities including boating excursions along the Torne River, dog-sled tours and guided walks beneath the Northern Lights. After a day spent braving the Arctic Circle, throw on some long johns and hunker down together under reindeer-skin blankets on your ice mattress. It truly doesn't get more intimate than that! (If snow isn't your ideal marriage bed, the ICEHOTEL also offers regular hotel rooms and chalets). For more information, check out the ICEHOTEL's website.
Faraway islands are great… That is, if you want to emulate the rich and the famous. Sure, you'll own bragging rights among your friends, but you'll also be the only ones flat broke. And although the thought of a secluded-island getaway does sound exotic, you'll find the same qualities there that you would find on other (much less expensive) islands. While Fiji and Bora Bora are definitely worth a visit, you might want to wait until after you've finished paying off your wedding debt.
Rather than flying halfway around the world, find exoticism on our very own Big Island. While you might be wondering why we're recommending a Hawaiian honeymoon (since that in itself is a cliché concept), trust us: The Big Island will quickly shatter any preconceptions of Tiki torches and luaus. Swathed in leafy, palm-tree forests and held in place by miles of onyx sand, the largest (and least inhabited) member of the Hawaiian archipelago is truly a feast for the eyes. It also isn't for the faint of heart: Couples looking to add some heat to their honeymoon can stroll hand-in-hand among fuming volcanic craters in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park or take a walk on the wild side through Akaka Falls State Park. And did we mention expenses? A Big Island getaway will tally up to only a fraction of the cost of a Fiji (or even a Maui) honeymoon.
Ah, Paris. The City of Lights, the City of Love. We're not knocking the French capital's reputation as the ultimate lovers' getaway; however, if your notion of Paris includes empty cobblestoned streets, berets and an ever-present soundtrack comprised of accordion music, then you've got it all wrong. Unless you're planning your honeymoon for January, you can count on spending your first days as a married couple fighting your way through copious crowds and paying way too much for a sub-par hotel room. For some, the struggle might be worth it (the views from the top of the Eiffel Tower are pretty amazing), but otherwise, save Paris for another time.
A honeymoon should be a reflection of your relationship (or simply a crazy-good time). If you and your other half are looking to free yourselves from the confines of schedules and reservations, Marrakech is the place for you. Lonely Planet writes that this Moroccan city is "too packed with mind-boggling distractions and labyrinthine alleyways to adhere to boring linear logic." Sure, it isn't as ritzy as ol' Paris (in fact, far from it), but you'll soon be too immersed in the sight of rose-colored walls, the scent of spiced lamb and the sound of a snake charmer's flute to care. Spend your days meandering through raucous markets, exploring ancient royal palaces, lounging in lush gardens or sipping mint tea on the sidewalk. Afterward, sit down to a heaping helping of grilled veggies and skewered meats (Note: Marrakech was named the Culinary Destination of 2011 by the New York Times). No matter how you decide to spend your time, just make sure to leave some room for spontaneity. After all, you'll have the rest of your lives to plan.
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